Monday, May 30, 2011

You Can Visit, But You Don't Have to Live There...

I've been having a fairly interesting conversation with my friend regarding the nature and role of critical theory in informing our classroom decisions, planning, discipline, and even simple observation and perspective.  There is a lot to think about.  While this is not completely on point with his main argument of critical thinking versus critical theory, I wanted to take up an element of his post and respond.

His conclusion (horribly simplified by me) is that hegemonic pedagogy and critical theorists are both biased, and it is healthier and more constructive to be positivistic.  I've framed it harshly, but I'm actually quite sympathetic to this view, and in fact, got lambasted in class when I mentioned something similar to the professor.  What it comes down to for me is simply that critical theory strikes me as whiny and unproductive.  Everybody's a racist oppressive product of the system, except for a keen-eyed elitist few who can carve through the layers of bullshit with a surgeon's deft hand and expose the ulcerous tumor in the heart of every school.  I'm sick of victimizing and looking at how broken everything is in the world.  I want to do things.  I want to work hard and do my best and have a positive attitude about myself, my role in the world, and the students I teach.

On the other hand, I don't want to lie to myself to be there.  I don't want to be blind to the institutionalized power policy makers, materials publishers, administrators, my colleagues, and myself wield over others, and how we/they are participants in loathsome behavior.  I'm so glad I took a course on critical theory because it enables me to see these things more easily--it gives me a perspective I didn't have before, and it allows me to ably reflect on my own actions and those of my students and peers.

In the end, I cannot continue to do my job if I adopt a strong critical theory perspective.  I am not driven or emotionally resilient enough to push myself into every fight against discriminatory behavior in my classroom, department, school, national education system, or field.  What I want is to keep that critical voice very near to the surface, so that I do see it, and I can make the choice at each phase if this is a battle I can fight, or wish to fight.  I have a window into the dark side of the English education racket, and I will never look at it the same way again.  I believe we are doing some good in the world.  I believe most of us are doing the best we can, but I have changed things about the way I teach from learning critical theory, and others can as well.  It's an insidious world, but I choose to spend most of my time looking at the beautiful products and moments that come out of it in spite of (or because of?) that fact.  The lotus flower needs to root in muck and filth to put out its blossom.