Centering the Periphery: Giving Students’ Voice and Choice, pp. 3 of 4

Dialogue is regarded as the lynchpin of critical pedagogy. Not surprisingly, it is defined as “a fundamental imperative of critical pedagogy and the basis of the democratic education that insures a democratic state” (Ellsworth, 1989, p.314). In employing dialogue in my classroom, I was attempting to transform it into a microcosm of the society where “students and teachers can engage in a process of deliberation and discussion…to prepare students as critically active citizens outside of schools” (Ellsworth, 1989, p.314).

However, in choosing dialogue as the approach, the assumptions would be that when armed with the analytical skills to consider an issue objectively, students would be free and rational to make objective and informed decisions. I did not entertain the possibility that students might still be holding on to their views due to non-rational or emotional reasons. How sure could I be sure that my students were not employing stalling strategies that Hand and Levinson (2012) suggest, such as “that’s-just-what-I-believe move” and the “that’s-what-my-religion-says move” (p.620)?

However, I believed that by listening to views from others and armed with their own research, my students would be empowered to make up their mind on a particular issue. Instead of being empty containers to be filled by my knowledge, the students, as Freire (2000) envisaged were no longer docile and accepting but critical and engaged in dialogue. However, just how empowered were they? Was I overstating their agency and empowerment by deliberately silencing or downplaying my power and influence as the teacher? That thought was sobering and not an impossibility.

In reexamining my experience while carrying out the action research and critically assessing my hidden assumptions of past actions and decisions, I am conscious of my teaching objectives. The crux of it is that I am striving towards transforming my practice and that of my students’ learning experience. And in order to transform their learning experiences, some of the crucial things to bear in mind would be to acknowledge the importance of bringing into prominence students’ voices in discussing topics that they feel an affinity to rather than prescribed by teachers. It is noteworthy that topics of interest to the students are highly significant societal issues as well. This shows that students are cognizant of current issues in the society that they live in where they are active participants in their own ways. Although the students’ voices may not be as authentic due to possible racial and gender silencing that I highlighted, the available platform to discuss issues provides the opportunity for their voices to be heard nonetheless. 

This aspiration to transform my practice to enrich my students’ learning experience finds affinity to the educational purpose described by Naomi Norquay who sagely points out that “this work is not merely knowledge accumulation. It is change” (Pinar et al. 1995, p. 566). In revisiting data sources from my study about a now past teaching experience and imagining a possible future for myself and my students’ learning, my focus is for the change to happen in the present.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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