Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Considering Criticality and Culture as Pivotal in Transformative Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Considering Criticality and Culture as Pivotal in Transformative Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Critical perspectives, especially as manifested in critical pedagogy/androgogy, often are considered essential to quality education, and just as often are resisted. (1) Developing a critical lens may be seen as pivotal for becoming a professional educator who is a reflective practitioner embodying a passion for equity and social justice, however development and employment of that lens may inhabit hostile territory. (2) In this article, we present data about how a small purposive sample of educators, including several preservice teachers, experience transformation in a university Theory and Dynamics of Intercultural Interaction in Education course redesigned to embody culture and criticality. (3) Our findings shed light on the potential efficacy of criticality and culture in educating teachers who, whatever their areas of specialization, are compelled to advance social justice and equity.

WHAT COUNTS AS CRITICAL?

Understanding of what counts as critical ranges from modernist to postmodernist to radical; and application of the concept appears as simplistic to "authentic" (e.g., Burbules & Berk, 1999; Ellsworth, 1989; Gur-Ze'ev, 1998; McLaren, 1998, 2000; Popkewitz, 1999a). As McLaren (1998) so eloquently conveyed, some strong advocates of critical perspectives acknowledge dilution and "domestication" of critical pedagogy:

   Once considered by the faint-hearted guardians of
   the American dream as a term of opprobrium, critical
   pedagogy has become so completely psychologized,
   so liberally humanized, so technologized,
   and so conceptually postmodernized, that its current
   relationship to broader liberation struggles
   seems severely attenuated if not fatally terminated.
   The conceptual net known as critical pedagogy has
   been cast so wide and at times so cavalierly that it
   has come to be associated with anything dragged up
   out of the troubled and infested waters of educational
   practice, from classroom furniture organized
   in a "dialogue friendly" circle to "feel-good" curricula
   designed to increase students' self-image.
   (p. 448)

Given the propensity in education to appropriate terminology with distortion, and to trivialize complex constructs to package for marketing, McClaren's assessment appears accurate. How, in institutionalized nonsituated learning, can one ensure relationship to broader liberation struggles without artificiality? How can one ensure, as in his proposal for a "working-class pedagogy" McLaren (2000) suggested is necessary, attention to "struggles over meaning, representation, and identity in relation to a moral and ethical commitment to social justice?" (p. 145).

Shor (Shor & Freire, 1987) raised the question of the connection between empowerment inside and outside the classroom: "Connecting classroom work to the transformation of society is basic for a teacher's transition to liberatory methods, but the classroom and the rest of society remain physically separate areas of practice" (p. 34). Freire (Shor & Freire, 1987) acknowledged the limits of education in the political transformation of society but believed that education could at least provide an arena for understanding the nature of location of power in society. He suggested that, "for transformation, we need first of all to understand the social context of teaching, and then ask how this context distinguishes liberating education from traditional methods" (p. 33). Given institutional constraints, situated learning is not always possible. The transformative focus, then, may become one of developing a critical lens and practicing application to hypothetical simulated situations and to students' actual life situations. The goal is to foster an ongoing automatic criticality linked to an action-taking protocol such as those proposed in reflective practice or practitioner action research. In fostering development of a critical lens in service of transformation on a grand scale, perhaps "transformative moments" deserve credibility. …

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