Very few books have real power. Very few books can transform a reader. Very few books can transform an educational system.
Joan Wink’s, Critical Pedagogy, Notes from the Real World, is one of those very few books.
Critical Pedagogy utilizes a device not commonly found in textbooks, the device of the author’s true voice. Wink uses her voice, not in defiance of academia, but to make a dense academic study accessible to the novice while allowing those who are further along the Critical Theory path some concrete examples as the methodology. Wink says, “I was schooled to write in a traditional way; it was linear, dense, distant, neutral and boring…I wrote in academes, I hid behind my jargon…My writing of today reflects me. It is everything I was schooled not to do: tell stories…use real language” (Wink, 2005, 56). Her statement is one that is both revolutionary and liberating. It is revolutionary because academics don’t want a writer’s personality to disrupt either the academic homogenic voice or the institutional hegemonic idea. It is liberating because it presents an accepted work that sets a precedent for student’s to use their true voice and not the mandated voice of their teachers. Wink’s language and voice sets the stage for the work’s power.
Further, Wink challenges the reader to examine their own thoughts about critical pedagogy through exercises that focus the studies and theories, not from Wink’s perspective, but from the reader’s. These techniques, such as those found on page 12 that seek a response to the questions, “What questions are the most important to you in the context of your life and learning right now” and “What are some of your elusive answers?” (Wink, 2005, 12) allow the reader to directly engage the process and find a relationship to the concepts through their own experiences. This experiential approach is at the core of the book. Students (and readers) become empowered when they begin to understand that they teach just as much as they learn.
Also, that the book outlines the language of critical theory as a means, not for memorization, but as a way to introduce critical theory as a way of life. It is simply a way to get the reader “wet with the waters of meaning” (Wink, 2005, 87). The most powerful term, is the concept of cultural capital. Ms. Wink tells a story about a teacher who instructs her students to stand in a straight line, not so that they can become little robots, but so that in forming the straight line, the students can receive other teacher’s approval. This reception is important because in order for the students to correct a false impression they must present evidence that they can, in fact, be instructed in the cultural norms. While Ms. Wink uses this term to direct attention to more dominant culture methods, believe that what she is in fact saying is that there are times when non-dominant culture members must “play the game” through the established rules. It is this game which critical theory seeks to change; however, without any cultural capital, it becomes exceedingly difficult to receive any credence from those in power. Cultural capital can be a powerful tool to employ against the dominant culture, which is the very reason I am earning my Master’s degree.
Finally, Ms. Wink’s book serves as an introduction and a portal into a philosophical domain that is dense, but crucial. Though it is outside the scope of this document to discuss Paulo Friere’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed; it bears note because after reading Critical Pedagogy, I felt obliged to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Upon reading these two works, I can honestly say that I now have language and a frame of reference to speak a truth that I have always felt, but could not express.
The power of Critical Pedagogy, Notes from the Real World, is the power to change. This is not a simple discourse, but authorial language made it accessible. Critical Theory is not about power, it’s about servitude, Ms. Wink makes that point. The biggest question that I am left after reviewing this “change agent” book is, why is humble compassion revolutionary?