Welcome to this posting on teaching for the public good.
Pedagogy by its nature is a discipline of teaching where teachers enter a classroom armed with theories, approaches and materials to share information with students about unpleasant social conditions with the intentions of developing cognitive skills through dialogue to collectively work out an intervention process. Pedagogy of discomfort is an approach that aims at identifying and problematizing social issues, as a group, people work out a remedy to solve the problem, Adams, Bell and Griffin (1997). Boler and Zombylas (2003) further argue that pedagogy of discomfort intends to create awareness about the unconsciously embedded behaviors that frame people’s actions. For example, in my previous work place, the principal has a silent policy of restricting the use of school resources by certain teachers. In her thinking, she is monitoring the use of school’s resources but her acts of restriction on its own promote discomfort and oppression among the staff and that poses a problem to those affected by the restriction.
Pedagogy of discomfort is does not provide a sequentially planned strategy. It is meant to challenge unpleasant social conditions and also promote awareness and consciousness about social injustices and oppression. Through pedagogy of discomfort, students are therefore equipped with strategies to challenge the dominant ideology, Boler and Zembylas (2003) also to visit their emotional space in order to participate in action campaigns.
Historically, South Africa is a divided country where even institutions of higher learning are divided. These divisions are found on the basis of those who have and those who do not have and also but not limited to race. For example, the gap between privileged and none privileged becomes evident during registration period where most students get an exemption and register to study at institutions of higher learning but because of financial problems they spend most of their time in long queues applying for financial aid. At my university a group of students called peer mediators have taken upon themselves to help financially struggling students to help apply for financial aid. By the very nature of not ignoring the socio-economic imbalance at the university, these peer mediators have engaged at a social battle to provide an intervention measure for their peers to access financial assistance to cover their tuition fees. This process Jean Anyon (2009) calls attribution of opportunity. The peers identified and problematized an unjust social problem, as a group together with the affected students applied for financial assistance for their peers to in order to access education. These divisions in institutions of higher learning were also institutionally supported by many the Acts of law that were passed as forms of restrictions especially to achieve racial injustices Robus and Macleod (Undated).
To deal with the discomfort that these divisions and restrictions impose, I think that pedagogy of discomfort is appropriate for South African higher education teaching and learning on the basis that, it not only focuses on cognitive development but also at questioning issues of dominance, restrictions and privilege in societies. It also changes the mind set teachers and students have about their role in education by engaging them as groups in a lifelong process of campaigning for the greater good for the others as well as for themselves, Anyon (2009).
The identifying characteristic of pedagogy of discomfort is that, it promotes the construction of a problem by participants using their experiences and through active discussions and campaigns arrive at a solution that best suits the participants Freire (1993), Boler and Zembylas (2003) leading to the construct of new identities and communities.
Domination by the other presents itself in three forms, Pease (2010). These forms are personal, institutional and cultural. According to Boler and Zembylas (2003) people join action campaigns after the problem or the discomfort has been identified, problemitized and then conscientized. Pease (2010) agrees with the method to be followed when working with social justice education but adds on this by saying identifying and problematizing issues of injustice do not on their own abolish injustice but continuous dialogue and discourses should be maintained to weaken institutionalized privileges. In relation to higher education teaching and learning, pedagogy of discomfort is important because students are not only given cognitively challenging tasks but are cultivated to critically view just and unjust practices in their situations so that they develop a political understanding of not repeating the same behavior.
Pedagogy of discomfort if appropriate for South African higher learning because it creates wider awareness about the fact that people are not the same and are affected by difference in different ways. Boler and Zembylas reiterate the fact that critical pedagogy is needed in South African education system in all levels because it provides skills for both the teacher and students to use their different levels of uncomfortable situations to learn from experiences in order to develop a
Pedagogy of discomfort serves to unpack issues of diversity, oppression, sexual orientation in a classroom situation. For example it promotes an ongoing dialogue around issues of sexual orientation, languages, race and others forms of discrimination in order to promote and develop new identities and communities. The creation of dialogic environment helps to take the teacher to a zone where he could face up on his own discomfort about issues of sexuality. By this I mean, if the teacher in question has discomfort around certain topics then he would tolerate teaching the module because he gets paid for it, but that would not provide justice to him and the students in question.
Critical pedagogy unpacks the readiness level of teacher in skillfully deconstructing and model issues of difference for their students. This pedagogy broadens participants’ thinking about the role of education. It provides strategies to engage to be resilient and fight for the greater good. This resilience leads to the development of new allies that aim at analyzing economic, social and political opportunities, Anyon (2009)
Pedagogy of discomfort: 2nd CSID workshop
Boler (2004:120) defines a pedagogy of discomfort as being able to move outside ones comfort zone to critically analyse ones beliefs and assumptions. Zembylas submits that the power of pedagogy of discomfort lies in the fact that it has the ability to propel students and teachers into creating different emotional understandings to find ways in living with ‘the enemy’.
McKinney (2012) demonstrated how the pedagogy of discomfort impacted on finding some solution in unpacking what Boler and Zembylas coined as ‘difficult’ topics in the teaching and learning context. During her presentation on 02 April 2012 on the teaching challenge of facilitating a heated discussion on the ‘difficult’ topic of racism, I was of the opinion that the lecturer’s positioning on the topic greatly contributed to how students responded or not responded to the discomfort. Boler wrote in 2005 that ‘an educator’s own discomforts inhibit educational exchange with students, prevent the educator from taking risks, and eclipse the educator to see, for example, his or her own attachments to particular outcomes’.
Boler further ponders whether every educator is equipped to engage a pedagogy of discomfort. This leads into Leibowitz (2012) submission that a process is necessary to the invite individuals to abandon or rethink existing notions. She further notes that ‘this involves emotional work and can be immensely discomforting. At the same time, we do not advocate discomforting people to the point of “shut down”’. As I reflected on the extremely controversial and emotive Reitz video footage screened at the second workshop I felt cheated as I was neither given the space nor an opportunity to deal with and address the issues contained in the video. It brought on a different kind of discomfort and I went into “shut down” mode. I am of the opinion that an opportunity of different emotional understandings was lost due to the lack of process as suggested by Leibowitz. I submit that a pedagogy of discomfort may be a useful tool to stimulate discussion and maybe bring participants to new insights on what ‘difficult’ topics such as racism, oppression and social injustice provided the educator is competent in negotiating the many competing and complex opinions and emotions.
As I write on the pedagogy of discomfort I came realise that Boler’s (2005:128) contention of hope, and particularly critical hope, rings true. One cannot embrace change if it is not with responsibility. Boler (2005:128) defines this responsibility as ‘a willingness to be fully alive in the process of constant change and becoming’. This I experienced through the ‘theatre of the oppressed’ which allowed the spectators to actively participate, be fully ‘alive in the process of constant change and becoming and be responsible for the outcome. This was empowering as the process afforded opportunities to the spectators be spectators and feel the discomfort in her own space. Following this the spectator had the power to, at any time, channel any discomfort in a way dictated to by the spectator herself. This, I think was extremely powerful and this brought about critical hope.
Boler & Zembylas (2003). Discomforting truths: The emotional terrain of understanding difference. In Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change. ed P. Trifonas, 110-136. New York: Routledge
McKinney, C. 2005. A balancing Act: Ethical Dilemmas of Democratic teaching within Critical Pedagogy Educational Action Research 12:3 an extract
Leibowitz, B. 2012. Follow up communication after Monday’s meeting. (electronic message)
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