Back when I was in college, I went through a phase when I would question everything. It began slowly with our theory class that introduced us to the Frankfurt school of thought, Gramsci, and Althusser, and as I tried to make sense of the industry and system of the mass media (for where could a Broadcast Communication graduate go?) I became disenfranchised and discouraged to join such an oppressive occupation judging by the political-economy and power relations of the system.
My last year of college was peppered with a lot of debates and disagreements with my classmates and teachers as I sought to break the silence and to assert an alternative view on media content and theory. I found myself caught up in the crossroads of accepting the status quo or challenging it, particularly since the real world awaits after graduation. For this reason, I found solace in one theorist who would be able to give a theory on what I was experiencing. I could resonate with feminist author bell hooks (1994) when she wrote in “Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom”, “My commitment to learning kept me attending classes. Yet, even so, because I did not conform – would not be an unquestioning, passive student – some professors treated me with contempt. I was slowly being estranged from education.” Both of us found Paolo Friere and his work, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, as a way to understand the limitations of our education (or schooling, perhaps as what Ivan Illich would argue) and to discover alternative strategies for learning as a student.
Freire’s work can very well be considered to be aligned with constructivist theories of learning, as these theories posit that individuals are actively involved in the construct of knowledge (as cognitive constructivists like Jean Piaget would argue) and that knowledge is socially constructed and embedded within socio-cultural contexts (much like what Lev Vygotsky woud posit). However, Freire argues that the very nature of traditional education as a practice of domination, which oppresses and silences the masses, can be transformed to a practice of freedom and critical reflection that considers people in their socio-economic and political reality. The first step towards this change is through problem-solving education and critical consciousness through meaningful dialogue in the classroom.
Fast forward to the present, and I find myself entrenched in another line of work that is vastly different than expected from a graduate of Mass Communication (which wouldn’t matter anyway). Throughout the discussion about constructivism and instructional design in this week’s course, there is still the underlying assumption that the teacher is still the key source of information and guidance in the process of learning – well, Vgotsky would point out that peers or co-students can also be the More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) in the process of learning – which brings us to examine more closely the power relations in the classroom. There is also the lack of discussion on the teacher as a learner in the discourse – how do these roles interact with one another and how does critical reflective practice play into the classroom when the MKOs can possibly be the students themselves? How do teachers, as a perceived frontliner in knowledge reproduction and ideology, be able to work within the system in order to create critical thinkers?
Hence, I end with bell hooks (1994) call for hope in the midst of the prevailing power and ideological structures within society: “The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations,
remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to
move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.”
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge. Retrieved from https://academictrap.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/bell-hooks-teaching-to-transgress.pdf