From a Pedagogy of Despair to a Pedagogy of Hope

Posted June 27th, 2011 by Albert DeCiccio Ph.D., Provost, Southern Vermont College

Standard Edited English has hegemonic implications, particularly for persons of color.  Lisa Delpit has pointed this out in her distinctive voice:     

. . . I have come to understand that power plays a critical role in our society and in our educational system.  The worldviews of those with privileged positions are taken as the only reality, while the worldviews of those less powerful are dismissed as inconsequential.  Indeed, in the educational institutions of this country, the possibilities for poor people and for people of color to define themselves, to determine the self each should be, involve a power that lies outside of the self.  It is others who determine how they should act, how they are to be judged.  When one “we” gets to determine standards for all “wes,” then some “wes” are in trouble!  (Other People’s Children xv)

Catherine Prendergast explains just how hegemonic the literacy field has become in Literacy and Racial Justice:  The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education. She writes, “the ideology of literacy has been sustained primarily as a response to perceived threats to White property interests, White privilege, the maintenance of ‘White’ identity, or the conception of America as a White nation” (7). 

That the Brown decision helped desegregation efforts in the1950s and to successes socially and in education we must view as significant.  That, in the last twenty years, Supreme Court rulings and the inability of the federal government to fund desegregation programs at adequate rates have encouraged the resegregation of public schools we must view as frightening.  Instead of integration and its material, social, and intellectual abundance, we have been left with a scarcity principle that has resulted in the following:

o   Unequal opportunities and unequal educational outcomes;

o   Unlikely access to our nation’s prosperity for persons of color;

o   Higher high school dropout rates for persons of color;

o   Lower graduation rates for persons of color;

o   Less qualified teachers and support personnel as a result of lower wages;

o   Fewer teachers of color as role models in public schools;

o   Assigning students of color to lower-level programs as a result of tracking;

o   Assigning whites to higher-level programs as a result of tracking;

o   Honors or college preparatory classes not normally offered to students of color; and

o   Placing students of color in special education and also identifying them as behaviorally difficult.

Eric J. Cooper, President of the National Urban Alliance, points out that, currently, in America, we practice a pedagogy of despair, particularly for persons of color.  Such a stance is marked by the following: 

o   Lower quality curriculums, larger class sizes, and fewer technologies and science/language laboratories;

o   Overcrowded classrooms and rundown buildings for schools populated by persons of color;

o   A lack of basic supplies as well as antiquated school books and materials;

o   Inequities in staffing, student assignment, and transfer options;

o   Concerns about school safety and violence;

o   Testing that relegates persons of color to lower-achieving classes;

o   Learning measured by standards erected by whites;

o   Questioning discouraged;

o   Testing mastery praised.


Rather than being silent or timid, I would argue that, fifty odd years after Brown, the only way educators can deal with the systemic problems of race and class is systemically.  That means the field needs to advance its pedagogy of hope, which can promote literacy and empowerment.  It is a problem-posing pedagogy in which learners become teachers and teachers become learners—face to face in classrooms, or in parlors in the clouds to which everyone contributes and in which everyone participates.  By practicing such a pedagogy, as Freire maintained, people “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 71).


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