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writing for godot

Tucson's Mexican American Studies Program: The Benefit of Critical Pedagogy

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Written by Miguel Jimenez   
Sunday, 29 April 2012 13:24

As a result of listening to the teachers from Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program and watching the documentary Precious Knowledge (2011), it was my understanding that critical pedagogy is much more than a theoretical framework; it is a tool that empowers students. This sense of empowerment was the result of teachers incorporating students’ experiences into the curriculum; treating the students as equals, and not only providing students with an environment to discuss problems prevalent in their community, but also seeking a solution to solve them.

The MAS teachers were aware of the importance of incorporating the lived experiences of their students into the curriculum. In doing so, the teachers not only made the curriculum relevant to their students’ experiences, they also humanized their students because their experiences were worthy of recognition. It was important to note that the humanization of students was evident in Sean Arce’s--former director of the MAS program--statement of how MAS “teachers see their students as sons and daughters.”

In regard to how teachers view their students as equals, they did not adhere to the banking method of teaching in which they are the only possessors of knowledge, and the students are merely empty vessels waiting to be filled. Rather, they encouraged critical thinking and discussion in their classrooms and, therefore, the students’ knowledge was valued as an important aspect of the learning process. Students were expected to provide their perspectives on certain issues and/or concepts. This type of classroom environment is beneficial to both teachers and students because Arce mentioned that teachers are also colonized; thus the classroom serves as a decolonizing environment for both teachers and students.

Critical pedagogy serves as a tool to empower MAS students because they are not only encouraged to discuss how social inequalities and injustice affect their community, but how to find solutions to combat the aforementioned problems. For example, when Arce explained the methodological process of certain classes in the MAS program, he mentioned that students enrolled in the program’s American Government class were tasked with searching for a problem evident in their community. Some of the students found that there were too many liquor stores; they eventually designed a plan and took their grievances to city hall.

Overall, critical pedagogy takes a humanistic approach to education, something that has been beneficial to students enrolled in the MAS program. For example, by focusing on the human measures (positive identity, purpose, hope, critical society, barrio organic intellectualism, and historical identity) the state measures also improved (test scores, grades, college preparation, and college enrollment). Clearly, critical pedagogy serves as a source of empowerment for students who have traditionally been indoctrinated at school to devalue their culture and coincidentally their experiences. As was obvious with the students in the MAS program, when their experiences were humanized, their academic performance improved.

 

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