Embracing Critique

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, September 19, 2010 Under: Education

In my recent posts I have expressed my frustration with teaching theory and the discipline of education in general.  However, there is a depth of scholarship in this field that I am in danger of overlooking.  One has to spend the time to look into this rather than being rushed by the requirements of a course.  Sarah Benesch has looked at the role of classrooms as space or arenas of social change (‘Critical Praxis as Materials Development: Responding to Military Recruitment on a U.S. Campus’ in Nigel Harwood (ed.), English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice, C.U.P., 2010).  She combines a notion of critique with an affirmative conception of hope, seeking thereby to challenge dominant discourses without encouraging cynicism and an attendant sense of hopelessness and resignation.  The role of critical theory in education studies allows work on the notion critique in philosophy to provide a deeper and broader understanding of teaching spaces.  Rather than a behaviourist or cognitivist conception of an individual subject and a world of information and knowledge to which they must be connected, critical theory unites all subjects in a common process.  It also allows social, cultural and economic forces to spill into the teaching space.  These provide materials, partial objects, which may enter into a common becoming or deterritoralisation (I am slipping to the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari here).  The ‘territory’ in question is the dominant discourse which suggests that military recruiters merely offer students a career option which they can accept or reject according to their informed and autonomous decisions.  It is challenged by the spilling over of power relations into a classroom discussion.  In this process apparently neutral aspects of the military’s recruitment practices become attached to power relations.

This common process, which involves both students and teacher, is a critical one.  It involves the recognition of power relations and means of resistance.  It is a critical praxis that must involve and change every subject.  Benesch draws upon Michel Foucault and Paul Freire in order to articulate this conception.  Critique is practised collectively and Benesch draws upon her experiences in a post-secondary institution in New York City
to provide a case study.  Here she found that the presence of army recruitment personnel, something made compulsory by the U.S. government in response to a military recruitment problem, called for critical engagement.  How could she raise this issue in the classroom without imposing her own views upon students?  Her solution was to engage in a collective process of critique. 

Interestingly, Alain Badiou has been drawn into education studies by a volume of Educational Philosophy and Theory (vol. 42, no. 2, 2010).  He is seen to challenge critical theory with its emphasis upon the fullness of power relations and modes of resistance.  This leads to the drowning out of genuine resistance, something that for Badiou must involve a break with the current situation and not a closer engagement with it.  We need the empty space provide by the void, according to Badiou’s set-theoretical ontology, rather than a critical terrain characterised by the plenitude of relations of power and resistance.  However, what critical theory and this appropriation of Badiou have in common is a concern with the widest possible conception of reality.  Rather than seeking to provide a stimulus to the behaviour of the learner or to find ways of penetrating the ‘black box’ of the mind, they seek to consider collective subjects and wider realities.

 

In : Education 



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Embracing Critique

Posted by Edward Willatt on Sunday, September 19, 2010 Under: Education

In my recent posts I have expressed my frustration with teaching theory and the discipline of education in general.  However, there is a depth of scholarship in this field that I am in danger of overlooking.  One has to spend the time to look into this rather than being rushed by the requirements of a course.  Sarah Benesch has looked at the role of classrooms as space or arenas of social change (‘Critical Praxis as Materials Development: Responding to Military Recruitment on a U.S. Campus’ in Nigel Harwood (ed.), English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice, C.U.P., 2010).  She combines a notion of critique with an affirmative conception of hope, seeking thereby to challenge dominant discourses without encouraging cynicism and an attendant sense of hopelessness and resignation.  The role of critical theory in education studies allows work on the notion critique in philosophy to provide a deeper and broader understanding of teaching spaces.  Rather than a behaviourist or cognitivist conception of an individual subject and a world of information and knowledge to which they must be connected, critical theory unites all subjects in a common process.  It also allows social, cultural and economic forces to spill into the teaching space.  These provide materials, partial objects, which may enter into a common becoming or deterritoralisation (I am slipping to the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari here).  The ‘territory’ in question is the dominant discourse which suggests that military recruiters merely offer students a career option which they can accept or reject according to their informed and autonomous decisions.  It is challenged by the spilling over of power relations into a classroom discussion.  In this process apparently neutral aspects of the military’s recruitment practices become attached to power relations.

This common process, which involves both students and teacher, is a critical one.  It involves the recognition of power relations and means of resistance.  It is a critical praxis that must involve and change every subject.  Benesch draws upon Michel Foucault and Paul Freire in order to articulate this conception.  Critique is practised collectively and Benesch draws upon her experiences in a post-secondary institution in New York City
to provide a case study.  Here she found that the presence of army recruitment personnel, something made compulsory by the U.S. government in response to a military recruitment problem, called for critical engagement.  How could she raise this issue in the classroom without imposing her own views upon students?  Her solution was to engage in a collective process of critique. 

Interestingly, Alain Badiou has been drawn into education studies by a volume of Educational Philosophy and Theory (vol. 42, no. 2, 2010).  He is seen to challenge critical theory with its emphasis upon the fullness of power relations and modes of resistance.  This leads to the drowning out of genuine resistance, something that for Badiou must involve a break with the current situation and not a closer engagement with it.  We need the empty space provide by the void, according to Badiou’s set-theoretical ontology, rather than a critical terrain characterised by the plenitude of relations of power and resistance.  However, what critical theory and this appropriation of Badiou have in common is a concern with the widest possible conception of reality.  Rather than seeking to provide a stimulus to the behaviour of the learner or to find ways of penetrating the ‘black box’ of the mind, they seek to consider collective subjects and wider realities.

 

In : Education 



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