They say that those who can’t do, teach, but I believe that those who teach, do it all. Ever since I moved to the U.S. from Naples, Italy, when I was just eight years old, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. Finding myself in a new country, terribly lonely and isolated, I immersed myself in the only positive outlet available to me, which was school. I wanted to learn English as quickly as I could so that I could assimilate to my new surroundings, and so I became an avid and voracious reader. Before I knew it, not only was my English improving noticeably, but I was falling desperately in love with literature. Books gave me the opportunity to meet new interesting people, see far away exotic lands, and perhaps most importantly, they helped me escape from my sadly solitary reality. Since then, I knew I was meant to share my passion for reading with others, and to do my best to help those students who felt out of place and all alone, find safety and comfort in literature. Yet, I soon discovered that becoming a successful teacher, would take much more than just passion, it would require forethought and preparation. An important part of becoming an effective teacher, is choosing a personal teaching philosophy. One of the most popular educational philosophies is the critical theory of education, which I believe to be one of the most practical and effective philosophies to implement to address the educational needs of the learners of our diverse, multicultural, American society.
Scholars in critical pedagogy Henry Giroux, and Paulo Freire, are both leading educators and authors in support of the critical theory of education. In this education model teachers are viewed as educators as well as philosophers, thereby themselves functioning as examples of critical consciousness. Teachers are in partnership with students, viewing themselves as also being learners, and therefore being students amongst students. In his work "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," Freire asserts his belief that teachers are to be driven by “humanization” as their “ontological vocation,” which entails becoming more human and less oppressed (Schultz 90). Teachers are viewed as problem posers as well as co-investigators of reality, which Freire defines as a “process, undergoing constant transformation,” rather than an absolute state of existence (Schultz 90). Educators are also self-questioning, therefore being conscious of the conflict between the interest of students and the interest of the elite class which employs them. Teachers identify with students rather than the elite, or establishment, functioning as legitimators of student culture and experience. Therefore, according to the critical theory of education, being an effective English teacher goes beyond teaching literacy and bestowing fixed knowledge of literary conventions onto diverse groups of students, and also includes being a facilitator of active critical and analytical social questioning.
In the critical theory of education, the students also function as teachers, and therefore are viewed as intellectuals who interpret reality. Students are perceived as agents possessing the ability to struggle against their own internalized oppression, and can therefore become their own emancipators. Learners are co-investigators of reality, and as such, are conscious that although they are being oppressed, they are also themselves oppressors. The curriculum in the critical pedagogy philosophy of education follows a state-defined standard classical traditional model, which includes teaching students how to read and write masterfully, but it also goes beyond such conventional educational aims. Giroux asserts in his work, "Culture, Power and Transformation in the Work of Paulo Freire," his belief that “traditional educational theory suppresses important questions regarding knowledge, power, and domination,” therefore the curriculum in the critical pedagogy model is boarder-less, functioning to contextualize knowledge historically, socially, and politically (Schultz 80). Giroux also asserts that by providing “theoretical arguments and enormous amounts of empirical evidence to suggest that schools are in fact, agencies of social, economic and cultural reproduction,” the curriculum itself serves and functions as a critique of oppression, and is therefore an agent of “liberation” (Schultz 80, 90). Therefore, according to the critical theory of education, the overall goal of any effective English teacher is not limited to simply teaching literacy, but to also provide diverse students with the critical and analytical skills necessary to liberate themselves from the social oppressions they face in society.
Teaching any group of students is undoubtedly difficult, yet teaching groups of students as diverse as the ones who live in our multicultural, American society, is beyond arduous. Adapting instruction to cater to all kinds of students may prove to be an exhausting feat, yet it is only the first imperative step towards ensuring that all students are provided with the best education possible, even if it means the jobs of teachers become exponentially more demanding. As English teachers, our duty is not merely to impart factual literary knowledge onto our students, but to also teach them to think and see critically. By giving our students the tools they need to become analytical thinkers and active investigators of their own realities, we do not only equip them with the skills they’ll need to succeed in academia, but in their overall lives as well. Therefore, successful educators do much more than just teach a specific subject area, they help shape and mold the minds of the future, they facilitate liberation through education, they do it all.