Thank you very much, all colleagues and friends.
Thank you very much, all colleagues and friends.
Snea Thinsan, Ph.D.
The study’s main aim was to explain the intellectual transformation of the four participants by using a coding scheme synthesized from the works of Perry (1968, 1970) and Freire (1970). The synthesized scheme for coding in this study (see Table 5 in Chapter 3) simplifies the nine positions of Perry’s and thus follows the notion of a hierarchical model of sophistication in those two contributing models. The distinctive feature of this model lies in two added elements found to be associated with the transformative process: attitudes/self perceptions and acquisition of new learning habits/skills. The four participants will be discussed in light of the synthesized coding scheme for intellectual transformation (Table 5) and in relation to the frameworks of Perry and Freire where appropriate.
These two frameworks, developed at roughly the same time in the late sixties and early seventies, can be viewed as complementary, as each emerged from a separate set of circumstances and populations. Perry, a guidance counselor at Harvard University, was interested in the intellectual and moral development of mainstream male undergraduates at a selective institution, while Freire was responding to the needs of politically and economically oppressed populations. Perry’s scheme, therefore, could be viewed as representative of the ideals of a Western liberal university, the type of institution in which the Afghans were studying, and Freire’s analysis could be viewed as relevant to the situation from which they came and to which they had to return. Relating these frameworks into a single scheme enabled the researcher to juxtapose the participants’ experiential and academic ways of knowing and reveal the dynamic interaction in their transformation over the course of their graduate program.
In this study, all four of the participants described their past identities before arriving in the U.S. as passive students waiting for their teachers to deposit knowledge for them, in accordance with the Banking education model that Freire (1970) described. It is noteworthy that Perry (1968) did not find any freshmen in his study expressing the structure of Position 1 (Duality) at the time of the interview. Thus, his Position 1 was “an extrapolation generated by the logic of the scheme” (p. 55), but a reality in this study. The Afghans also viewed education in the U.S. as a superior source of knowledge from which they would draw. Whereas “banking” was a pejorative concept in Freire’s framework, however, receiving knowledge is in agreement with the Islamic value of keen pursuit of knowledge or life-long learning mandate (Merriam, 2007), which encouraged them to gain knowledge that they do not have in their culture. All four, as products of Banking education positioned themselves as the student in the Freire’s (ibid) teacher-student dichotomy.
Nevertheless, they were not dualistic thinkers or silenced learners. As university lecturers, they understood the relevance of context (P-Three) to what they expected to learn from the Authorities in the U.S. academic culture, the course instructors, the project staff, and the books or resources containing the knowledge to which they had little previous exposure. Thus, their positioning of themselves as recipients of knowledge in their new academic environment was not a reflection of passivity but a rational stance in a new situation in which they expected to have access to valuable resources. As Perry notes,
The presumed existence of Absolute truth or knowledge in its own right (as if in a Platonic world of ideas) modifies the perception of Authority’s role, most particularly in an educational institution. Since the student is there to learn, he looks to Authority as a mediator between him and the truth (p. 66).
In terms of how they viewed knowledge, the four must first be recognized as mature adults who had lived in a rich culture with a complicated sociopolitical history. Their exit exams, opinions on other familiar issues, and their written work even at the transitional periods showed that they did not uncritically accept what was presented to them. They examined assumptions, probed contextual details, and recognized alternative possibilities. Hence, as we try to understand their relationship with knowledge, it helps to refer to three basic types of knowledge: (1) propositional, or declarative, (2) knowledge, which is factual or static and more appropriate for judgment on a right-wrong basis; and (3) procedural knowledge, which is more relativistic knowledge that requires critical analysis, evaluation, and synthesis in light of specific conditions or factors; and personal knowledge, which is knowledge by acquaintance that mature learners, especially adults, carry with them (see Moser, Molder, & Trout; 1998). In relation to the coding scheme in this study, the Afghans’ initial positions (P-One and P-Two) involved the expectations and struggles with propositional or declarative knowledge. Along the entire process of transformation in their master’s program (from P-One to P-Six), they used their personal knowledge to negotiate meanings and find their own voices, as they were also trying to acquire the procedural knowledge (P-Four) as a new tool and developed their critical hopes, scrutinized actions, and commitments (P-Five and P-Six). The Afghans’ writing throughout their involvement in the program demonstrated their ability to integrate these three kinds of knowledge. However, the Afghans, viewing themselves as lacking skills and knowledge looked for confirmed knowledge first, but soon they understood that their own voices were valid and that they were encouraged to develop their own meanings in relation to their prior knowledge and experiences. Thus, they began to integrate their old and new skills and in an effort to construct knowledge by themselves and with people around them. In other words, they entered their master’s program in the U.S. with the P-One mindset, but their intellectual abilities at higher positions were soon triggered as they acquired the skills and language to express their intellectual capabilities. As a result, they did not dwell on this initial view of themselves as mere recipients of knowledge. After three months of experience in courses about basic research and other academic skills, they were well aware that their role as learners in a graduate school would need to be changed.
Perry characterized “multiplicity” as tentative knowledge to be resolved by authority: “In any epistemological sense, … [m]ultiplicity remains a mere appearance; difference of opinion is allowed …but only because it is quite temporary, good for the mind, resolvable, and therefore ultimately unreal” (p. 78). This construct might be applied to new knowledge acquired in an academic setting and still regarded as the property of experts rather than the construction of learners, as was the experiential knowledge the Afghans brought with them. Stark differences between previous and present contexts also played a role. Ali, Wahid, and Hamid, had been in simpler and less social and academic cultures in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, whereas Khalid had experienced more demanding and competitive contexts of personal and educational life in Iran. Therefore, while Khalid moved quickly into a more independent stance, the others felt less personal control over the multiple ideas and the details of academic life and assumed apprentice-like roles, trying to meet expectations of those who governed their situation. Ali found that inadequate English language proficiency made it difficult for him to deal with multiple tasks and multiple details in his courses, suggesting that language can be a formidable barrier to the understanding and expression of sophisticated knowledge. Likewise, Wahid and Hamid, having been deeply rooted in a more traditional, male-dominated Pashtun culture, found it hard to adjust to unfamiliar ways of doing things in daily life. They also found the academic conventions and environment in the U.S., in which multiple perspectives and multiple layers of thinking were often necessarily involved, quite challenging.
Perry observed that the “progression is from thinking to meta-thinking, from man as knower to man as critic of his own thought” (p. 71). In Position 2, less successful students are those who had a difficulty in working “through the initial impression of needless confusion to the discovery of contextual Relativism” (p. 75). The four Afghans were overwhelmed by the multiple unfamiliar important things to learn and tasks to do, but they did not see them in terms of needless confusion. It was found that the two older participants, Wahid and Hamid, were slower in learning new things and thus more likely to lose confidence and lack tolerance for ambiguity. As a result, they turned first to external resources around them, including the instructors, the tutors, peers, and others rather than focusing on their internal resources, hence appearing to be dependent on directions (P-One) and approval from the authority (P-Two). This position, however, may be viewed as reflecting the actual power relations between faculty and students rather than an inherent intellectual orientation.
During the first three months, the four participants were overwhelmed by the need to learn many unfamiliar concepts and skills while adjusting to the new environment, but they understood that their learning would not be about memorizing or finding right answers. Yet, how to deal with the multiple resources on a given topic, as many other pressing things were going on, was a major challenge of their transitional experiences.
Perry suggested that the student making a transition from recognition of multiplicity (Positions 2-4) toward thinking and/or behaving at a higher position beyond mere awareness of relativism (Position 4) would be able to: “…think about thought: he could spot a false dichotomy, talk about assumptions and frames of reference, and argue about the degree of coherence of interpretations or their congruence with data” (p. 111). He also summed up this stage of development as a perception of “Relativism as an item in the old dualistically structured context,” implying that the student still does things the way the authority wants:
He [the student] saw Relativism, therefore, as a special case: a way of thinking, about certain class of problems, a way of “making sense” in otherwise chaotic Multiplicity, and most of all, a special procedure (among other procedures) that “They want here” (p. 111).
Such a developmental trait is classified as P-Three in this study, or the need to acquire academic skills for dealing with procedural knowledge in the new academic setting in which there are very different ways of doing things and sets of expectations. In other words, the participants at this stage mainly tried to meet expectations Students at this stage may resist authority by dwelling on their opinions without engaging with the multiple voices around them, which was the case briefly with the four Afghans.
Relativism was not new to the Afghans, but it took time for them to develop the new conventions of “thinking about thought” with the exception of Khalid, who appeared to have reached this stage before joining the program. Indeed this was true of them all with topics connected with their prior knowledge and experiences. However Hamid and especially Wahid seemed to fail to question their assumptions at times, especially when they had to do with religious or personal beliefs. Khalid and Ali, on the other hand, seemed to have developed the habit of thinking about thought despite their younger age. Indeed during the second month in the U.S., Ali and Khalid began to question assumptions, contexts, and origins of ideas, which at a later stage led to conflicts in class participation because the older members felt personally challenged
All four mentioned that they dealt with their challenges associated with multiplicity by working hard and managing their time, but as Perry maintained, referring to passage from the safe zone of established beliefs to the open territory of relativistic knowledge, “Diligence alone, however, will no longer produce security; the risk must be faced” (p. 106)
As the first to emerge as a learner who could “think about thought,” Khalid could “spot a false dichotomy, talk about assumptions and frames of reference, and argue about the degree of coherence of interpretations or their congruence with data” (ibid). The other three Afghans tended to rely overly on personal or previous experiences as a foundation for academic tasks Ali and Khalid, tended to be less rooted in any one doctrine or set of beliefs, as reflected in the ways they dressed and behaved socially. Consequently, they seemed to recognize the validity of different perspectives. On the other hand, Hamid and Wahid dwelled on their past experiences and old sets of beliefs when they were making sense of something complex and unfamiliar.
