April 6, 2006

Ideas for cultivating a critical pedagogy

Tony seemed to struggle with specifics about how we are to bring about a "critical pedagogy" as it relates to critical localism. I thought the passage Jessica mentions, about inviting private conversations into our public classrooms was definitely one concrete example for bringing about a critical pedagogy. Another important passage is:

“The texts teachers and students encounter through dialogue are not merely sites for examining dominant and recovering subjugated voices of history but opportunities to evoke realistic knowledge bases about power relations and culture—to mine the rich varieties of implicature encountered in the analysis of multiple discursive and nondiscursive performances and engagements. A focus on critical localism as pedagogical practice would incorporate, compare and evaluate local and national voices. In the process, those voices identified as potentially inimical to our common democratic goals could also be interrogated. Her both student and teacher test and refine their own voices in an exciting cooperative venture. In probing similiarities and differences that make a difference, dialogue is transformed into discovery? (282).

To carry on with the conversation that seemed to be gaining some energy, I would say that I wouldn't feel comfortable going into a classroom without a syllabus on the first day. Something I've done since my second semester of teaching that might help me begin to achieve democracy in the classroom is having students deliver "ghost speeches." These are speeches that have been written and delivered by someone else. Sometimes students go to, per my suggestion, and sometimes they branch out. One of my Muslim students chose to give a speech by the founder of Pakistan. There were other instances where minority students chose to give speeches by people we don't typically promote in part of the canon: Atticus Finch's closing argument in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Nelson Mandela's speech upon his release from prison. I don't do much besides let the students choose their speech and hope that those in the audience listen intently. Perhaps I could do more work to help students engage in discussions that help bring about greater insight to the "multicultural" character of rhetoric.
I mention this to suggest a way to invite a more flexible way into teaching without completely eliminating the syllabus. "Winging it" would certainly not be my style.

I must say that teaching is important to me. It also seems important to the UM. When choosing my classes this term, I noticed that outstanding teachers have been recognized with a "star" and information about the kind of award the outstanding teacher received. Perhaps this recognition does not help one secure tenure, and perhaps it is only after one has achieved tenure that they can begin to think about translating the quality research into quality teaching. It is discouraging that teaching does not receive more care and concern. But, it is a fact. One thing that I continue to draw upon when things begin to get overwhelming is a quote from the chair of our department. That is, "Remember, you're a student first."