Feminist Critical Pedagogy
Current Feminist Pedagogy is at a crossroads. One force draws it to an ethnocentric foundationalist emancipatory commitment, while using postmodern rhetoric which negates essentialism, foundationalism and any sort of universalism and collectivism. A different force directs it to save some of the Enlightenment's ideals while criticizing central elements of present day's postmodern discourse and paying tribute to others. This trend manifests a weaker ethnocentrism than the other. In some aspects it is theoretically weaker than the separatist essentialist and ethnocentrist version of Feminist Pedagogy which negates altogether the humanist emancipatory commitment in education. In both versions, one represented by Kathleen Weiler, the other by Elizabeth Ellsworth, present-day Feminist Pedagogy's attitude towards Critical Theory and its realization as Critical Pedagogy sheds light on its essence, goals, possibilities, and limitations. Both versions of Feminist Pedagogy are philosophically problematic and politically dangerous, as they lack a general Critical Theory or a philosophical framework that will protect them from being drawn into a strategic-instrumentalist orientation, which by definition is fundamentally violent. In the absence of anti-instrumentalist and dialogical elements, they are drawn to serve and reflect the repression typical of other versions of strategic-oriented education. Feminist Critical Pedagogy and Feminist Pedagogy do not contribute to the advance of emancipatory counter-education and for an essentially more human reality.
Feminist Critical Pedagogy, however, does have many critical and potentially emancipatory elements, primarily because it is a genuine political and philosophical challenge to Western hegemonic educational ideologies. It questions educational praxis as well as education's philosophical, psychological, and gender context. The differences in feminist philosophies are responsible for the differences in feminist pedagogies. Basically, these differences spring from the different postmodern versions they are committed to. According to Weiler, "Feminist theory, like other contemporary approaches, validates differences, challenges universal claims to truth, and seeks to create social transformation in a world of shifting and uncertain meanings. In education, these profound shifts are evident on two levels: first, at the level of practice, as excluded and formerly silenced groups challenge dominant approaches of learning and to definitions of knowledge; and second, at the level of theory, as modernist claims to universal truth are called into question" (Weiler 1991, 449-450). Feminist Critical Pedagogy is a progressive element within the current realm of self-evidence. However, it is meaningless without a general concept of the current totality, the powers that produce, control, and challenge this totality, and intersubjectivity whereby the feminist movement, in all its versions, is but a dynamic element within other powers. The problem of constituting a general Critical Theory, or for that matter of constituting a defensible theory of negating a general Critical Theory as part of reality and its change, challenges today's Feminist Critical Pedagogy. Feminist Critical Pedagogy cannot escape this challenge, which emphasizes its importance, its weaknesses, and its dangers.
To a great extent "Feminist Pedagogy" (Weiler 1991, 449-474) is not to be understood outside the framework of Critical Theory. According to Kathleen Weiler, Feminist Pedagogy, as evolved in the United States, is a historical example of Critical Pedagogy in action (Weiler 1991, 450). The Critical Pedagogy on which this kind of Feminist Pedagogy is based is explicitly conceived as having strong tries with, if not being constituted from Critical Theory. This connection is important in three respects: from the point of view of Feminist Pedagogy's self-understanding as an emancipatory project; from the view point of its self-understanding as an alternative to this paternalistic Critical Theory (and the paternalistic Critical Pedagogy derived from it); and the possibility of reformulating Critical Theory or Critical Pedagogy in light of some central elements in Feminist Pedagogy's critique of the humanist emancipatory project and the postmodern discourse in general.
Below I will refer to Feminist Pedagogy as different from Critical Pedagogy, noting that at least one trend is still committed to central elements of Critical Pedagogy. As the quotation from Weiler shows, rhetorically here too the detachment from Critical Pedagogy is complete. However, in contrast to its explicit claims, philosophically the split is not yet total, in the absence of an alternative philosophical framework. In this sense, it is justified to refer to this trend as Feminist Critical Pedagogy. This is despite the fact that at its margins the break with Critical Theory and paternalistic Critical Pedagogy is a constitutive principle of the new orientation. Its declared aim is to constitute daily pedagogical situations that empower students, to demystify canonical knowledge, and to show the ways in which relations of domination oppress the subjects in terms of gender, race, class, and many other characteristics of their difference (Luke & Gore 1992, 1).
Weiler represents an almost general feminist understanding of the relations between Critical Pedagogy and Critical Theory and the way to constitute a Feminist Critical Pedagogy. According to Weiler, Critical Pedagogy in general, and Freire's version in particular, are based on a vision of social transformation. Feminist Pedagogy is presented within this framework, and it also shares the assumptions about oppression and the possibilities of historical change. Implicitly negating Marx's theory on the relations between base and superstructure, Weiler claims that the two pedagogies share an assumption that human existence, in specific material conditions, is framed within repressive conditions which are part of consciousness; both pedagogies understand consciousness as something which is more than the sum of dominant discourses. Both view consciousness as having a critical potential, and both conceive human beings as subjects and as functioning within historical horizons. At the same time, both are committed to a vision of emancipatory possibilities, to a better world where (Weiler 1991, 450) justice prevails in the end.
Within the framework of Feminist Pedagogy, some emphasize the differences between Feminist Pedagogy and Critical Pedagogy to the point of complete detachment, and some try to maintain some of its central elements within the framework of Feminist Critical Pedagogy. The critique of Critical Theory and "paternalistic" Critical Pedagogy takes place on two levels, the political one and the philosophical. This division is important for understanding the central problems of today's Critical Pedagogy. Oppositional stands on the political level largely incubate and obscure basic agreement with the philosophical conceptions of Critical Theory. By contrast, relatively minor disagreements on the political level sometimes hide commitments to basically different philosophical projects. This is partially elaborated by the degree of postmodern and multiculturalist influences on Feminist Pedagogy, namely the extent to which Feminist Pedagogy is framed within the framework of the Enlightenment's project. In this sense, without always being aware, two contrasting feminist pedagogies have developed within the framework of Feminist Pedagogy, even if politically they share the same project. These may be termed Feminist Critical Pedagogy, and …