Thelin – Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst

Thelin, William. “William H Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 114-118. Print.

In this response to Russell Durst’s critique of Thelin’s article “Understanding problems of Critical Pedagogy,” he acknowledges that he made himself vulnerable to sweeping generalizations by admitting that he had a disastrous section of composition. He asserts, however,  that the goal of the article was to scrutinize a problematic classroom in order to complicate the “this doesn’t work” response.

Thelin says Durst isn’t critiquing his findings, but is critiquing Thelin’s interpretation of critical pedagogy. He claims that Durst wants him to say that critical pedagogy is ineffective, but his data, he asserts does not support that. Thelin details the oversights, errors, and misunderstandings that he says Durst made in his critique.

Thelin also addresses Dursts depiction of critical pedagogy as confrontational: “Critical  pedagogy  is not confrontational. It is dialogic. Confrontation springs  from  authoritarianism  on  the part  of  the  teacher” (115).

Thelin says that while he did not appreciate the tenor of Durst’s critique, he can appreciate the concern and believes that the actual tenets and practices of critical pedagogy need to be discussed and that it needs to be discussed in more precise language. For example:

Critical  theory  is certainly  deployed  by critical  pedagogues,  but  in and  of  itself,  critical  theory  does  not  constitute  the enactment  of  critical pedagogy,  which  Russel  admits.  In  the  same  sense, students  can work  collaboratively,  as  they  often  do  in critical  classrooms,  but  collaboration  by  itself is not  critical  pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy  blends  these elements  together.  Some critical pedagogues do not  experiment  with  power sharing,  per  se, but  they still  adhere  to  Freire’s  belief  in  listening  to  the  students  and  asking  key  questions  about  whom the  classroom  serves  and whom it  acts  against.  The  students’  cultures  and  beliefs  are  accounted for  in  such courses,  as  critical  pedagogy  responds  to  local  conditions (118).


Durst – Can We Be Critical of Critical Pedagogy

Durst, Russell. “Can we be Critical of Critical Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 110-114. Print.

This is a direct response to William Thelin’s CCC article, “Understanding Problems of Critical Pedagogy.” Durst distorts Thelin’s argument. Thelin says the students were too unfamiliar with the critical pedagogy approach – not content. Durst suggests that students adapt to a variety of differences in coursework and unfamiliar discipline when they transitioning from high school to college; however, the banking model is fairly consistent in K-16 education. Therefore, there is not much to adapt to in terms of pedagogical approach regardless of content.

Durst critiques the notion of “blundering for a change.” While Thelin uses the term blunder, I do not think “blundering for a change” is his phrase. Durst asserts that critical pedagogy cannot be a series of ongoing mistakes and suggests that the “blunders” move instructors to “dislodge from our ideological comfort zones” and have “our outlooks complicated by discordant ideas,” just as we try to get our students to do so (113).

Thelin – Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms

Thelin, William. “Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms.” College Composition and Communication. 57.1 (2005): 114-141. Print.

In this article, William Thelin critiques critics of critical pedagogy in the composition classroom, Richard Miller and Russel Durst. In short, Thelin asks that baby, critical pedagogy, not be thrown out with the bathwater, challenges, mishaps, and uncertainties that may occur in the classroom. The critique, however, is not the focus of his essay; Thelin provides additional classroom research to show how imperfect critical pedagogy practices/ results can provide valuable insight into achieving the goals of critical pedagogy.

Thelin collected data in the form of student essays that critiqued the “failed” writing course they had participated in with him that semester and offered specific reasons as to why they did not meet their mutual expectations. The 21 students were a mix of white and African American  students across social class lines and genders.

He cites himself in an article with John Paul Tassoni to say, “Students empowerment and challenges to the status quo obviously could not run as seemlessly and still be what they claimed” (2). He continues:

If everything in a critical classroom worked as well as some accounts of critical pedagogy make it seem (see Rosenthal as one example), we would not have a transformation of a classroom. We would have a recasting of the typical hero model of teaching where the instructor rescues students in need of saving (127).

