Activism + Verbalism = Praxis

I forget where in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed activism and verbalism come into play, but it’s an idea that has remained with me since reading it in History of Higher Education last year. According to Freire, praxis is putting into action certain behaviors after critically reflecting on the world as we know it. Freire eventually dives deeper into this idea, specifically referring to activism and verbalism. These two isms immediately stood out to me last year because I felt that a lot of educators could fall under these two categories, but rarely did it seem that they were practicing both (myself included). For authentic praxis to occur, there must be both verbalism and activism. This means that one is acting after thorough reflection and after discussion. Often times, people get wrapped up into one – just thinking about/talking about solving an issue, or taking action without much thought. How can we do both as educators, and help students do the same? (All while avoiding oppressive acts of dehumanizing learners, which we may do subconsciously.)

Maybe the answer is realizing that we have a “hidden brain”. As Shankar Vedantam explains in “How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us”, we develop biases at a young age, and we don’t necessarily do so with animosity or hatred. Instead, these biases develop from what we observe around us, whether we are aware of them or not. Therefore, we need to take the time today to reflect on the biases we have and how we got them. This will take a lot of honesty, but hopefully it helps in knowing that we all have them deep down.

Authentic Self(-Authorship)

Marcia Baxter Magolda’s theory of self-authorship, though widely used for understanding college student development, aptly applies to the idea of teaching authentically. Baxter Magolda’s theory has four phases: following formulas, crossroads, becoming the author of one’s life, and internal foundation (Patton, Renn, Guido, & Quaye, 2016).

Following formulas: self is defined by others (parents, authoritative figures, etc.), adhere to rules because it’s the norm

Crossroads: start to develop personal beliefs and opinions, but unsure how others’ beliefs and opinions impact you

Becoming the author of one’s life:  making life decisions based on personal beliefs and opinions

Internal foundation: solid sense of self, able to act through personal ideals, while also understanding that everyone has personal beliefs, and relationships should have mutual respect

The route to becoming an authentic teacher seems to follow similar phases. As new teachers struggle to impress students, they rate their teaching only on how students react to them (do they like me or hate me?). Teachers may read about appropriate techniques, or “formulas”, but there is no personal touch to their teaching. Eventually, teachers may start to develop their own methods and attempt to implement them more in the classroom. After this, teachers could start to move away from the idea that they need to be popular, and instead use certain techniques because they fit with their personal style and ideals. Finally, teachers might develop a level of confidence that allows them to act authentically in the classroom. They might teach a certain way or talk about specific things not because they think they’ll score popularity points with students, but because they believe it’s an important lesson. Also at this stage, teachers will understand that students learn at a different pace, have varying interpretations and opinions, and unique personalities.

I’ve used Baxter Magolda’s theory of self-authorship to understand some of my own life decisions, and I’m excited to apply it more to teaching methods. Woohoo! Give it a try!

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., & Quaye, S. J. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (3rd edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.