In this position, Perry stresses the inner voice which the learner develops after having realized that they need to go beyond the mere recognition of multiplicity and relativism. Yet, the voices are still in accordance with the Authorities’ terms in this position, as also true in P-Three. Perry described the development beyond basic Relativism (Position 5 in his scheme) as “a permeating property of man’s seeing, thinking, knowing and valuing” (p. 115).
This position (P-Four) was apparent when the four Afghans applied the academic skills that they had learned during the transitional period. The transformation at this stage demanded their willingness to analyze the multiple parts of an issue at hand, evaluate them, find connection or contradiction among them, and put them back to construct a new meaning or understanding. Their views about knowledge and learning, self perceptions, and learning habits changed, as further described below.
In the fall semester 2007, the Afghans took my class covering the learning theories in educational psychology in which they learned terms that explained ways of knowing and learning. With the vocabulary to describe their views about knowledge, they all claimed that they stopped rigidly memorizing facts. They all also viewed learner-centered classes as empowering, more effective, and more constructive. Khalid and Ali clearly demonstrated such abilities, whereas Wahid and Hamid managed to show some evidence of them, though they still tended to be satisfied with the knowledge that the authorities had prescribed and had difficulty with tasks that did not provide clear guidance. In short, the four participants showed evidence of their application of skills in dealing with procedural knowledge that they had learned during the transitional period, but in different degrees.
Changes in self perceptions and learning habits were also described by the four Afghans though differently in detail. Ali saw himself as an active player in the exploratory, student-centered environment, as he assumed more self responsibility and took more challenges, such as getting out of his comfort zone to take an online class on gaming, which were the P-Five characteristics. Wahid and Hamid also developed their sense of responsibility as dedicated, hard working, and disciplined learners. They struggled just to meet the expectations of the instructors but did well in their final assignments, while Ali and Khalid went further to be responsible for constructing knowledge beyond expected tasks. In sum, Wahid and Hamid struggled hard in this position. Perry noted that “Responsibility is a critical element in intellectual development” [and is a] “central burden, and joy” (p. 34). He then argued that, “If one quails before it, there are many well trodden paths to postponement, escape, or even retreat” (p. 34).
Beyond Perry’s Position 5, students develop awareness of a path toward new identity through commitment that begins to develop at Position 6, or late during Position 4 in this study. Perry (1968) defined “commitment” as “an act, or ongoing activity relating a person as agent and chooser to aspects of his life in which he invests his energies, his care and his identity” (p. 135). Commitment, according to Perry, is “an affirmation made in a world perceived as relativistic, that is, after detachment, doubt, and awareness of alternatives have made the experience of personal choice a possibility. It is an act in an examined, not in an unexamined, life” (p. 136). Second, it is connected with the person’s past as it (a) “requires a decision as to the degree to which one will continue with the values of one’s past and the degree to which one will break with them” and (b) “it requires a decision as to how much freedom of choice one can or will exercise in (a)” (p. 136). Third, commitments are commonly regarded in terms of environment in which they are expressed, such as “career, religion, politics, friendships, social endeavors, and general values” (ibid). Fourth, commitments are regarded in terms of external balances (narrowness vs. breadth, self-centered vs. other-centered) and subjective balances (action vs. contemplation, continuity vs. diversity, and control vs. openness). Commitment is the core concept in Perry’s works, resonating with the Freirean notions of deep cognitive engagement and actions that are reflected in the learners envisioning new possibilities and beginning to realize their own potential. That is, both Perry and Freire suggested that educators should aim at empowering the learners so that they adopt the views, shape their attitudes, find their voices, and apply them in the actual life as a person and as a learner. An intellectually committed learner, therefore, first develops an independent mind and a sense of proactive responsibility. Perry warned that the independence of mind and a sense of proactive responsibility needed for transformation or progression toward commitment, in the context where they are demanded by authority, may be developed, or the student may master these, but his/her “spirit remains obediently conformist” (p. 36). Responsibility is a critical element in intellectual development.
Having gone through a process in which theoretical knowledge was introduced, reinforced through reflections, and pushed toward practical applications, the four participants developed and applied theories to their lives. However, it is important to note that commitment is relative in the space and time in which a transforming person is situated. For example, Hamid, as a scholar committed to his teaching career in education psychology, had to go through a master’s program in English teaching or language education. In the tasks that he had to perform one might see a 52-year-old within language pedagogy courses who was not sure how he could apply the knowledge in his career back in Afghanistan, or a mature adult writing a simple paper that is well structured but not highly sophisticated. But in constructing knowledge about the psychological impact of war on children and teens in Afghanistan, his paper written in Fall, 2008 as part of his educational psychology course showed evidence of clear connections between theories proposed by Western experts and his accounts of local factors, as well as his firm convictions on what to do in Afghan schools and universities, revealing him as still highly committed to teaching educational psychology and also to making his teaching more student-centered, interactive, and constructivist. He even planned to help his colleagues and work with the administration at his university in introducing the new pedagogy and spreading it university-wide, although he expressed this in terms of trying to convince rather than work collaboratively toward this end. Likewise, Wahid who had been rooted in the conservative ways of thinking, at times would not want to go beyond the expectations of the Authorities, but he was fully committed to the more student-centered pedagogy.
Interestingly, the fact that Hamid and Wahid appeared to be content with their achievements in meeting the authority’s expectations while Ali and Khalid wanted to go beyond them might have been a matter of ability to tolerate or endure the ambiguously complex process of knowledge construction, the cultural influence on their views of knowledge and its pursuit, and/or their personal choices that no external resources could have helped. Perry stressed personal willingness to take on personal responsibility as something that could not be forced or imposed:
Modern pluralistic education, with all its pros and cons on every subject, is criticized for not teaching commitment, indeed for leading students away from it. What we have been saying from our understanding of our record is that: (1) without a clear view of pluralism, commitment as we define it is impossible; and (2) commitment can be provided for and given recognition, but it can never be brought about or forced (p. 37). … He appears to have a number of options. He may allow this form of thought to be simply “what they want” and assume no responsibility himself. He may put his mind in the service of this opportunism and become a cynical gamesman. He may isolate his discovery in the world of academics along and never allow it to raise questions about his own life and purposes. Or he may see clearly enough what is now encumbent upon him and yet not feel up to it. (p. 37).
The drama of development at this stage involves responsibility, or engagement undertaken at one’s own risk and with full realization of the implications of his initial Commitments. Perry saw the development of these positions showing “degrees of ripening in an art” or realization of the impacts in the actual “way of life” (p. 153), as Freire would see the learners transforming to become a person actively engaged in actions that lead to the desired changes.
Actions related to committed attitudes were not evident in this study but u remained to be seen after the four Afghans’ return to their homeland. What emerged in my P-Six, however, were traits of a critical and creative mind that wants to assume more accountability and direct its own learning in critical hope of making a difference in the perceived near future.
Perry focused on “personal commitment in a relative world” (p. 34) and “disciplined independence of mind” whereby students develop a “capacity for detachment” from their past or unexamined commitments and “go beyond simple diversity into the disciplines of relativity of thought through which specific instances of diversity can be productively exploited” (p. 35). These personal commitments could be regarded as “social actions” in Freire’s terms.
Because the power relations between Western experts and Afghan educators as students remained unequal it would have been unrealistic to expect the four Afghans to demonstrate that they had met Perry’s criterion of thinking as one does not “because his teachers ask him to but because this is how the world ‘really is.’ (p 39) Khalid and Ali seemed more liberated from the influence of the need to please the professors. Wahid and Hamid, on the other hand, were more concerned about meeting the standards. More actions can be explained in the form of the bridges that the Afghans built in order to connect what they had learned from the West in the context of Afghanistan.
Table 12 below summarizes the transformations discussed above in simple terms according to the synthesized coding scheme.
