Connecting the Dots Through “Critical” Pedagogy

There is a need for a paradigm shift towards “critical” pedagogy in which we, as educators, have a really big responsibility to improve and transform ourselves in fostering criticality in the classroom not only to let students think beyond but also to encourage them to find their voices by education.

I found Seth Godin’s TED-talk titled “Stop stealing dreams” highly crucial for anyone, who has been/will be teaching, in terms of his critique of the current education system by historicizing it since the beginning. He starts endlessly questioning “what school was/is for” in his talk.

Image result for seth godin what is school for

He argues that the sole intent of universal public education was not to train the scholars of tomorrow but to train people to behave, to comply, to fit in. Godin very nicely explains this logic by historicizing the actual aim of the capitalist system which was to train “human bodies” to be productive, mechanic yet obedient and docile (workers) for the sake of the effective functioning of capitalism. He further talks about the ways in which “school” seeks to normalize people with the particular textbook, force them to take standardized tests which eventually brings about ranking system.

Specifically, I really like how he makes an analogy between school and factory and ties it to the complaint of educators when students ask: “will this be on the test?” He says, “when we put kids in the factory, that we call the school, the thing we built to indoctrinate them into compliance. Why are we surprised that the question is ‘will this be on the test?’

This is a very important insight that we think about if we, as educators, really want to transform ourselves towards “critical pedagogy.” As our guest lecturer, Dr. Hometo Murzi, mentioned last week when we were talking about the assessment of PBL, firstly we can think about “measuring experience instead of test scores” if we believe that “our students are more than their scores” as Dr. Michael Wesch says in his TED-talk.  Again, similar to our class on PBL, Seth Godin also talks about the need to “transform the teacher’s role into a coach.” And, I believe, the most interesting part of his speech is his question, which implicitly covers what we have discussed our class throughout the semester: “are we asking our kids to collect dots or connect dots?” In this regard, he argues,

We’re really good at measuring how many dots they collect, how many boxes they have filled in, but we teach nothing about how to connect those dots…you can only teach it by putting kids into a situation where they can fail. Grades are an illusion. Passion and insight are reality. Your work is more important than your congruence to an answer key.

At this point, I believe, Godin can be put into conversation with J. Palmer. Palmer, in his article “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” similarly discusses the current education system and how it shapes students’ personalities as “being” future professionals. Palmer overall suggests that,

The education of the new professional will offer students real-time chances to translate feelings into knowledge and action by questioning and helping to develop the program they are in. I am not imagining a student uprising but rather an academic culture that invites students to find their voices about the program itself, gives them forums for speaking up, rewards rather than penalizes them for doing so, and encourages faculty and administrative responsiveness to student concerns (p. 12).

Similar to Godin’s points, he also suggests five proposals to educate the new professional, which are:

1) “We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us as if they possessed powers that render us helpless — an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue”

(2) “We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects”

(3) “We must start taking seriously the ‘intelligence’ in emotional intelligence”

(4) “We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support”

(5) “We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them” (pp. 9-11).

Specifically, I found the fifth proposal very interesting, sincere, and supporting on the part of educators. He affirms that mentors must be exemplars of an undivided life, that is to say, mentors must also show how to tackle with this question: “How do I stay close to the passions and commitments that took me into this work – challenging myself, my colleagues, and my institution to keep faith with this profession’s deepest values?” (p. 11) I definitely believe that as teachers, we must be role models by integrating knowledge and passion and critical reflection and action. Only by this way, we might create a “circle of trust” between students and instructor, which I believe this is equally as important as critical thinking. Yet honestly, I don’t know exactly how to do, actualize, and achieve this.

Reference:

Palmer, P. J. (2007). A new professional: The aims of education revisited. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning39(6), 6-13.

 

 

What does diversity really mean? Being included or living within an egalitarian society?

