Teachers as Mentors in Critical Pedagogy

Teachers as Mentors in Critical Pedagogy

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Teachers as Mentors in Critical Pedagogy


The young world history teacher stood stern and erect before her students. Around the side of her arm she wore a black cloth. "My name is Ms. Aping. When you are responding to me, you will direct me standing up as Ms. Aping, ma’am. You are not to speak unless I request for you to do so. I will teach you what you need to know, and I expect you to learn it well…questions are quite unnecessary. If you fail to abide by my rules you will spend a great deal of your lunchtime with me. Understand?"… An awkward silence followed, then voices raised, "Yes, Ms. Aping, ma’am." My voice was among the reluctant echoes in response to this teacher who was clearly exerting the same right and power of a dictator. I later discovered that my teacher was only executing a realistic performance. The scenario, however, proved quite disturbing as well as revealing. Why was it that not a single student stood up to disagree with the teacher? I doubt any of them felt that her extreme and absurd regulations were right or even permitted, but not one person had the courage to go up and question her style of teaching and authority.

Our educational system, while wanting to educate and strengthen its youths’ minds, has horribly done the opposite through an almost misguided perception of how teachers are supposed to teach. For the majority of our academic learning careers, we have been exposed, to some extent, to the "banking" concept of education described by Paolo Freire. At the youngest age, when we were perhaps considered the most unknowledgeable, we were fed a vast amount of information by our teachers, and were expected to receive and memorize this knowledge and accept it as true. As young elementary school kids, we were taught that Christopher Columbus was the first human being to discover America, only to find out later, that information was not true. These half-true facts, taught to children, are quite acceptable though. It is simple for a child to learn and memorize that Columbus first sailed the ocean blue and founded America for the rest of the world.

On the other hand, much energy is needed and confusion may arise for them to acquire and comprehend the immigration of Native American Indians into America, much before the arrival of Columbus, and the possible voyage of early Vikings from northern Europe to the southern coast of present day Canada.

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How else could we possibly learn so much and be able to advance to a higher level as quickly as we have?

In many classrooms, however, this one-way teacher-student relationship of the "banking" concept becomes the dominant or the only method of "teaching" and "learning." This form of pedagogy successfully transforms students into submissive beings and fails to develop them into independent and critical thinkers. In scenarios similar to the one I described, rarely would the students respond in disagreement to the teacher. The student would submit and accept as their misfortune that they have an abnormally strict teacher. They would have to adapt to that teacher’s expectations if they wanted to succeed in the class. Students have been unconsciously taught to always respect the authorities and words of the teachers. The teachers in turn seek to model the students into individuals who can survive and thrive only in the society they believe to exist. They do not critically or creatively challenge the students, nor are they enthusiastic about the students’ ideas and opinions.

The world, however, is not how one person thinks it is. The world is not a "static reality," but a "reality in process." It is changing at every moment. Students need to be critically developed so that they may be active in those changes. Society is an elastic spectrum of communications, ideas, and ethical diversity, uniquely perceived by each individual. The principle that Giroux described that call for the role of teachers, in any position of society, as "transformative intellectuals" in critical pedagogy is undeniably true. It is crucial that teachers act as "transformative intellectuals" in today’s society if the system is to successfully transform its students into the leaders of tomorrow, and to foster a nation of individuals who will be able to contribute to the advancement of technology and the changing of attitudes in the world.

In Giroux’s principle, teachers as "transformative intellectuals" would act as mentors rather than as someone superior to the students. The teacher and student would acknowledge each other as active "partners" in the quest for knowledge and the understanding of the many aspects of life. There is constant communication involved. The teacher shares his/her knowledge and seeks reflection and criticism from the student. Critical pedagogy in this effect would represent itself as the "active construction" and not the "transmission" of a particular way of life. Students are aided in the establishment of their own unique way of thinking, acting, and living.

I am undertaking studies in the areas of Biochemistry as a pre-medical major. Biochemistry is a relatively objective and structured course of discipline. However, critical pedagogy is still most significant. Critical pedagogy will call for the teacher to introduce the concepts and facts while discussing with the students their important applications and effects to society, to others, and to themselves. Ethical issues and consequences of scientific discoveries are raised and debated. In my junior and senior year of collegiate study, I will participate in undergraduate research, and a professor of the particular field of study will act as my mentor, as my guide and support. We will be able to establish how I would best proceed with the research and discuss the outcomes of experiments. By being flexibly active in the student’s study, the teacher allows the student to develop their own understanding and expertise in the field. Teachers are the individuals people turn to for knowledge. Teachers have the responsibility of helping their students to realize the knowledge they already possess and to critically evaluate new ones.
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