Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Critical Pedagogy and Praxis with Native American Youth: Cultivating Change through Participatory Action Research

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Critical Pedagogy and Praxis with Native American Youth: Cultivating Change through Participatory Action Research

Article excerpt

In the preface to the 2007 volume Critical Pedagogy: Where Are We Now?, Shirley Steinberg begins by saying, "wherever we are now, we are being insubordinate" (Steinberg, 2007, p. ix). And in many ways, she is correct. In an education context where the art of teaching and pedagogy is being systematically replaced with scripted curriculum programs, critical pedagogy is happening, but it is happening in spaces where educators refuse to surrender to neoliberal policies and practices that stifle creativity and voices. It is happening in schools that are committed to education and not "schooling," in summer camps and afterschool programs, and in higher education institutions where students are afforded the space to recognize their own power as social change agents and practice democracy.

We agree with Steinberg that because critical pedagogy is not formulaic or stagnant, it should be thought of as "what isn't" rather than an is (Steinberg, 2007). In other words, critical pedagogy is not the standard practice of schools, though it should be. It isn't memorization of facts and figures, mindless participation in worksheets, regurgitation of textbook copy, or unquestioned acceptance of the status quo. Instead, it is "learning, relearning, and unlearning" (Wink, 2005, p. 67). Critical pedagogy is transformative education that is not about transmitting knowledge; it is about constructing knowledge with students and extending beyond the walls of the school into the community (Kinchloe, 2008).

Grounded in a vision of social justice and equity, critical pedagogy calls us to see the dynamic interplay of education with other social institutions. Schools do not operate in a vacuum--and thus the ways that power operate in society, the relationship between schools and communities, and the roles of the social, cultural, and political in shaping human identity are all central to cultivating empowered democratic citizens of our world (Kinchloe, 2008). Approaching the classroom through critical pedagogy has been theorized as a way to empower students to act upon their oppression to change their lived realities (Freire, 1970; Grande, 2004; McLaren, 2003). Although there are many successful applications of critical pedagogy across grade levels (Cowhey, 2006; Duncan-Andrade, 2008; Gustein, 2010; Schultz, 2008; Stovall & Morales-Doyle, 2010), most of the literature outlines only the theoretical ideology of critical pedagogy and praxis. We seek to discuss critical pedagogy and praxis, but also provide an example of our work and process of engaging in participatory action research (PAR) with Native American Youth as we navigated through our own tensions of positionality and criticality with historically marginalized teens.

The Leadership Development and Transitions Camps

The Leadership Development Camp, created in 2005 as a partnership between a large land-grant university in the Northwest and a Native American Tribe, is a culturally responsive summer camp designed for youth living on or near the local reservation. During this week long residential summer camp for youth ages 13-17 years old, the Leadership Development Camp offers middle and high school students the opportunity to live in a college dormitory while engaging in a wide variety of athletic activities, culturally responsive academic seminars, and leadership and team building activities. Designed to address a long legacy of student disengagement from school, and high instances of teen pregnancy and youth alcohol and drug abuse, The Leadership Development Camp was designed to aid student retention, support student resiliency, and improve academic and socio-emotional development. Paula, one of the co-founders of this camp, serves as the curriculum director and Paul has served as a camp counselor and instructor at the camp for five years. Over the 10 year partnership with the tribe, Paula and her partner Cedric, the cofounder and director of the camp, have worked closely with tribal leaders to listen to the needs and desires for the camp on a yearly basis. …

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