|Table 12A summary of the four participants’ intellectual transformation based on the synthesized coding scheme|
|P-One:Reliance on authority||Evident, but brief,largely due to the perceived superiority of Western education and the traditional Islamic view of the pursuit of knowledge (from respected sources or the knower)They were not naïve, however, especially when it was about the complex sociopolitical situations surrounding Afghan politics.||Recognizing the skills & knowledge gaps, he observed and learned about new expectations, but not as a naïve receiver.|
|P-Two: Recognition of multiple perspectives and ambiguity||Had a hard time adjusting to hectic lifestyles, but was confident in own analytical and critical thinking skills established in real-life experience in complex sociopolitical context.||Low tolerance for ambiguity; loss of confidence in the multiple perfectives and unfamiliar conventions;Yet, with deep knowledge and understanding of complex situations of Afghanistan||No obvious problems; His better preparation and more relevant backgrounds helped to facilitate his experiences with multiplicity and ambiguity.|
|P-Three: Multiple perspectives as evidence of arbitrariness||Believed in own voice as legitimate, but couldn’t at first express himself well due to his limited English||Overly relying on personal and world experiences; so, they struggled to adopt academic conventions or adapted themselves slowly||Realized very soon that his voice was valued, but he was at first reluctant to express his ideas with peers.|
|P-Four: Multiple perspectives as a way of knowing||After having been equipped with the epistemological terms and skills in analyzing, evaluating, and analyzing, Ali thrived with his ideas, but still at times found to be pessimistic and despaired, although highly creative and critically alert.||Rooted in the traditional and rigid ways of thinking, Wahid at times was slow to use analytical, evaluative, and synthetic skills fully. He tended to be too happy following the conventions.||Skilled in capturing the concepts and adopting the basic conventions, but only stopped at the analytical and evaluative levels, not striving for synthetic stances.Like Wahid, he tended to be too happy following the conventions.||Emerged as the best in using analytical, evaluative, and synthetic skills, but often reluctant to collaborate and sometimes intimidated by relativist multiplicity.|
|P-Five: Commitment as integral to knowing||Despair detected at earlier stages led to pessimism, but in the end he became a more independent, creative thinker and learner who found and voiced his voice clearly on given issues and who realized own potential in achieving new goals and loved exploration.||Became independent and self-regulating learner who could find own voice in issues about Afghanistan; restricted by rigid ways of thinking at times; too happy with basic conventions; so, didn’t strive for new goals.||Became independent and self-regulating learner; found own voice, but restricted by limited English and own satisfaction with conventions, thus stopped attempting for synthetic conviction or new goals||Equipped with learning independence, creativity, confidence in learning or achieving new goals, but was restricted by own lack of power in the Afghan context and the need to sharpen his transformed skills of Position-Four.|
|P-Six: Commitment as inextricable from action||All committed to constructivist, student-centered, collaborative pedagogy and established critical hopes for applying the Western pedagogy in the Afghan local contexts; Wahid and Hamid tended to be more confident in making changes, provided their higher social status and more knowledge about how the Afghan society works with them as a change agent. Ali and Khalid also developed critical hopes through a course of dialogue during the final interview.|
One of the main goals of this dissertation was to identify the bridges that the four participants built as they tried to make sense of what they had learned in the U.S. and apply it in the context of Afghanistan. Although three had left Afghanistan for many of the country’s 25 turbulent years, all were deeply cognizant of the conditions and factors in the Afghan sociopolitical, educational, and other systems, which would be a strong basis for the bridges that they tried to build in their transformative process. Their visions varied in details, but they were responsive to the obstacles at both societal and classroom levels. They also resonated with the warning by Ekanayake (1998, 2003), which is in agreement with other researchers such as Burnaby and Sun, 1989; Hird. 1995; Hui, 1997; Pham, 2005, & Yu, 2001), that:
When teacher education follows alien models and theories it can result in anomalies in the education system. Theories developed elsewhere, based on experiments carried out in the western world, both in psychology and education, form the basis of teacher education in developing countries. Due to a lack of resources for basic research, it is rare that learning theories and practices are developed in these countries based on local issues. Hence problems occur at the classroom level, for both the teacher, who has a mono-delivery system, and the student, who has his own ways of learning (p. 3).
The strongest bridge was their critical hope and committed desire to change the teaching and learning styles in the Afghan education system to be more student-centered, interactive, and constructivist. They identified such elements in the U.S. graduate system as trust, respect, encouragement, support and scaffolding, freedom to explore, encouragement for active participation, meaningful interaction, construction of knowledge, and learning autonomy. Their own sense of achievement at the end of the program served as encouragement despite the fact that they acknowledged critical barriers.
At the classroom level, class size, students’ learning styles and expectations, lack of technological and other instructional materials, and restrictive syllabi were perceived as challenges, which they felt ready to meet They would start first in their own classrooms as the safest place trying out changes without too many extraneous influences.
All also said they would try to encourage changes beyond their classrooms, starting with their colleagues. Hamid and Wahid, as more senior and respected members in their university, seemed more decisive about how they could work with a network of people in power at their universities in changing the teaching and learning culture at an institutional level. Ali and Khalid, though less confident about their ability to influence the institutional system in which senior members might be slow to change also showed their willingness to make changes, especially if given a leadership role.
At a broader level, issues of insecurity, low salaries for teachers, low support from the government, and other factors affecting teachers and students’ motivation to work hard persistently toward changes were cited by the Afghans as problems that they would need to tackle.
Another issue that the Afghans cited as crucial to be bridged was the need for more rigorous teaching. In the US they had become familiar with syllabi that clearly spelled out the responsibilities of both instructor and students and lesson plans with well interconnected details about prior knowledge, learning objectives, instructional materials, class procedure, and evaluation plans. They believed that these would definitely improve the quality of teaching and learning. Their attempts at designing such lessons showed the struggles of their bridge building.
At the end of the course on learning theories and TESOL methodology emphasizing CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) that I taught in fall 2007, each participant created a five-lesson unit plan. Ali, who was very new to English teaching, made a broad plan that promised using some popular theories but could never apply them in his actual lessons. Khalid, meanwhile, with his limited teaching experience, created a lesson on plagiarism using the common but broad principles of prior knowledge recall, group work, discussions, and hands-on tasks. His rationale was well written, but the details of how the selected theories were applied were not clearly reflected in his lessons, not to mention that he had avoided dealing with the TESOL methodologies, which would have demanded more rigorous, logical, and integrated details of his five lessons. Hamid, with his lack of experience in English teaching, chose the topic about foundation of research, and, like Khalid, did not show a strong demonstration of theoretical application with specific pedagogical details in his lesson plans. Wahid, whose English teaching experience was the longest but under the traditional, grammar translation method, designed his lessons based on grammar points (tenses) and showed little evidence of his ability to transform his lessons to be more communicative than “group work or discussion” that did not have details about logical steps and gradual move from controlled to free practice and production as would be necessary in the EFL teaching context in Afghanistan.
These attempts at lesson planning highlight what many researchers (Harmer, 2003; Pham, 2005; Sato and Kleinsasser, 1999; and Thompson, 1996), have observed, that “CLT was not necessarily the problem, but that the core of the matter is how CLT principles are “amended and adapted to fit the needs of the students who come into contact with them” (Harmer, 2003, p. 292) and that, unless teachers are adequately knowledgeable about CLT, they may eventually fail to continue using CLT and turn to the traditional ways of teaching (Sato and Kleinsasser, 1999; and Thompson, 1996). Continuing support for implementing methodological changes will be a critical factor in the participants’ bridge-building in their home country.
Transformation is not a single event; rather, it is dynamic and varying as a result of constantly changing stimuli. Therefore, as they were building the bridges between what they were learning in the U.S. and what they would be doing back in Afghanistan, the Afghans also changed their attitudes and behaviors. For instance, Ali became more punctual and more committed to exploration; Hamid fully dedicated his time and energy to learning; Wahid became open to new ideas and less rigid about his beliefs; and Khalid became more confident in his ability to construct rather than merely receive knowledge.
The student in the Positions of deflection, according to Perry, may do one or more of the following:
(1) He may pause for a year or more, often quite aware of the step that lies ahead of him, as if waiting or gathering their forces (Temporizing); (2) He may entrench himself, in anger and hatred of “otherness,” in the me-they or we-other dualism of the early Positions (Retreat); and (3) He may settle for exploiting the detachment offered by some middle Position on the scale, in the deeper avoidance of personal responsibility known as alienation (Escape) (p. 177).
Khalid showed the least deflection among the four though he appeared to be temporizing in his reluctance to commit to any idea, even about his own future, too soon, always trying to be sure to examine his assumptions and relative contextual information, which was useful as a tool for his growth as a critical and analytical thinker. In other words, there was a slight tendency for Khalid to escape from the commitment, especially when he was talking about building the bridges for his future in Afghanistan. Given time and follow-up questions, Khalid became more committed to some thoughtful ideas for his future in Afghanistan. The extended dialogue may serve as a model for further assistance that should be offered to these Afghans as they are testing their new insights in the local contexts.
Moreover, Wahid and Hamid were obviously reluctant during the first three months to assume the cognitive burdens ahead of them and appeared to need time to gather forces during the first six months (Temporizing) before they slowly became more self-reliant at the end of the sixth month. However, it took both, especially Wahid, much longer to become more analytically organized and flexibly open to new ideas, possibly as a result of their previous roles in teacher-centered classrooms. In addition, it might be ascribed to Wahid’s and Hamid’s reliance mainly on personal experiences and knowledge of the world instead of integrating new knowledge. In the end, it appeared that Wahid and Hamid were satisfied with being able to meet program expectations and useful skills and a sense of new identity as a more “professional” teacher.
Lastly, Ali, like Hamid and Wahid, faced culture and academic shock more quickly became independent. Furthermore, he needed help with English and directions for doing unfamiliar, complex tasks, but not much in terms of critical thinking and being creative, as well as in taking charge of exploratory, autonomous learning, although the speed of his transition was slower than Khalid’s. However, an obvious tendency for Escape that I noted was in his lack of discipline to force himself to work hard as consistently as the other three. Ali knew he could get by the system safely because some actions in class would not necessarily be evaluated as part of grading, suggesting an element of escape. Interestingly, however, although Ali did not show a strong sign of retreating from opposite critical ideas, he could not transcend his tendency to be intolerant of his peers’ uncritical, discriminative, or insignificant ideas, so much so that he wanted to separate himself from the group, which might also be associated with tribal discrimination that he had personally experienced.
Constructivism in Online ELL/ENL/ESOL Teacher Education: The Learners’ Perspectives
As the popularity of teacher training programs via distance education increases, much remains to be studied in terms of which pedagogical techniques work, how, and how well. This action research report features K-12, ELL/ENL teachers‘ perceptions of an online teacher-training course designed according to constructivist principles. Titled Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, the course adopted constructivism as framed by prominent theorists. The data were collected from synchronous and asynchronous communication records: forum discussions, submitted assignments, standard course evaluations, participants‘ feedback on learning tasks, emails, and chat records. The analysis was conducted through three rounds of systematic coding. Satisfaction with the learning experiences was reported as high, and reactions to the multiple, innovative, constructivist learning tasks were also highly positive, although a few challenges were reported by participants who were unfamiliar with the open-ended, non-linear, and complex nature of the learning environments. Implications for online ELL/ENL/ESOL teacher training and further research are offered.
Critical Literacy as “Compromisation”
Language Education Department, School of Education
This article came out of a semester-long self study with L750 classmates under supervision of Dr. Stephanie Carter. Each participant unpacked and repacked “Critical Literacy” following intensive discussions on what is and is not CL.
