Critical Pedagogy: Teaching Is A Human Act

“The climate of respect that is born of just, serious, humble, and generous relationships, in which both the authority of the teacher and the freedom of the students are ethically grounded, is what converts pedagogical space into authentic educational experience.” – Freire (1998).

For this week’s blog post, I decided to summarize points that resonated with me from Freire’s (1998) chapter on Teaching is a human act. The quote above captures the complexities involved in teaching from a humanistic perspective. Freire (1998) advocates for mutual respect between students and teachers. Furthermore, a true leader won’t confuse ego with power, meaning that one can acknowledge the power dynamic without it challenging their authority.

This section of the chapter speaks to the political and ethical commitment educators have. For instance, Freire (1998) argues that our mere presence in the classroom is inherently political. Furthermore, I think our individual social locations absolutely add to this argument because many lives are politicized or used as props for political gain. For instance, as a Black bisexual/queer woman I am always aware of how I am coming across to others — and my interactions with students are no exception. Freire (1998) encourages us to challenge what we think is “ethical” because approaching this argument from a neutral stance would completely dismiss our individual experiences.

Openness to dialogue
As we exist in institutional spaces that honor innovative insights, we must also encourage people in positions of power to be introspective in discerning what ideas they think are worth honoring. A right step in this direction would be for educators, and admins, to understand that they have so much to learn from students — regardless the amount of educational clout one has. I can especially relate to this as a novice because I am very cautious of spreading false information. For example, I had a student in one of my Human Sexuality classes ask me why the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) removed hysteria as a diagnosis for women. This was my very first lecture (I was being observed by my GTA supervisor) and I recall coming up with something completely off the top of my head. After my lecture, I had a feedback session with my supervisor. She was very gentle in reminding me that if we don’t know something, we don’t “B.S” it, even when we feel the pressure to have an answer in that moment. She reassured me that it is completely okay to tell a student you don’t know something and that you will get back to them. But make sure you get back to them. I think Freire (1998) speaks to our humanity here in asking us to extend grace and curiosity to our students.

Caring for the students
What I really appreciate about this text is the consideration of student needs. Freire (1998) states “I am not afraid of my feelings and I know how to express myself effectively in an appropriate and affirming way” (p. 125). This is an important skill because I have seen teachers, regardless of their status, react rather than respond to a student when the student asked a question that made the educator self-interrogate their own beliefs. This relates to my previous point: the personal is political. If a teacher is becoming reactive because of a student’s genuine curiosity, then there is a chance that student will refrain from speaking up again — in all classes. I think this is a completely valid response on behalf of the student, in this case, because the power dynamic was reinforced the moment the teacher dismissed the student’s question. This can be a “joyful experience” if the teacher remembers the power they have, and the potential they have to also learn (Freire, 1998, p. 125).

3 thoughts on “Critical Pedagogy: Teaching Is A Human Act

  1. billyparvatam

    Thank you for your post! I totally agree with the readings about needing to care for our students. Especially during this pandemic, I am glad that the university has put in place more resources in terms of mental health to help students deal with these unprecedented times. In terms of our classes, we have had to be more flexible with helping students deal with everything going on. It does not mean that we don’t have standards or limits, but being empathetic to what is going on in the world right now enables us to be seen as more than just teachers and fosters mutual respect with our students. I have found that the teachers I have connected with the best are the ones that really come off personable to interact with.

  2. shoagland

    Hi Stephanie, thanks for your post! I was also very interested to see Freire talk about the inherent political presence that teachers have in the classroom. I think that in today’s modern education system, this point is not overtly discussed or acknowledged. All teachers have a moral system on which their ethics are grounded. Is it right for professors to discuss their ideas of morality when they are in conflict with some of the students’ ideas? Is it right for academia to move toward a uniformity of ideas, and away from open dialogue over disagreeing opinions? These are interesting questions that I think are worth discussing. Professors ought to care deeply for their students as persons and as pupils that are gaining knowledge and the ability to reason. I would argue that professors who only internally reflect and adapt their system of beliefs so as to avoid any form of disagreement with new ideas that students present can be harmful in that it doesn’t challenge the students to grapple with their own beliefs and assumptions. Thanks again for your post.

  3. Malle Schilling

    Stephanie– thank you for your post. I really like the point you brought up about saying “I don’t know” as an instructor. I think this is an important skill to keep in mind in all of our interactions but I think in a classroom setting it brings up a unique opportunity for everyone to learn together.

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