Discipline in education is highly valued. Michel Foucault wrote about the production of “docile bodies” by institutional disciplinary power in schools, prisons and hospitals. A different form of power characterizes the contemporary regime within education, where discipline is being replaced with sedation as the tool for the production of docile bodies. My resistance to sedation has led me to take part in a culture circle here in Edmonton, Alberta, where a group of artists, activists, students and educators meet weekly to read and discuss Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. After only a month of meetings I am feeling the transformative potential of this circle. Together through shared desire for learning we are developing critical consciousness (conscientizaçao) and developing individual capacities to recognize and eventually unweave the oppressive structures with which we are entwined.
I knew from a young age how it felt to be passionate about learning. I called this passion self-motivation and I was lucky to come across and excel at courses I enjoyed based largely out of excitement instead of discipline. In high school, I considered myself a bright student. I was quick and enthusiastic, qualities cultivated by a supportive family. I received good grades, attended (most of the time), and participated in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. I was known (mostly with love) as a band geek. My mentors Mr. and Mrs. Falls made this honourific public in their daily PA summons to the band room.
But almost as often as I was enthusiastic in school, I was provoked and full of rage. There were certain instructors that angered me daily with rules that seemed arbitrary, fabricated for means of control instead of reason and social good. These rules never made sense to me, especially as I inched nearer to graduation. Sometimes I felt that these rules were imposed out of fear, out of a threat that the teacher might lose control of classroom discipline if students were allowed too much freedom. Some students submitted to discipline and were highly praised for their ‘respectable’ behaviour. I was resistant to these practices and was labelled ‘mischievous.’ I would pick fights with teachers that I felt were being unreasonable. I was a bit of a shit disturber and was either walking out or being kicked out of class for being ‘too sassy’. But for me, there were no serious repercussions because I was supported by a father who wrote heated letters of defense to the school principle. While I was thankful for my father’s support I was confused as to why I was provided no space or the opportunity to speak for myself, why it was necessary for my parents to speak on my behalf. My resistance was hard to put into words, but one thing was certain: I was not content with being made docile. As a result, I was perceived as ‘irrational’ and ‘reactionary’.
As Anna Brix Thomsen wrote in a recent Hampton Institute article, research has shown that traditional education praxis squashes creativity, pacifies children, makes them docile, apolitical, and unable to challenge others or speak their mind (Westheimer 2010). Walter Mignolo has written that the university system is a colonial enterprise. Perhaps the squashing of individual creativity and the suppression of enthusiasm is oppression by sedation. The creative thought of an individual is shaped from the network of institutions and technologies within which they engage (Lazzaroto 2013, 44). I am concerned that learners are being shaped by the education system to be compliant to arbitrary rules, and that this learned compliance leads to sedation! Appraisal for docility inhibits students’ creative thought.
I now live this within a music university hierarchy where virtuosity and technical ability to reproduce music from the page is a highly coveted skill. Disciplined technique is held in higher esteem than composition, digital recording, or research practice. As music students we are taught to become skilful craft-people where the production of music for art’s sake is the goal. One serious implication of this practice is that “well-performed pieces can be delivered in unethical circumstances where student performers are detached from the musical and cultural meaning of the musical episode with which they are a part” (Lines 2013, 27). In many contexts, music is tied to the politics of race, gender, sexuality, and class. The same cannot be said for music education, where politics are almost non-existent in the curriculum. Instead of learning what music does, music education places value on learning what music is, and our education is reduced to the repetition of scales and the memorization of repertoire.
Until I was introduced to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, my resistance and frustration to the education system was hard to articulate . I read Freire with ferocity, absorbing the language, the concepts, and finding relief at being finally able to identify my anxiety. As an undergraduate music student, I have been in constant struggle with the oppression-of-sedation that is the result of what Paulo Freire called the banking model of education in which students are made to receive knowledge passively, without hopeful or critical inquiry. In this form of education, students are assessed and praised for their ability to receive information without question as docile subjects; the better we hone this skill, “the less [we] develop the critical consciousness which would result from [our] intervention in the world as transformers of that world” (Freire 1970, 73).
