Revolution Lullabye

June 9, 2009

Ellsworth, Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review 59:3 (Aug 1989) 297-324.

Ellsworth argues that teachers that believe in critical pedagogy must confront and accept unknowability, that knowledges and voices in the classroom are partial, contradictorary, and irreducable. This complexity does not negate the purpose of a critical education. Rather, accepting that complex cultural and historical issues cannot be solved in the classroom refuses to allow for oversimplification, which in itself continues to perpetuate cycles of domination and repression. The teacher must acknowledge that they have a historical, political, and cultural perspective and stake in the dialogue and discussion and allow students to name what they want to be empowered to do. Their social subjectivity makes it impossible to completely understand students’ experiences and experiences and to steer them towards discovering their “true” inner voice.

Quotable Quotes

argument: “Key assumptions, goals, and pedagogical practices fundamental to the literature on critical pedagogy – namely, ’empowerment,’ ‘student voice,’ ‘dialogue,’ and even the term ‘critical’ – are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination.” (298).

“What diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299)

“All knowings are partial, that there are fundamental things each of us cannot know.” (310)

problem with the “generic critical teacher” (310)

Notable Notes

goal of empowerment is too abstract (good of society?) – no clear, identifiable purpose

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