Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

A Humanising Pedagogy: Getting beneath the Rhetoric

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

A Humanising Pedagogy: Getting beneath the Rhetoric

Article excerpt


South Africa's societal legacy of disempowerment and dehumanisation, particularly within education contexts, is long and in critical need of repair. Despite years of struggle, and solidarity of the majority of its citizens that resulted in the transition to a more democratic political order in South Africa, the educational arena remains a battlefront, in which the struggle to build voice, agency and community continues. Beyond the rhetoric of describing and analysing that struggle, a powerful praxis related to citizenship and social justice within the contextual realities of South African education is required. We believe a humanising pedagogy is one such form of praxis.

Literature review

Freire (1993:43) asserts: "Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility, but also as a historical reality". Both the historical and the contemporary realities in education related to South Africa's dehumanising past and present, in education across several contexts, have been well documented and analysed (Alexander, 2002; Chisholm, 2004; Jansen, 2009; Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2005; Soudien, 2012).

What stands out as a central issue in relation to this dehumanisation is its presence in education, from schools to institutions of higher education. Educational researchers have explored the nature and impact of policy changes in the South African educational arena. Some examples include regular changes in curricula, which include the importation of educational philosophies and practices that are not aligned with the contextual realities in South African schools, as well as the background and material conditions faced by the majority of South African teachers (Jansen & Christie, 1999; Chisholm, Motala & Vally, 1998). These policy changes have also impacted on pedagogical engagements which have resulted in classrooms in which teachers are unable to interpret the curricula or what is expected of them in terms of teaching and learning and their roles as teachers (Jansen & Christie, 1999; Harley et al., 2000;). Power relationships within these settings have also been impacted: those between schools and departmental authorities, between teachers and students/learners, in issues of language use, and among students themselves (Jansen, 2009; McKinney, 2007). What emerges from this substantial and growing body of literature is evidence of the manner in which the legacy of dehumanisation has been absorbed, wittingly and unwittingly, into relationships within educational arenas which mirror and depict hierarchies of power, cultures of compliance, fear, as well as the suppression and loss of voice.

This article focuses, in particular, on this last aspect. The issue which we seek to address and consider to be at the heart of work of a humanising pedagogy is to re-centre and restore voice as a key characteristic of what it means to be human. Within the context of South Africa and the African continent, the power of voice, story, and oral tradition is particularly pertinent. For example, Gyekye (1995:10) speaks to its significance in the transmission of African philosophical ideas, where "traditional African philosophy is not a written philosophy. Such ideas were embodied in proverbs, aphorisms, or fragments ...". We argue that marginalisation and loss of voice is one aspect of dehumanisation that requires attention if we rethink the purposes of education and its importance to what a humanising pedagogy means in terms of theory and action.

The act of 'rethinking' requires that we analyse what has contributed to the features outlined earlier as evidence of a legacy of dehumanisation. Connell (2007) argues that the notion of 'agency' be evaluated critically. He makes an important and paradoxical point that we "recognise the agency involved in colonial dispossession, military dictatorship and neoliberal restructuring alike" (Connell 2007:216, italics in original). …

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