I. Introduction: The critical roots.
II. A common theme: “Tensions”.
Tensions that require “compromisation”
– To liberate and/or to empower.
– To “unbank” by way of “compromisation”
III. Bridging the extremes.
To sensitize or conscientize.
To challenge the commonplace, the dominant views, or the taken for granted.
To unpack sociopolitical systems.
To give voices to the silenced.
To take action or to reach praxis. P
IV. Ending notes.
Introduction: The critical roots
The notions of critical literacy, emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Green 2001), refer to many things practiced by many groups of people and appear in various dimensions. Green further suggests that` “The notions of text, literacy as social practice, and discourse, which have been discussed within cultural literacy, are…integral to critical literacy” (2001, 7), but that there are other stances and the distinction is not clear. Harste (2002), likewise, defines critical literacy as “a moving target” that generally involves efforts in “disrupting the taken for granted, interrogating dominant perspectives, exposing the political in what was thought to be innocent, and promoting social justice in all kinds of forms” (Harste, L750 Course Syllabus, Fall 2002, Indiana University), which is similar to Lankshear’s observation that critical literacy is a “contested educational ideal” with “no final orthodox” (1994, p. 4).
Wink (1997) argues that critical literacy is one name among the many similar views from around the world, which can be linked to the real education world via critical pedagogy, or radical pedagogy. See figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Critical Roots (Wink, 1997, p. 64)
Insert the figure here.
Gore (1993) also identifies a close link between critical and feminist discourses with critical pedagogy. Nieto (1999) defines multicultural education in a comprehensive sense and as conceptual echo of Freire’s pedagogy.
Paolo Freire, the Father of critical pedagogy, holds strong views about the oppressing world in which two opposing groups, the oppressed and the oppressors, are competing within the unjust status quo, (1970, 2002), and the contradictions thus result in a lot of tensions in pedagogical practices. His radical approach, the pedagogy of the oppressed, has influenced the writings of a lot of prominent authors around the world, including those under the broad critical literacy umbrella, such as Comber, Shor, Kempe, Finn, Street, Gee, Luke, etc.
Critical literacy, with its linked veins with critical pedagogy, has evolved around many themes as implied in definitions given earlier, but it is very often discussed in light of tensions, conflicts, opposing views, contradictions, and differences of varied sorts among people. As far as I see, the views among prominent authors of the field about how to deal with these opposing realities break into two major groups: one with and the other without “”compromisation”,” a new word I created to mean “making an effort to compromise.”
This paper will first argue that critical literacy has to do fundamentally with tensions. Then, it will relate relevant history of me especially as a person born and raised in a Buddhist culture and yet, later predominantly educated in the westernized mode of education, with why I view “compromisation” as an appropriate way for practicing critical literacy in the face of tensions. Next, elaborating the extreme nature of Freire’s views around Banking Education and his pedagogy, the paper will discuss what can be compromised and briefly how to do it.
A common theme: “Tensions”
I believe tensions are caused when there are at least two extremes. Critical literacy, if we agree that it is a child of critical or radical pedagogy, is evolved around the theme of tensions because of the extreme nature of its parent. Freire. Freire started his renowned book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by leading our attention to the task of ‘humanization’ and elaborating the opposite term, ‘dehumanization,’ by relating it to “injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors” (2002, p. 44). When we look at these words and phrases, we can see that they imply the tensions between two major groups of people in similar forms: the oppressed vs. the oppressors; the winners vs. the losers; and the manipulators and the manipulated. Division of human beings into two main groups has become the basis for discussion of with whom to side among people dealing with critical literacy. Some divide human beings by gender; others by races, abilities, social classes, power and authority, cultural practices, religion, economic power, and so on. Essentially, a common theme that emerges is that the two groups do not share equal gains under even bases or just systems. Whether the authors in related fields that promote critical literacy take Freire as their inspiration or not, they tend to deal with this very basic division, but the details or emphases of their discussions and/or practices may vary according to the specific areas of their interests.
Let me point out the extreme nature of Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed in order to see why tensions are inevitable and thus “compromisation” necessary. As illustrated in Figure 2, Freire rigidly divides human beings as two contradicting groups, and in order for the pedagogy to work, Freire sides with the oppressed and bases his pedagogy on his belief that the oppressed, his students, need to be liberated or empowered through conscientization, or “learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality,” –Translator’s note in Freire (2002, p. 35). Conscientization is used to fight against naturalization, or the efforts by the oppressors to desensitize the oppressed and make them stay within the systems without challenging them. Freire contended that it is important to help the students see their position within the unjust systems within the status quo, in which the dominant group manipulates the systems historically, socially, and culturally. To conscientize members of the oppressed, he advocates “Dialogue Education,” which is the opposite to “Banking Education,” or the kind of education that is operated within the unjust status quo. It is the assumptions about the banking education that generate the extreme pedagogy.
Figure 2: Overview of Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed
|- Liberating||Naturalization||= Efforts to maintain the status quo|
|- Praxis (Reflective action)-||Banking Education|
|- Transformative education|
|- Dialogue education|
We will, in the next section, examine the extreme elements that Freire proposes. Now, Freire also sets the goal of his pedagogy at changing the unjust systems within the status quo. He thus encourages the students to engage in praxis, or reflective action. After the students learn that they are situated within the unfair systems, they should take actions in order to change the systems. Another extreme stance is created. Freire does not think there is an alternative to confrontation between the two groups. In other words, his pedagogy of the oppressed does not allow “compromisation” from either group. Freire, for instance, even sees that acts of charity and generosity by the oppressors cannot resolve situations of oppression, and are false because they do not attack the causes of oppression. On the other hand, walking softly within the status quo is also not advisable because, according to Freire, many times when the oppressed seek to liberate themselves, they become sub oppressors, identifying with the oppressor because “the oppressed find in their oppressor their model of ‘humanhood’” (1970, p30-31).
My history and how my views are shaped
While I love so many lines in Freire’s writings, the semester-long discussions in efforts to unpack critical literacy with the team has made me feel that some things are missing in this radical approach. In order to know exactly where I stand in light of Freire’s extreme views, I am forced to revisit my own history. I share his view that there are inequalities and unfair systems. However, I think viewing human beings rigidly as two opposing groups can be inadequate because an individual may belong to both groups at different times or even at the same time. “You win some; you lose some,” say wise people with real world experiences that may confirm such inadequacy. The division of people into two opposing groups will dictate the ways with which problems are dealt, and my different view on this basic notion will prove to be influential over the way I view critical literacy. The journey back to revisit my ‘self’ helps me understand myself and the immediate present world differently and more clearly.
I was born and raised in a Buddhist country, Thailand, where ways of living were largely influenced by a selected portion of Buddhism. Having looked at the society in which I was shaped critically, I realized the society has moved through histories where the notion of classes has been accepted with Buddhism as a scaffold. By this I mean that Buddhism was adopted as the nation’s main religion because, as I have realized, it serves the status quo well, and perhaps it has proven to serve the society as a whole as well. A son of a farming family with nine children, I was taught to compromise in many ways. Within the family, I was assigned the outdoor and heavy work, and at home I never had to clean the house or cook. The gender roles were divided, but there was never a single complaint from any member about the division. In fact, we did what we had to do and just found our shared life very peaceful, rewarding, warm, happy, and constructive. The most influential piece of Buddha’s teaching that I had learned since I was a boy was to accept the fate as a starting point without frustration, but also to strive on with positive actions (mind, verbal and physical). Violence was not what worried Thais back then, because people were always compromising, often clinging on to the most prominent concept of “the Middle Path,” which can be perceived as staying between the two extremes in thinking, speaking and acting. Thai people accept their natural fate and recognize that people in a better starting point at the present time did better deeds in the past or even the past lives, and that they should give them recognition of their past deeds. Instead of envying and hating the people in a better socioeconomic status, for instance, Thais would normally seek to associate with them, especially if the gives and takes were exchanged and if opportunities for advancements could be associated with the relationship. And that was the way things went and still do now. Buddhism, therefore, was a best option for people in power because it would make people grateful for even the little thing they receive from the superior, dominant groups. People then submit in order to survive and yet find opportunities to do better in life, and that was what the ruling groups in the status quo wanted. Is that necessarily bad? Does mixing with the oppressors lead to naturalization or endless oppression? I am not so convinced.
The most touching scenes in my life flash again when I keep traveling back. That boy I have known all my life was a member of the oppressed. He was the fourth child of the farming family with nine children. He went to school without a lunch box nor any money. He had no choice during lunch time, but to make friends with tap water. The regularly overheard conversations about debt and worries between his parents always haunted him. The poor neighbors, who had been in the farming ‘burden’ that never yielded as much gain as the ‘business’ that middlemen ran, kept showing their sad, hopeless faces to him. The only happy place was school, where he was brought into a new world full with dreams and far from oppressing scenes. His father always said to him, “I don’t have anything to leave with you because we’re not rich, but I hope you will pursue education.” The boy found it easy to take the advice and joyfully went to school, but he, at a certain stage when he moved to a new school for a higher level, had a hard time telling his father that he needed the new uniform to replace the torn, donated clothes. His father took him to the market on the back of an old bicycle to beg the Chinese shopkeeper to kindly grant some ‘credit’ and it would be paid back after the crops had been harvested. The boy felt inferior at the shop and at school, staying humble and obedient in classes. He was loved by his teachers for that. Despite the lack of his family’s ability to support his education away from home, he managed to enter higher levels of education because of scholarships awarded in return for his academic achievements. However, the intimidation kept haunting him as if it was embedded right inside the back of his head. He was small, thin and often hungry. It is funny how you feel hungry more frequently when you don’t have access to food or money. He skipped meals just to make the ends meet each month away from home.
