Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Educational Interlude

I wrote the following to the lovely 20-year-old woman who runs the organization for which I will be working in Ghana. We were having some semantic communication problems as we both attended a Theater of the Oppressed workshop. I have trouble with Theater of the Oppressed, for reasons I've already chronicled in this blog and other reasons I'm sure I will chronicle. My boss wished to be sure that I would nevertheless base my theater curriculum in critical pedagogy and dialogue, and this was my response.

I like it, and because it sounds more confident than I feel right now, I want it up here to reassure me about my upcoming journey and my own abilities.

I am a complete and unapologetic Freirean, which is to say, I think any and all good pedagogy is critical pedagogy. A curriculum that doesn't encourage critical thinking is, to me, anti-humanist, something to which I could never be committed, and which I would most certainly never create. Critical thinking has to be a goal of all my educational work, and I am thrilled that it's the goal of the organization as well. So I hope that I have at no point implied that I am in conflict with such a goal.

Nor am I expecting any of these kids to be the next Wole Soyinka. Most art created by kids, by any "objective" standard of quality, comes out looking pretty silly, and I don't think this program will be the magical exception. Some exciting and dynamic work will be created, if I do my job right, but nothing that's going to revolutionize the world or the arts, at least not yet.

All I mean when I say "I want the kids to create good art" (or whatever I've said along those lines) is that if we want a critical thinking curriculum, to that end alone, we can create that. I think your program's Girls' Club has created that already. It is incredibly valuable, as is a person's ability to recognize her own oppression (and, for that matter, when she is acting as an oppressor). Both of those things are elements of theater, and theater is also about something else, and I want to be sure that I am teaching that other skill set, as well. In pedagogies like "theater for critical thinking" or Theater of the Oppressed, that skill set often falls by the wayside, or is dismissed as unimportant. It is important; it is the difference between theater and academics, theater and self-worth, theater and therapy. Academics should be taught and valued, self-worth should be taught and valued, therapy should be taught and valued. I am a theater teacher.

I believe, deeply, in the value of dialogue and conversations. I believe, further, that good theater by its nature creates dialogue and conversations. If I teach good theater, and particularly if I teach it with knowledge of critical pedagogy, dialogue, conversation and (at least some) intellectual independence *will* follow. I know it's going to be a hard road, and likely a harder road than I can imagine at the moment, and that I will have to make a lot of alterations as I come to understand the culture more and more. But if anything I believe about people and how they work is correct, then both of us will be more than satisfied with how this pans out.


At 11:21 AM, Blogger Connor said...

So, I'm not sure what the semantic problems are... is it that she is favoring a more didactic approach and you are emphasizing theater over analysis (or at least that is the field of concern)? Is it the age-old professor vs. artist dilemma?

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Ammegg said...

I dunno. The basic discussion was me saying, "of course I'll teach critical thinking, but I want the kids to create good art," and her saying, "yeah, good art's nice, but make sure that you're not getting so caught up in that that you don't encourage dialogue or critical thinking, you'll see when you get there." We're pretty much on the same page, we were just talking past each other.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Connor said...


At 8:44 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

And just to be clear, with that incredibly intelligent and communicative declaration, you banished any hesitations I had about anything.

You, Gemma, are super-cool.


Your boss ;)


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