Reflection on Kincheloe’s Critical Pedagogy Primer

In Critical Pedagogy, Joe Kincheloe puts forth the idea that education can not be separated from politics and social justice. Underlying this premise is the idea that not taking action is in itself an action. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King states in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.” Or, put even more bluntly in recent slogans, “white silence is violence”. And while these are directed at one form of oppression, Kincheloe (and Freire) speaks to the oppression of women, LGBTQ+, the disabled, indiginous people, people of color, the intersection of each, and anyone who is not seen as part of the hegemonic power group. Therefore, educators have a choice – to support and reinforce the power groups by blindly accepting the pedagogical methods developed by those same power groups; or by engaging in critical pedagogy, in which educators challenge students to bring their own expertise and experiences to the classroom. Critical Pedagogy does not force students to accept certain truths or positivism in the way to find them. Critical Pedagogy seeks to find new truths from each student through rigorous, dialogical methods, reflecting and inspecting all aspects of education, even itself. 

My concern with Critical Pedagogy is that we live in such a segregated society, in which the hegemonic power groups have sealed themselves off so completely from the rest of the world, that there is no room for true self-reflection because there are no differing lenses. In many classrooms, the dominant culture is so prevalent that few students of non-dominant groups often see themselves only through the eyes of the oppressors and are forced to internalize those views. The end result is well-documented – as the oppressor sees other groups striving for equality, they perceive themselves to be oppressed. Recent examples of this are plentiful in right-wing media, such as the supposed “War on Christmas”. If classrooms full of students from the dominant culture perceive themselves as “oppressed”, and if the teacher is also from the dominant culture and/or does not have the tools, the material, or the ability to truly perceive the power structure, they will simply find new ways to reinforce their supremacy. There can be no emancipation or conscientização for the oppressors if there are no other voices in the classroom. They will go through the superficial steps of dialogical discourse, but as Kincheloe implies in chapter 3, they will there will be no questioning of what lessons are included or excluded, no meaningful discussion of who gets to decide on content or assessment, except to reinforce that the “right” way of doing things, “the way it has always been”, and the status quo in which they have all been so successful is under attack. With no ability to truly reflect and no inclination to seek out differing views, it is precisely as James Baldwin proclaimed in No Name in the Street: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

As always, there is a relevant XKCD: 

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