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Critical Theory in a Bicultural Tertiary Environment Featured

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This is a copy of a presentation I gave at the Malcolm Murchie and Hiko o Hohepa Lecture Series at the Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua, New Zealand on 9th August, 2012. That presentation - Critical Theory in a Bicultural; Tertiary Education Environment was the culmination and integration of my last twenty years of theoretical work.

 rau freda

Rau Hoskins and Freda Paretaitu, Parihaka, New Zealand 1996

The title of the presentation is: Critical Theory in a Bicultural Tertiary Environment. It ranges over a very wide number of issues:

  • the definition and history of Critical Theory
  • its theoretivcal structure
  • an analysis of the base-superstructure dilemma
  • western rationality vs. indigenous logic
  • hegemony
  • politics and the role of the multinationals
  • the role of the media in shaping culture
  • a definition of biculturalism
  • the politics of identity
  • the social construction of history
  • colonialism abroad
  • colonialism at home - The Enclosures
  • the role of slavery
  • colonialism in New Zealand
  • assimilation and the politics of education
  • the myth of State neutrality

First of all I want to thank all of the people who came to the presentation - particularly those who stayed to the end. As I mentioned at the time, one of the important aspects of Critical Theory is its highlighting the relationship between Theory and Practice. This presentation involves an analysis  and overview of Critical Education Theory. Although there are four worked examples shown here - they do not go into detail about the pedagogy or methodology that was used in their successful completion. In the time available for the presentation it was not possible to detail the Critical Pedagogy or the practice that I use in my teaching work. That can be found elsewhere on this website at:

Together, these three papers give an in-depth account of how, over the years, I have structured my teaching practice to work more effectively with indigenous students. One of the people at the presentation asked how we go about implementing change in education. Although these papers don't answer the political issues associated with that question, they do sketch out what a transformative education might look like and how it works. If, as I believe, the education system we currently have is a reflection and an instrument of a capitalist ideology and profiteering that has brought the world close to ruin, it stands to reason that any attempt to correct or address our current global crises will not be successful using the same pedagogical system, values or beliefs. We need a complete and radical change. What might this look like?

Well the Ward Method mentioned above gives some clues. It has proved to be extremely successful in a wide range of educational and cultural settings - in New Zealand and in the USA, working with white, and black communities, with Native Americans, and  Mexican Americans, with Maori and Oceanic communities here in New Zealand. But as a general guide to what we need to do, I often reflect that we need to do the direct oppositeof what we do now. If the system we have is hegemonic then we need a counter-hegemonic system instead. Let me give some examples:

  • Instead of insisting on individual work we should recognise that all knowledge is a collective creation and allow our students to work in groups whenever they wish
  • Instead of  hanging on to Intellectual Property ethics we should allow our students to copy each other and learn through imitation - the most fundamental and primary form of learning.
  • Instead of having a standardised high-stakes National testing system we should be working with individual students to allow them into the evaluation process of their own work
  • Instead of evaluating student work in a top-down system of epistemic authority we should at least allow them to participate in a dialogue about their own work and to grade themselves
  • Instead of working in separate, silo'd areas of knowledge we should conduct all of our work in a multi-disciplinary way
  • Instead of cloistering our students in archaic and elite institutes that preference academic intellectualism  we should have them working in and with communities for the betterment of the common good
  • Instead of confining students to textbook theories we should allow them to tackle real problem-solving issues in the real world and allow them opportunities to change the world as part of their learning process
  • Instead of using punishment and penalties for misbehaviour that comes from being bored with the imposition of culturally  irrelevant material we should ask the students what they think it is important to learn
  • Instead of taking student misbehaviour as evidence of their inability to learn, we should reflectively take it as an indication of our own inability to learn about them
  • Instead of presuming that students come to class with either empty heads to be filled up or with defective knowledge and experience that needs to be "corrected" we should begin from the student experience and knowledge base
  • Instead of promoting competition between students we should be teaching them facilitation and consensus-building skills
  • Instead of treating class time as a "management problem" we should abandon scheduling and collectively redesign the learning day to make it appropriate and relevant to student interests
  • Instead of treating students as potential deviants, we ought to treat them as people who are capable of mutual trust
I could go on and on, but you get the picture! All of these shifts represent a shift away from the capitalist ideology that drives our learning environment and processes. These current processes were conceived during the Enlightenment and Colonial era and are infused with the language and ethic of conquest and assimilation. The alternative strategies that I am promoting here  can and have been used successfully - raising student achievement levels without sacrificing academic standards or rigour and bringing about real change in the outside world and in the relationships between communities. The Ward Methodology explains how this is done and how it works. This presentation explains why it is not just important, but crucial to the continued existence of our species in anything like a state of dignity.

