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.


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



10 Responses

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that we need a shift in our education system and structures, and I don’t think we can wait for someone to give us permission to make these necessary changes. If that occurs, we will be in the same top-town model that no longer serves our students in the 21st century. My hope is that we are able to bring to life the pedagogies and practices we have studied over the course of this semester together causing a ripple effect to provide our students with the knowledge and creativity they need to strengthen communities of tomorrow.

    1. Right, exactly! many thanks for your comment! all comments here encourage me to take action and initiative to implement some changes in my syllabus too! Many thanks again!

  2. I say speak up now. My program got fed up with how disconnected we were for an interdisciplinary degree and made our own student council to get students in different corners of the program talking to one another. We have chemists, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, physicists, and others that as students have come together to tell our instructors/directors (we don’t have an actual department and therefore no department head…it’s a headache) that we needed change. From this, we’ve learned that they also have frustrations with the current implementation of our programs and they are willing to switch things up. Currently, I’ve added one course to our list of allowed electives, and am using the syllabus/PBL from this course to rebuild a two-semester intro class that all the grad students have to take. I’ve talked with our degree program head, and he is supportive whenever I talk to him about it.

    If you think a course would benefit from a change, try redesigning it and talking to those in charge. You might be surprised at how receptive they are.

      1. Many many thanks for your comment and very constructive feedback based on your own experience! It is valuable for me to hear that as having been here at VT for almost a year and not knowing much about the academic environment. And, honestly I did my PBL project for the purpose of implementing it next semester, hopefully. I am going to take action to implement my PBL! thanks again!

  3. Hi Sengul,

    Thank you for this reflection and synthesis of the material this week. You are pointing out some of the major criticisms of the education system and also providing very useful ideas for how to change it for the better, for the sake of the students and the world we want to live in in the future.

    I would challenge you on your last sentence though… you say that you ” don’t know exactly how to do, actualize, and achieve this.” Just from reading your writing and hearing you talk in our class discussions, I think you may know more about what to do than you are giving yourself credit for. You’ve got a decent start on the road map (proposals for) what should be done–now it’s time to reflect on that and ask yourself how you will implement them in your discipline. Education–teaching and learning are very human, individual experiences. As long as you are striving to meet your students where they are, to help ignite their curiosity and passions, to help them see and want to be part of a more equitable world, you will find yourself on the right path.

    1. Hi Sara, many thanks for your comments, I really appreciate. More importantly, many thanks for your encouragement though! Maybe sometimes I am overthinking about how to make my path to critical pedagogy “perfect”. But you are totally right to see this process as an individual experience and kind of learning by doing! Many many thanks for your post!

  4. Thank Sengul for the fruitful thoughts. I agree that critical pedagogy requires a systmatic change but still, teachers could do something to improve their teaching within the institutional limit and try to push the boundary as much as they can. Under the same institution and with similar boundaries we usually see some teacher do better than others in terms of motivating student, encourage them to think critically.

    1. Thank you very much Mohammed! I also believe that teachers could do something to improve their teaching within the institutional limit but just thinking loud here. Teaching is for sure an individual experience, depends on the motives and efforts of professors, which I really believe, our class encourages us to start from somewhere! 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  5. Hey, great post! I do agree with you on the requirement of structural change in our education system. We should probe into the reasons for the shift in a capitalist – neoliberal education system. Till the time we address the systematic issues to solve the problems confronting in the education system. Partly, I agree that within the current framework, we have to learn to negotiate the boundaries. My biases arise from the influence of left-leaning ideologies and politics.

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