Michael Ray
15 May 2013

A (Humorless) Cultural Praxis Reflection

Well, where should I start, critical pedagogy, or years of academic indoctrination (from preschool to the university), perhaps I’ll start with the uneven distribution of funds within ghettoized neighborhoods? Nope.  My reflection begins with my experience in co-facilitating the Cultural Praxis Forum with Andres Siguenza. The Praxis forum was fifteen weeks of dialogue, that focuses on the texts of Paulo Freire and bell hooks (yes that is the way she spells her name, sans capitalization) were read, examined, reviewed and unpacked. What was the focus of the forum? The aim of the forum was to engage in a dialogue about education, radical pedagogy, academic identity and the education system and examine how the theories of authors such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks apply to individual academic experiences.
Prior to the co-facilitation of the course, Andres and I engaged in multiple dialogues about the forum’s direction for the day. After reviewing the final chapter of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we agreed that there were a few reoccurring elements within his text. He and I then communicated to Dr Nikola Hobbel our advisor for this forum and sent an email to our colleagues, whether they saw the humor in our email is unsure:

We are not your oppressors!
On that note, we would like to have your input on the following structure of this upcoming class meeting. We would like to begin with a writing activity based on the concepts derived from the Pedagogy of the Oppressed; included below are a variety of concepts and phrases that we can write about, however, this list is not limited to our choices. If you have any other concepts or phrases that pertain to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, please feel free to add.
See you Wednesday!

Trust; Love; Revolutionary; oppressor/oppressed; communion; problem-posing education;  Neo-liberalism; Elites; Objectified World; generative themes; codification; dialogue; conscientizacao; praxis; transformation; rebirth; dialogue; death; dehumanization; humanization; liberation; authoritarianism; myths; oppressed…

Our intention was to create a space that our colleagues could contribute to and use the free write as a spring board for dialogue once we all addressed a subject we were all familiar with. While the concepts that we selected were considered valid by Professor Hobbel, she did suggest that we also “generate questions/problems regarding these terms.” The questions that were developed for the forum, which then became the guiding direction of the day were “how do we objectify the world” How does each word or word phrase relate to praxis, and what sort of contextualization does Frerie provide?” In the spirit of egalitarianism, Andres and I opted to lead the portions of the lesson that we felt most comfortable with.
My facilitation of the writing section included the introduction of Samira Makhmalbaf’s film Blackboards, a humanizing film about teachers and drug smuggling children along the Iran-Iraq border. The inclusion of the film was intended to complement Freire’s discussion regarding “dehumanization” (of students, of people, of cultures) a topic which he focuses largely on within the fourth chapter of his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. After the clip was screened, and the opening page of Marjane’s Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis was discussed we began the forum’s free write.
In reflecting on this experience, I am sensing that the activity could have been more lighthearted. Both the film and opening page of Marjane’s Satrapi’s graphic novel depict harsh dehumanization; Satrapi demonstrates dehumanization thorough the muting of her main character’s individuality and Makhmalbaf’s film is set in area of violent (war driven) conflict.  Humor within the classroom is something that the author bell hooks discusses in her book Teaching Critical Thinking.
Within the chapter “Humor in the Classroom” hooks discusses the need for laughter and stresses laughter’s importance. Even for the most radical of radicals, she insists that humor is essential. She states that “it was acceptable to be witty” partly because it released the “anxiety” and “fear” that is commonly found in “atmosphere[s] of absolute seriousness” (70-71). In recalling my co-facilitating experience, I can say that the atmosphere definitely held a space of seriousness, even as the focus of the discussion shifted towards the sentience of nonhuman nature—specifically cats. Oh how I wish we could have even laughed at the tangent we had landed in. At the time I could not, all I could hear was the voice of Dr. Hobbel, and her “I am disappointed in our discussion about cats.”  Oh how I wish we could have laughed. Se la vie, a lesson in teaching was learned. My time as an instructor, a co-facilitator and academic has provided me with many instances in which I wish I could have laughed, and bell hooks (with the inclusion of her own anecdotes has reminded me that a little humor is a good thing).
The conclusion of the lesson was a small group recap followed by a discussion that included the entire Praxis Forum. We spoke about dehumanization, what each of us wrote about in our free writes, and shared in a collective tangent about cats. My initial idea of writing a haiku about each of Freire’s reoccurring themes were derailed by the time constraints of our forum. As I reflect on the impassioned dialogue that our forum engaged in, I can say with confidence that dialogue that forum meeting was humanizing. Now I just need to be able to interweave humor within these sorts of dialogues.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” New York: The Continuum International                             Publishing Group, 2005. Print
Hooks, bell. Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print
Satrapi, Marjane.  The Complete Persepolis. New York RoutleddgeFalme, 2001. Print.
Blackboards. Dir Samira Makhmalbaf, Artificial Eye. 25 Oct. 2000. DVD.

This was the second critical teaching project that Professor Nikola Hobbel has assisted me with, the first project she guided me through, and provided feedback for was the website “The Disappearing Girl: A Literary Archetype.”