The presentation is in five parts:

  1. Definitions

This part deals with key definitions from a Critical Theory, perspective but also makes the important point that words do not have inherent meaning, but only the meaning that we give them. Different groups have different meanings for the same word and the group that has the most economic (and cultural) capital  dictates the accepted normative meaning in society at large.

  2. The Colonial Context of Biculturalism

This part interrogates the history of cultural relations in New Zealand, beginning with an extensive analysis of colonialism and its impact on Maori education in order to bring some light to the issue of biculturalism. It suggests that New Zealand is not truly bicultural because the two cultures - Maori and Pakeha - live in a state of social, cultural and political inequality, a legacy of our colonial past, that feeds a system of institutional racism (involving the media, the justice system, the health system and the education system etc.) that lurks just below the surface of our society and that continues to influence education and Maori student outcomes. It also suggests that the system itself is not failing in its own dominant-culture terms - that the failure of Maori students is not an "accident" or a mark of some intellectual inferiority, but that the system was actually designed to bring about the failure of Maori students. It suggests that the prevailing deficit theories of Maori students in school are a legacy of a century and a half of assimilation policies arising from the colonial conquest mentality of successive governments.

  3. Four Worked Examples of Critical Bicultural Pedagogy

This part details four of the many projects carried out in the University of Auckland School of Architecture Community Design Studio between 1987 and 1996. It does not detail the methodologies involved but gives a very brief overview of that the projects were about and how successful they were. It concludes with a summary of the different pedagogical  principles or styles of indigenous students that have emerged over the years of working in a truly bicultural way. These principles have been adopted (along with other methodological processes) into the Ward Method, and point to an alternative way of teaching-learning that has been very successful.

  4. A detailed Critical Analysis of Education - the Curriculum and the Hidden Curriculum

Having outlined the learning to be gained from working with indigenous students, this part goes on to contrast these learning principles with the principles that operate in our current system. It interrogates the construction and inclusions/exclusions in curriculum building and ties these to profiteering in the corporate publishing world. From here it then breaks down the aspects of schooling that constitute the hidden curriculum - those elements of the teaching learning environment and experience that operate on the unconscious. Citing Paulo Freire we might note that:

"... this large number of people who do not read or write and who were expelled from school do not represent a failure of the schooling class; their expulsion reveals the triumph of the schooling class. In fact, this misreading of responsibility reflects the school's hidden curriculum... Curriculum in the broadest sense involves not only the programmatic contents of the school system, but also the scheduling, discipline, the day-to-day tasks required from students in schools. In this curriculum, then, there is a quality that is hidden and that gradually incites rebelliousness on the part of children and adolescents."

  5. Critical Pedagogies for a  Crisis Future

This last part speaks to the three major crises that face us as a species:

  • Peak oil
  • Climate change
  • Economic collapse 
It suggests that we stand on the brink of unprecedented global, social cultural and economic shifts that literally threaten our species survival. It predicts the collapse of the world capitalist economy (which I suggest is already happening) and that our education system is neither preparing our youth to cope and survive with the impending threat, nor is it preparing them to address the threat so that they can globally mitigate the negative consequences and build a sustainable life of peace and prosperity. The analysis is critical of capitalist conceptions of growth and development and puts forward the argument that in a planet of finite resources, continued growth is not possible. It suggests that a sustainable future must limit growth and that we need to educate our students about how this can be done. It rounds off the argument by suggesting that we have much to learn from indigenous knowledge systems in this respect.
  1. To download the PDF click here

A sequel Paper, (Beyond Method: A Pedagogy to Save the World) written in response to requests from the presentation audience is also available for free download. It has a much narrower focus. It suggests that our schools are in a state of chronic failure that has been the cause of many of the global crises we now face. It points out that we all tend unconsciously to reproduce the pedagogies by which we were taught and suggests that these are no longer viable in the face of impending global crises. It maps out the kinds of classroom practices and interactions that we need to develop if we are to develop  citizens who have  not only the technical skills, but also the critical awareness, the sensitivity, the capacity for compassion and relationship building if they and their children are to survive with dignity into a peaceful future. And finally it calls for a concerted programme of teacher professional development to assist teachers to make the necessary transition to a more viable pedagogical practice.

       2.  To download this sequel PDF,  click beyond-method


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