Thursday, February 5, 2015


Google: "Did you mean: seduce?"

Aren't stock photo people seductive, or hilarious, according to your point of view? 

They look gorgeous in this blog post: all sparky, well-scrubbed and showing amazing synchronicity in their photogenic grin.  

They look exactly like the students I teach. Sorry, that is not true. It is a lie. The students I have, ask me to keep the lights off in the morning so that I don't wake them up for the first hour.

I am grateful to Alec Couros's humorous use of stock photo people for this inspiration.

I've just opened Henry Giroux's "On Critical Pedagogy" as part of my irregular participation with Hybrid Pedagogy's #moocmooc on critical pedagogy.  I only got as far 'Empl 84 sur 4317' and I am already off and blogging. 

I was thinking about how my pedagogy has changed over the years. 

A recent 'training session' with an EFL teacher reminded me of what used to appear to me as normal. 

It is also illustrated for me how far away from that pedagogical transaction I find myself today.

In the 'training session' we were kept constantly in a state of 'good humour', 'bonhommie', constantly active and totally dependent on the educational magicican's bag of tricks. It was an agreeable moment and a break from routine reality. I enjoyed turning off. 

At the end of the day-long session, I went away with a few sample tricks, and a confirmation that this was not what I wanted any more from my own teaching.  It felt to me a bit like a day out at Blackpool where I remember being wowed by a gyroscope which was being presented by a magician/salesman. It reminded me of some educational exhibition stands...

Thinking again about the training session, I am sure that the pedagogy chosen was not any fault of the teacher, au contraire, I have a lot of respect for his competence and his humanity. It is just that we don't do the same job any more.  

When you have a week, or a short course of evening classes in a language school to sell, you concentrate on enabling the learners to feel good, to gain a bit of confidence to make mistakes, to learn one or two things about the grammar, to listen to a bit of English, and to go away in a positive frame of mind about their new found classmates, the school.  

It is a commercial transaction which is no doubt a big improvement on many school language classrooms where students are made to feel uncomfortable, are scared to appear ridiculous, and who learn not very much about the mass of grammar explanations which are thrown at them. 

There is a contrast in the transactional nature of the two systems.

In the case of the state system, it is not necessarily the fault of the classroom teachers, who are asked to teach a very large group of students, who are demanded to 'cover' a syllabus, who have to work with peer pressure of colleagues and who are inspected to make sure that they are sticking to the latest 'instructions' coming down from the ministry.  

If a teacher wants to be a 'good teacher' with all the preparation and the correction, there is very little time to think, even less freedom to act.

Coming to my current practices, I am very fortunate to have been able to scratch out a large deal of freedom for myself to define syllabus and assessment, to define team-teaching, student-centred, open-spaced, technology enhanced, reflective pedagogy.  

The  more people I meet the more I think that I am extremely fortunate in having such freedom.

There are times when I think that I must be stupid. 

There is personal price to critical pedagogy. 

It is terribly seductive to 'know one's place', or to concentrate on 'edutainment' , to concentrate only on a timetable, to have the students disconnected from their responsibility as individuals for their own learning.  To view one's own responsibility as completing a few hours in a program. 

It is far more challenging for a teacher to open up the pedagogy, the relationships, the space, the way we learn, to criticism from co-learners.  

It is far more challenging to begin to understand our importance and our lack of importance.  

It is in the constant challenge of reinvention, readjustment, reassessment, reorientation, reflection that we become aware of the dynamic complexity of our ever-changing role in an ever-changing learning environment. 

We are suddenly aware of the unnaturally constricting frame of the institution.

It is rather like picking up a brick in the grass to reveal an extraordinary microscopic life which has been unknown to us and is independent of us. 

However hard we try to put the brick back in its place, we never quite manage to do it without showing a sign of our curiosity.

However hard we try, we are unable to remove from our minds an image of chaotic freedom. 

There is no going back. 

I have lost the taste for playing the role of the illusionist. 

I have lost the taste for anonymous, cheerful, unquestioning, collaboration with an anonymous, alienating state.

It can be an arduous and thankless task lifting bricks.

Despite my better judgement, I have not sated my curiosity.

There is a big step from transaction to co-action.

If there may be few immediate rewards for fighting for freedom, to my mind there is no alternative either.


  1. "It is rather like picking up a brick in the grass to reveal an extraordinary microscopic life which has been unknown to us and is independent of us." So good. This metaphor deserves to be brought to life somehow. Meanwhile, thanks for the post, I was nodding and nodding.

    1. Thanks Tania for the comment. I am constantly bringing this metaphor to life, you are part of this 'independent life.' ;-)

  2. It can feel at times as if though we all the years we've read and written and taught about critical pedagogies, we are losing ground against those who claim that they know best what our students need. I teach because I still have hope. I'll think a lot about that brick today.

    1. Freire or Giroux are swallowed up by the same hungry system.

      Want to be marginal?
      We have a niche market.