Dissonance in the Critical Classroom: The Role of Social Psychological Processes in Learner Resistance

By Walton, Justin D. | College Student Journal, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Dissonance in the Critical Classroom: The Role of Social Psychological Processes in Learner Resistance


Walton, Justin D., College Student Journal


Whereas the extant literature on critical pedagogy is ripe with discussions of resistance to oppressive conditions, only modest attention has been devoted to resistance to consciousness-raising education. Drawing on a diverse body of literature, this paper examines the socio-psychological underpinnings of learner resistance to problem-posing education. Principle attention is directed toward exploring the role dissonance reduction processes have in generating resistance to critical learning experiences. Implications are offered for critical teaching in adult and higher education.

Keywords: learner resistance, desocialization, cognitive dissonance, critical pedagogy

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Significant scholarly attention has centered on the philosophical and pedagogical implications of counter-hegemonic education (Apple, 2004; Darder, Baltodano, & Torres, 2008; Freire, 1970; Giroux, 2001; McLaren, 1994; Shor, 1992). According to Kincheloe (2008), critical pedagogies challenge "oppressive forms of power as expressed in socioeconomic class elitism, Eurocentric ways of viewing the world, patriarchal oppression, and imperialism around the world" (p. 34). Despite commitments to themes of democracy, empowerment, and social equality, critical educational practices are commonly met with considerable resistance by students who have traditionally benefited from privileged social identities and dominant cultural arrangements (e.g., Bohmer, 1989; Bohmer, & Briggs, 1991; Chan & Treacy, 1996; Johnson, 2006; Trainor, 2009; Ukpokodu, 2003). Whereas the extant literature on critical pedagogy is ripe with discussions of "resistance to oppressive conditions," only modest attention has been devoted to "resistance to consciousness-raising education." As interest in this area of resistance theory grows, basic questions about its role both on and in critical discourse become increasingly germane.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the socio-psychological underpinnings of learner resistance to problem-posing education; Principle attention is directed toward exploring the role dissonance reduction processes have in generating resistance to critical learning experiences. I begin the paper by clarifying varying conceptions of pedagogical resistance. Second, I provide a theoretical review of the developmental processes associated with socialization and self-development. Third, I provide a brief overview of key issues and goals associated with critical pedagogy. Following this, I utilize research on cognitive dissonance theory to explore potential connections between dissonance reduction and processes of resistance. I conclude the paper with implications for critical teaching in adult and higher education.

Conceptualizing Learner Resistance

In educational research, the notion of student resistance denotes a variety of meanings and implications--from an emotional or behavioral expression of opposition, to a relatively conscious or even unintentional contrarian activity. Recent applications to student resistance, influenced by the fields of critical pedagogy and critical cultural studies, emphasize deliberate opposition to the "harmful effects of dominant [hegemonic] power (Kincheloe, 2008, p. 34). Although this approach to resistance can assume various means and encompass different participatory modes (e.g., writing, public speeches, protesting, political and legal action, civil disobedience), the general purpose is to cultivate students' awareness about oppressive conditions and inequalities, and in turn, promote self-empowerment and transformative socio-cultural change (Flynn, 2001; Giroux, 2001; Shor 1992).

A second orientation to student resistance and the one of principal attention in this paper pertains to resistance to critical pedagogy (e.g., Chan & Treacy, 1996; Flynn, 2001; Kumashiro, 2002; Trainor, 2009). Kincheloe (2008) asserts that too frequently mainstream education defends the status quo as it "teaches students . …

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