My teaching is informed by radical and Marxist Pedagogy and by the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. I believe we live in a world that is in large part constructed by systems of power which work by domination and that those systems have real and unjust implications for all of us. I believe that what defines us as human beings is our relation to other human beings. I believe systems of domination frustrate our ability to interact and to have meaningful lives. Therefore, for me, my definition of teaching is working in human interaction to identify ways to transform systems that oppress, injure, and dishonor the interhuman.
Marxist or "Critical Pedagogy," the pedagogy I attempt to enact, is a theory of instruction and learning that is based on the notion of "critique" as a methodology for engaging in a dialectical understanding of social systems. This approach to education works from the primary assumption that the most pressing concern is to address human equity and social justice on all fronts. The pedagogy is "radical" in that it does not seek to leave systems intact, but rather to challenge and transform those institutional constructs that systematically and pervasively make equality impossible. The pedagogy works first from the Marxist principle of critique and dialectic and also from the actual critique of capitalism that his theories generated.
Critique and dialectic are ways of engaging discourse and social structures.
The principle of critique is that an artifact (i.e., a text, an institution,
social relations) is first examined and interpreted within its own context
and probable meanings. Then the artifact is analyzed for the ideological assumptions
that constructed the artifact and that the artifact itself constructs or perpetuates
(that is, for the implications of the artifact as it interacts with the world
of which it is a part). Finally, critique makes evaluative judgments on that
artifact and its implications according to an announced and examined framework.
Critique is based on an articulated and examined ideological perspective,
one which works on the assumption that is oriented toward a social justice
Dialectic, an essential part of critique, is the constant adjusting of ideological assumptions, the challenging of both theoretical and practical orientations based on the material and historical realities of humans impacted by the social systems they live in. Marxist dialectic demands that all perspectives be responsive to change. Marxist dialectic suggests that all apparent constants are illusory constructs, and what is most valuable is the flux and moments of change inherent in all social systems. According to this theory, critique is never complete-that is, we critique current historical material conditions and the discourses that construct and reproduce them with the goal of transforming those conditions; once we impact those discourses or cause change, we have a whole new set of historical material conditions that requires critique yet again. The goal is not some static moment or dogmatic conclusion to a "problem," but a constant, rigorous engagement with our material world in social relations.
So, what does that mean for classroom practice? First of all, education becomes oriented to the goal of learning to critique and examine ideologies along with the "content" materials of any given subject. Therefore, education is not viewed as the transmission of skills, but rather the analysis of skills and their implications. Education itself becomes the object of analysis, and that analysis is in terms of interests served and implications. In a composition course, discourse and knowledge are analyzed in relation to the social systems that discursive knowledge works within, and students are encouraged to explore the ideological assumptions of all texts. As they analyze, they themselves employ writing, and they critique that writing according to the same frameworks.
A composition course that is informed by a critical pedagogy might have a central theme to organize the course around issues of relevance to a Marxist framework. Such issues might include:
Students would actively engage these issues, read, research and analyze the discourses surrounding these issues, and write extensively about them. Critique and dialectic would be the driving goals of the course.
Part of a critical pedagogy is the engagement of knowledges and material conditions outside of the classroom in order to understand how classsrooms are shaped by larger social systems. One way that type of engagement can be achieved is through service learning – service in communities integrated with the curriculum of the course to both benefit the community and provide content related learning along with reflection. Service learning provides students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the implications and material conditions that dominant discourses perpetuate, and, ideally, helps students to see the need for systemic solutions as they work with communities to discover those solutions, Not all service learning is Radical Pedagogy and not all Radical Pedagogies incorporate service learning.
Finally, it is important to clarify that the purpose of a critical pedagogy is not to force an agenda or an ideology down students' throats, nor to ignore the "skills" that institutionalized education is generally expected to teach. The purpose of this pedagogy is to allow students to not only learn the skills that society has identified as necessary, but to be able to understand those skills as having ideological significance and as having real implications for other human beings. The purpose of this pedagogy is to give students the opportunity to have more choice and awareness about their actions and participation in this system as well as to foster a sense of hope and the desire to enact change. Students who are able to critique their own education and larger social structures, are far more likely to take responsibility for and possibly act in/on those structures. There is no predetermined agenda for what type of change these informed and critique-al students might enact, but there is the hope that everything will become questioned, weighed against an ethical framework, and shaped accordingly.