The Consciousness of Critical Teaching
Dean of Faculty
This article began its life with the idea of writing about ways in which a teacher who has developed criticality of thinking can teach critically to transform their students for good. This is arguably the aim of every Christian teacher who has experienced the goodness of God and desires the same for their students.
Before I tackled this little reflection on the benefit of criticality in pedagogy, I looked up synonyms for criticality and did not quite get the result I wanted – top of the synonym list was desperation, closely followed by seriousness, necessity, and pressure - oh dear! ☹
I was hoping for synonyms that linked criticality to ethics, to concepts about critical thinking and reflective thinking, which of course are precursors to ethical thinking, and to living the ‘good’. These are the things that concern all educators; those of us whose vocation and work are directly concerned with an outcome of developing and enabling the next generation to live meaningfully and well.
Rather than those negative synonyms I found, there are two angles on criticality I prefer to focus on. The first angle is concerned with the importance and immediacy of criticality, and the second angle is concerned with the attitude and skill of criticality.
Why do we need criticality? Some say that, given the myriad injustices and inhumane acts that seem to appear in every corner of our world, this is a crucial time, a critical time, to be people who think well, who think ethically, who are inspired to be transformed and to transform for the better. In such a time it is even more important and timely that educators form educational practices that enable learners to practice careful thought, open and respectful discussions, gratefulness, and genuine acceptance of the other.
The skill of criticality, like anything most useful or meaningful, does not seem to come naturally, or sometimes easily; it comes to those who prepare the ground for its presence, and then requires tending to grow and be most effective. C. S. Lewis reminded us of Aristotle’s similar idea that “only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics” (2017, p. 165). If we are to understand the complexity of ethics and the nuance of criticality, we need a certain level of acumen to begin at a useful starting point; to access the benefit of such. This acumen can come through various ways such as intellectual and practical knowledge, a wide range of skills, emotional intelligence, life experience, resilience, literacy, and numeracy levels. And the compound effect of combining a range of these things can strengthen our understandings of, and ability to enact, ethics and criticality in our lives. In this light, criticality is a concept that can make us better humans. Criticality can make us better teachers and better learners.
Developing the skills of criticality first require an attitude of criticality, or at least an attitude that seeks the benefit of criticality and is willing to put some effort in to learning about what criticality can do for us personally and for our teaching. Aristotle encouraged humans to seek happiness as a basis of a good life. This idea can be easily dismissed in modern society by those who desire something deeper than the superficial and fleeting, but Aristotle’s (1976) idea of happiness was actually eudamonia, deep joy; authentic joy and gratefulness for who we are, what we have and how we can relate. As Gray (2013, p. 212) described it ‘living rationally or intelligently [as] the natural end or function of a human being [that leads to a state of] eudamonia [which means] human flourishing’.
Because meaningful things and authentic happiness (eudamonia) can be best understood and loved and enjoyed as we live our best lives, this underscores the importance of teachers developing such qualities to impact their teaching, and the importance of teachers enacting pedagogy that allows students to access such qualities; as we all seek to live the ‘good’ in and through our lives.
In the absence of a more useful synonym for this reflection, I will create my own.
Criticality is Consciousness.
Consciousness is described as awareness, recognition, sensibility, carefulness, mindfulness.
In relation to the root word conscience, C. S. Lewis (2005, p.11) reminds us that we are either morally sighted or morally blind depending on whether or not we obey our conscience:
Disobedience to conscience makes conscience blind…The moral blindness consequent on being a bad [person] must therefore fall on everyone who is not a good [person].
A critical educator then is conscious of what is the ‘good’ and God from who it comes, aware of their micro-picture self in the context of the big picture, cognisant of their assumptions and presuppositions, balanced and sensible in their ideas, mindful of what is meaningful and ethical, and careful with the precious existence of all creation. A critical educator is acutely conscious of the responsibility to use their capacity to enable their students to the same.
Stephen Brookfield (2017, p. 13) shares that:
Every good teacher wants to change the world for the better. At a minimum we want to leave students more curious, smarter, more knowledgeable, and more skilful than before we taught them. [Our] best teaching is to help students act towards each other, and to their environment, with compassion, understanding and fairness. Teaching creates the conditions for learning [that] increases their knowledge, deepen[s] their understanding, builds[s] new skills, broaden[s] their perspectives, and enhances their self-confidence. They see the world in new ways and are more likely to feel ready to shape some part of it in whatever direction they desire [or are called].
Someone somewhere coined the phrase that ‘nothing good comes easy’. Criticality is in that ‘good’ category. So, there are no simple tips or tricks for me to now share to enable any of us to suddenly become expert critical pedagogues.
Perhaps allowing this reflection to inspire the start of, or a deeper continuation of, such a journey is enough. May we read, think, question, collaborate, and pray on that journey.
Aristotle (1976). The Ethics of Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Norton
Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass
Gray, M. (2013). Values and spirituality in social work. In J. Arthur & T. Lovat (Eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Education, Religion and Values (pp. 210-223). Routledge.
Lewis, C. S. (2005). A Preface to Paradise Lost. Atlantic Publishers.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). The Abolition of Man. TellerBooks.
Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (50th Anniversary ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hamilton, C. (2016). Critical Thinking for Better Learning. New Insights from Cognitive Science. Rowman & Littlefield.
Wang, K. (2011). Reading the Dao. A Thematic Inquiry. Continuum.