In a recent Erasmus Magazine article, EUC lecturer and teacher trainer Ginie Servant advocated the decolonization of the curriculum. The popularity of critical pedagogy appears to be growing, despite academic literature demonstrating its failure. The fallacy of this approach is based upon the fact that it is less effective for attaining learning achievements and indoctrinates students into the activist whims of teachers. Equally, while espousing to be an emancipating force against capitalism, it is based in Euro-centric notions of power and learning. Is decolonization actually neo-colonialism or just Orwell’s 1984?

Breaking down the status quo

Onderwijspionier-Ginie-Servant-3-Geertje-van-Achterberg

Why this teacher wants to decolonise the university

If a university doesn’t take a stand, who will? Ginie Servant appeals for a…

Neo-progressivism, the school of thought behind critical pedagogy, is founded on the idea of breaking down the status quo in society. This desire to break down is based upon a few concepts: the current power structure in society is not fair to all, and this power structure is based upon the ideal of capitalism or consumerism. It strives to create a system that allows everyone to become fully ‘human’ in the sense that everyone is autonomous and self-determination. These ideas are then projected into the tenants of education, thus culminating in critical pedagogy.

The disdain for capitalism is coloured by the conclusion that this system is the all-encompassing corrupting and limiting force in today’s society and is based generally on a white-male power structure. Pop music, commercials, and popular culture all lead one astray and create a sense of ‘false consciousness’ in humans1. Therefore, all individual desires are really formed by a corrupt society and prevent us from being truly human. In other words: “The individual has to achieve distance from his own entanglement in the actual historical and social situation.”2

Convicting the messenger

What does this mean for critical pedagogy? Every pedagogical theory incorporates three elements: epistemological (what is knowledge?), sociological (the role of education in society) and ontological (beings in that system). Critical pedagogy is no exception. Its idea concerning knowledge is that all knowledge is self-constructed and fully subjective. Equally, the validity of knowledge is two-fold: the assertion and the messenger. This means that a fact could be seen as false if the messenger is deemed as an invalid source of knowledge regardless of the prima facie validity of that assertion.

For example, the desire by the critical pedagogue to ‘decolonize’ the curriculum due to its Euro-centric principles based upon an old world (white-male) power structure is reason enough to reject any curriculum developed from this perspective. Their rejection, oddly enough, does not make any judgments concerning the factual validity of the content in the curriculum, but rather a conviction of the messenger.

Euro-centric bias

Critical pedagogy employs a dialectical approach in order to ‘humanize’ the curriculum. Autonomy and self- determination can only be truly realized through this approach. This learning approach has been pushed upon many countries in the world, mostly through UN educational initiatives. However, the academic literature is clear: this pedagogical approach is less effective in terms of learning achievements.3

One of the reasons for the failure of critical pedagogy is that it presumes that a dialectical approach is necessary in achieving autonomy and self- determination. This is not the case. Moreover, the rejection of a dialectical approach is more based on its epistemological foundations being radically different than the cultural norms of students and teachers from around the world.

In fact, critical pedagogy is a fully ‘Euro-centric’ pedagogy based upon what Foucault would label as ‘pastoral power’. This Euro-centric bias towards dialectics and critical pedagogy as the ultimate humanizing force in education is clearly undercut by the strength of the Confucian educational traditions in worldwide achievement tests.

Teach, don’t preach

However, the critical pedagogue is not interested in achievement tests. His sociological aim and tenant of education is radically different. Education is the mobilizing force behind social activism in society. The purpose of education is to create a new world. This means that the critical pedagogue employs students in the realization of the world that the teacher desires! However, it is the faculty’s job to teach, not to preach; to educate, not indoctrinate. Students are enrolling in our prestigious university because of the academic rigor of our teaching and the scientific output of our research. They are not enrolling due to some fleeting social cause that a teacher is indoctrinating their students into.

Heidegger once said: “Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn.” We, as teachers, should let learning happen and get out of the way. However, critical pedagogues have a clear teleological end game, and it is a world as they want it.

Their utilization of the educational system and their students to create their world is a point that should not be underestimated or easily accepted. Strikingly, this indoctrination brings about an internal contradiction for the critical pedagogue: the stride towards autonomy and self- determination while mandating students to follow a specific pedagogical approach in order to create the teacher’s desired world.

A Re-colonization of the curriculum

In its attempt to break down the status quo, critical pedagogy attempts to decolonize the curriculum by re-colonizing it with their equally Anglophone and Euro-centric learning approach. The all-encompassing corrupting and limiting force (capitalism) in today’s society, from their viewpoint, fully limits all individuals and de-humanizes them. This can be combatted by ‘communicative competence’4 or critical dialectics.

In the years since the development of critical theory (circa 1960), critique has become a part of mainstream culture and is no longer a distinct or unique niche for critical pedagogy. Their attempt to introduce critique into education does not, in fact, add anything to education; it is already present.

Additionally, since capitalism, according to critical theory, is a fully limiting oppressive social system, it would then be impossible for everyone inside that system to even envisage any alternative. In fact, it could be argued that by employing critique (that is already present) as a pedagogy, critical pedagogy is actually working within the established all-encompassing corrupt and limiting capitalist system.

Since the academic literature has demonstrated that a Neo-progressive approach to education has often been rejected or is contrary to students’ and teachers’ personal epistemologies, students and teachers would then be forced to learn to use this approach by undergoing yet another indoctrination process. This indoctrination process would force them to learn to reject their own epistemologies and accept the tenants of Neo-progressivism.

This is happening in our university at the moment. The initiative Teaching in the International Classroom is replacing teachers’ epistemologies with a dialectical approach. As an educator, I will always applaud when time is granted for teachers to examine their teaching practices. However, that time should be well spent on pedagogies that are appropriate and effective and not part of an indoctrination process.

Knowledge should not be confused with perception

One advantage of dialectics, according to Ginie Servant, is the discovery of ‘different perceptions of reality’. This is precisely the problem! It goes back to the validity and subjectivity of facts held in critical pedagogy. For self-edification purposes, this is fine and dandy. But we find ourselves in a professional educational environment. We have an educational task and responsibility to provide students with ‘significant learning opportunities’, which are based upon science and not perception. Is it then possible to assert: When I look at a square, I see roundness?

When perception becomes the litmus test for the validity of a statement, a world is created where everything is potentially valid regardless of its absurdity. We now see this in today’s society. A professor in Illinois has asserted that geometry is racist since it could create a perception that Greeks and other Europeans invented it. Since many geometric concepts have Greek names (i.e. Pi, Pythagorean Theorem), this might be perceived negatively by minority students. Moreover, the usage of these terms strengthens ‘white privilege’. Once again, this is what happens when perception becomes the litmus test for the validity of a statement. Is this not a round square assertion?

  1. See: Adorno/Horkheimer, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception ↩︎
  2. See: Dietrich, C. and Muller, H. R. (eds) (2000) Bildung und Emanzipation. Klaus Mollenhauer weiterdenken (Weinheim and München, Juventa) ↩︎
  3. See: De Feiter, L., & Ncube, K. (1999). Towards a comprehensive strategy for science curriculum reform and teacher development in Southern Africa. In S. Ware (Ed.), Science and environment education: Views from developing countries. Secondary Education Series 19659 (pp. 177-198) ↩︎
  4. See: Mollenhauer, K. (1972) Theorien zum Erziehungsprozess (München, Juventa) ↩︎
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