The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching

By Stephen D. Brookfield | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
I Challenging Ideology

A while ago my wife and I were faced with choosing a junior high school for our daughter who was finishing sixth grade at her state elementary school (a Spanish immersion school in St. Paul). I didn't have to think twice about this decision. One particular public junior high leaped to mind with no conscious choice or weighing of alternatives on my part. Our friends spoke well of this school, and it had some of the best test scores in the area. Obviously, then, this was the school she should attend. This decision was ideological.

By ideological I mean that although the decision felt as if it had sprung fully formed out of my own instinctive sense of rightness, it was anything but spontaneous. In fact the decision was a manifestation of a set of largely unquestioned dominant beliefs and values that lived within me. These values and beliefs did not exist outside me as a sort of ideological smorgasbord from which I could choose a congenial blend. They were me. Obviously (whenever we catch ourselves saying "obviously" to ourselves we know ideology is lurking close by) our friends' judgment that this school was good could be trusted. After all, our friends are smart people (they must be or they wouldn't be our friends!) and whatever they agree on must be right.

It was only after my wife raised the possibility of our daughter attending other junior highs and started to challenge the sense of obviousness that attached itself to my school preference that I realized how two core ideological beliefs had framed what seemed like an unconscious, instinctive decision. These were that (1) the more a group of people agree about something (particularly if we see this group as our own peer or reference group), the more they are likely to be right, and (2) high test scores on the part of students are an

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