Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From Sharon-on critical pedagogy

I wanted to start copying some thoughtful insights here, to organize and keep them together and then to respond and keep thinking about some of these things. If you are on the listserve, than you've probably read these already. I'll create some new posts of my own later.

Date: Mon, 19 Sep 2005 02:06:23 -0400
From: Sharon Schnurr
Subject: pedagogy, critical and otherwise
No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first--verdict
`Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. `The idea of having
the sentence first!'
`Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.
`I won't!' said Alice.
In response to what other people are saying about resisting
the temptation of framing their teaching in the form of one
of these “pedagogical boxes,” I can say that I tend to think
about critical pedagogy and all of the other pedagogical
approaches presented in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies as
practices that can inform teaching, not as prescriptive
approaches that provide the last word on how teaching gets
done in the classroom.   So I am more interested (for now)
in finding what is useful to me in an approach than in
finding fault with it.
        A useful goal of critical pedagogy is to provide
students with an opportunity to think about the effect of
institutional power on individual lives and human
relationships. Ann George writes that “critical pedagogy
engages students in analyses of unequal power relations that
produce and are produced by cultural practices and
institutions” (92).  The approach does more than provide
content for student essays; it makes available a time and
place for students to bring to a conscious level the
everyday social practices that they tend to accept as
normative and to question them.  George quotes from Kozol
who contends that one of the effects of mass education is
that it trains students to passively comply with authority
figures (94).  That is, students become so used to equating
being good students and good citizens with “following the
rules” that there is always the possibility that they may
adopt an unconscious habit of compliance, conforming with
the practices that are put forward by anyone or any group
that they perceive as an authority figure--even when such
practice is nonsensical or unjust.  It seems that when
people are in the practice of taking orders, when they
seldom have the opportunity to think in ways that may be
oppositional to the status quo or to make decisions for
themselves, they can become habituated to feeling that being
powerless is normal.  Falling into a habit of non-critical
engagement with the world in this way may make people feel
powerless, even if only on an unconscious level, or it may
lead them to believe that the only way to have power is to
comply with those who are already in power.  Critical
pedagogy can give students an opportunity to participate in
and practice a discourse of resistance (to unjust or
unethical social norms) that can be useful to them in their
everyday lives.  This is not to say that educational systems
are inherently bad or corrupt.  Giroux claims that it might
be more productive to think of schools as “arenas
characterized by struggle between competing ideologies,
discourses and behaviors” [. . .] “which include spaces of
resistance and agency,” so that “cultural institutions
produce varying degrees of accommodation and resistance”
(96). So we don’t all have to be “dupes of ideology” (Shor),
but we can be “people fighting for humanity” (96).

Date: Mon, 19 Sep 2005 14:29:11 -0400
From: Sharon Schnurr
Subject: Re: Critical Theory Meets Rhetoric

In fairness to Ben, he does point out that to pose the
question this way--transformative intellectuals or exegetes--
really sets up a false dichotomy.
He points out that every reading of a theorist retheorizes.
He says that this is a meager payoff,though, compared to
what could be learned and said.
But what is the goal? The transformation of the current
social conditions into a new order. Agger writes that "This
type of political education differs from earlier forms in
that it relates lifeworld struggle to the evident prospect
of a qualitatively different society.  Who has tried to put
this into action?  I can think of several intellectuals who
really tried to put these ideas into play in the world--
Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Tupac Shakur--
it's interesting that all of these people suffered a similar
One thing that is interesting about these individuals is
that all of them employed a rhetoric as a vehicle through
which they endeavored to produce social change. Terry
Eagleton's account of rhetoric seems applicable here:
Rhetoric saw speaking and writing not merely as textual
objects, to be aesthetically contemplated or endlessly
deconstructed, butu as forms of activity inseparable from
the wider social relations between writers and readers,
orators and audiences, and as largely unintelligible outside
the social purposes in which they were embedded.

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