"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

on the nature of change: skepticism vs. cynicism

as you know, i'm teaching a class called Education for Social Change. this is the 6th week of class, and it's been great and fun for the most part, there are a lot of high's and low's, lots of excitement and disappointments and many more frustrations, but in general i'm really happy to begin developing a critical pedagogy.

the most enthralling part of this whole experience has been the challenge of enacting a critical praxis when many of my students/peers are resistant (after years of conditioning) to taking ownership of their own educations. even after i have attempted to give them the freedom to create a course that would fit their interests, they are reluctant to meet me halfway, frequently reimposing control and authority on me. the challenging part for me has been fostering the determination and dedication to critical-democratic education and encouraging and pushing them to be active students and citizens.

and my efforts have met with occasional success. as i always tell the class, "learning is a process." and a long one, at that. while i am trying to encourage them to develop radical stances toward their educations, they are teaching me the importance of endurance and resilience in the face of an overwhelming systematic inertia when it comes to social change. but, as i told one of my students, change has got to start somewhere. why not here?

what follows is an example of some of the best (and i mean WORST) of my students' reluctance to develop a critical stance. and then, my (rad!cal) response.

x's and o's,

[these posts come from my class's online discussions about their final public projects]

student post:

I'm finding that I'm really not sure how to respond to other people's final project ideas, or what kinds of comments would be helpful for them. None of these projects (including mine, to at least some extent) seem likely to produce much real change in society. They're too small and too unofficial to really be visible or to create anything tangible. And they're too abstract and confusing to the intended audience, and too extremely counter-cultural, to succeed without large-movement backing. In short, it's too much like individual crusuaders charging out there with a lot of passion and not much else, each of us waging our own tiny grassroots war against a system that will roll its eyes at us, if indeed it notices us at all.

Maybe I still don't understand the assignment properly. What exactly are we supposed to do? What is our goal, ultimately? To create some dramatic form of expression about our feelings on our favorite social issue? To scream our passions into the wind, in the most anti-traditional-education way possible? I'm sure we'll all feel very satisfied that we've gotten our hands dirty, done something "real" outside the classroom, etc. But I don't understand how these projects will create any tangible, lasting social change; or even how they will give us the right skills for future social change endevors.


These are good concerns to be having, Leo. Of course social change doesn't happen with a few small actions here and there. It needs to be systemic. But, it's also got to start somewhere. And that's what these projects should signify, some attempt on all our parts to ACT toward the change we want to see.

Too many people sit on their hands and shrug as they watch grave injustices committed around them every day. Why the apathy? Why the inertia preventing us from acting? I'm not suggesting you grab a bullhorn and storm the streets and burn down buildings, but I am asking you to begin PRACTICING a critical democracy.

What does that mean? It means being a skeptic, rather than a cynic. To clarify further: cynicism is fatalistic. It causes you to be doubtful of yourself and the people in your community, it means to resign to an idea of powerlessness, to feel unable to make any difference and so, letting your agency and critical faculties atrophy. To be skeptical is completely different; it requires critical questioning of otherwise accepted opinions and ideas. It is generative, productive, and active, because you are always evaluating the world around you and finding ways in which to insert yourself - be still no more! Action is the critical entrance into actualization! It's exciting, it's here, it's now!

In short, I'm tired of people crossing their arms and complaining. Droopy frown and weak "but"s be gone! Any change at all is still change, and that's exciting!


1 comment:

Tony Ward said...

Kia ora from New Zealand, Stephanie,

I just found your blogsite through my Google Alerts for Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy. I think that you may enjoy my own website – which you are free to use as a resource. It covers issues such as:

Critical Theory
Critical Theorists
Critical Practice (Praxis)
Critical Pedagogy
Critical Education Theory
Indigenous Studies
Critical Psychology
Cultural Studies
Critical Aesthetics
Academic Programme Development
Sustainable Design
Critical Design etc. etc.

The website at: http://www.TonyWardEdu.com contains more than 60 (absolutely free) downloadable and fully illustrated PDFs on all of these topics and more offered to students from the primer level, up to PhD. It also has a set of extensive bibliographies and related web links in all of these areas.

Have a look at it and perhaps bring it to the attention of your friends and colleagues for them to use as a resource.

There is no catch!

It’s just that I an retired and want to pass on the knowledge and experience acquired in 40 years of University teaching. All that I ask in return, is that you and they let me know what you think about the website and cite me for any material that may be downloaded and/or used.

One of the guest postings on my site is by a dear friend from Miami U, at Oxford - Tom Dutton in the architecture department who runs an internship programme for students in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. Tom is very well versed in critical theory and critical praxis so you should make contact with him.

If you like what you find in om website, I would be very grateful for a link to it from your own so that others may come to know about it and use it.

Many thanks and best wishes

Dr. Tony Ward Dip.Arch. (Birm)
Academic Programme, Tertiary Education and Design Consultant

(Ph) (07) 307 2245
(m) 027 22 66 563
(e) tonyward.transform@xtra.co.nz