Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

"The Way It Works" Doesn't: Theatre of the Oppressed as Critical Pedagogy and Counternarrative

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

"The Way It Works" Doesn't: Theatre of the Oppressed as Critical Pedagogy and Counternarrative

Article excerpt

Creating spaces in schools for students to tell us (their teachers, administrators, and educational researchers) about the problems they face in school entails taking the risk that we may be told things we do not want to hear. After all, who wants to learn that their efforts to meet students' needs have accentuated feelings of marginalization? However, creating such spaces is important if we take seriously Freire's (1997) idea that in order for education to become liberating, students must be involved in examining oppressive social realities. While providing a venue for students to name the problems they face in school may not be liberating for all students (Luke, 2011), doing so can enable educators to learn about the ways students interpret their experiences. Engaging students in these conversations in a meaningful manner is not a straightforward process; innovative pedagogies are needed to garner student interest, as are research methodologies that can capture complex, fluid, and dynamic school contexts and identities. This paper presents data from a study (Schroeter, 2009) in which I facilitated a Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) (Boal, 1985) workshop with a class in Western Canada, primarily composed of Black African-Canadian youth with refugee backgrounds. Framed by Freirean critical pedagogy (1997), TO was used to engage students in discussions about problems they faced in their school and community. These discussions then formed the basis of dramatic explorations of notions of identity, belonging, and culture. Elsewhere (Schroeter & James, 2014), critical race theory (CRT) (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995) is used to analyze how students' talk in interviews and class discussions provided counter-narratives (Delgado, 1995) to the authorized discourse of multiculturalism and colour blindness circulating in the school. This paper expands on these findings by describing the process of the TO workshop, and by explaining how drama enabled students to use "productive ambiguity" (Eisner, 1997, p. 8) to construct a complex counternarrative about the ways citizenship status, language, and race intersected and shaped their educational experiences in Canada. An analysis of skits and a Forum Theatre play performed by the students, as well as class discussions, provides insights about the challenges students with refugee backgrounds face in Canadian schools, and how the programmatic decisions made on their behalf enhanced their feelings of exclusion.

Theoretical Frames

In this study, TO (Boal, 1979/1985) was used as a critical pedagogy for exploring notions of identity, belonging, and culture with students of diverse backgrounds. TO's founder, Augusto Boal, draws inspiration from Paulo Freire's (1970/1997) ideas about conscien-tization, social transformation, praxis, and dialogic education. Like critical pedagogy, TO aims to develop the critical consciousness of participants in a way that enables them to recognize and challenge social structures that oppress, so as to transform social structures. Boal subscribes to Freire's idea that emancipation comes about through conscientization, a process wherein people learn "to perceive the social, political and economic contradictions and take action against the oppressive elements of their reality" (1997, p. 19). In essence, Freire argues that when individuals decide to free themselves from oppression, social transformation is only possible through praxis, joining political action to thoughtful reflection. In his dialogic model of education, which he pits against traditional teacher-centred models, students participate in selecting curriculum and teachers become co-investigators who join students in their quest for knowledge and social transformation.

Boal (1985) draws parallels between education and conventional theatre by recognizing that like education, theatre is political, as it reflects and reproduces the values held by a society at a given time. …

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