Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Does Critical Pedagogy Work with Privileged Students?

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Does Critical Pedagogy Work with Privileged Students?

Article excerpt

Several years ago, one of the authors got his first job as a university-level instructor. He taught a teacher education social foundations course at a large public university in Los Angeles. Having been immersed in the canon of critical pedagogy, he devised a syllabus that was based almost exclusively on critical pedagogy readings. His intention was to engage students in a critical examination of the role schooling plays in reproducing hegemony. He met much resistance and outright anger from many of the students in the class.

This type of experience is not uncommon for those teaching critical pedagogy in the U.S.

Looking deeper at the specificities of the resistance, he noticed a disturbing pattern. Approximately half of the class, consisting mostly of White students and a few students of color, hated the critical pedagogy literature. And the other half, consisting mostly of people of color and a few White students, expressed that they felt empowered by the literature. It struck him that something very different had happened in the way that Whites in particular interpreted and valued critical pedagogy. Plus, he was disturbed that those who hated it were mostly White emergency credential teachers who taught mostly students of color. Yet the only critical curricular tool the author had available was critical pedagogy. He wondered, "Are there limits to critical pedagogy? Is there some other discourse or pedagogy that can make more progress in transforming White consciousness and forming alliances among both oppressor and oppressed?"

Over the last few years, both authors have found keys to transforming White consciousness through an examination of the relationship between critical multiculturalism and critical pedagogy. Those who teach multiculturalism in teacher education programs constantly struggle with "sensitizing" prospective teachers to the ways in which power and privilege contextualize daily interactions in schools. Historically, multicultural education for teachers, at least in its more critical forms, has emphasized building an awareness of the unearned disempowerment of students who are members of oppressed groups (e.g., Sleeter, 1996). But more recently, there is a growing trend towards exposing and abolishing the unearned empowerment of the oppressor. This newly systematized pedagogy calls for examining the identity formations of those from privileged groups (e.g., Tatum, 1997). It represents a form of critical multiculturalism that seeks to move those who consciously or unconsciously surveil the hegemony of the oppressor from their comfortable, "neutral" place towards a transformed and deliberate monitoring of a type of social justice that is in alliance with the oppressed (Allen, 2005). For example, the growing movement of critical Whiteness studies has been a valuable resource for critical multicultural education. Many more multicultural educators are now engaging White teachers in an examination of their White privilege in an attempt to motivate them to battle white racism through their teaching.

However, this is easier said than done. Multicultural educators whose pedagogy directly challenges systemic privilege (e.g., White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc.) often encounter heated opposition from students who act as representatives of the (relative) oppressor group. Along the way, many, if not most, multicultural educators go through a range of emotions when dealing with classroom hostilities. Some become angry or depressed, or may even become fearful of retaliation from students who are uncritical about their unearned sense of entitlement. Some of these educators decide that it is just too draining to engage privileged students. Still others rationalize their disengagement from challenging power by stating that privileged students do not deserve to have their concerns dictate the classroom discussion. In some cases, we empathize with these stances, particularly when they come from educators who are members of oppressed groups. …

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