The same boy luckily managed to go on to university after his entrance examination fee was paid for by donations from the kind teachers at his high school. At the university, his confidence started to grow larger, despite occasional feelings of inferiority when he was in front of young, rich girls. He grew physically, mentally, and most importantly academically. His academic performance was still very good and his confidence rose to the level that he became president of the Voluntary Club for Social Development at the university, leading teams of caring students to learn and share with villagers. That thin, pale boy now became a young man with ample confidence. He started to question, challenge, learn and relearn about the world around him. After his graduation, he became a teacher at a refugee camp in Thailand for five years before receiving a scholarship to study in Australia. After that he returned to Thailand to teach at a famous university. His journey takes him as far now as the author of this article.
Having been educated in four continents Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America, I am now wearing the different lens, and yet I realize that I tend to still see and accept things they way they exist in reality, not necessarily seeing them as all bad or flawlessly good. I think more critically about solutions to a problem, yet again, in compromising ways. I tend not to see the world as black and white, although some Western-based academic tasks require me to take one position and be firm about supporting it with figures or proved evidence. I no longer see the systems in the Thai society as fair and non-oppressing, but I still appreciate a lot of the positive effects they yield. I look at issues at hand with more skeptical eyes, and yet I may still appear submissive and more frequently compromising. What I have learned in life so far is that nothing is perfect, and nothing is really completely wrong or useless. Enough about me, but how would I deal with contradictions that Freire invites us to face.
Buddha would suggest that I deal with conflicts differently from the Freirean camp members would about dividing people, because Buddha encourages me to see human beings as friends of the same fate, who are born, become old, get sick, and pass away all alike, whereas Freire encourages a clear distinction between the two opposing groups. These fundamental different views will later affect how Freire and I view critical literacy practices differently in light of the encountered tensions. Freire maintains, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” (Freire: http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_compromise.html ). While Freire refuses to compromise with any effort to get along with the status quo and would argue that “”compromisation”” will reproduce oppressive systems, I will try to challenge this fundamental belief of my own hero and propose “compromisation” as an option.
Tensions that require “”compromisation”
The semester-long discussions and the selected readings have informed me that, among the efforts by people claiming they practice critical literacy, they try to achieve several similar goals. However, critical literacy can be used in different contexts by different people for different purposes. For instance, feminists may promote gender equalities; educators may try to reform schools; social workers may try to sensitize the oppressed and lead them to actions that would create positive changes, etc. Within the scope of this paper, I would like just to point out the tensions related to classroom-based efforts and argue in favor of the need for “compromisation”.
To liberate and/or to empower
I have to assume that we agree in principle that the hardcore or radical rationale for critical literacy stems from the critical pedagogy camp, of which Freire is considered the Father, and Giroux, Shor as well as McLaren as prominent authors. Their implications for pedagogy go beyond the classroom. McLaren, for example, states, ‘the major objective of critical pedagogy is to empower students to intervene in their own self-formation and to transform the oppressive features of the wider society that make such intervention necessary” (1988, p. xi). Giroux maintains that teachers must not only see schools as places where the dominant society is reproduced, but also to develop alternative pedagogical practices, if they want to achieve such the objective that McLaren proposes.
The word “liberate” suggests a goal at the level of humanizing the humankind (Freire, 2002). We can take this stance and go as far beyond the classroom as examining cultural domination at the global level. Spring (1998) very interestingly elaborates cultural, religious, education, and linguistic dominations in his chapter titled “Education and White Love: The Foundation and Language of the Global Economy.” However, such a goal to liberate humankind is not easy to practice in the restrictive classroom environments, i.e. under the shadow of the need to prepare the students for standardized tests, the need to respond to their real life needs that are dictated by the external forces (including economic, social, cultural, and even professional). Tensions emerge whenever we want to go as far as, for instance, challenging the invincible English language. How can knowing that English is a tool that gives advantage to its native speakers and a tool that helps maintain the higher status of certain groups of people help, when teachers and students know that the students will need English to pass high-stake exams, get a good job and gain access to a good materialistic life? Plus, how many teachers would view English in that light, anyway, because they are usually the people who enjoy their gains from teaching the language or using it to show their perceived higher social status? Therefore, a real tension emerges when such a radical goal is sought.
Authors in the critical literacy field, as well as practitioners, have limited their goal down to “to empower” probably due to the restrictive nature of classrooms and schooled literacy. In fact, these two words are used almost interchangeably by many authors. The intention is then shifted more towards recognizing individual learners’ abilities, background knowledge/skills, multiple ways of learning, etc., which in turn empowers the learners. The scope is thus reduced. The goal of liberating the humankind can be further reduced to specific details when critical literacy is used for narrowed-down teaching, such as reading. Whereas Freire maintains that education and knowledge have power only when they help learners liberate themselves from oppressive social conditions (Peyton & Crandall, 1995), The International Reading Association (IRA), for example, defines its position as accepting different stances, but “it consistently encourages pedagogical approaches that empower students to think critically and also equip them to participate responsibly in the life of their communities.” What they mean by “think critically” and participate “responsibly” are not clear, but we can see that the goal is reduced. IRA’s definition of critical literacy is more relevant to reading texts and the world, the stance also encouraged by Freire. It says,
Notions of how texts relate to meanings lie at the heart of literacy instruction at every level. Among the various ways of approaching the question, a critical perspective on literacy “involves an understanding of the way ideology and textual practices shape the representation of realities in texts” (Cervetti et al., 2001). Because all texts are created and situated within particular social and ideological contexts, “students of critical literacy are generally encouraged to take a critical attitude toward texts, asking what view of the world they advance and whether these views should be accepted.” Recognizing the profound social and ideological dimensions of texts allows readers to “question, resist, or revise” their representations of the world.
From IRA website: http://www.reading.org/focus/critical_lit.html, Retrieved December 21, 2003.
I see this incident as an example of compromised goals. However, even with this specific goal, tension does not disappear. The word “empower, or “empowerment,” is rightly questioned and challenged by Street (1995) mainly in terms of what my colleagues and the professor also asked during the sessions:
In our class discussions, we reached a point where we saw that people could be empowered to see their problems and the causes, but they may still be unable to do anything about them. Thus, we questioned the extent to which such kind of empowerment helps liberate or change people’s lives. The tension between knowing the causes of unjust systems and the inability to direct changes is an important one. The tension teachers face in positioning themselves while trying to empower their students is another. Are they the persons with the power to give? Are they actually at the same level as the students, if they are to adopt the “dialogic” approach Freire suggests? The power relations between the students and the teacher, in my view, generate tensions that need “”compromisation”" which can at least take place in the form of negotiation. In this light, I find the notion of dialogic teaching very agreeable, but the question of where the balance is will still need to be asked, and “”compromisation”" would be required.
To “unbank” by way of “”compromisation””
Now, I will examine tensions that are embedded within the Freire’s views about banking education. In banking education, Freire separates the teacher and the students as two separate and contradictory groups. Freire (2002)describes “Banking Education” as one “in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits….Instead of communicating, the teachers issue communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat” (p. 72). His Pedagogy of the Oppress obviously goes against this tradition, but tensions occur. Let’s look at the ways Freire assumes the relationships between the students and some of what my lens reveals and reflects in Figure 3.
The arguments or sometimes dialogues in the Figure 3 reflect my effort to compromise, or “compromisation”. I think we need to ask practical questions that will lead us toward concrete, positive and constructive actions without deviating too from Freire’s ultimate goal of liberating people. “compromisation” would encourage the questions and responses such as:
o What if the teachers do not want to allow fossilization of bad habits, bad practices, or wrong principles that may jeopardize people’s lives or security of the country, such as in military or medical training?
o What if, for some subjects such as mathematics, and physics, there is more need for the teachers to lay out principles or formula to the students first? Would their banking approach only oppress the students?
Figure 3: Assumed teacher-student relationship vs. my lens’ reflections
Banking education’s assumed teacher-student relationships (Freire (2002,p. 73):
|The teacher teaches and the students are taught;||We should not go to the opposite extreme. Teachers can teach and learn, but teachers cannot not teach. Balance must be found.|
|The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;||Teachers know more about certain things, but not everything. Freire also thought “the teachers must be expert and knowledgeable to be a responsible critical-democratic educator (Shor & Pari, 1999, p. 13).|
|The teacher thinks and the students are thought about;||Who is in charge? Don’t students as human beings have the innate ability to think and challenge? (action<-> reaction!)|
|The teacher talks and the students listen meekly;||This is not true in the real world. No teacher wants to talk too much and the students cannot do so either.|
|The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;||Students at least need self-disciplines; and teachers can help arrange the agreeable mechanism.|
|The teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;||Both parties can contribute. Yet, the goals must be firm, and teachers can have an agenda while students can learn to read the worlds.|
|The teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;||This depends on what kind of actions and the given roles and situations.|
|The teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;||Teachers as authority of knowledge that is not ill-structured need to set up the program. However, flexibility and space can still be embedded and negotiation can exist.|
|The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;||The freedom of the students can be constrained by many factors, linguistic needs, background experiences, etc. and the teachers usually can help to provide guidance.|
|The teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.||Where is the line? How far can the students be in taking care of their learning? The ground may vary in different cultures, fields of study and profession.|
|Learners are regarded as adaptable, manageable beings.||Do we not want the students to be adaptable and manageable in the classroom?|
A fundamental question my notion of “compromisation” would lead us to ask is, “Would banking education always push the teacher to reproduce the unjust status quo?” My journey through experiences with banking education may have shaped me in certain ways, but am I now a person reproducing the status quo, or am I actually trying to operate within it in order to change it? I hope and believe I am doing the latter. In addition, many academically successful people, i.e. scientists, doctors, critical teachers, who used to adopt and submit to rote learning, might not agree completely with Freire. Freire does not seem to value the expertise of teachers as a resource of experiences and known knowledge of the field, although he adds that in his later work (see Shor and Pari, 1999). I strongly argue for the place in the classroom where teachers can take different roles although I know that it is usually more difficult to take two or more contradicting roles at the same time. Practitioners and authors in the critical literacy field such as Philion (1998) have begun to realize that they as teachers should be honest about having their agendas while allowing the students to read them as a text in the world on which to encode, decode, and evaluate.