One of the main reasons (signified by five student responses) students gave for things not going well in the classroom was that students were “not used to freedom/ contradicted previous classroom experience” (128). No students argued that students should no co-develop curricula with the instructor (130).

Thelin interprets his classess’ “blunders” as learning opportunities for intructors and students. As an instructor, he sees opportunity to improve his pedagogy by listening to students’ voices more and understanding their understanding of democracy and education. For his students, he holds out hope that they will be better equipped to handle a critical pedagogy class in the future; more and not less critical pedagogy is necessary to have successful democratic classrooms.

Simmons and Page – Motivating Students through Power and Choice

Simmons, Amber M., and Melissa Page. “Motivating Students through Power and Choice.” English Journal. 100.1 (2010): 65-69. Print.

In this article, Simmons and Page share how they utilized critical pedagogy practices in a high schoool English class. The two were interested in finding ways to motivate and empower their students. Using Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as a text, Simmons and Page worked with their students to define the terms of the class project. Drawing on Ira Shor’s critical pedagogy methods, the instructors co-created the grading system with the students. They used the students’ language in the rubric, and developed an end of project survey based on Shor’s design to determine generative themes for future work.

Simmons and Page concluded that sharing curricular power with students served to motivate students to produce quality work and use power responsibly (69). They stated additional benefits:

By using these methods in the classroom, teachers can motivate their students to become active participants in their own education instead of bystanders waiting to be told what to do, when to do it, and how it should be done. (69)

Shor – Why Teach About Social Class?

Shor, Ira. “Why Teach About Social Class?” Teaching English in the Two Year College. 33.2 (2005): 161-170. Print.

In this article, Ira Shor gives a brief overview of his critical teaching method and then focuses on why he emphasizes social class in his course at the City University of New York college he teachers at. He contextualizes the Two Year College within the political and economic climate of the 1970s to the present. Pointing to the increased Harvardization/corporatization of education he asserts that most students at Two Year Colleges are trying to complete degrees under difficult circumstances at underfunded institutions and depending on shrinking promises of financial reward upon completion. These are the students that Shor says most need to understand issues of social class if they are to be equipped to advocate for themselves out in the world. This understanding, however, does not come from traditional banking educational methods, but by developing critical thinking skills.

What teachers can do, if they believe learning for democracy is our professional responsibility, is to develop students as critical citizens whose thinking and acting include tools for class analysis of their lives, their reading lists, their majors, and their society (168).

Shor- War, Lies, and Pedagogy: Teaching in Fearful Times

Ira Shor.”Wars, Lies, and Pedagogy: Teaching in Fearful Times.” Radical Teacher. 77 (2006): 30-35. Print.

In this article, Ira Shor is interviewed about a variety of subjects related to his teaching at a City University of New York (CUNY), including how the events of September 11th, the war in Iraq, and privatization affect his teaching. Shor shares his problem-posing methods and hopes that it may produce more civic activism:

For me, it’s learning for civic activism, knowledge making that orients people to question their society, classes that address students as critical thinkers, lovers of life who can remake their troubled world. War, lies, and fear make these difficult times to dream and teach in this country. Please dream on, dear friends and colleagues(35).

Shor – Can Critical Pedagogy Foster Activism in This Time of Repression

Shor, Ira. “Can Critical Pedagogy Foster Activism in This Time of Repression.” : Radical Teacher. 79 (2007): 39. Print.

In this brief article, Ira Shor explains how he uses the problem-posing method in his first year writing class in order to engage students in concrete relevant writing in a democratic classroom environment. With a class of approximate 30 working-class students from diverse background Shor facilitates a process of co-creating the course syllabus. He also uses questionnaires on the first day to determine generative themes that the students later vote on to determine  topics of inquiry. Shor begins with low stakes writing assignments and information that students already have on their selected topics. The students then proceed to research and collect data which Shor says he lets speak for itself without polemic lectures.

In the end, Shor says,

“‘Research’ here was not an abstract or ritual schmooze through steps but a disturbing process of provocative questions raised by virtually any topic in our society” (39).