Critical Pedagogy

As I’m catching up on over-due blog posts and reflecting on information in bulk, this topic was the least intuitive based on the title. Even from the readings and listening to the podcast, I wasn’t clear on what “critical pedagogy” means, and just felt that we were approaching being critical of pedagogy, each of the examples this week offering valid perspectives in what teaching and learning should be. After a quick google search I understand that we’re approaching the existentialism and philosophy of pedagogy. Throughout the semester I’ve thought more about teaching than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve had more discussions with friends, family, and peers who have all gone through similar education experiences but the reflection has been so valuable and it has really broadened my perspective. This week has just been the destination that the road these thoughts and discussions have been leading to, and by approaching it, really changes everything else. I couldn’t stop thinking “finally” and “yes” reading and listening to the resources this week.

I love to learn. I have a really hard time understanding my role as a teacher or instructor out of the context of a learning. I think critical pedagogy gets at some of my issues, in general ideas that learners are people first, and understanding respect and ethics in the class room. I have such a hard time prioritizing grades and assignments and all of these seemingly artificial responsibilities and necessities over the people in the class room. I have a hard time thinking that anything I say to students about a topic is more important than how I communicate it. That feels limiting, but it also feels like a central part of my value system that is hard to surrender. Being a college student is hard. It was hard for me, and it was hard for everyone I know. Excelling in 18 credits of course work, being involved in organizations, figuring out relationships, friendships, finances, independence, one’s self is hard. And those facets are typical. It’s also at the time when one is old enough to start thinking about physical health, mental health, family dynamics, maybe having to deal with trauma. (These are non-specifics but I also don’t feel the need to elaborate because there are many stressors that not all college students deal with, but many groups do, and I don’t want to come off as disrespectful or tone-deaf.) Prioritizing getting work done and good grades over mental health and personal fulfillment has always seemed backwards, especially if you can make it by while managing at a passable level on both. I think that there are so many human things that any individual is trying to figure out at the same time they are in higher education, that it has always seemed so trivial to prioritize semantic information over human experience. I’ve always thought it was so ridiculous and unfair that for the most part, people with privilege are able to gain the most from college because typically I think privilege is often characterized by aspects leading to fewer stressors in trying to have a human experience. These are my opinions, and I don’t think they are wrong necessarily, but the readings offered more perspective and what I want to introduce into my teaching and my classroom. I love to learn. It is the most important aspect of my human experience, and while there is typically quite a bit of variance in what I think the historical education system is, and what the human experience could be, it will be my job as a teacher to create a learning environment that also encourages the human experience instead of removing or distracting from it.

I’m not exactly sure how to achieve this bringing back together learning and what it means to be a person in my classroom, but right now I know it will involve above all else empathy and respect. Empathy as in recognizing I am a person, and my students are people. Life is hard. Not every class will be valuable to every student that takes it. Some students will come into a classroom with nothing other than a goal to make a grade and move on, and maybe that’s okay. But over-empathizing will sometimes lead to apathy in education overall. I know some instructors who pass out As to every student, make their tests easier and easier every semester, and whatever knowledge their students know is good enough to move on. That’s where respect comes in to play. I need to respect the students’ desire for knowledge, whichever ones may exhibit it. I need to respect the idea that I’m helping build the foundation that they may need to rely on in their future as they pursue greater knowledge. I need to respect that I am a valid instructor, and the information I have to pass on is valuable, and students should in general be held accountable for learning it. I need to respect the knowledge and information in general, making it something that is worth discussing and makes it into my lectures. Again, I’m not exactly sure how to align learning and the human experience. What I do know is I’m a neuroscientist studying how the brain learns, and it’s more interesting to me than anything else in the universe. That is what I’m interested in teaching and it’s undeniably a part of what makes each of us human, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult.

4 thoughts on “Critical Pedagogy

  1. Hi Earl,
    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I agree, seeing students as humans first is pivotal to being an effective educator – I think that’s really been the main takeaway for me from this whole class. As far as being “too” empathetic and just handing out tests, I think you are on the right track here as well in saying that this is actually disrespectful to students who are looking to learn and be challenged. I’ve had experience with instructors like that, and to me it came off as an educator who didn’t care very much about their own research interests, really was a lose-lose.


  2. Hi Earl,
    Interesting take on all of the content provided! I also felt something similar of a connection to the material that we read this week since it seems to cover some of the deeper concepts of teaching. I personally struggle with the empathy aspect that you mention – how much wiggle room is enough and what’s too much? I’ve been reflecting on it and trying to think about it but come to no other conclusion than having to just experiment with attitude every semester. I like your thoughts here though on how teaching is more than just content but also a societal foundation. Really puts things into perspective I think for a lot of us future educators!


  3. Hi Earl,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post on this topic. First I want to say I love your optimism at the end of the post. Overall I think this approach to pedagogy should be taken into action in many classrooms. There seems to be an overall lack of understanding that students go through hard life-impacting experiences in college and that needs to be taken into account more. I also agree with graceblair that being too empathetic could present problems.


  4. Great thoughts! I agree with you about critical pedagogy not being intuitive. And you hit on a really interesting concept about our role as teachers or instructors out of the context of a classroom. I’ve spent the past few years as the assistant coach of the soil judging team – I spend a lot of time with students, but most employers do not consider this to be teaching experience since it’s not a formal classroom setting. We really need to update our ideas about teaching and teaching experience!


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