Bridging the extremes
Words have the power to both destroy and heal.
When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.–Buddha
I was surprised when Buddha is quoted as saying the above line because that is almost like what Freire would say, too. That led me to think that there is hope for compromising the extremes because after all everything is connected in one way or another. It would be fair to say that Freire also tries to compromise. In fact, the dialogic approach that is intended to erase the above contradictions between the students and the teacher is a sign of “compromisation”. The question here is how far we should go and where the needed balance would be. I will look further into Freire’s pedagogy for the oppressed and the common critical literacy practices to see where “compromisation” exists and/or would be appropriate.
To sensitize or conscientize
Freire encourages the teacher and the students to be co-learners, treating each other with trust, love and respect— the most beautiful line in educational philosophy. This is in fact a sort of “compromisation” between the two groups. However, he does not see that same principle as applicable between the oppressors and the oppressed. He believes in the potential of the oppressed to transform, but he does not seem to acknowledge the willingness of the oppressors to change and to support a fairer system. I have seen people working with the privileged children, and I think that is a way to go. In many mixed classrooms, teachers may have to teach members who are children of the oppressed and the oppressors. That means there is a good opportunity to conscientize both groups. How do we do it? That is a constructive question that will move us ahead.
I believe Freire’s principle of relationship based on mutual love, trust and respect applies as well to relationship between members of the oppressed and the oppressors. I hope we can have trust, love and respect for the oppressors because if we do and manage to elicit the same back from them, we may not need to heed Freire’s warning below too much:
The oppressors use their “Humanitarianism” to preserve a profitable situation. Thus they react almost instinctively against any experiment in education which stimulates the critical faculties and is not content with a partial view of reality but always seeks out the ties which link one point to another and one problem to another (2002, 73-74).
To challenge the commonplace, the dominant views, or the taken for granted
I believe that by bringing in different views, creating/sharing counter-narratives, questioning the taken for granted, we have already tried to compromise. “compromisation” in my sense would mean to encourage the students of all different backgrounds to embrace the fact that there are multiple views out there that will help them understand the world more clearly, and the multiple views will open their hearts, and only with an open, unbiased heart can one compromise constructively—that is to have constructive actions or cooperation.
To unpack sociopolitical systems
Efforts to help the students see the problems and their causes, and realize where they position and are position within the larger sociopolitical systems will not only help empower the students in words, it will actually help them understand problems more clearly. The clear, thorough understanding of situations, I believe, is basis for compromised actions that will not push the oppressors to maintain the unjust systems and will help the oppressed make well-informed decisions about how to move towards positive changes. I hope mutual understanding of the shared world in which the oppressors and the oppressed coexist will help them move their world in a new direction. Their actions may become push and drag; that is the oppressors helping the oppressed move towards a better world.
To give voices to the silenced
“compromisation” would also mean accommodating or facilitating one another. By encouraging the students to seek to hear voices that are not heard or simply by introducing the silenced voices to them, we teachers have done the job of “compromisation”. At least the students will begin to realize the existence of others and their rights to be treated fairly under a fair condition or system.
To take action or to reach praxis
This is a crucial part. Once the oppressed have reached the stage where they know where they are situated within the status quo, the question of “What next?” will be crucial. The unfair systems, no matter what they are, should ideally be eradicated, but how? Do we eventually have to witness violent revolutions? My hope for the humankind is that they will use their conscience that can be enriched through the process of critical literacy practices to compromise. I also hope that they coexist by adopting “compromisation” in light of all the tensions at all levels. In peace, I trust.
In education, I therefore believe that we should continue our agenda to focus also on conscientizing the privileged, strive towards building fairer systems, bring in multiple perspectives to develop critical, open minds, adopt accepting attitudes and inclusive policies that promote peaceful problem solving, and focus on enabling the students to reposition or change their positions within the status quo for the better. Perhaps, if we find Freire’s warning about falling trapped within the status quo so haunting, we should also heed Gandhi’s words, “If your heart acquires strength, you will be able to remove blemishes from others without thinking evil of them.” Mohandas k. Gandhi: http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_education.html. Or if that is not enough, we may consult some lines by Buddha, which may help push us away from being too skeptical about the goodness in the others and help pull us toward the compromising middle path:
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful…. (Buddha)
Posted in Wisdom Quotes on May 9, 2003 08:54 PM at: http://www.greatmotivationalquotes.com/success-leaders/buddha-quotes.htm
Middle Path” may be misunderstood as equivocal. In fact Buddhism is not as such. “Middle” means neutral, upright, and centered. It means to investigate and penetrate the core of life and all things with an upright, unbiased attitude. In order to solve a problem, we should position ourselves on neutral, upright and unbiased ground. We investigate the problem from various angles, analyze the findings, understand the truth thoroughly, and find a reasonable conclusion.
In contexts of education, critical literacy has been practiced in many forms. I have examined the radical core of critical pedagogy, of which I believe is the main vein connected with critical literacy. I have argued that the extreme assumptions may lead us to adopt radical practices without challenging their core. Unless we do that, we may be lost in the illusion of good will, and thus fail to recognize the other possible assumptions and realities that we different peoples around the globe are facing. Essentially, we may be led to reject “compromisation”— an element in my life that has at least worked positively for me, a text that you have just read. Freire does not hide that his pedagogy is based on his experience working with “the oppressed” in Brazil. Therefore, I would like to end this paper with a statement by Facundo, who studied Freire and his work as well as applied his pedagogy faithfully and concludes:
To apply Freire’s ideas in different contexts, we need to ask, “who are we, where do we come from, what are we looking for, how sound is our approach based both in the writings of Freire and in the concrete context in which we work?”
Blanca Facundo, Freire-inspired programs in the United States and Puerto Rico: A critical evaluation. http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/dissent/documents/Facundo/section8.html
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Gilbert, P. (1990). Personal growth or critical resistance? Self-esteem in the English curriculum. In J. Kenway & S. Willis (Eds.), Hearts and minds: Self-esteem and the schooling of girls (pp. 173-189). London: Falmer Press.
Gilbert, P. (1993a). (Sub)versions: Using sexist language practices to explore critical literacy. The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 16(4), 323-331.
Gilbert, P. (1993b). Introduction. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Gender stories and the language classroom (pp. 1-36). Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.
Gilbert, P. (1993c). Dolly fiction(s): Teen romances downunder. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Gender stories and the language classroom (pp. 66-85). Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.
Gore, J. (1991). Neglected practices: A foucaldian critique of traditional and radical approaches to pedagogy. In The Liberating Curriculum Conference, Paper 21 (pp. 2-13). Adelaide, Australia: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
Gore, J. (1993). The struggle for pedagogies: Critical and feminist discourses as regimes of truth. New York: Routledge.
Green, B. (1988). Subject-specific literacy and school learning: A focus on writing. Australian Journal of Education, 32(2), 156-179.
Green, P. (1992). A matter of fact: Using factual texts in the classroom. Melbourne, Australia: Eleanor Curtain.
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Kress, G. (1985). Linguistic processes in sociocultural practice. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.
Krevotics, J. (1985). Critical literacy: Challenging the assumptions of mainstream educational theory. Journal of Education, 167(2), 50-62.
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Lankshear, C. (1994). Critical literacy. Canberra, Australia: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
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Luke, A. (1992-1993). Literacy and human capital: Rethinking the equation. Education Australia, 19-20, 19-21.
Luke, A. (1993). Stories of social regulation: The micropolitics of classroom narrative. In B. Green (Ed.), The insistence of the letter: Literacy studies and curriculum theorizing (pp. 137-153). London: Falmer Press.
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As learning language for use and through use has become prevalent across the globe in light of the increased need for English in the economic, cultural, educational, and other spheres of many countries, especially in urbanized areas, the methodologies for TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) have also encouraged students’ active roles in their learning. Project-Based Learning (PBL), along with other similar schemes such as problem-based learning, community-based learning, active learning, and so on, has been promoted in many settings. I have always encouraged my students and student teachers to move toward making the final or substantial products as the results of learners’ presentations of what they have learned more meaningfully applicable in real life situations.
One of the projects that I have recently conducted with my colleagues at BallState University was a collaborative PBL curriculum in which a team of teachers gear their students toward publishable products via their online magazines. Visit one of the websites at http://pbl.iweb.bsu.edu/index.htm. You can also see my presentaions given with my colleagues at the INTESOL conference at http://thinsan.org/pbl/index.htm.
At the graduate level, I have employed PBL in my teaching in which students were expected to produce something under my step-by-step scaffolding. I have learned much from such experience and have tried to applied it with my students in the intensive English program, successfully. Then, I have come to some conclusions about “college readiness,” which I have presented at the INTESOL conference and the TESOL convention. See http://thinsan.org/readiness/sit.htm and http://thinsan.org/TESOL2011/.
More updates later…
Lessard-Clouston – Language Learning Strategies: An Overview for L2 Teachers, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 12, December 1997
Cohen, A. D. (1996). Second Language Learning and Use Strategies: Clarifying the Issues, CARLA Working Paper Series #3 • November 1996 • 26 pp.
Duke University Academic Skills Instructional Program. Strategies for Foreign Language Learning.
