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Archive for the ‘critical theory’ 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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Trent Reznor, a fellow Taurus-musician

One of my many running mixes (particularly the ones I use when running on the oh-so-boring treadmill) is my infamous Nine Inch Nails mix.  Aggressive, angsty, passionate, driving…that’s exactly what one needs when running.  Anyway, since my mind has been completely immersed in and with the concepts of identity, empowerment, resistance, & counter-hegemony, I started realizing that the very music I was getting so into in this state of physical exertion and mental alertness contained lyrics which reflected themes of those very things: identity, empowerment, resistance & counter-hegemony.  No surprise there, I suppose, and to my delight, honing in on the specifics of the lyrics only drove me farther in my mileage.  😉  Amazing!  It’s a little weird taking this sort of academic point of view with music that is to me so amazingly visceral, but this is just too right-on from a cerebral standpoint.  I’ll break it down:

1. (I know this is totally predictable, but anyway…) “Head Like a Hole” from 1989’s “Pretty Hate Machine,” representing resistance and counter-hegemony:

…No you can’t take that away from me
No you can’t take it
No you can’t take it
No you can’t take that away from me
Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I’d rather die than give you control.

Now with the same song, Trent reverses roles, moving into the position of domination (representing empowerment, but in a possibly destructive way???)

Bow down before the one you serve.
You’re going to get what you deserve.

1. “Only” (from “With Teeth,” 2005)

Serious, serious commentary on identity (and the fluctuating, hard-to-define aspects of identity, the potential to “lose oneself”), resistance, & counter-hegemony, defining oneself based not on outside influence.  I suppose this also represent a sort of Borderline Personality Disorder kind of thing, where people’s sense of self is totally undefined…but honestly, I think we all have the potential to feel this way, and those types of disorders are very hard to diagnose.  I digress…I think this song is more about the disconnect we can begin to feel when we’re being defined by outside sources, by the establishment, by hegemonic ways of thinking that are ultimately destructive (think: capitalism, excessive focus on “success,” climbing the social ladder, monetary success, body issues, esp. with women, you name it).  As angry as this song is, I think it really points towards breaking free.  I think all of these do…

I’m becoming less defined as days go by
Fading away
And well you might say
I’m losing focus
Kinda drifting into the abstract in terms of how I see myself

Sometimes I think I can see right through myself
Sometimes I can see right through myself

Less concerned about fitting into the world
Your world that is
Cause it doesn’t really matter anymore
(no it doesn’t really matter anymore)
No it doesn’t really matter anymore
None of this really matters anymore

There is no you
There is only me
There is no you
There is only me
There is no fucking you
There is only me
There is no fucking you
There is only me

3. “The Hand that Feeds” (Critical Theory, Counter-hegemony, resistance, identity); this one is really powerful.  Trent is (this is just what I think, of course) looking at whatever system of domination (government, school, the music industry, capitalism, a sadistic partner, whatever) and basically seeing himself as a potential (and sometimes willing) victim & wondering if he (or you) is “brave enough” to challenge the establishment & question it & become empowered, therefore “getting off your knees” and evolving.  I think he’s also commenting on the symbiotic relationship (the chair of my dissertation committee refers to this in one of her papers) between oppressors and those seeking empowerment.

You’re keeping in step
In the line
Got your chin held high and you feel just fine
Because you do
What you’re told
But inside your heart it is black and it’s hollow and it’s cold

Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?

What if this whole crusade’s
A charade
And behind it all there’s a price to be paid
For the blood
On which we dine
Justified in the name of the holy and the divine

Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?

So naive
I keep holding on to what I want to believe
I can see
But I keep holding on and on and on and on

This is probably all a little too aggressive for a lot of people (particularly the live performances), but I think if you take these themes into account, it really can hit home in a major way.

