A Pedagogy For Change

By Victoria Sicilia

One of the key questions at SNC Lab is: How do we develop modes of education to equip future generations to face challenges still unknown? We seek to foster pedagogical experimentation and innovation within humanities and social sciences. Using a piece by Amelia Jorgensen, I’m interested in discussing the ways in which pedagogical practice can be [re]constructed in order to encourage the growth of critical and adaptable student populations.

Jorgensen encourages learners to engage in a process of ‘co-imagining educational futures, and resisting teachers’ discourses.’ She thinks of this as “educational social justice” which implies a sense of ownership on both the teachers and students. (Jorgensen 2015: 536) It would be crucial to this process that teachers themselves take part in “resisting the reproduction of oppressive discourses in pedagogical practice.” (Jorgensen 2015: 535) What does this mean though, and how does it look?

I want to emphasize the importance of moving beyond a theoretical critical discussion: what are the actual changes that can and need to be made for this shift to take place? Too often, academic circles engage in critical discussions without anything being done to make a change. What exactly do these characteristics of pedagogical change look like? A few of the following are my own, and others of Jorgensen. I hope that upon closing, these may stimulate discussions on the current aspects of pedagogical practice that need transformation. The challenge lies in contemplating upon how the following could be implemented into learning environments:

  1. Context creation of discussions and situating subject matter within those contexts. Professors can discuss why particular readings are chosen over others, and situate these readings in the context of the class, and their larger meanings.
  2. Prioritizing preliminary discussions on author biographies, historical time of readings, and the socio-political contexts of the writing. Here, awareness of the foundations that shape what we read should be brought to undergraduate classrooms. This process is often included in the structure of graduate seminars, but I ask why this exercise doesn’t happen sooner in the university system.
  3. Jorgensen encourages the idea of problematising the curriculum in an ‘encouragement of active citizenship.’ (Jorgensen 2015: 538) . To exemplify this, she challenges us to question the structure of our pedagogical syllabi. Our syllabi are often still structured in ways that predicate themselves on predominantly white, male authors, with women and minorities as the complementary readings, despite of our attempts to decolonize the university. This very structure of learning reproduces the racial hierarchies we claim to try and dismember in the social sciences and humanities.
  4. Learners must be provided with skills to become socially critical and engage in public debates. (Jorgensen 2015: 540) This could involve professors including exercises such as debates in classroom, where students may practice argumentative and critical skills in looking at a problem from two sides, being placed on either side, and being able to deliver a logical argument.
  5. The most prominent idea is that of a collaborative process, between the teacher and the student. How can the floor be opened further, to foster  leaders of future generations who have been encouraged to think differently?

This last concept is of most interest to me. In my own research, I think about the extent teachers are limited by the pedagogical norms of their curriculum and how these limitations are direct reflections of the social norms of the society within which those norms exist? What trends, or breaking of trends, can I observe, that may assist me in working with the professors there to break said norms? Upon this reflection, I realised that this very concept is something I extracted from my thoughts on education here; it seems the confines and restrains of pedagogical structures aren’t far apart in the two countries I work, Canada and India. Despite our seeming self-proclaimed progressiveness in Canada, I challenge everyone to try and think of a time prior to university, in the early years of university, or debatably grad school, that critical thinking, challenging the norms or our learning structures and content, was ever encouraged. Only after an entire theoretical, methodological, and historiographic background has been entrenched into our brains, do we have the audacity to begin to think more critically. While I understand that there are many who become early path makers, I’m thinking about the general student population as a whole and what what missing link exists that prohibits this criticality in students?

Donald Macedo, in an introduction for Pedagogy of the Oppressed, mentions that the very term “pedagogy” has Greek roots, meaning “to lead a child.” I ask, then,  how this leading has failed in our education system, and what we can do to change it.



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