COURTESY: THE HINDU DATED 16TH OCTOBER 2018
We need critical educators who believe that the goal of education is creating informed citizens
BY DR ALBERT P’RAYAN
Teachers who are reluctant to express or scared of expressing their views on issues that affect the society they are part of shouldn’t call themselves educators. A society that is gifted with critical educators is a blessed society.
I posted the above message on Facebook in the light of a series of recent Supreme Court verdicts on key issues such as decriminalisation of gay sex and LGBTQ rights (Section 377 of IPC), legality of adultery (Section 497), the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, and permitting the entry of all women into Sabarimala temple. The indifference of the academia towards these verdicts and the absence of views from the teaching community on these issues made me wonder why teachers have become indifferent and silent these days.
Reacting to the above post of mine on Facebook, a friend asked me why and how I differentiate an educator from a teacher. Is an educator (critical educator) different from a teacher? My answer is “Yes”. How different is a “critical educator” from a teacher? In my view, teachers are instructors and they focus on academic (curricular) activities. They prepare students for exams and help them achieve academic success. They may not be well equipped to look at issues critically and may not have knowledge about critical pedagogy. Educators, on the other hand, are not mere teachers. They possess something called “teacher+ qualities”, which makes them different from ordinary teachers. They go beyond the syllabus and focus on preparing students for life. If good teachers can be considered noble people, critical educators should be nobler people.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EDUCATOR
Critical educators are distinct from ordinary teachers and they have the following characteristics:
- They are critical thinkers and believe in the concept of critical pedagogy, practise it and advocate it. As critical pedagogy (CP) implies the need for applying critical questioning, advocates of CP believe that it is their responsibility to develop in the learners the ability to understand, question and challenge any system and to enable them to change the system.
- They believe in the vision of creating a critical learning environment and thus a better world. In a critical learning environment, students learn to ask probing and insightful questions and examine the quality of their reasoning. Critical educators engage their students in thinking and higher-order intellectual activity which demands them to apply Bloom’s higher order thinking skills of evaluating, analysing and synthesising.
- They are critical reflective teachers. Jack Richards (1990) defines critical reflection as “an activity or process in which an experience is recalled, considered, and evaluated, usually in relation to a broader purpose”. Critical reflection enables an educator to be on track.
- They are intellectuals and they strongly believe that teaching is an intellectual profession. Being an intellectual means knowing how to distinguish truth from falsehood and being committed to the truth.
- They are well informed-people and they believe that the goal of education is creating informed citizens. They feel the need to update their knowledge about the society they live in.
- They demonstrate their intellectual courage by expressing their views on issues that affect the society. As Noam Chomsky, in his 1967 seminal essay titled The Responsibility of Intellectuals, states, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.”
- They are committed to shaping the thinking of their students. Critical thinking skills are necessary to understand, question and challenge any system that promotes inequality.
- They demonstrate ethical integrity and are committed to the values of democracy, equity and justice.
Need of the hour
In the 21st century media-mediated post-truth world, everyone is constantly bombarded with misinformation, disinformation and fake news; debates on certain news channels are not based on facts but on emotional appeals; demagogues who glorify falsehood are worshipped as heroes; those who tell lies convincingly emerge winners in elections. In this critical period, there is an urgent need to create awareness among students about the negative impact of fake news on society and to create opportunities for them to think and analyse texts, news reports, stories, and so on critically, to analyse and synthesise information. Students need to be educated and not just taught.
According to an online survey by EdSource in partnership with the California Teachers Association, critical thinking skills, not scores on standardised tests, are the best way to assess whether students are prepared for success in college and the workplace.
If teachers think that their role is only to teach the courses that are assigned to them and if they are comfortable being mere spectators to what is happening around them, they will fail to inspire young minds. If teachers think that ignorance is bliss and silence is ecstasy, they will do injustice to their profession. Teachers need to become educators and educators need to become critical educators to add meaning to their profession.
Henry Giroux, a well-known educational thinker and critical pedagogue, who popularised the theory of critical pedagogy, states that “Universities should be about more than developing work skills. They must also be about producing civic-minded and critically engaged citizens — citizens who can engage in debate, dialogue and bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.” This is possible only if our educational institutions have a good number of critical educators.
**The author is an academic, columnist and freelance writer.
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