I frequently find myself questioning what those buzzwords, diversity/inclusion/incorporation, do in our daily lives, what are their meanings, significances, and practices in any institutions such as universities, or any country having particularly the “multicultural” integrationist policies such as the UK, Germany, the US, or Canada. I believe we need to take a closer look first what those words really mean, perhaps before arguing whether “diversity makes us smarter” or attempting to find any correlation between diversity and being smarter/creative/hardworking. 

For one of my classes, I interrogated what inclusion means in relation to “diversity”. I came to notice how it is bitterly a contested concept in terms of the ways in which we use it in everyday life as if it brings about equity, equality, justice, and neutrality with regard to race, gender, and class. What do I mean by this?

In most English language dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Merriam-Wester Dictionary, the word inclusion is defined as “the act of including and the state of being included” and/or “the action, practice, or policy of including any person in an activity, system, organization, or process, irrespective of race, gender, religion, age, ability, etc.”[1] Also, according to Racial Equity Tools’ Glossary, the word inclusion refers to “authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.”[2] Yet, one of the contestations over its meaning is that despite inclusion as a concept suggests that nobody is excluded, it is also paradoxically characterized by othering as it pinpoints the Other and the excluded. I suppose that’s why Katherine W. Phillips in her article points out nicely why diversity creates anxiety within the society and imagines the other way around at the end of the day.  In this regard, she says

Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. So, what is the upside?

And, then by providing some researches, she gives us a hope for the positive influence of diversity in a sense that it fuels innovation as diversity brings different information, opinions, and perspectives, and it provides new thinking, so that makes us smarter.

Source: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_diversity_makes_us_smarter

Definitely, there might exist a correlation between diversity and being smart, innovative, and creative as she mentions in her article; however, what I want to draw your attention is the other side of the story, I believe. Given the dictionary definitions of inclusion, the discourses of inclusion such as diversity or multiculturalism give us an impression of providing equality and justice for those excluded people. Yet, despite the appreciation of the excluded identities with the focus on the difference in terms of race, gender, and class, none of those definitions, however, alludes to equality or social justice for the already excluded groups of people. Do you think, do they?

Furthermore, as inclusion by its definition aims at homogenizing identity categories by including the Other, I think it still insinuates the logic of “difference within” or “inclusive exclusion.” That’s why the conceptualization of inclusion as well as diversity is ambiguous. Even, one can throw all sorts of arbitrary differences which may eventually result in neglecting inequalities and differences. Therefore, I believe, before talking about the positive impact of being diverse on innovation, it would be better to think about how we can alleviate the logic of “difference within” or “inclusive exclusion” in which inequalities are disguised under those buzzwords other than promoting “diversity” for the purpose of innovation. I wonder what do you think?

 

[1]Accessed at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusion and http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/93579?redirectedFrom=inclusion#eid.

[2]Accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/images/uploads/RET_Glossary913L.pdf.

Mindful Learning: Learning through our Headspace?

For a while, I have been thinking about my own learning process. As everyone has a unique character, it can change person to person, but “learning” for me is generally about the logic of “no pain, no gain.” Every time when I study, I tend to jump the conclusion, main ideas, or arguments to get it done. And, what if I have been studying mindlessly?

As opposed to my struggle inside my mind, in her book “The Power of Mindful Learning,” Ellen J. Langer as a psychologist is talking about kind of gain without pain type of learning through, what she calls, “mindful learning.” It is sort of “studying on your headspace.” Indeed, she uses this term quite different from, what we got used to knowing, meditation. For Langer, mindfulness is about openness to wider possibilities or sort of a cognitive recognition of possibilities or alternatives at the time we learn; for instance, it involves awareness and broadened attention. She defines the term and compares it with “mindlessness” as such

A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continues creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. Mindlessness, in contrast, is characterized by entrapment in old categories; by automatic behavior that precludes attending to new signals; and by action that operates from a single perspective. (p. 4)

To overcome mindlessness in learning and teaching, she proposes “sideways learning” by maintaining a mindful state, which she explains

