Analysis of a Critical Theorist Take on Education Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Freedom in the Classroom

The first chapter asks why theory, especially Critical Theory, matters in today's classrooms. The very first chapter essentially sets the stage for the kind of "freedom" that is aimed at achieving in the classroom: freedom from "historical norms" such as marriage being between a man and a woman (Hinchey, 2010, p. 1). Granted, this is just an example of the way ideas become entrenched in society, and Hinchey proceeds to apply this observation to the ways in which schools become bogged down by accepted norms -- such as the use of standardized text books, the division of work into subjects, and the amount of time spent in a class room as opposed to outside of it. The purpose of this chapter is to draw attention to the cultural habits that keep us from questioning conventional attitudes about the way things are done -- especially when it comes to schooling. For this reason, Hinchey prescribes Critical Theory as a suitable approach in the classroom because it involves the process of critically examining all of society's elements, constructs and systems.

The second chapter continues with the value of using Critical Theory, as it allows people to question authority, power and controls, essentially. This is an important thing to do for someone looking for a "way out" of the emptiness of modern consumerism/materialism. It is also a theory that helps people see "how the choices of one group affect the lives of others" (Hinchey, p. 18). It is also about recognizing one's own value. Too often people allow themselves to be devalued at the same time they elevate others -- and this is especially with teachers in the classroom ("I am only a teacher" is the example Hinchey cites) (p. 25). This is why it is so important to unpack "the way it is" -- because the "way it is" is usually that way because it benefits the people at the top of the pyramid -- the power structure or hegemonic structure that has no interest in individuals or in objective truth. Our consciousness has been constructed by them and for that reason it should be critically examined.

The third chapter begins to deconstruct the assumptions that we have accrued over our years of living by challenging us to rethink "what we know "and have been taught using positivist epistemology. Hinchey explores constructivist epistemology or approaches to understanding that examine the constructs that serve as frameworks or supports for the worldviews that we erect in our minds to explain perceptions and natural order. Positivist epistemology focuses on the facts, which can be important but in modern academia are over-emphasized to the point where no one can dare use something called common sense anymore, as though it were almost a bad word just to announce such a thing because of its innateness. Of course, this must be viewed as a construct, too, if one is to follow Hinchey's line of thought.

The fourth chapter examines Ed Psych, instrumental rationality and post-formalism in an attempt to get us out of the "rut" of conventional and stales modes of thought that do nothing but allow the power structure to remain in place (Hinchey, p. 66). Indeed, the "sacred ideas" of Ed Psych are those pushed by the power elite in a positivist world (p. 66). By taking part in the accountability movement, we are more likely to reject the lessons of a positivist Ed Psych 101 classroom and apply a more critical approach to what we are being called to learn by the establishment (Hincey, p. 72). In short, it is a dichotomy in which we are on one side and the establishment is on the other. Understanding the nature of the establishment and what it is up to is essential in perceiving the way in which our educational system is designed to operate. It is also helpful in understanding ourselves and our role in the phenomenon of modern education and how we, as students and teachers, can help to overcome these obstacles using a post-formalist view of educational psychology.

The same sensibility continues with chapter five, which concentrates on the notion of "rethinking authority" and a discussion of cultural capital: in much the same way that the reader is challenged to rethinking conventional positivism in regards to educational psychology, the reader here is challenged to question concepts regarding authority. "Cultural capital" comes into play by way of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who recognized that things like language (English, for example) and degrees (a MA in XYZ) are forms of cultural capital that allow individuals to do things in society like get jobs or "buy" a position somewhere (Hinchey, p. 86). But like money in a fiat currency system, cultural capital can be devalued and alternative forms of capital can take its place. This is already happening as old world values and forms of cultural capital, such as biblical knowledge have been displaced by scientific knowledge, business management knowledge and even pseudo-scientific knowledge. Some should go -- like "legacy preferences" which allow certain individuals to gain admission into certain schools while others are denied (Hinchey, p. 92). In short, the system is not as "free" as we are led to believe. Indeed, there is a great deal of discrimination by way of cultural capital.

Chapter 6 has the reader on to more "rethinking" -- this time by rethinking agendas. Hinchey describes this part as exercising "resistance" -- essentially getting up from the game and leaving (Hinchey, p. 94). This is a sobering thought: it means the student or teacher does not have to participate in the system that perpetuates its own power structure narrative. One is indeed free to leave and start off on his or her own adventure: it is an empowering consideration. Resistance is especially popular among young people as demonstrations and riots and protests show -- these are typically the activities of the young who are fed up with the power structures forced upon them and resist them to their faces. Likewise, social reproduction through the usage of standardized texts only serves to facilitate the power structure and the monolithic endeavors of the monopoly that the system has over education.

This theme is continued in chapter 7, which describes the task of refocusing and bringing about a more critical consciousness that promotes what Hinchey calls conscientization -- that is, becoming more aware of the system and, indeed, more self-aware too. The critical consciousness is necessary to help us make better judgments about what we digest in our minds -- just like we would with our food. And if our culture is waking up to better foods for our stomachs, it is about time that it also wakes up to better food for its mind.

This is a point that leads the reader to the final chapter, which takes a more practical consideration: theory is good, but what about the act of empowerment and a praxis, or method of teaching that is authentic? Questioning must "lead to action" Hinchley observes (p. 133) and if it does not then it is useless. There is no point in questioning the power structure if we are not prepared to do anything about -- and that means developing a new praxis. "Praxis is the mechanism of change," notes Hinchley (p. 135). And indeed it is. Developing a worthwhile praxis is the way towards overthrowing the power structure on the most basic level. Getting it out there in the real world is the next step.

Assessement

I agree with Hinchey's observations about schooling: standardized text books are so often full of a state-sanctioned perspective (especially when it comes to history and the humanities) that they are virtually worthless (since the State is nothing more than a merger of business and government, controlled by high finance with the interests of a certain powerful lobby at its heart) when considered in the light of any regard for ancient doctrines such as Socrates' teaching on objective truth. Getting rid of these texts and indeed getting out of the classrooms altogether would be a healthy and positive step. However, the use of Critical Theoy, while applicable and helpful, is always rooted in a Marxist or modern ideology that cannot escape the same consumerist, materialistic obsessions that plague the statists: man is more than material and the ancients or classicists appreciated this. The old school humanities teachers did as well -- and that is one reason they have been removed: they preached a cosmology that was antithetical to the corporate cosmology of today's shills aka teachers.

Critical theory offers a way to deconstruct society and analyze its oppressors but it does not provide a "way out" in the sense of what someone like Russian dissident writer Solzhenitsyn offers in his assessment of the modern era. "Freedom cannot be conceived simply," wrote Flannery O'Connor (1962) in the preface to her novel Wise Blood (p. 8) and it should not be: freedom without governance or guidance or a way upward towards…

Sources Used in Document:

References

Hinchey, P. (2010). Finding Freedom in the Classroom. NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

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