Critical Pedagogy – Our first formal date

voluptuous dark skinned woman in a beaded bikini top in vibrant colour over a ghostlike woman in blue colonial Caribbean full skirts and blousy top with a headtie

Featured Image: close up of We Jammin Still by Leigh

29 Jan 2019

I’m pretty sure I have encountered this concept before. The Mighty Sparrow’s “Dan is The Man” comes immediately to mind. It’s a calypso that does a wicked dissection of the education system that was set up in Trinidad & Tobago for the freed slaves and their descendants. The thing is, as many times as I’ve listened and sang along to this song, I didn’t know that Sparrow was engaging in critical pedagogy; and he’s not the only one. So many calypsoes of my youth are rooted in critical social analysis and commentary that I’m sure there are more I’ve missed over the decades. So CP my darling, it’s nice to meet you formally and get your name this time!

Right… My class has been given a video to watch about critical pedagogy. This blog is just a quick list of my thoughts after watching this video.

About Critical Pedagogy

  • Education is political.
  • Learning gives you Agency. Agency gives you Politics. Ergo, education is political.
  • Critical pedagogy fights oppression in education
  • Education is a weapon that can create and maintain oppression or erode and destroy it.
  • Critical pedagogy asks WHY – Why are being taught this? Whose needs does this serve?
  • True education challenges the ‘empire’ that created it
  • Critical pedagogy looks at the implied lesson (non-verbal message) and deconstructs that
  • Critical pedagogy aims for true social justice
  • Students should question, interrogate, add their voice to any true education experience
  • Critical pedagogy seems to have long term memory loss – it’s so busy asking questions, some of which have already been answered – critical pedagogy can chase its own tail at times.

UK Higher Education

  • Who has access to HE? Is helped to get access to HE? Those are the people learning the skills to think for themselves.
  • Funding goes to subjects that serve those in power – large corporations, governments, etc
  • Funding is withheld from subjects that work against those in power? Something to explore…
  • Who sets and approves HE curricula?
  • A Possible Theory – as more industries require highly skilled labour, government pushes HE to meet those needs so it can augment or safeguard the country’s standing on the world stage. This means that more people need access to HE. Hurrah! Is critical pedagogy part of this expansion? Doubtful. The agenda is to create more highly skilled cogs, not interrupt the flow of the production line.

Critical Pedagogy & Me

I teach in two ways – with my art and through my art.

Teaching with my Art is more using it and the artistic process as the teaching tool. For example, using the teaching of Carnival craft techniques with 8 and 9 year olds to bring home a sense of pride in their Caribbean heritage. Some teaching moments were:

  • Explaining some of the mechanics behind tall costumes then showing videos of various tall costumes and letting the students critique them. (They loved the one whose head fell off!)
  • Explaining the concept of ole mas and its role as a means of communication and protest for freed slaves; then asking them to agree on a message to communicate to their teachers and giving them a mix of old and new materials to create their own old mas. They also had to perform these costumes.

Teaching through my Art is when I use the painting as the teaching point and let it interrogate the viewer for itself. Some examples are:

WindFall RushOut by Stacey Leigh Ross
  • The painting WindFall RushOut forces the viewer to question the true relationship between Britain and its Caribbean ex-colonies. It presents many pictorial anecdotes and hides symbolism in a way that makes statements. These statements push viewers to agree or oppose, making them take a stand on the issue of Caribbean immigration just by their reaction to the painting.
  • The painting We Jammin Still places the traditional and the modern Caribbean woman on top of the issues that have been plaguing her for centuries. This piece usually elicits horror, denial, or a whole load of condemnation for the scantily clad woman front and centre. It uses a mix of words and images to push questions like – why are we still dealing with the same problems so many centuries on? Are men the sole source of violence against women in the Caribbean? What about women being violent towards men? What about women who help perpetuate the problem by raising boys to behave the same ‘entitled’ way? To be honest, even I feel uncomfortable watching that painting. The statistics alone are disturbing.
  • My Life Story Art pieces often force their owners to remember their best selves. This forces a juxtaposition with the deficiencies we’re always so quick to notice in ourselves. Now viewers are forced to face their best self that in some ways, defies the self-loathing image that usually occupies our minds. Now the questions are: which one is the real me? Which one do I want to be?


Surprised (don’t know why though…)

The two clips about Native Americans – the animated one about if he knows how to cross the street, and even worse, the white man who married the Native woman. She has no lines to say, she is meek and quiet and she is surrounded by all these white men talking about her like a charity case. It ends on a real low point “I’ll just call you Janie” because he life before now doesn’t matter apparently. Just wow!

And Lessons

I think I knew this before but this made all the pieces really solidify in my mind – the use of education as weapon for mass oppression. I also so just started reading Teaching to Transgress so that lesson is really being pressed in.

The loss of history – also another thing I feel like I knew but hadn’t quite put together in my mind. How many stories of First Peoples all over the world have been lost because their knowledge and experiences weren’t valued by their oppressors? So much history for so many people lost and all its been replaced with is… well… lies.

I feel like this video brought many loose things together and then gave them very sharp focus.

More thoughts…

Still thinking…. holisitic teaching? I’m listening to Teaching to Trangress right now and that’s answering many of my questions.