Teaching Theory pt. 1

June 24, 2009

Teaching Theory

How can theory be taught? The purpose of this exposition/critique is not espouse a singular method of teaching critical theory (in the social sciences/ arts/ humanities) but to examine the visible strains of thought that emanates from most of these disciplines. With the exemption of the life sciences and some exclusivist schools from the social sciences, the sociology of culture, literature, art, etc. can be better understood with the most basic intellectual traditions available for consumption on the level of the academia. In the Philippines, the problem is not comprehension (is there comprehension?) but the mode of teaching. While erstwhile academics in the west like Homi Bhaba and Gayatri Spivak have acknowledged the so-called emancipating role of critical theory (I’m not sure if we’re talking about the specific constellation of concepts) in thought and practice, academics in the Philippines have yet to arrive at the point where theory can readily be used and appropriated for the purpose of critical pedagogy, and not just teaching. A distinction has to be made here; in the context of so-called traditional “modern” teaching in the Philippines, a neo-Aristotlean and colonial model of teaching is employed. If one were to fondly remember the concise description of Freire in his work on the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we would come to realize that the Philippines is not only a repressed and oppressed country ideologically and economically, but the Philippines is also suffering from a retrograde educational system espoused by equally retrograde institutions using antiquated methods that are unable and would never be usable for the purpose of examining and criticizing the current world order.

World order seems to be too big a word; the apologists of the formalist, neo-Aristotlean and therefore neocolonial methods of teaching would say that a blank page would need inscription. But how can a page be blank if the person has already enrolled himself with money borne from hard labour? For the upper classes in the modern, neocolonial Philippine society, the blankness stems not from the lack of reading materials but from the generic avoidance of such. The rich, due to their material wealth, no longer needs to be emancipated because they already have their comfortable niches in the present economic order. But this cannot be said for the millions of the other Filipinos in the country. From this point alone we can see the large contradiction or gap between the interest of the educational institutions (privately owned or state-owned, it does not matter) and 95% of the population of the country. From an objective point of view, only two ways out can be seen: either you reform the institutions (it is not in their interest to be altered!) or destroy them. Or, as the popular song goes, they should be killed softly with a song. And the song is critical theory. Or rather, critical theory is but one note- a melodic spark that would hopefully encourage an intellectual conflagration to burn off the wicked weeds of the educational system. If Nietzschean politics is fascist, then it’s time to do an uberman and destroy the aristocratic educational system that serves education a la carte, with a hefty price tag for soured goods.

Reading, unlearning and the rejection of colonial ideological principles

There should be a clarification, a direct clarification regarding the role of reading in a person’s life. Reading is not merely pleasure (if it were, let’s go back to the Florentine merchant era where a few families were the only ones who had access to art) but rather, a tool to free yourself. The presupposition that it is a tool for liberation also presupposes that there is something to be freed from. And as we have made mention earlier, the thing that must be purged is the old neocolonial model of teaching which is parading itself repeatedly in classrooms across the country. The first step in the destruction of the old neocolonial model of teaching is the recognition that the very commodities used by the educational system are repressive (stupid) and obsolete. Even the teaching of language, which is still being done in such a horrendous manner is so damaging that children who already have a rich Filipino vocabulary end up understanding less of the language than before they came into the classroom. The teachers themselves must recognize that what they mentors had taught them are not the best methods for teaching. It doesn’t matter that you used old textbooks written by Americans or Britons. The point here is that whatever they’ve learned from the colleges of Education around the country are not sufficient to instruct, not at all. Which accounts for the fact that many students, after graduating from primary school and high school, don’t remember jack about what they’ve been wasting their time on the past 10 years of their life. It is an unjust social contract between the institution and the agents.

There is no need for senseless self-pity here. Since the problem has already been recognized, the next step is in order. After the recognition that the faulty model is in place, the second most important step is the unlearning, which may be the most difficult step of all. Learning is one thing; if it means imitation like parrots. Unlearning means letting go of all your cherished beliefs and that can drive a person mad, especially if after the unlearning there is absolutely nothing to replace what has been unlearned. This perhaps is the reason why extremely religious individuals find it difficult to cope after the historicity of religion has been revealed and examined closely; there’s nothing to replace the lost belief. Since education also forms a large part of a person’s habitus or socialization, there is also a need to question the ideologies operating alongside the teaching methods. For example, the simple belief that males are good at numbers while women are good in language is a destructive belief, because it necessitates favoring one group of persons over another for the mere purpose of living out some belief. Instead, what should replace such a belief is a goal; that both males and females be adequately capable of numbers and language to produce a well-rounded person competent in the two different skill groups. Specialization can only be useful if a person is indeed already knowledgeable of the larger groups of knowledge. But if you trap a person to believing that he or she can be good in only one particular set of skills, then that person would probably end up pursuing only that group of skills for the simple reason that it was what she or he had been made to believe by the teacher.

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