Thursday, November 11, 2004

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Postmodernism & Pedagogy (Elle)

Thinking Culture

Elle Wolterbeek
Book & Articles
Submission #3

Articles: Postmodernism, pedagogy, and philosophy of education by Clive Beck, President of the Postmodern Educational Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1994.

Notes of Critical Literacy Philosophy and Pedagogical Practice, by Ann Woodlief and Marcel Cornis-Pope, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2002. Also published as a chapter in Intertexts: Reading from a Writer’s Perspective, 2002.

Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed New York: Seabury, 1974. Translated from the original Portuguese (1968) by Myra Bergman Ramos.

I found these articles and the book the most stimulating, thought-provoking reading I have done since I began my graduate school career. As I sort of fell into teaching, I really never had the educational theory in school that many others have, so I always wonder if my ideas about teaching and education make any sense, if they work, etc. These readings gave me a great deal to think about as well as more confidence that although I do not have the background in education that I wish I might, other people are looking at education through the same lens as I am- particularly in regards to composition studies, which is where my interests lie. This combination of reading worked particularly well together as the authors shared many opinions and ideas but also differed in their styles of presentation and the subsequent discussions. I really enjoyed these readings and highly suggest them to anyone else who is interested in educational theory- particularly Liberatory Theory, which is a focus of Freire but is discussed in the two articles as well.

Freire suggests that every person can look critically at his world throughout a process of dialogue and can gradually come to understand his personal and social reality, think about it, and take action. Through this process, an oppressed person is transformed and no longer responding to social forces. Education is an either/or; Either the conditioning of the younger generation to accept things as they are, or the practice of freedom which prepares the younger generation to deal critically and creatively with their worlds and realities. These ideas, among others, form the basis for Freire’s suggestion that literacy can be-and is-an agent of social change. The main problem, according to some of the criticism I read, is that the book and Freire’s ideas are revolutionary and political and go against many of the prevailing American beliefs. These American beliefs would include ideas such as “banking education”, that the teacher teaches and students are taught (as opposed to the idea that both the teacher and the student bring something different and equally worthwhile to the classroom and that knowledge should be shared, both sides/ideas given equal respect), the idea that the teacher knows everything and that the students know nothing, the idea that only what the teacher teaches is correct, that the teacher chooses what to teach and the students adapt, that the students are only the objects while the teacher is the subject of the learning process, etc.

Everyone in this class, given that we read Foucault and discussed the process of naming, might be interested to know that Freire is also interested in the process of naming and thinks that the action of naming directs social action. “Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words… To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection” (60-61). This relates to Freire’s ideas about critical reflection, which should constantly force each human being to assess and reassess their situation, actions, and positions.

In any case, this was all extremely relevant to me because I am very focused in writing for social conscience. Freire is highly interested in the personal narrative which is the focus of my ENG101 courses and because I believe that only through expressing ourselves and sharing our knowledge can we further our collective understanding, I was really excited by this book. I learned about Freire through the articles I read about postmodernism and pedagogy (discussed below), so it was great to have started with the articles because they gave me an understanding and foundation for some of the ideas Freire presented.

Beck defined postmodernism as “not just a philosophical movement: it is also, for example, in architecture, the graphic arts, dance, music, literature, and literacy theory.” I am just sharing this because I have found so many different definitions for postmodernism and so I like to write them down and compare how many different definitions exist for this…

Here are the main points of the article that I found to be of particular interest:
-Postmodernist insights require a shift in our conception of inquiry. We should consider knowledge to be constantly creating and recreating and, given purpose and context, recognize that often knowledge is in part autobiographical as it reflects or personal narrative or our particular site in the world.
-We should question expertise. In particular fields, some people do know more than others; but the difference, insofar as it exists, is usually one of degree. “Expert knowledge” can not always be applied, it must be modified between cases.
-Language affects our understandings and creates a constant play of interpretation.
-We must recognize that “there is no center” and no traditional central tradition of scholarship (ie. Eurocentric, middle-class, predominately male) we should consider Native American, Afro-American, Feminist, etc., as more than colonies.
-gender, class and ethnicity bias does not describe everything that an individual or group does.
-Individual scholarship should be recognized more seriously as each individual is constantly questioning, observing, theorizing, and assessing their lives and situations.
-Learning should foster cultural-political understanding while supporting students’ continued perception of the world as value-neutral, unproblematic, and unchangeable.
-Schools must encourage and assist students to engage in general theorizing about reality and life; postmodernist emphasis on concrete, local concerns is important and should be applied in education.
-Students of education should be helped to see that knowledge is value dependent, culture dependent, and changeable- that we are not searching for a fixed, universal philosophy of life and education.

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