Shor – Critical Pedagogy is Too Big To Fail

Shor, Ira. “Critical Pedagogy is Too Big to Fail.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.2 (2009): 6-27. Print.

In this article, Shor’s goal is twofold: First,  he addresses similarities and differences between his grading contracts and his colleagues Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz.  While Shor grades the quality of student work on a wider A-F basis, Elbow and Danielewicz only grade quality if a student work is deemed a “B” or better. Another difference is that Shor negotiates the grading contract with his students to construct the classroom as a public sphere, where Elbow and Danielewicz’s contracts are nonnegotiable. Shor asserts that these practices are particularly important in a neo-liberal climate where students need to develop democratic agency. Secondly, Shor addresses a misperception of his pedagogy in Danielewicz and Elbow’s essay regarding polemics in critical pedagogy. Shor says that polemics and proselytizing is not necessary or appropriate in the classroom. He cites himself in Empowering Education to reiterate the point:

Teachers who treat the classroom as a political meeting can expect stiffened resistance from students as well as more vigilant policing from administrators. . . . Dialogic, democratic teaching rejects sectarian posturing. Students cannot be commanded to take action and cannot be graded on their consciousness. (196-97)

Morrell – Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Pop Culture: Literacy Development Among Urban Youth

Morrell, Ernest. “Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Pop Culture: Literacy Development among Urban Youth.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 46.1 (2002): 72-77. Print.

In this article, Morrell suggests that critical teaching of pop culture can help students acquire and develop necessary literacies needed to navigate “new century” schools. He draws on New Literacy theorists and claims that the failure of urban students to develop “academic” literacy comes not from a lack of student intelligence but from a lack of accessibility of the school curriculum to students who are not a part of the “mainstream” culture.

Morrell’s goal is to show how popular culture can be successfully used in critical teaching and draws on data from his 8 years teaching urban teens in the San Francisco Bay area. Morrell’s unit adhered to critical pedagogy because it was based in the students experiences, “called for critical dialogue and a critical engaged of the text, and related the texts to larger social and political issues” (75). Morrell says that students honed the critical and analytical skills. They were also able to make connections between literature, popular culture, and their everyday lives.

While Morrell recognizes the pressures surrounding using critical literacy and popular culture, especially concerning standardized testing, he asserts that teachers should not avoid standards debates or apologize for innovative approaches. Instead he suggests that critical teachers get involved with conversations on assessment that is more compatible with findings on students nonschool literacies.

McGee – Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teaching

McGee, A. Robin. “Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teacher.” Language Arts. 88.4 (2011): 270-277. Print.

A. Robin McGee documents her preservice teaching experience with a sixth grade class where she enacted critical pedagogy. Led by student inquiry, McGee uses Freirian theory of critical pedagogy to help her students learn about issues they were concerned about, immigrants and immigration, through problem-posing. She also reflects on lessons she has learned:

Does it make sense to state that as a 21st-century preservice teacher, I was teaching for social justice? I was able to do some work in the spirit of a just and democratic society. However, if I had opened up my cycle of critical praxis more fully, rather than being so caught up in the mechanics of figuring out “teaching,” my class could have accomplished so much more. If I had been willing to turn over more of the direction and autonomy to the students and the stories they had found, I am sure that the results would have been different—more dramatic and more meaningful.

Greer – “No Smiling Madonna”: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917

Greer, Jane. “‘No Smiling Madonna’: Marian Wharton and the Struggle to Construct a Critical Pedagogy for the Working Class, 1914-1917.” College Composition and Communication. 51.2 (1999): 248-271. Print.

In this essay, Greer does historiographic work and discusses the life and work of Marian Wharton. Wharton helped shape the English curriculum at People’s College from 1914-1917 with a specific focus on empowering the working-class.

Greer hopes that by exploring Wharton’s struggles she can highlight and learn more about the contradictions that women and other marginalized people face when trying to enact liberatory pedagogy within existing traditional institutions i.e. “free choice and restricted options.” She cites Elizabith Ellsworth and Ira Shor as contemporary teachers that also struggle with these issues in their scholarship on critical pedagogy.

Greer finds that the main tension in Wharton’s work are the unacknowledged existing hierarchies among competing linguistic systems that ultimately disrupt her project (265). For example, in Wharton’s English textbook Plain English designed to teach “revolutionary English” she equates error-free writing with “clear thinking” implying that her students’ different language use made them cognitively deficient (265).

Greer draws parallese between Wharton and contemporary writing instruction:

Just  as Wharton’s  voice  in Plain English moves  among a range of radical and conservative  registers that reflect her personal commitments as well as institutional and cultural  influences,  so  too  our  own  pedagogical  discourse  is  never  fully  our own: it is freighted with competing languages, some of which may reverberate at frequencies  so  low  and  subtle we  may have  difficulty hearing them  ourselves.

Greer suggests that by acknowledging our own tensions and making them transparent to our students we may become role models of the critical students we want them to be.

Gorzelsky – Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency

Gorzelsky, Gwen. “Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency.” College Composition and Communication. 61.1 (2009): 64-84. Print.

