Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rethinking Dialogue: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Populations

I was perusing through the blogs and forums on The Paulo and Nita Freire Project and came across an interesting discussion forum: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Students:
I have been thinking about Critical Pedagogy in relation to various oppressed groups. If Critical Pedagogy advocates dialogue in its practice, how can we apply critical pedagogy with students with special needs?
Vanessa Paradis offers this response:
What is dialogue? Is it limited to words that we speak or write down on paper? Dialogue can occur in many formats (art, movement, touch, music, presence, assistive technology, etc..) as can be noted from all of the different blogs on the site. What all dialogue must have in common is love (Freire's radical love) compassion, and humility with an overriding motivation for social justice. McLaren and Jaramillo (2007) state, "The longing for dignity and justice for others, as well as for ourselves, has been a primary motivation for critical educators worldwide to engage in the politics and practice of critical pedagogy" (p. 196).
Our concept of dialogue expands with critical pedagogy. What are all of the ways we might engage in dialogue with people? I ask this because I do not have the answers myself and it is an issue that I seek more knowledge for, especially given that I have a daughter with autism and I have seen her struggle with trying to communicate something she so desperately wants to say, but it stays locked up in her brain anyway, until she cries out in frustration.
We also need to expand how labels and diagnostics define people's capabilities; the ideal would be no labels at all. Setting limits based on a Cartiesian ontology is a tragic error and serves to keep people locked into confined spaces from which they might otherwise escape (Kincheloe, 2006). A perfect example is the IQ test and allowing it to tell us what a person cannot do. Kincheloe (2006) states, "Since the self is always in context and in process, no final delineation of a notion such as ability can be determined. Thus, we are released from the rugged cross of I.Q. and such hurtful and primitive colonial conceptions of 'intelligence'" (Contructing a Critical Ontology, para. 2). This requires us to step outside the boxes we have constructed and to look through different frameworks or lenses.
When we define the prerequisites for dialogue as the ability to speak and write in the ways of the dominant culture, who are we seeking to shut out from dialogue? Who is afraid to enter the dialogue? 

Another pitfall occurs when we make assumptions that certain populations are "unfit" for particular dialogues. In his Introduction to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Donald Macedo writes about an occasion when he and Henry Giroux were asked to speak at Massasoit Community College (MA) to a group of unwed mothers in a GED program. The program mentioned that many of the women were considered "functionally illiterate." Macedo mentions one woman's response after the speech:
Professor Giroux, all my life I felt the things you talked about. I just didn't have a language to express what I have felt. Today, I have come to realize that I do have a language. Thank you.
The particular language in which dialogue takes place is not necessarily what is important. What is fundamental is that individuals, in relationship to others, find languages in which to communicate, dialogue, and create and recreate the world. The dialogue that, as Freire would say, "unveils reality," is a relationship. Must we limit this "unveiling of reality" to certain vocabularies, languages, degree-holding groups, or those deemed to have higher abilities or higher IQ's? Those that are experts? 

Who do we limit with our constructions of dialogue? How do we limit the power of art, music, drama, dance, laughter as languages and dialogue?