Archive for the ‘critical pedagogy’ Category

I want a shirt like this

Out of the population of professors, I'm glad someone looks like this...I mean, really.

In this post, I’m going to attempt to summarize some major concepts behind critical pedagogy, specifically the work of my current dissertation guru, Peter McLaren.  (And I promise, his appearance has nothing to do with my intense appreciation of and admiration for his work…but I mean, come on…we can still admire his tattoos and his western style button-ups with skulls & cross bones on them!!!!)  But more than getting into some of the juicy ideas (I love using non-scholarly language) of critical pedagogy, I’m also writing this to reflect on a current conundrum I face: where do I fit in with all of this?  I feel pretty “radical” or whatever with my thoughts (I don’t think “radical” is an overstatement, by the way), my philosophies on things, but really…am I putting this into practice or just theorizing about it all?  Obviously I’m writing my dissertation right now, so a huge amount of mental processing is going on purely in front of the computer.  But when does it or has it manifested itself in day to day life?

Well, lots of places, but when my mind seems to be the site of all this theorizing, it’s easy to feel a little isolationist.

It is with more than a little embarrassment that I copy and paste McLaren’s bio into this blog post, mostly because I’m not interested in doing  a “report” on him as an individual; but I think this is all important information in understanding where he’s coming from ideologically, and also to get a basic understanding of why he’s important.

Peter McLaren is a Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. Peter McLaren is one of the leading practioners of Critical Pedagogy in the U.S. as well as one of its leading advocates worldwide. McLaren began as an inner city schoolteacher in the Toronto, Canada area and later graduated with a Ph.D from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. McLaren’s work focuses on developing and implementing critical pedagogy strategies into the classroom. His critical pedagogy is based on Marxist theories applied to curriculum development and instruction, and the development of pedagogical theory and practice based on critical multiculturalism, critical ethnography, and critical literacy. In short, critical pedagogy confronts both teacher and student with questions about how power plays a role in their learning experience and examines how it favors some and not others. Professor McLaren was the inaugural recipient of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Award presented by Chapman University, California, April 2002. He also received the Amigo Honorifica de la Comunidad Universitaria de esta Institucion by La Universidad Pedagogica Nacional, Unidad 141, Guadalajara, Mexico. In addition, two of his books were winners of the American Education Studies Association Critics Choice Awards for outstanding books in education. (Taken from: http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~ganterg/sjureview/vol2-1/mclaren.html)

All of this is explored in great detail in my dissertation, so I’m just going to compile a list of McLaren quotes here to present an intro of sorts to the central concepts behind critical pedagogy — there are taken from his essay entitled, “Critical Pedagogy: A Look at the Major Concepts” (from the Critical Pedagogy Reader, New York: Routledge Falmer, 2003).  I’ll give brief general examples following each concept.

1.  (p. 72)”Critical pedagogy asks how and why knowledge gets constructed the way it does, and how and why some constructions of reality are legitimated and celebrated by the dominant culture while other clearly are not.”  Example question: Why are SAT scores so unbelievably “important” and who says anyway?

2. (p. 74) “In addition to defining culture as a set of practices, ideologies, and values from which different groups draw to make sense of the world, we need to recognize how cultural questions help us understand who has power and how it is reproduced and manifested in the social relations that link schooling to the wider social order.”   Example question: In what ways do schools simulate or reproduce hierarchical social orders inherent in society at large?  I mean, we all know that social life issues we experienced growing up only come up again as adults…but how are these social divisions promoted in schools?  For those musicians out there, orchestras in conservatories and universities are absolutely representing the corporation that is the professional orchestra.  Hierarchy, control, upholding tradition, “do as I say,” “blend with your section,” “don’t stand out,” “bow down to the asshole with the baton”…No wonder David Hoose never liked me.  😉

3.  (page 75) “Subcultures are involved in contesting the cultural ‘space’ or openings in the dominant culture.  The dominant culture is never able to secure total control over subordinate cultural groups.”  Ex: first, let me say that McLaren references the punk movement in this section of the essay, which I had NOT read when I mentioned the punk movement in my previous blog entitled, “the Dissertation.”  So I was excited to read his mention of punk subculture.  Said movement seems far, far, far, far more genuine – and badass! – than ANYTHING I’ve seen in my lifetime, at least from a socio-musicological perspective.