In this article Gwen Gorzelsky shares her ethnographic study of an intermediate composition class successfully engaging in critical pedagogy. Situating her study in the research of Durst, Trainor, and Wallace and Ewald, Gorzelsky explores the line between privileging Composition Studies’ goals of critical pedagogy and students’ pragmatic needs.

Gorzelsky studies the pedagogy of Justin Vidovic and his respect of students’ boundaries along with the use of traditional classroom techniques such as Initial Response Evaluation. She suggests that the combination of these traditional and critical teaching strategies creates a “classroom ethos that strongly supports their agency – their ownership of their developing ideas and texts” (66). Gorzelshy concludes that those in Composition Studies should not “sharply prioritize” either critical pedagogy and it’s goals or students’ pragmatic goals:

I suggest that our professional responsibility is to enhance the greater good of those systems and their potential readiness for change, rather than to pursue isolated goals, whether our own or students’. In taking this approach, we forego critical pedagogy’s emphasis on revolution, which is inevitably linear and focused on a single goal, in favor of the kind of change that ripples throughout systems while keeping them in the balance needed to support life and growth (82).

Gaugan – From Literature to Language: Personal Writing in Critical Pedagogy

Gaugan, John. “From Literature to Language: Personal Writing and Critical Pedagogy.” English Education. 31.4 (1999): 310-326. Print.

In this article, John Gaugan explores what it means to engage in liberating pedagogy in the writing classroom. Through various examples from his English courses Gaugan shows how he navigates the fine line between helping students critically question what they “know” and the world without imposing his own agenda of democratic values. His questions are similar to those of Elisabeth Ellsworth (1989). Part of his solution is grounded in on-going dialogue; not telling students what to think, but continuously encouraging them to rethink (315).

Gaugan labels his teaching “social epistemic” or “cultural studies” and admits that this model can fall into the traditional, nondemocratic banking model. However, Gaugan states that while he selects the themes and texts of his course, his course remains more student-centered than teacher-centered:

Despite these admissions,  I  don’t  think my teaching is traditional.  My classes  are more student- than teacher-centered, more  language-  than literature-focused, more  process-  than product-oriented. I question  or suggest  rather  than insist or prescribe. I ask  students  to  consider  their privileged position. I  try to make  them  think  –  but not exactly  as  I do.  I share my point of view but welcome  theirs. I  encourage reader  response. I don’t own a teacher’s manual. (325)

Brown – Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward A Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration :Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. 5 Vol. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.

In Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy, Ruth Nicole Brown attempts to chart out a pedagogy capable of recognizing the nuances and challenges of race, gender, sexuality, class, and hip-hop culture and how they intersect in the lives of “Black girls.” For Brown, “Black girls” is not an essential category describing African American only, but is also inclusive of Jamaican immigrants, Native Americans, and whites who identify as allies. Brown uses her project Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) that works with teenage girls that identify as Black in a Mid-western town as a case study to illustrate how this pedagogy manifests as a Black girlhood celebration. Including her own autoethnographic reflections, field notes, news clippings and participant reflections and samples of work while in the program, Brown paints a picture of how such a pedagogy could be enacted and adapted in other settings.

Brown has a joint appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies an Educational Policy. In this book, Brown’s voice is polyvocal; while this book is addressed primarily to other academics in her fields, it also reads as though it is a call to fellow Hip-hop feminists, Black girls and women to do the work of saving our lives. As a reader from a similar Hip-hop socialization and generation I laughed out loud and could relate when Brown described her experience dropping down low doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” and then having to take her time bringing it back up!

Brown’s work is informed by her previous experience as a researcher and “girl saver” in a “girls’ empowerment program” that operated on a colonial banking model that reinforced White middle-class patriarchal values of girlhood. Brown’s work challenges both “girl saving” and “girl empowerment” rhetoric which both exclude the culture and material realities of young Black girls, and operate on the ageist assumptions that girls in general are deficient and need fixing by adults. Instead of trying to “squeeze” Black girlhood into these limited models, Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebration and Hip-hop feminist pedagogy work to make Black Girls and their realities, needs, desires, and ways of being central in their own right.

Brown demonstrates how SOLHOT honors Black girlhood, it’s language, cultural productions (dance, poetry, music), and needs (to be accepted, have a place to express themselves and work out questions and complex feelings). Black girlhood is defined as:

the representations, memories, and lived experiences of being and becoming in a body marked as youthful, Black, and female. Black girlhood is not dependent, then, on age, physical maturity, or any essential category of identity (1).

SOLHOT, an “afterschool” program that meets twice a week for two hours each session over the course of one-and-a-half-years in the case study, also experiences challenges. Brown shares these challenges and how she works together with the SOLHOT girls (student participants) and homegirls (the “mentors”) in order to navigate perceived challenges and turn them into learning opportunities.

A part of crafting this “new” pedagogy, although Brown admits that similar work is being done by other Hip-hop feminist and community workers, is crafting a language for it. Since the Black girlhood experience is so unique and marginalized in Girls’ Studies, Hip-hop, and education/ youth programming, Brown carefully chooses her words and explains how they differ from their typical contexts. For example, she uses “homegirls” to describe “mentors” because mentors typically operate on the banking method of depositing information or values into mentees which Brown rejects.