British Columbia Ministry of Education. Introduction to Language Learning Strategies (for Grades 5-12)
Longwood University Modern Language Program. Strategies for Learning a Foreign Language
You may also be interested in Vocabulary Learning Strategies as well.
Click on the above link to view the file in pdf format.
Snea Thinsan, Ph.D.
Violence and its relationship with education
More about structural violence
Critical questions about spirituality gaps
Since the 9/11 tragedy, people in the world have realized, again, that their shared globe is plagued with seeds of violence that are making brutal acts surface right in their faces. Violence that causes deaths and other forms of destruction around the world has become more conspicuous than before. Typically, we define or regard wars in Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, and Sudan as examples of violence and only physical violence, such as wars, rape, murder or massacre, street crimes, and so on that have perceptible destructive effects are regarded as violence against which people counteract. However, violence is multifaceted and a lot needs to be done to unmask it before proper and preemptive actions can be taken to alleviate or prevent its effects.
Structural violence is seldom mentioned in education, but has been discussed more commonly by scholars in psychology. It is different from other types of violence in that the power relations within it are less noticeable and are embedded in different forms within different contexts. As Du Nan Winter and Leighton (1999) put, “structural violence…is almost always invisible, embedded in ubiquitous social structures, normalized by stable institutions and regular experience.” Therefore, it is not often seen as an imminent threat, and is thus usually seen as normal at least in the eyes of the people within the circle where it takes place. Du Nan Winter and Leighton also raise the case of structured inequalities as major causes of structural violence, citing Johan Galtung (1986) who originally framed the term to refer to any constraint on human potential due to economic and political structure. In particular, Du Nan Winter and Leighton regard unequal access to resources, political power, education, health care, or legal standing as forms of structural violence. Structural violence occurs when, for instance, gays or lesbians are fired because of their sexual orientation; children starve to death because of the unfair distribution of income within the society; etc. There are many more examples of structural violence, and more will be discussed later.
If we believe in the role of education in fighting to make the world a less violent and less oppressive place, we must ask at least the following critical questions? How do people in education view and deal with violence? How has critical literacy been framed in light of violence issues? Where are the gaps? And what is left for educators to do in regard to these previous issues? This paper is intended to show a perspective in response to these compelling questions?
Violence and its relationship with education
Traditionally education was seen as neutral and non-political, and it remains so in many parts of the world. In the Eastern world, for example, education was associated with religious practices, as versus to state missions that were run principally by the people in power. The state seldom intervened with the business in the temples or the monasteries, and the Buddhist monks, as in Thailand and neighboring countries, would not get involved in politics. Religious leaders, except in the Islamic world, thus were seen as neutral, moral, and trustworthy in virtually all aspects. Parents undoubtedly handed over their children to the arms of the spiritual and intellectual teachers in hope that their children will become a full person and good members of the society. However, education is nowadays no longer seen as non-politic or neutral by many. In fact, it has been seen by many Western scholars as a culprit in the form of an essential tool employed by the status quo in generating and perpetuating classes, widening gaps in societies, and therefore serving to maintain or reproduce the status quo; however, these scholars may not necessarily match what we do or fail to do in education with violence per se.
Philosophers in search of a better world have questioned the status quo and offered ideas about their envisioned, or ideal, society since a long time ago. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss-French thinker during the early 18th century, for example, in his renowned book A Discourse on Inequality (translated version, 1984) shows how the growth of civilization corrupts human beings’ natural happiness and freedom by inventing inequalities of wealth, power and social privilege. As society becomes more complex and surrounded by such inequalities, the strongest and the most intelligent members of the society would gain an unnatural advantage over the weaker ones. Rousseau also believes that the constitutions that are set up to rectify the unjust systems and to promote a peaceful, equal society usually work to perpetuate the said inequalities. An analysis like this by Rousseau reflects the fact that structural violence was detected long time ago.
Educators also started to be aware of the need to unpack sociopolitical issues and reveal the unjust systems in the wider context around education quite a while ago. John Dewey, a psychologist and educator in the early 19th century, was among the earlier educators who questioned the power relations between the teacher and the students and argued that schools were not designed to transform societies [for democratic, just conditions], but rather to reproduce the unfair status quo (1896). Many scholars or educators in the 20th and 21st centuries have followed the same path that leads to critical examination of sociopolitical and socioeconomic factors. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also saw the need to move education beyond the school fences. He strongly believed that education should succeed in the following tasks: disciplined thinking; creation of a cultivated outlook; enhancement of civilization; and imparting moral rectitude, although he wrote that the society during his time was far from seeing education serve to promote moral rectitude (Kanz, 1993). And in this paper I would like to revisit the notion of education for moral rectitude, or in my term, spirituality in education, in the later section.
Among the later scholars who care about relating education to problems within and beyond the school fences, Paolo Freire is arguably the most talked about educational author. Regarded as the Father of Critical Pedagogy, Freire emphasizes the role of education in transforming individual and society through critical reflections and social actions, or praxis. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1973, 2002), his classic book widely read around the world nowadays, sets up the goal for education as a tool for humanizing through praxis, enhanced by the dialogic approach in which the teachers and the learners hold mutual respect as co-learners. The term conscienticizao, which he uses to explain praxis, refers to “learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” (Freire, 2002, 35; see also pages 87-124 for elaboration of the term). Freire clearly pushes us toward seeing the most subtle aspect of structural violence– words. He believes in the power of words in positioning oneself and others, and thus he encourages examining them in order to unpack the subtlety of factors within the status quo, to conscientize and finally transform ourselves to be the subject or agent of change. Other influential authors in this field nowadays include Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, and Ira Shor.
Along with Freire, many would put Vygotsky as another educator who advocates efforts to look at education as a phenomenon within the sociopolitical contexts, over which teachers do not have much control (Wink, 1997). In fact, Vyogotsky’s contributions in education include three major areas: sociocultural learning (meaning making or knowledge construction in social contexts, which becomes foundation for constructivism); the zone of proximal development (the amount of learning that is enhanced through social scaffolding); and the crucial relationship between words and ideas used in the social contexts and how that affects learning). However, Vygotsky does not advocate any radical approaches to unpacking the oppressive society as Freire does.
The notions that lead teachers and learners to be more sensitive about violence can also be found in the resonance by Gee (1996); Lankshear (1997); Luke & Freebody (1997) who see that the certain discourse we choose to use does in one way or another affect others because it positions ourselves and others in either advantageous or disadvantageous situation.
Scholars from several other camps also center their dialogs around social justices, which in one way or another deal with structural violence. Critical literacy, emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Green 2001), refers to many things practiced by many groups of people and appear in various dimensions. Green further suggests that “The notions of text, literacy as social practice, and discourse, which have been discussed within cultural literacy, are…integral to critical literacy” (2001, 7), but that there are other stances and the distinction is not clear. Harste (2002), likewise, defines critical literacy as “a moving target” that generally involves efforts in “disrupting the taken for granted, interrogating dominant perspectives, exposing the political in what was thought to be innocent, and promoting social justice in all kinds of forms” (Harste, L750 Course Syllabus, Fall 2002, Indiana University), which is similar to Lankshear’s observation that critical literacy is a “contested educational ideal” with “no final orthodox” (1994, p. 4). Wink (1997) argues that critical literacy is one name among the many similar views from around the world, which can be linked to the real education world via critical pedagogy, or radical pedagogy.
Freire’s version of being critical is essentially the prototype that gave birth to the practices of critical literacy, increasingly inspiring educators and scholars worldwide to strive forward under approaches with different names, such as critical thinking, feminism, multicultural education, and, a most recent one, critical media literacy, although these fields did not necessarily originally start from the same school of thoughts. For instance, critical thinking is a different branch, having its own leading thinkers, target audience, and organizations created to explore and experiment ‘critical thinking’. However, the work of Paul and Elder (2002) has shown that the critical thinking camp has shifted away from being of hardcore epistemology toward being more sociopolitical. In their recent book, Paul and Elder has most succinctly elaborated the subtle threats that face the present world in light of technological and other changes at the global level that in turn call for us, consumers of information, to be critical and to maintain “fair-mindedness.”
Meanwhile, Freire’s influences have given birth to the work of so many education thinkers, including Nieto, whose interest is on multicultural education. In her recent book, The Light in Their Eyes, Nieto (1999) argues that typical schooling system supports, rather than challenges, the status quo. She implies that school is a place to tame students who think or behave differently from the way the institutions, which are influenced by the community, expect. Essentially, Nieto defines multicultural education in a very comprehensive scope, but ultimately following Freire’s views.
Multicultural education is a process of comprehensive school reform and basic education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in school and society accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers represent. Multicultural education permeates the curriculum and instructional strategies used in schools, as well as the interactions among teachers, students, and parents, and the very way that schools conceptualize the nature of teaching and learning. Because it uses critical pedagogy as its underlying philosophy and focuses on knowledge, reflection, and action (praxis) as the basis for social change, multicultural education promotes the democratic principles of social justice (Nieto, 1999, 3).
As we can see, if all the above ideologies can be grouped and renamed as critical literacy, critical literacy has its fundamental goal of unpacking the systems within the status quo, and therefore, it has a lot of potential in dealing with structural violence. If we try to detect the works by “critical literacy” authors, we can see that they include notions such as educational reform, equal access and opportunity, gender equality, respect for students’ backgrounds as learners, identity and esteem building, diversity tolerance, generally speaking promotion of social justice of all sorts, and unmasking the systems of oppression at all levels. What are the pedagogical mechanisms or methods that critical educators have used to reach their goals, then?