And last but not least – this is the best clip, in my opinion – a fabulous performance of “Head Like a Hole” from 1994, when Trent was closer to my age.  🙂  I love the angst, I really do.  There’s something strangely beautiful about this.  I mean, when do we get to be this angry?  (From one of my favorite songs: “Master Shaman, I have come, with my dolly from the shadow side, with a demon and an englishman…all the angels, and all the wizards, black and white, are lighting candles in our hands”).  For those of you who know what that quote is from, let’s just keep it between you & me, otherwise we have a serious cliche on our hands.  😉

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Examining data...and probably reaching a state of perplexedness at some lame-o sentence I wrote 2 years ago...

I’ve decided to include a relatively small blurb on the research I am undertaking for my PhD.  My blog, as many of you know, began as a purely fun endeavor, a way to talk (and perhaps dialog with people) about things in life about which I am passionate…namely, music, food, & wine, with the occasional nature or holiday-inspired essay.

Now I’ve decided to include some information regarding my dissertation research, perhaps mostly for people close to me who aren’t 100% sure of what I’m doing exactly.  Totally understandable, no doubt.  I wake up each day with the assumption that most people’s eyes will glaze over the second I start talking about said research.

But I am also doing this for the cellists who agreed to be part of this study and were so generous with their time and were so articulate in discussing their experiences with music, school, and improvising.

Please be aware: the following is a synopsis and only begins to touch on the purposes behind my research.  It is actually very helpful to me to be able to summarize this without a tremendous amount of explanation.

My research deals with issues of ideology, hegemony, resistance, and identity construction in the experiences of classically trained cellist-improvisers.  Through interviews with five cellists, I investigate how identity construction is related to performativity (that is, actually performing music, though ‘performativity’ refers to much more than just that) and also to established institutional hegemonies, namely the hegemony of classical music indoctrinated in conservatory training.

To clarify: Certain groups constitute counter-hegemonies,meaning that they resist the established paradigms (“norms”) inherent in the ideology.  (I keep thinking of the Sex Pistols, so those who know them…well, keep that in mind).  Through this “resistance,” their identities evolve and subsequently new paradigms evolve, and the established systems (i.e. music conservatories in this case) are challenged.  By examining the existing ideologies–and also by understanding how and why certain groups choose to challenge certain hegemonies within the ideologies–we can move forward and transform reality through critical ways of being (thinking, reading, listening, performing, acting).  If we can understand our individual realities as directly relating to the intricacies of our history, background, education, etc., we can see ourselves in the broader scope of society.  Through this understanding, change can occur on personal and institutional levels.

Moral of the story: roll with the times…and if you don’t, someone or something is going to push you out of the way, rendering you obsolete.  …I could quote Bob Dylan here, but I’ll refrain…okay, okay, it’s just too perfect:

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast

The slow one now will later be fast

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’

So I would like to thank the cellists who are involved in this project.  My research wouldn’t be what it is without the experiences of these musicians:

1. Stephanie Winters

2. Will Martina

3. Tomas Ulrich

4. Jody Redhage

5. Daniel Levin

(I will do another blog post, if they’re in favor of my including them, that will give more information on them as individuals, their work, etc.).

Gotta love Butler!

Butler's Gender Trouble - key source for exploring issues of identity construction

Gramsci, Freire, & Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action

Paulo Freire...please don't be worried that this has the word "oppressed" in the title...I realize the text is backwards thanks to my computer's 'photo booth.' The book is called Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Afterthought:  All my life I have been fascinated by institutions and people who went against the grain (pardon the cliche).  Kids who talked back to teachers, the “alternative” crowd at Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC, of which my sister was a part (and I would have been a part had I not gone through that rebellion rather early on), the punk movement, any music that sounded innovative to my ears, sex stores geared towards women’s freedom & education,  you name it.  I tend to be attracted to most things considered to be “on the fringes”…with the exception of the hipster “movement”…wait, is it even a movement?  I mean, come on.  And sadly, the impression I get is that hipsters love to think they’re “on the fringes,” but they’re just fooling themselves.  And maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’ve always felt like an outsider.  And as I get a little older, I realize how much I appreciate that about myself.  And even more importantly than that, how much I appreciate that in other people.  And now I’m lucky enough to be writing about people who are literally changing the course of history.

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