Brown’s approach to pedagogy is similar to bell hooks’ ( ) approach in Teaching to Transgress in that Brown embraces the notions of passion and joy in the classroom, the necessity of self-actualization of the teacher/ leader/ homegirl, and the incorporation and recognition of the body and spirit in addition to the mind in the learning experience.

Brown’s pedagogy focuses on process and community building above an actual product or production as a result:

Saving Our Lives may appear on the surface as a nod toward that project of youth management, but it is not… when SOLHOT works, I do quite believe that lives are saved by collectively acting on our own behalf. How the “saving” happens is not in the logistics and activities, but in our coming together. In SOLHOT we acknowledge our common problems to each other. We feel it together. We walk through it together. While we walk, we talk about what’s real outside of this problem (64).

In true Hip-hop feminist form, Brown acknowledges the contradictions and gray areas involved with Black girls and women working together in such a dynamic and un-stable way. Like Friere, Brown does states and restates that she does not intend for Black Girlhood Celebration to be prescriptive and the model for Hip-hop feminist pedagogy, but an example and a possibility.

On a personal note, this book was an incredible read for me. It validated my frustrations as a Black woman working for a nonprofit organization as a program director for “at risk” youth and striving to provide nurturing programs for primarily Black and Brown boys and girls. I was constantly told that I did not need to spend as much time in the classrooms and programs with my students, but I DID. They needed me and I needed them. I needed to hear from them what it was that they needed. I needed to see when their eyes glazed over in boredom. I needed to check (and correct) “mentors” that were condescending to the youth. Ruth Brown also helped me to better understand my successes. I smile thinking of doing the Cha Cha Slide with my girls and them teaching me how to Cupid Shuffle. That was our “batty dance.” This further let’s me know – that we are on to something and change gon come!

Corkery – Rhetoric of Race: Critical Pedagogy Without Resistance

Corkery, Caleb. “Rhetoric of Race: Critical Pedagogy without Resistance.” Teaching English in the Two Year College 36.3 (2009): 244-57. Print.

In this article, Caleb Corkery explicates how he uses rhetorical theory and critical pedagogy in his composition classroom. Corkery uses rhetoric as a non-threatening lens and shows his students how racial arguments have been asserted and defended throughout U.S. history. The goal is to demonstrate that racial identities are in fact constructed. Through this approach, Corkery asserts that he helps to position his students along side the author and text which allows the necessary emotional distance to “properly” engage with the text. Corkery suggests that targeting white students and/ or white identity, or “subordinate students” is a set up for failure – a mutually beneficial inquiry should be the goal.

Using rhetoric provides the text to interrogate and ensures a focus on language:

Composition instructors are in a unique position to connect the inspiration for critical pedagogies to individual awareness. Applying rhetorical skills to the arguments that have historically divided races in this country forces white students to reconcile, on their own, the evolving construction of white supremacy with the “unraced” status of whites today. A critical approach that centers on rhetorical theory is also more appropriate for a writing course, as might argue Soles, Harris, and O’Dair, who warn that critical pedagogies in composition courses neglect their duty to language study (in Beech 182).

Ellsworth – Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering?

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t this Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myth of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review. 59.3 (1989):297-324. Print.

In this article Elizabeth Ellsworth offers an interpretation of an anti-racism course she offered and uses that  interpretation to support her critique of then current (1980s) discourses of critical pedagogy. She argues that key critical pedagogy terms such as “empowerment,” “student voice,” “dialogue,” and even “critical” are repressive myths that sustain relations of domination and exacerbated “banking education” (298).

One major premise asserted by Ellsworth is that a critical pedagogue is one who enforces rules of reason in the class and that rationalism can also be used to dominate. Drawing on feminist studies, Ellsworth suggests that while post-structuralism can also be used to dominate, it also offers critique against the violence of rationalism that excludes women, people of color, and other marginalized groups (303). Post-structuralist thought is not bound to “reason, but to discourse, literally narratives about the world that are admittedly partial” (303).

Ellsworth asks the question, “what diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299) and interrogates the unnamed agendas of courses enacting critical pedagogy and professors teaching them. She concludes with a quote from Trinh T. Minh-ha: “there are no social positions exempt from becoming oppressive to other… any group – any position – can move into the oppressor role” (322).

hooks – “Theory as Liberatory Practice”

hooks, bell. “Theory as Liberatory Practice.” Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routlege, 1994. 59-75. Print.

In this essay, bell hooks challenges the perceived dichotomy between theory and practice or lived experience. hooks attributes the unnecessary disinterest in feminism and feminist theory by women to this dichotomy. According to hooks, feminist theory presented as mysterious and/ or disconnected from real life experiences and concerns beyond the classroom “assaults the fragile psyches of women struggling to throw off patriarchy’s oppressive yoke” (65). This type of theory edifies academic departments, but undermines liberatory movements.

Theorizing must be connected to action, practice, critical reflection, and/ or lived experience:

This is what makes feminist transformation possible. Personal testimony, personal experience, is such fertile ground for the production of liberatory feminist theory because it usually forms the base of our theory (70).