4. (page 76) “Hegemony refers to the maintenance of domination not by the sheer exercise of force but primarily through consensual social practices, social forms, and social structures produced in specific sites such as the church, the state, the school, the mass media, the political system, and the family.”  Ex: Hegemonic structures within society are literally everywhere, so it’s hard to know where to begin.  In a general sense, a hegemonic thought would be (fill in the blanks here): “In order to be successful, I must make this amount of money; In order to be attractive, I must not look fatter or less sexy than ________; In order to be worthy, I have to appear ‘normal’ to my friends and family and ‘normal’ means_____.”  All of this stuff is totally and utterly subjective, but based on mass media & advertising & however many bozos we happen to know who impact their ideas onto us, I think we all can make a stupid guess at what the answers to these would be…all I can think of is TV commercials.  BURN YOUR TELEVISIONS.

5.  (page 82) “How have certain pedagogical practices become so habitual or natural in school settings that teachers accept them as normal, unproblematic, and expected?”  Ex: Why is rote memorization so frequently used or “busy work” like copying vocabulary words and their meanings FROM THE TEXTBOOK?  Lauren’s answer from a non-critical thinking standpoint…but one based in realism! — “Well, because rote memorization allows you to get the stuff in your head so you can get an A on your test.”  And that’s the answer, people.  How sad!  And yet, how often have I employed that way of thinking!  You have to take a test?  Well, memorize your facts.  They will leave your brain the second your turn in the paper to the teacher.  Example: Yesterday, I couldn’t remember what century Charlemagne lived!!!!  Ms. AP European History over here was 400 years off! **I should, however, give credit where credit is due and add that Coach Goode was an absolutely fabulous history teacher in every way, shape, and form…with that said, the impending AP exams definitely, definitely made us do a huge amount of memorizing.  I’m sure my parents remember all my studying!

Anyway, I digress.  So the point of my blog is not only to express the relevance to critical pedagogy – not just to teaching but to everyday life itself – but to ask the question, “where do I fit in?”  I’m not really a social activist, at least in the strict definition of the term; I don’t teach in inner-city schools or am lobbying for social change at the government level.  I’m basically the following: I’m a musician, cellist, poet, educator, aspiring PhD.  And to be perfectly honest, I find so many aspects of our society offensive, that I tend to prefer my role as an isolationist.  With that said, I’ve become much more chill about aspects of our culture with which I disagree (capitalism, TV commercials, commercialism in general, excessive focus on appearance, superficiality, anti- intellectualism, obsession with celebrity, obsession with infidelity of politicians, you name it).  And yet I’m able to engage with many of these things (I fortunately avoid TV commercials 99% of the time since J & I don’t have a TV) and maintain my distance, understanding the fucked up contradictions and “values” embedded within them…and well, I just get on with my life.

And as for the last part of the title of this blog post: to be honest, I have no idea if musicians care about this stuff.  It’s so easy to live in a bubble of…well, being a musician, that your world view is limited, I think.  I mean, to be blunt, I don’t even feel like part of the “work force.”  I’m a doctoral student, I don’t make much money, and the money I do make is either from “entertaining” people or from teaching upper class white kids how to put their finger on a little color-coded tape on their finger board, so their parents know they’re doing the “right thing” by going to their cello lessons.  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be this dark.  There are musicians doing some pretty amazing things today, and they are transforming reality in their own way.  They may not want to read McLaren – or god forbid, my blog – but many are transformers in their own right.

My hope is that I impart some of the more positive aspects of my thinking to my friends, my colleagues, my family, and hopefully my students.  I also hope to promote dialog with each other.  I can be very isolationist, and I feel that these ideas need to be shared and dispersed — ideas from all perspectives.  I don’t intend this to sound as dramatic as it might, but basically this is how I see it – and there are a lot of questions around this for me right now, so I certainly don’t have it all figured out: I walk out the door each day knowing that I actively resist established hegemonies within our culture and its various ideologies.  I’ve never felt like I fit in.  I’ve always had problems with societal “standards,” probably seeing and feeling the paradoxes inherent in them while at the same time seeing myself as a victim.  But now, I know that and can embrace that with hopefully not too much anger and frustration.  And my hope is that I can transcend any negativity and transform the thoughts and feelings I have into approaching the world differently; approaching my cello differently; approaching my colleagues differently; approaching my students differently.  Trying new things, thinking new thoughts, critiquing the world and yet moving forward in it and not being immobilized by cynicism.  I don’t know if music per se is going to be the vehicle by which I transform my reality, but it is one route, for sure.  But the avenues are endless.

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