Sideways learning aims at maintaining a mindful state. As we saw, the concept of mindfulness revolves around certain psychological states that are really different versions of the same thing: (1) openness to novelty; (2) alertness to distinction; (3) sensitivity to different contexts; (4) implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and (5) orientation in the present. Each leads to the others and back to itself Learning a subject or skill with an openness to novelty and actively noticing differences, contexts, and perspectives-sideways learning- makes us receptive to changes in an ongoing situation. In such a state of mind, basic skills and information guide our behavior in the present, rather than run it like a computer program.  (p. 23)

Her alternative learning method pushed me to make some self-reflection. I am more inclined to jump to the conclusion of any book or article, by only getting its main arguments-methods etc., rather than really getting into it. Honestly, this has been my way of survival in academia given the assigned tons of readings, as if everyone is able to internalize all those readings. However, this kind of psychological awareness has great potential to enable deeper involvement, concentration, and more importantly being “at present” in learning as well as teaching. From another side of the coin, Langer also shows that how alarming traditional learning techniques restrain creativity due to memorization and repetitive practices to master the theories or concepts. This culture of teaching and subsequent learning technique of the students only deepens being an “auto” pilot, what Langer calls, “mindfulness.”

Undoubtedly, I really appreciated the idea of “sideways learning” and the way how Langer sheds lights on our alarming reality about learning and teaching… 

The wisdom of Foucault rings in my mind: “We are more than scores” echoing Dr. Michael Wesch

Blogging? Honestly, blogging has never been a thing that I would do in my life. When I learned that I had to do for GEDI class, I said to myself “so… it is a part of my Ph.D. program, so I am going to do it.” Well, after all, I have been well ‘disciplined’ throughout my education and more importantly my whole life, in a very Foucauldian sense. Being exposed to Foucault in my first semester at VT, maybe I am over thinking about the disciplined aspect of my agency; perhaps more precisely, my whole being…

 

“Punish and Discipline: The Birth of Prisons”

 

Source: https://educationmuseum.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/discipline-and-punish-the-birth-of-the-prison/

 

However, why not to give a shot to express my agency and my “humility” in blogging? In other words, not considering blogging as a tool to feel a sophisticated person or to resist by articulating my way of thinking or raising my voice; rather, as a way to find my words, to do self-reflection, and to critically see “who I am.” Along the line of Seth Godin’s speech on blogging, blogging can be really about “humility” that comes from writing, thinking about what I am going to say in three paragraphs. Seeing blogging as a way to respond out loud and to work ‘openly,’ as Doug Belshaw states, can be my excitement here, but not the continuation of my disciplinarity. So here I am!

“Teaching” and “learning”… I have been heavily thinking about these as I start to ‘teach’ this semester. How am I going to have a connection with my students? What does ‘a good teacher’ means to me? How do I learn, so that teach them to learn and study? How can I create a space for a friendly, open, and respectful environment to my students while they have been already exposed to political, cultural, and social divide? How to present “International Relations” as a fun class to them while we have been already living in a fragmented and more importantly unfair world? And, how should I “grade” them at the end of the day? By putting them in a ranking system, again in a Foucauldian sense?

Dr. Michael Wesch in his TED-talks can’t express better my concerns I listed here. Absolutely, “we [my students and myself too] are more than scores” and “learning is more than what can be scored.” He exactly articulates my feelings when he says

Real learning that questions that you take out from this class, questions that inspires you, can drive you, take you all over the world, open up new connections for you, and forces you to do things that you might think that you never do.

And, more importantly, teaching is about, as Wesch says, “not to have small talk in the class, rather “big” and “deep” questions” that we, as educators, should ask to our students to find ‘their agencies’ this time: “Who am I?, What am I going to do?, and Am I going to make it?”

Let’s give a try to think deeply about these in order to achieve having “connections’”and “sincerity” with our students and to provide them with a sense of compassion and an ability to love themselves in the process of real learning.

 

Maybe these questions take us to the moon! Who knows?

 

Cheers!

Şengül