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Except from:
Wink, J. (2004, 3/e, pp.1-4) Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the REAL WORLD. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Welcome to My Real World

Kids, cows, and computers are central to my life. Family, friends, and fun fill my days. Pedagogy and passion sustain me as I continue to focus on power and problems in schools and society. Critical pedagogy has taught me that power and problems have one thing in common: There will always be enough for all of us. Think of it this way: Power and problems are not finite; they are not fixed; and they certainly are not like a piece of pie-If I give some away, there will be no less for me. Power is the process of collaborating with others as we seek varied solutions to complex problems, which are ever changing.

Critical pedagogy continues to teach me that critical pedagogy is also complex and evolving. It is not finite; it is not fixed; it is not easily defined and understood in a neat little package. However, initially, I think it is helpful to understand that critical does not only mean criticize. Critical also means to see deeply what is below the surface-think, critique, or analyze. Pedagogy does not only mean how a teacher teaches. It is about the visible and hidden human interactions between a teacher and a learner, whether they are in a classroom or in the larger community. Critical pedagogy looks for the why that leads to action.

Pedagogy is to good interactive teaching and learning in the classroom as critical pedagogy is to good interactive teaching and learning in the classroom and in the real world.

The publication of the second edition of this book enriched my life with new ideas, friends, and surprises. One surprise continues to be a group of questions that I am asked: What is it like to write a book? Where do you write? When do you write? What do you do? This group of questions makes me realize that there are many people who want to write. I have chosen to begin this third edition with a peek into the context of the changes in my real world as it relates to writing and thinking. As I answer some of your questions, we will generate new ones as we seek multiple answers to complex problems. It is my wish that this interaction between us will encourage you to write. As we write, we think. As we think, we solve problems and find new answers. Critical pedagogy calls us to this action.

The first edition of this book was written in the midst of my real life as a professor at a state university. I was teaching full time, and most pages were written between 3:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. and on weekends. I longingly watched as other professors went away and wrote in peace during their sabbaticals. The second edition was written in the midst of my other real life on the prairies during a sabbatical. The anticipated peace of the prairies seemed elusive, as the compelling reality of ranch life often took priority over a paragraph. Lives are filled with change and contradictions, yet we are often surprised when we bump into this predictable life process. Schools, too, continue on a path of change and contradiction.

Now comes the third edition, and I am writing at the university and at the ranch as I juggle my two oh-so-real worlds. The fact that I am even writing a third edition takes me by surprise. The opportunity came at a moment when I was sure I could not find time for one more project. Classes and an ever-growing family made this seem impossible. My real world, if anything, is more real. How do I write? In the nooks and crannies of life and always somewhere precariously balanced between grit and grace.

Life is often filled with contradictions, ironies, and unforeseen joys. My life in schools has been much the same. When I started teaching, I imagined that it would be predictable, controllable, and safe. I thought, “I will teach, and they will learn.” As Edelsky (1991) writes, I was sure that I would be cool and detached; I was confident that every moment would be rational. My experiences in schools have taught me something different. Human relationships are at the heart of schooling (Cummins, 1996, p. 1). Indeed, it has been the passion and the personal interactions that have put the power in pedagogy for me. Although many of my experiences in schools and in life are not as I thought they would be, it is only the study of critical pedagogy that made me realize that the potential of pedagogy is all about people. I thought my life in schools would be about me, teaching. I now think that Paulo Freire was right: Education is radically about love (personal communication, N. Millich, November 3, 1998).

I marvel at the outside influences on my life. I also marvel at the outside influences on teaching and learning. Critical pedagogy enables us to see those influences more clearly and to articulate them. Critical pedagogy also enables us to take action in our real world when necessary.

Even though my real world has changed little since the publication of the last two editions, the world has changed drastically. As I continue to marvel at the influences on my life, I now shudder at the outside influences on schools. My years of public school experiences do not prepare me for the reality of classrooms for teachers and students today. Never have diversity and democracy been more threatened by outside influences, which tend to come from those who have far less experience in schools than I. In this edition, I address those influences, specifically controlled curriculum, high-stakes testing, bilingual education, accountability, and the frightening links between corporate powers and the powers of the government.

Pearson (2003) expresses my feelings when he longs for the opportunity to write of his passions and not politics. It is a luxury those of us with experience and knowledge of teaching and learning cannot afford. If only I could write of languages, literacies, and cultures. If I have learned one thing in my years in schools it is that language and thought are the same thing. He who controls our language controls our thought. Language is now controlled via mandated curriculum. Pearson (2003) warns that if this continues, we will have a generation of teachers who revere controlled curriculum. I would add that controlled curriculum is controlled language is controlled thought.

Followed to its logical conclusions, the politics we are currently implementing will lead us to a generation of teachers who pay homage to externally imposed standards rather than to the needs of children and their families as the primary criterion for determining what students do in their classrooms. To establish their curriculum, they will look over their shoulder rather than look their students squarely in the eye. (Pearson, 2003, pp. 14-15)

When language is controlled in schools, thought is controlled in the future. This is damaging to a democracy. Our work is now; we cannot fail. We are called by Paulo Freire to name, to reflect critically, to act-there it is: the best definition of critical pedagogy.

Now here is the point: Each of us has our own real world. It informs us; it enlightens us; it amuses us; it challenges us. And each of our worlds is a part of who we are. Each of our worlds contributes to and enriches us and others. Our own unique real world is the culture we know best; it is where we feel most at home; we speak the language; we know the perspective. No one’s real world is the best; it is just what we know. No one’s culture is the best; it is just what we know. No one’s language is the best; it is just what we know. Critical pedagogy has enabled me to appreciate and celebrate others’ ways of knowing even when I don’t understand and might not have experienced them.

You might think that authors live and write in a world you will never know. Authors are people writing in their own worlds. All of our real worlds are unique, busy, and often exhausting.

It is the legacy of my real world that informs my perspective. As I reflect on my life on the prairies and my other life in schools and at the university, I draw these conclusions:


Prairies: The greater the diversity, the healthier the environment.
Perspectives: The greater the diversity, the broader the thought.
People: The greater diversity, the better the democracy.


It is the legacy of critical pedagogy that gives me the courage to express my perspective. I am confident that critical pedagogy will encourage you to read and write your world.

Not only was I surprised that so many readers wrote to ask me questions about reading and writing in my world, but I was also surprised at the diverse reactions along gender lines. The irony is that one of my greatest fears with the publication of the first edition was that my feminist colleagues would feel that I had not been strong enough on our shared interests. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. My formal educational experiences have been in the world of languages, literacies, and cultures; however, I am limited in feminist pedagogical academic study. A reader of the first edition once wrote to me to say, “It feels like you are reading us while we are reading you.” However, when it came to gender issues, many readers were reading me critically. I was writing the word, and the readers were reading the world. Often, in the first two editions, I thought I was writing about dominant and nondominant cultural groups, and readers were reading men and women.

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