Thursday, 21 January 2010

Critical pedagogy: people can learn, but that does not make them philanthropists

Social media helps us all to connect, we all learn at an increased pace, both in educational institutions, in our professional organizations/companies and just for ourselves. But how much of our learning is aimed at making the world a nicer (more human and balanced) place?
How much of our learning is aimed at becoming more critical? And should not all pedagogy be aimed at improving the world we all live in, no matter what position we are in, no matter what moment in our lives (kindergarten, higher ed, no school)? Or is this idea of building a more peaceful world based on educating the people by the people passé? Or impossible in this more corporate ruled world?

Thanks to the Oldaily I came across a link to the work of Paulo Freire and the promise of critical pedagogy. So I started reading up on it. If you have not read the best known book written by Paulo Freire yet (it was new to me, but what a great read and truly relevant to learning in general), you can download the first three chapters here, and the fourth chapter here.

The Oldaily directed towards an article by Henry Giroux (who knew Freire personally) which looks into Freire’s critical pedagogy and contemporary educational institutions. It is an interesting - though a little bit ranting – read. Here are a couple of quotes from the article to simply set the idea behind critical pedagogy: “Freire believed that all education in the broadest sense was part of a project of freedom, and eminently political because it offered students the conditions for self-reflection, a self-managed life and particular notions of critical agency.”
I must admit I really like that idea a lot. This way of critical pedagogy is also putting action back into the individual’s hands and possibilities, quote: “For Freire, pedagogy is not a method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, but a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to expand the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy.”

the personal is political
So the personal issues need to be translated to public issues (any feminist will be happy to read something coming close to ‘the personal is political’). By this action pedagogy is also linked to social movements. Getting ideology and activism into pedagogy, enabling us as individuals to put ourselves in the middle of the society we are currently in, with our background, the framework we were put in or are put in by education, and consciously analyzing it… can only make us more aware of who we are.
Knowing who we are, how we got to be the person we are and whether or not we agree with the position we are in, and consequently put a goal (if we want to) for ourselves to improve our way of living, or/and our surrounding world.

corporations benefit from critical pedagogy?
After reading the article written by Henry Giroux, I was agreeing on many points. Mainly the statement that the increased pressure of corporations that indirectly forces (well, force is of course only powerful if you acknowledge it) universities and colleges to push all students more in the direction of workers, instead of becoming citizens in the first place.
But I do have some doubts about some of the statements in the article as well. The article written by Henry Giroux crushes down on corporations, but I feel that even in corporations some people (also at the top) would be interested in critical pedagogy and willing to try it out (think Oxfam International, Max Havelaar).
Creating critical people does not necessarily mean all citizens will follow the same set of moral rules, but it might build people that know how to construct long term visions. There are many corporations that already are more in touch with balanced human living (mostly smaller corporations, driven by motivated people), so I did not like the dichotomy that was again reproduced.

Dichotomies are false ideas
I like this short interview with Paulo Freire in which he says he is not into dichotomy. It is not directly related to learning, but to how he manages to link Christ to Marx. I like it because I struggle with a lot of dichotomies, just to conclude each time that the only thing dichotomies do for me is show me how I can become more critical by reading, studying both ends of a dichotomy. Dichotomies in my view no longer do it as a thought concept. We are no longer living amidst a linear line between one and the other, but amidst a very complex cloud of concepts.
Life is too complex to simply cut it in two halves, especially in this increasingly complex world. So putting public interest against corporate interest is just too simple in my opinion. Stating that idea is stating that things cannot change, that structures build by people cannot be changed to benefit people, and that people in such structures are static in their thinking. To me change is inevitable and I follow Heraclitus: panta rhei. Even if the main thinking is corporate thinking and finance, this might change and in some cases have been changing.

If change is inevitable, than let us all become more critical, also in our teaching and learning. For if we look around us, it is clear that we all can benefit from more human, global awareness. Critical pedagogy should indeed be taught or interwoven in all learning, especially from very early childhood on and through our formal education. But I also feel we should teach it without any other expectation than that an individual should have the capacity for autonomous thinking. Let's say critical pedagogy would be taught in educational institutions and taken up in corporate learning. Dinosaur, top-down corporations might not feel like it, but small and dynamic organizations will feel that this might give them an extra edge, an extra stimulus to move towards a world that is more humane; for corporations are made out of people, with different backgrounds, and … networking is becoming increasingly important.
If the world is really evolving towards a more networked knowledge world, companies will also benefit from a more democratic, critical way of teaching or providing learning time for their employees.
Networking is also build on trust, and trust is inherently human, so if a company wants to go ahead it will have to invest in networking, in trust, in humanity. And yes, that might lead to an active movement towards a more equal world (it might be far off, but hey, let me dream just a week longer, the Gregorian year has just started). Activism in my mind is not against something, but together for something, transcending the borders of the organizations/regions we work in.

Philanthropy not assured
However critical pedagogy will not turn us into philanthropists. What each individual does with her/his self-managed life is something completely different. It is not because a person becomes self-aware, knowledgeable about the social and political world, that the individual will say: “now I will put all my energy and capital into improving the world for everyone, so we can be a happy blue planet”. Being critical is no certainty for human and societal love and peace, but at least it makes us aware of what we do and what the consequences might be.

Do you feel we could benefit from a more critically directed pedagogy?