Humanizing pedagogy Challenges of forging a humanizing pedagogy in teacher education

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Humanizing pedagogy

Challenges of forging a humanizing

pedagogy in teacher education

Jeremy N. Price

University of Maryland

Margery D. Osborne

University of Illinois

at Urbana-Champaign


In this paper we explore the idea of a “humanizing pedagogy” and its connections to the liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire in the context of teacher education. Through a critical interrogation of relationships and emerging identities in pedagogical contexts we argue that three dominant patterns of interaction and experience shape our teacher education pedagogies: (1) cultural dimensions of self -- ways of being; (2) intellectual dimensions of self -- ways of knowing; (3) social dimensions of self -- ways of interacting with/against others. Amidst these dominant patterns, the emerging humanness becomes realized through and in relation to historical, cultural and social dynamics at play in the experiences of individuals, groups, and institutions. Humanizing pedagogy as an instrument for becoming, derives from experiences and simultaneously provokes experiences, through contradictory and complex processes as we individually and collectively generate our visions for ourselves and each other.

Our stories of such teaching reveal the inherent contradictions emerging in pedagogical contexts that imagine liberation. The contradictory and complex dimensions of the process are not obstacles to developing humanness but integral and inherent to the process. We must embrace these emerging contradictions and the slippery notions of humanizing pedagogy. We must explore the tensions inherent in the power differentials in classrooms as we develop our cultural, social, and intellectual selves with our students. Humanizing pedagogy, then, serves not to mask these power differentials but to critically work with them through pedagogy in efforts not only to transform relations of power, but to transform the selves that we become with our students in our teaching contexts.

In this paper we explore the idea of a “humanizing pedagogy” and its connections to the liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire in the context of teacher education. Conventionally, as critical pedagogues, we think of a teacher playing a central role in the classroom and school as she attends to the development of students' understanding of the word and the world (Freire, 1989/70). We think, though, such a vision of the role of teacher is limited and unidirectional. It is simplistic because it lends itself to obvious (and perhaps dualistic) definitions of self. We do acknowledge the political intent of liberatory pedagogy (Freire & Macedo, 1995; Giroux and McLaren, 1896, Ladson-Billings and Henry, 1990) and we do see the relationship among pedagogy, knowledge production, the teacher, and students as a set of relations that reflect contradictions, tensions and conflicts (Gore, 1993). However, we would like to extend these images of a “critical pedagogy” developed from the writing of Paulo Freire to those of a “humanizing pedagogy” in which the whole person develops (not a facet of a person) and they do so as their relationships with others evolve and enlarge. Hence the teacher and the teacher’s development become part of the equation. Humanizing pedagogy becomes a process of becoming for all parties. This lens of humanizing pedagogy helps us understand teaching as a process and a vision for life in schools and beyond -- not only for our students, but also for ourselves. Hence to consider what it would mean to provide opportunities for prospective and practicing teachers to critically understand the world we also need to critically examine who we are and we are becoming as teacher educators in such contexts.

We envision this paper as a dialogue of sorts on the subject and question of “humanness.” And yes we do mean to say that “humanness” is a question. We think rigid and unexamined definitions of humanness are at the foundation of the oppressive and hegemonic relationships that characterize the interactions between those “in power” (white men usually) and everybody else. The truth is that humanness is a construct, it is constructed in these relationships, and so it is also a question. The question. For us a question to consider in relation to pedagogy. We think that definitions of humanness are constructed as a process through education and varying ideas of this underlie all assumptions around the processes and purposes of education. This paper provides an opportunity for us to explore our own experiences and visions of humanness and consider the potential and limitations of the construct in teacher education. As teacher educators, we believe that beginning and experienced teachers can become agents of transformation; and that is what we work towards. Fostering such agency, however, is not unproblematic.

We begin by outlining some theoretical ideas and questions that have emerged from our pedagogy of/for humanness through images and experiences that are drawn from our teacher education classrooms. We will then move to a critical discussion of liberatory pedagogy through examining critical moments from our teaching. These moments illustrate the complex and contradictory nature of developing a humanizing pedagogy. The excerpts also illustrate how our imaginings of the process of developing a humanizing pedagogy has implications for what we think and who we become in our relationships with others. We will consider a tripartite of culture, knowledge, and political participation as pivotal to imagining a humanizing pedagogy. This tripartite represents different challenges for teachers, students and teacher educators alike: challenges of representing culture in relationships (i.e. our students and "others" not present); challenges of representing knowledge in and through relationships; and challenges of interacting as we learn about one another's ways of being and thinking.

Theoretical framework

To speak personally on this subject of "humanizing pedagogy" -- we like to think we are human but we see even that as questionable. Doubt arises, in part, because of our histories as students and teachers, and because of the contexts in which we have lived and worked. Often, as untenured academics, as a woman, as an immigrant, as a single parent, as working class, as every other label we can name to describe ourselves; we find ourselves in situations in which the power dynamics cause us to reflect on how we can think to make that claim. After all, most of the time we find ourselves doing the things that other people have told us to do and frequently we are better off doing those things without thinking about them. But isn’t the essence of humanness choice, freedom and thinking critically? We think it is. How is the construct of “humanness” enacted in schools, how might it be, what might be the repercussions of treating students, and teachers, as though they were human? How might the different players we just listed define choice, freedom and the thinking (critical or otherwise) which is intrinsic to human consciousness? How might the differences we might imagine in these definitions come into conflict or otherwise in schools and our larger society? And how do these musing reflect back on our larger question about the construct of humanness and the intrinsic involvement of education in the process of becoming human?

In an attempt to build and develop a critical, feminist and anti-racist discursive framework we situate our work in the context of our lives and experiences. For it is our lenses and experiences of schooling and teaching that have brought us to the transformative potential of pedagogy in teacher education. In developing our framework, we draw from a number of debates concerning schooling (Apple, 1982, 1994; Weis, 1990; Connell et al., 1982; Fine, 1991), the social construction of identity, and systems of race, class, and gender oppression and domination (Collins, 1990; Connell, 1987; Dill and Baca Zinn, 1990; Harding, 1987; Kimmel and Messner, 1992; Smith, 1987; Weis, 1988). Our frameworks have been influenced by debates and explanations for the subordination of people of color and women (Anderson and Collins, 1992; Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992; Collins, 1990; Baca Zinn and Dill, 1994), where conceptions of gender and race, and the ways they interconnect with each other and class relations, have been challenged. These works have forced us to rethink our conceptions of social identity and the pivotal role of pedagogy and schooling in the making of race, class, and gender relations of power and privilege.

Race, class and gender, however, are not only dimensions of our social structure that reflect forms of power and privilege, they are also ways to think about our social processes and the way we live our lives. The particular forms of race, gender, and social class we make in the context of schooling are constructed in relation to an array of images, representations, and relationships. Collins (1990) argues that people resist and experience race, class, and gender domination on three levels: namely, the level of personal biography, the group level of the cultural context, and the level of social institutions. In this way, teachers and students are agents and actors within schools who actively and collectively shape and reshape their own understandings of the world and themselves from historically and culturally determined standpoints. This dynamic process is evident in pedagogical and institutional contexts. We argue that relationships are not always smooth or always of a teacher's or student's choosing; they are constructed in contexts where actors have certain access to power and resources depending not only upon their relationship to power in the school structure, but also their social location and identity in the larger society. This paper then attempts to consider these issues of power and privilege in the context of the complex, multilayered, and evolving identities that emerge through and from pedagogical relationships in teacher education contexts. The interactions between social actors and pedagogical processes can be provocatively thought of as a struggle for humanness, to be human in the context of institutionally defined hegemonic power dynamics (Foucault, 1978). As players within such a system, teachers are subjects of this struggle as well as shapers. Such a dynamic and how we work to develop understandings of this with teachers is the subject of this paper.

Research Methodology

Our work has grown from an interpretive research perspective to include explicitly feminist and critical methodologies (Lather 1991; Fine, 1993; Gitlin, 1994; Stanley and Wise 1993). Feminist and critical researchers put race, class, and gender at the center of their inquiry, interact with research subjects in ways that break down the researcher/researched dichotomy, and include self-reflexivity on the researchers' part. We've used different methodologies in order to carry out this agenda: feminist interactive ethnography (Fine 1993; Hollingsworth 1994; Maher and Tetrault 1993), co-participant research (Lather 1991, Middleton 1993), narrative inquiry (Connelly and Clandinin 1990). Data sources include audio- and videotapes of classroom and study group interactions, teacher-researcher journals, student and teacher writing (journals, tests, etc.), and both structured and informal interviews with students and teachers. We view our research as a path toward "getting smarter" more than as a way to answer strictly determined questions through controlled experimentation. Fundamental to this outlook is the relationship between researcher and subjects--we include ourselves as subjects of the research, instead of as objective observers removed from the action under study. The telling aspect of this form of research is that our work and our thinking evolve over time, affecting each other reciprocally, shaped by our changing visions of\in feminist and critical theory, pedagogy, and schooling itself.

Margery's Story

The following story concerns an introduction to elementary school teaching course I taught at Michigan State University. In the class we explored the various dimensions of teaching, visions of good teaching and what teachers need to become "good" teachers. A subtext to this course was that the constitution of a "good" teacher was all about attitudes, thoughtfulness, understanding, empathy as much as about skills, abilities and particular knowledge. In other words it was about special qualities of the person, an emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, intellectual, physical being and that that person is an individual, historically, culturally and socially situated, gendered and classed, and all these are recognized as complex and multidimensional. The pedagogy which I was trying to advocate was very much what we are calling a humanizing pedagogy: one which derives from the person and enables the person.

In addition to being the focal goal of the course, this sort of pedagogy was also being enacted there. As I saw it, I was engaged in a process focused on the individual but contextualized in a larger environment, located in past, present, and future simultaneously, an act of self-creation which involved a holistic visualization of ideal and self, and a negotiation of "reality" where reality is defined as "others" and their perceptions. Such a teaching involved students taking a lot of chances, telling us both their personally constructed ideals and being asked to explain and defend them in detail. It involved sharing where these ideals arose in the persons history, family and culture, in other words, aspects of personal revelation. And all this was done in a formative environment, one in which people were being asked to actively rethink and reshape these ideals. I was very clear that we weren't in that class to confirm people's preexistent images of good teaching but to construct an image which was richer and wiser.

I will tell this story using three excerpts from classroom dialogue over the course of a semester. I do this both to illustrate the process involved in constructing a vision of a humanizing pedagogy with these preservice teachers and to show the problematic character of this process. The most difficult part of this for me is that students say things which I do not find acceptable but which I do not choose to directly confront. In the course of these conversations the problematic qualities of this teaching become more and more compelling and urgent.

The Story (Part 1)

During my first TE-101 class, I asked students for their views of good teaching. Below is an excerpt from that discussion

Bobbi: You should respect your teacher...if the teacher is constantly putting the kids down, the kids aren't going to have any respect for the teacher and they're not going to want to pay attention and learn...

Margery: Are you saying respect of teachers for students or students for teachers?

Bobbi: Well, both, actually.

My question asks the student to clarify for others what she was saying but also suggests that she is saying both that students should respect teachers and that teachers should respect students. It suggests that the two are linked, which is not, I think, what she originally meant to say. My initial framing question, "What does good teaching look like?" centers on the teacher. Here and throughout this conversation I repeatedly try to move the students' ideas from a focus on what a teacher does and thinks to what a student does and thinks. I want them to link the two, not view them as isolated from each other. Subsequent readings and assignments address this directly, and I wish to start building an awareness that I can draw on later.

Margery: How do you think teachers gain the respect of students?

Laura: One way would be for the teacher to have prepared prepared and organized and have a plan and idea of what needs to be done...

Margery: Anything else?

Laura: It seems that from the beginning, when the student first meets the teacher, with the introductions, start off right and once the teacher can gain the respect of the students they will listen and mutually keep up on things. It seems that if things start off right, than the respect would be on both sides.

Kathy: [Talking about the teacher making the mistake of getting too friendly...] it's fun to get on the floor in reading groups, but I think if they start to think you are too much of a buddy, they won't respect your authority; so I think you have to try to find a point where you're warm and kind, and they know that they can come to you...especially small children.

Margery: And do you think that love comes in to this? Do you think that respect and love and authority are all intertwined?

I introduce the word love here because the students' make a connection between authority and caring. I was thinking of love as another place where assumptions are made about role relationships. Again I wanted another example of how we assume certain preexisting role relationships, but there is actually a dynamic construction of those relationships. I also wanted to use this word because it makes people uncomfortable and I wanted to shock people into thinking harder about the things they were saying.

Tory: If you don't know a person for who they are, then you can't really respect them.

Margery: So do you think that the subject of authority, the student, loves the teacher? is there that kind of relationship?

Susan: If they respect them--not in the sense of a mother for a child, but love in that they are going to respect how they feel...

Tory: You can say that you love them for the fact of what they are going to do.

Margery: The goal.

Tory: Yes, the world that they are trying to portray as long as you love the fact that they are doing it and they are trying...

The definitions of the role of teacher that my students are describing arise from their foundational assumptions concerning the relationships between people of differing status and power. These role descriptions reflect their understandings of the differences in the power and privilege of individuals. They also reflect the ways my students conceive social processes and relationships. Their statements illustrate assumptions about social identities and relationships and well as their beliefs about how social identities are constructed. In this paper we argue, however, that relationships are constructed in contexts where actors have certain access to power and resources depending upon their relationship to the social structure. This in turn is complex, multilayered and involves evolving identities that emerge through and from pedagogical relationships in educational contexts. It is for this reason I mess up their tidy definitions of a good teacher by using the word "love." That is recognized by all as relational, constructed and evolving. The power dynamics in a relationship framed by "love" versus "respect" are multidimensional and multidirectional.

The conversation continues...

The Story (Part 2)

In subsequent conversations we continued to explore what the students thought constituted good teaching and what qualities a good teacher possessed and how these developed. The students more and more resorted to detailed descriptions of their home life and personal experience to flesh out these images and to rationalize their assertions. In the class the environment for sharing seemed to become safer and safer for these personal revelations. I think in part due to the diversity of people in the class, although dominated by two groups: White girls from farming communities and suburban White girls from professional classes, there were also urban working class women, minorities and one mature deaf student who came accompanied by an interpreter. All of these women spoke quite freely.

Nellie: The things you need to know in order to teach are common sense--knowing how to deal with problems and kids and just getting your knowledge, of a certain subject.

Margery: Yes, but how is that common sense? What do you mean by common sense?

Nellie: It's just something everyone learned to do, how to survive.

Margery: Yes but how does it become something that everyone has learned to do? How do you learn to do something in a way that's common sense?

The students debate how they have learned to know what's "right," how they have learned without being explicitly taught how to maneuver in the world.

Nellie: Well its common sense that you don't go with a gun and shoot someone. That you don't even really think about it. You just know. You just learn from your parents, watching other people.

Margery: Yes, if you know not to go and shoot someone because you thought about the consequences or because you didn't think it was right...

Nellie: I think when you're young you just do it because that's the way society is. You don't think, "Well if I do that, I'm going to sit in prison, prison is awful...." You just know not to do it.

Margery: Common sense involves self-examination, examination of the underlying principles of that knowledge? Or do the underlying principles of that knowledge come later? And they aren't part of the common sense understanding?

Susan: Well I think common sense has to do with logic.

Margery: You do? Why?

Susan: Well, my mom says common sense is not so common. Well, its not, if you really think about it. I don't think it just has to do with knowledge, because there's lots of example where you don't really apply so-called knowledge, but its just that would be the best way to do it. It would be common sense for a teacher not to totally snap at a kid and make them feel totally worthless, because then that kid is not going to respect the teacher, not like them. Or if your watching a class and they're totally struggling and you have to make the decision of whether to go on or not. Well if they're still struggling, than its pretty much common sense that you don't go on. It would be stupid.

Margery: So you're saying that understanding by common sense is really logic?

Susan: Right. But I don't think it has a lot to do with moral judgment. I guess moral judgment could play a part in it, but I don't think that's what common sense is based on.

Margery: So you're saying its practical knowledge.

Susan: Right.

This conversation went on to juxtapose the definitions of common sense involving practical knowledge and moral socialization. As it progressed, the conversation became more a sharing of ideas and less just statements and assertions and we began to consider when moral and practical values might become conscious and justified decisions. Is it through a process of self examination? Why does that process happen?

Margery: I'm just wondering whether the self examination part which comes later is necessary... Do you consider it necessary? A luxury?

Nellie: I wouldn't call it a luxury.

Kate: You're saying question your morals and values. Figure out why you have them?

Margery: Yes, or with Kathy's idea with math (a reference to a previous discussion), you can get through in the world knowing the rules for math but you don't really necessarily need to know why those rules exist or how they are created. is that what you are saying?

Kathy: No. I'm not really arguing anything. I think its just an idea that now kids are going back and learning why because I never learned that. And I can see where I'm reading all this stuff about how teachers should be knowledgeable, and I can see that I'm going to have to go back and work on some of the things that I've learned and figure out why I learned them.

Margery: So are you saying common sense isn't enough to teach?

Kathy: Yes, we know that teaching's common sense....Well part of it is. Its knowing what's working with students and what's not. That's just common sense. But its kind of two parts. Teaching isn't all common sense. You have to know what you're talking about.

A subtext to this course was that the constitution of a "good" teacher was all about attitudes, thoughtfulness, understanding, empathy as much as about skills, abilities and particular knowledge. The students in the extracts of dialog quoted so far are discussing this and actually shaping their visions of this as we talk. The person they describe as a "good" teacher is of course themselves and they actively invent this self portrait within the context of the vision they have of the teacher they would like to become. All are closely tied to the special qualities of the person, an emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, intellectual, physical being that they believe they portray or would like to embody. The pedagogy which I am trying to advocate they develop a vision of is very much what we are calling a humanizing pedagogy: one which derives from the person and enables the person. Developing such a pedagogy involves helping students to articulate who they are and the sources of their identity and this is really quite difficult for people keep these things buried and unarticulated. This can also be quite problematic and in fact dangerous as can be seen in the next excerpt.

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