Critical literacy, to me, is more like a goal rather than a method of teaching. However, one may consider it an approach because we can identify loosely what people under this umbrella have done to reach the “goals”. Indeed, there are no written rules or consensus about this approach. Freire’s ideas, I would say, have been interpreted in many ways and thus people do several different things in class. For instance, some allow the students the freedom to free inquiry without any imposed or rigid prescribed details of what to learn and how to learn. In a sense, multiple ways of learning and knowing, or semiotics, become a part here. Some would also go on to promote the dialogic approach, in which the students are given the space to be themselves and to realize about themselves within the layers of contexts around them with teachers as co-learners. Others may allow the students to reflect, learn, unlearn and transform themselves through reading and writing words critically. These first three reflect the fight against the “Banking education” notion.
The focus or the agenda for teaching and learning under critical literacy can also be varied. Feministic educators are working zealously to unpack gender issues; school reformers would draw attention of the learners and the teachers to ways things within the school context work for or against certain groups of people and how to improve them. Hidden within or behind all these different practices are also the different kinds of learners that educators are dealing with, i.e. young pupils, adolescents, adult learners or teacher trainees. Therefore, the picture of how critical literacy is practiced may still be rather blurry.
The clearest picture, however, has been sketched by Leland & Harste (2002). In their efforts to select the best children’s story books that promote critical literacy, Leland and Harste identify the following themes: stories that help students understand differences that make a difference; stories that give voice to “the indignant ones” that are historically unheard; stories that promote social actions; stories that help students understand how systems of meaning in society position; and stories that examine distance, difference and otherness. The picture has been further refined by Harste (2002) as four dimensions: (1) Disrupting the taken for granted; (2) Interrogating dominant perspectives; (3) Exposing the political in what was thought to be innocent (4) Promoting social justice in all forms. An unpublished account of why these four dimensions should be promoted, as well as how to do so in EFL contexts, is available at http://www.thinsan.org/nf/cl/ITMELT.htm.
More about structural violence
Since the term “structural violence” has not been used among the critical literacy scholars deliberately or extensively, if any, it is important that we bring structural violence to our attention more closely. Structural violence can be divided into several types. Zaru (2003) shows some examples based on her experience in Palestine as follows:
Economic Structural Violence, which includes
· Restrictions by Israel, e.g. road blocks, closure, control of roads, house curfew
· Unemployment & impoverishment
· Economic marginalization and exclusion
· Exploitation of water, land, people’s work
· Destruction of civil society & infrastructure
· No protection
Political Structural Violence
· Military occupation
· Denial of self-determination, sovereignty, right of return
Cultural Structural Violence
· Stereotyping of Palestinians, Arabs, women in the media, education, language
· Discrimination of women
· Imposition of other cultures and their value systems (e.g. patriarchal culture, Western culture)
· Authoritarianism and glorification of militarism/the violence of the state and direct violence
· Destruction/shelling of cultural heritage sites, both archeological and architectural
Religious Structural Violence
· Language (choseness)
· Disunity among the churches
· Christian Zionism
· Demonization of Islam
· Negation of Arab and Middle Eastern Christians (e.g. pilgrimages without contact with local Christians, missionary movements)
Environmental Structural Violence
· Confiscation & destruction of agricultural land
· Uprooting of trees
· Piroting & diversion of water resources
· Restrictions on water well drilling & water capture
· Dumping of solid & toxic waste in OPT
· Settlement sewage onto village lands
· Restrictions on movement & settler violence prevent farmers access to their lands
· Damaged infrastructure leads to public health problems such as no clean water and no refrigeration for vaccines
The reason I bring Zaru’s list here is to show that there are many kinds of structural violence, and they are now both showing and hiding behind the face of direct violence, as in the case of the tensions between Israel and Palestine. In addition, while in the discourse of education in the U.S. and developed countries have the specific local agendas, there are also other issues out there that deserve our attention as members of the same globe, and these stances of structural violence did not come to life in the vacuum. That is, the U.S. and some European countries also had some part in it at some point in time and should continue to be in the process of restoring peace.
Arguably, all countries in the world should consider using critical literacy to educate their citizens about these fundamental problems that exist in common or in specific zone, because they all often violate basic human rights. Critical literacy will not solve all these problems, but I believe it will open a door that will stretch both intellectual and spiritual horizons among human. Only through a profound understanding of the intellectual and spiritual lessons from the above and other similar scenarios of structural violence can human beings learn to understand the value of peaceful coexistence and the justification of social justice. The next section will identify spiritual gaps that I consider as the major barrier against critical literacy promotion. That is, without spiritual understanding as basis, people can talk about social justice and all the buzz words, but little will come out of it. This is a bold statement that needs clarification and substantiation.
Critical questions about spirituality gaps
To start the spiritual aspect of this paper, I wish to draw on the dilemma that Sandel (1982, 1988) presents as the world is striving toward a liberal society. He sees the tension between the need to have principles of justice to govern the society in which the citizens are allowed to be as free as possible to choose their own values and ends. The question is how the principles can work without presupposing any particular vision of the good life. He elaborates:
Liberalism teaches respect for the distance of self and ends, and when this distance is lost, we are submerged in a circumstance that ceases to be ours. But by seeking to secure his distance too completely, liberalism undermines its own insight. By putting the self beyond the reach of politics, it makes human agency an article of faith rather than an object of continuing attention and concern, a premise of politics rather than its precarious achievement. This misses the pathos of politics and also its most inspiring possibilities. It overlooks the danger that when politics goes badly, not only disappointments but also dislocations are likely to result. And if it forgets the possibility that when politics goes well, we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone. (183)
Although Sandel does not state clearly that the citizens must be ethically and morally good in order for the justice systems to work without disturbing the distance of self and ends, we can see that the invented societal principles and the goodness in the people must go together. In my opinion, what we talk so much about in the circles of dialogs under the critical literacy umbrella, i.e. social justice, diversity, mutual respect, inclusive policies, human rights, and so on, have gone without realizing that our standards in this globe are varied and that our contexts also are different. How, for example, then can the U.S. educators talk about social justice to people in Iraq when what the U.S. government has been doing has crossed the moral lines despite its moral rationale? How can the U.S. claim its best at tolerating diversity when its government is condemning the other parts of the world as being savage or uncivilized for having their women hide their faces according to their religious teaching? How can the first world countries impose some punitive measures on the country that violates human rights because of the poverty in the country that is a result of the unjust free trade policies, in which the strongest can easily take advantage of the weak? How can the first world condemn prostitution in the third world when the divorce rate and adultery are the norm in their home lands and some men from the rich first world also take advantage of the stronger currency and bathe their excessive lust with the sexual lubricant of those poor prostitutes? My intention here is not to put all the blame on the richer, structurally oppressive countries, but to point out that we are facing serious moral problems and inevitable dilemmas. Social justices are based on moral decisions, and moral decisions are not based on laws or policies alone, but on what people carry in their hearts.
Of course, the oppressors are found at all levels and they are all to be blamed. Parents selling their daughters into prostitution are committing violence. The government that allows prostitution or fails to do anything to counteract it also supports structural violence. The corruptive government officers who accept bribes from transnational corporate on the expense of the environment and detrimental subsequence effects on the people are also committing structural violence crime, and so are the transnational corporate delegates. Why do we have this list that can go on and on and on if we stop to think about other structurally violent acts?
Critical literacy, as a supposed universal term that governs the sorts of practices highlighted at the beginning of this paper, does have a potential in unpacking the subtle stacks of structurally violent systems at all levels– individual, societal, national, regional, and global. However, there seem to be some gaps in the ways problems are identified, viewed, and resolved. Some questions remain. Do we have what it takes? Do we educators know these gaps and how to fill them? I did not intend to provide the answers, because it would be much beyond the scope of this paper, but I do wish to problematize critical literacy practices. What more can we do to really achieve the ultimate goals ornamented by so many positive buzz words?
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This was a casual note I wrote as I was trying to make sense of critical litereacy during 2001-2003.
I see connections among the prominent schools of pedagogic thoughts actively talked about in the U.S. and international community and wish to bridge them as I move further to learn about a more innovative and peace-oriented education. I hope to be able to use the insights into all these interconnected issues in informing educational policy making processes in which I may have an opportunity in the future to participate.
Critical thinking started off as some sort of a way to enrich the pursuit of knowledge and truth. It used to be more of a literary, or epistemological, tradition, but has recently been developed to be more sociopolitical. In that light, critical thinking marries more happily with critical pedagogy and critical literacy. Critical literacy, to me, seems to be most loosely defined when it stands alone, but when it is combined with the more radical ideology of critical pedagogy and the latest version of critical thinking, which has become more sociopolitical (e.g. Paul, Elder, and Ennis), it becomes a very interesting field.
I have tried for the past few years to bridge the gaps that exist between the pure language learning and teaching pedagogy and the three schools of thoughts above. In TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Languages), the emphasis was, if not has been, placed predominantly on linguistic and cognitive and inadequately on the intellectual and spiritual aspects of social practices that are related to and often embedded in language use in the real world. I believe language education can go much further from where it stands now toward the more exciting, meaningful endeavors that move or change the world at all levels: personal, group, national, regional and global. I will share my work here when my reflections materialize.
What is critical literacy?: A definition
“We are what we say and do. The way we speak and are spoken to help shape us into the people we become. Through words and other actions, we build ourselves in a world that is building us. That world addresses us to produce the different identities we carry forward in life: men are addressed differently than are women, people of color differently than whites, elite students differently than those from working families. Yet, though language is fateful in teaching us what kind of people to become and what kind of society to make, discourse is not destiny. We can redefine ourselves and remake society, if we choose, through alternative rhetoric and dissident projects. This is where critical literacy begins, for questioning power relations, discourses, and identities in a world not yet finished, just, or humane.”– Ira Shor
Some resources I consulted when I was first exploring critical literacy and its applications with Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) as a scaffolding tool: