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Critical Pedagogy 4th Ed – The Essences is in the Experience

Except from: Wink, J. (2010, 4/e, p.173) Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the REAL WORLD. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

The Essence is in the Experience

A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of actual experience by environing conditions, but that they also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth. Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while. (Dewey, 1947/1938, p. 35)


In what follows are activities in direct response to the readers of previous editions who asked, “How do you do it?” My final cautionary word on methods: You have to experience them. Dewey was right. Reading about methods is a poor second. Please take these methods and adapt them to your context, to the needs of your students, and to your own unique pedagogical gifts. If you are anything like me, new methods often do not work well the first time. Yes, it takes experience and more experience to understand how to turn methods into critically reflective actions within communities.

The following activities are not new per se. However, one of my most interesting relearning experiences is that many activities can become vehicles for critical reflection and action depending on why and how they are used. I know. I should have known. However, it was yet another relearning experience for me when I wanted to introduce
some rigorous ideas to a group of international educators during a fast-paced summer school session. Here is how I now remember what I relearned with this marvelous group of educators.

The more critical the text, the easier the method. I wanted the students to read Pennycook (1994), to understand and internalize the ideas and, ideally, to return to their varied homelands around the world and continue to reflect and perhaps even to act on their learning. I considered many options before deciding how to access the text. Finally, I decided to use activities that were relatively easy and ones I knew well. Walking to class that day, enjoying the beach air of Palma, Mallorca, Spain, I worried that the students might be insulted or demeaned by my selection of easy methods. The exact opposite happened. The easy methods became an effective way of accessing rigorous content.

The students were adults who teach English all over the world; in other words, they were English as International Language (EIL) teachers. Pennycook’s objective in The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (1994) is to encourage international teachers to think in new ways about the teaching of English. Pennycook weaves the cultural and political implications of the spread of English throughout the pages of his text. He suggests that EIL teachers are gatekeepers of knowledge even though they might never have critically reflected on their unexamined role in the process. His reference section is complete with the various international scholars who support the idea that teaching English internationally is often not far afield from the sociocultural, political, historical, and economic context. His thesis is a critical challenge to the dominant ways of thought.

Pennycook says that we come from a history that teaches that English is natural, neutral, and beneficial. In contrast to this traditional pattern of thought, he offers a second perspective, as he documents the various ways in which the spread of English has often been quite deliberate. He writes about the worldliness of English. He assumes that a language (English, in this case) is not just “a language,” but rather it is an inherent and complex part of cultural perspectives. Language does not exist in a vacuum; it is not neutral. The worldliness of English assumes the plurality of perspectives; it is not monological. Language is in constant change, and meanings are always being created, adapted, and changed. In essence, Pennycook deconstructs the assumptions of many well-intentioned teachers who go abroad to teach English—the very type of teachers I was teaching.

As I assigned Pennycook (1994), I was quite sure that this would be a new idea for this group of teachers. My initial sense was that they had come from a traditional pattern of thought. I was quite sure that there would be resistance, anger, and denial.

As I reviewed the ideas of Pennycook, I considered the various approaches we could use for teaching and learning. I knew the transmission model (me talking and students listening) would never work. I was sure that I had to do something interactive so that the students could play with the ideas. I also wanted something transformative to come from this experience. I was hoping that the students would critically reflect on their own roles in teaching English in an international context when they returned home. However, I am well aware that I cannot control the future. If Pennycook’s ideas were to become transformative in the lives of these students/teachers, it was really up to them. If the generative knowledge that we constructed together was ever to be transformative in their various contexts around the world, I suspect that I will never know it. I believe that we can only critically, reflectively, interactively, and actively approach our own pedagogy and hope that students will do the same.

I somewhat nervously approached our six-hour class on the day that we were to discuss Pennycook (1994). With our very tight schedule, I knew that we could devote only a day or two to this text. The students approached class tired and angry, frustrated and fearing that they did not understand the text and/or they understood it only too well. Contradictions are a common experience among critical educators. We began the following easy methods to access difficult text. The results were surprising–in fact, the exact opposite of what I feared happened. This certainly isn’t the only time that I have marveled at the contradictions in pedagogy while doing critical pedagogy. As we worked through the ideas of the worldliness of English, I relearned methods, and the students unlearned some of their long-held but previously unexamined assumptions about teaching English internationally. I have since tried this in other contexts with similar results; however, my descriptions of the next four methods will revolve around only this international context.