Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Reflections on a Critical Pedagogy Workshop 

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I had a really interesting and enriching working day today. I was asked to (for the second time) offer a workshop on critical pedagogy for an NGO. The participants are, like, interns training to be social workers for orphanages in Egypt. Something like that. I gave the workshop once before and I loved it, but felt uncomfortable about a few things in it. One being that I had trouble expressing critical pedagogy in Arabic. The other is I was so indirect about it that I did a lot of structured activities and an unstructured role play – and it turned out they had tried lots of this kind of thing before… So something was off about it…

I think today went better, from my POV, though I can’t know for sure until I get their reflections/feedback later.

The Arabic 

First thing, I wanna thank my friend and colleague Sherif who alerted me to the existence of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Arabic. Simply reading the translator’s foreword and bits of the book in Arabic helped me recognize which parts were most relevant to Egyptian Context (Don’t laugh, I swear this wasn’t self-evident for me for this audience) and it helped me use the right words in Arabic so that I almost ran the entire workshop in Arabic with no important words in English. Almost. I was so proud of myself. This isn’t easy, it really isn’t, when you aren’t used to expressing academic thoughts in a different language. 

The Oppressions Activity

One of the problems w critical pedagogy is that, duh, you can’t like “teach” it because it’s all about consciousness-raising of everyone in the room. It’s not about the “participants” listening to the facilitator, but about the facilitator listening to the participants – helping them express their thoughts and dig deeper to reflect on what they might not have been thinking beforehand, reflecting on their practice and thinking of how to change it. But also, when you’re introducing critical pedagogy to people who are in positions of being pedagoguess,you’re not just working on empowering/liberating THEM but on helping them imagine how they might do so for/with others. All these terms are tricky. Empower. Liberate. For/with. Etc. But more than the trickiness of the terms, there’s the difficulty of, in one session, a few hours long, offer a glimpse of critical pedagogy, something it took me many years of reading followed by many years of experience to start to feel like I understood how it could be. And even then it is a really difficult thing to apply in any context, and it is completely different in each context. And it’s a dialogical concept. Which is why I prefer conversational books by Paulo Freire like Pedagogy of Liberation w Ira Shor or We Make the Road By Walking w Miles Horton. 

So anyway. I did this exercise called TriZ from Liberating Structures.* Basically, in order to help people solve a problem or improve, ask them how to achieve the worst possible result, then get them to reflect on how much of that actually happens and then move towards solving problems. In our case, I asked them to break up into 3 groups of 3, each group working on a different topic

  1. In what ways would you oppress orphans most?
  2. In what ways would you oppress the admins of orphans most?
  3. In what ways would you oppress students in schools most?

Each person writes on their own then shares in small groups, then share in larger group, then we discussed how to go back to their own context and imagine ways of supporting people there to raise consciousness and liberate themselves (again the language is really annoying for me, but in context of real life examples it sounded more feasible and less arrogant than this).

Time was tight and I was afraid I would leave them frustrated, but as I asked for some final reflections before I left, I saw that different things resonated with different people and they asked when they would see me again. Which I took as a good sign.

Oldies but Goodies

I still used the collaborative introductions at beginning, the distributing snacks and using them as a segway to talking about difference and inequalities… And I used the humility walk exercise again even though I know they’d done similar before. I emphasized the difference in what we were looking for while interpreting it and it went well.

Overall it was an amazing day, I fell in love with them and I learned a lot. Like a lot. Like just how they’re able to work with orphanages and turn some really difficult situations into potentially positive ones was amazing. 

I did, however, realize a little more than usual, how critical pedagogy is actually for adults, and that I might need to see what the parallel theory is for children, because even though the participants seemed to need the part about adults, they also really need the part about kids. And Freire isn’t it, I think. I mean you could apply it, but there must be something more directly for kids. And I need to find it because it might also help solve some parenting philosophical dilemmas i have as I try to balance my critical pedagogy w practice of everyday parenting…

ANYWAY. That was today.

* I first learned of the exercise from Arthur Gill Green of UBC (the website is awesome btw and has MANY cool structures for activities that are variations on open dialogue). Been wanting to use it for a long time but today was my first time.

2 Comments

  1. I use collaborative group string games with primary age students to get at some similar content. With upper elementary, we then eventually talk about my two “deep questions”:
    What’s the difference between the “hard” in “hard and easy” and the “hard” in “hard and soft”?
    What’s the difference between the “strong” in “strong and weak” and the “strong” in “strong and gentle”?

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