Thankfully, the saving grace of my education came from a mentor, a badass critical pedagogue, Michael B. MacDonald, who introduced me to Paulo Freire, bell hooks and with them critical and engaged pedagogy. He reminded me that education needs to be uncomfortable, challenging, passionate, creative, and transformative. In January of 2015 we began a weekly culture circle with community members, educators, activists, artists and students at MacEwan University’s Aboriginal Education Centre to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. After a month of being part of this circle, I am developing strong personal bonds with the rest of the members, and I am beginning to refer to them with endearment as my urban family. Even though I am interested in the critique of institutionalized education, I recognize that it is important we not only be critical but that we be constructive as well. So, it is my delight to share with you some preliminary reflections on my experience in the Culture Circle for Community Learning located in Edmonton, Alberta. With the investment of time in dialogue and a shared desire for social change, we are developing critical consciousness and building a sustainable community.
One of the obvious differences between institutionalized pedagogy and the critical pedagogy of the culture circle is the contrast of time spent in dialogue. At the circle, we begin with extended introductions. Instead of introducing ourselves as (for example), “Hi, my name is Diana. I am a MacEwan Music student. I moved here a year and a half ago,” we are encouraged to take our time in sharing a significant personal narrative. While these identifiable parts of myself explain my location and my affiliation, they say little about who I am – my subjectivity – nor the motivation that drew me to the circle. Instead of surface level introductions, circle members share a piece of their journey, what experiences drew them closer to the book, this circle, this community. This has been a completely new experience, and one that has been immediately impactful. I notice in mainstream education there is generally little time taken to get to know each other on a deeper level than “Hi, my name is.” In Education for Critical Consciousness, Freire explains that dialogue is criticized as being a waste of time, that “[i]ts slowness… in spite of the results it may produce, is at odds with the urgent need of the country to stimulate production” (1974, 103). This is a capitalist regime of education, where the goal of education is not to maximize learning, but instead to maximize output and production of cultural workers. The circle is a direct resistance to the capitalist interests that we are subjected to via institutionalized learning.
Of course, and I say this with love: it is time consuming! We spend anywhere from half hour to an hour on introductions. As a result of this practice, each week we continue to develop a sense of shared intimacy, creating space to be vulnerable and consequently to share in a sense of belonging. In my eyes this process is one of the foundations of the community circle and its potential to be transformative. For instance, Michael invited each of us to share a value statement that has been imposed on us (positive or negative) at some point in our lives. Though I can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the members, I can say that for me an open-ended question can tap personal narratives that open me up, and share my vulnerabilities. And the responses are fascinating and diverse. The questions open up the dialogue for a discussion of issues on value in relation to sexuality, masculinity, consumerism, environment, religion, family expectations, and much more. The discomfort provoked by this dialogue helps develop our critical consciousness. This process also democratizes education. Michael, though he is facilitator, is not deciding what is or should be important to us and instead we decide as a group through sharing. The questions open situations that we work through, drawing out the pressing and relevant issues from our life narratives, our political and social consciousness contextualized in the local and the global. This presents opportunities for transformation through the process of conscientiza çao. I see a parallel in the work of psychoanalyst Felix Guattari, who writes that mutations of subjectivity occurring in the hearts of individuals is the very potential of revolution, that “social change on a macropolitical and macrosocial level, also has to do with the production of subjectivity, which should be taken into account by liberation movements” (2008, 37).
In Transpositions, Rosi Braidotti asks the question: “What does the positivity of desire really do for us? How does potentia really work? In what ways does it constitute the driving force behind the quest for sustainable ethics?” (2006, 189) What I feel in this circle is a shared desire for this social change through the conscious production of our collective subjectivities, that Freire calls conscientizaçao. We are creating a critical community that rejects the need for sameness and instead values heterogeneity, unity in difference. That we are restless and unsatisfied with the world as it is today creates a passionate bond, a support for each others’ learning as we work towards a new and innovative future. I think the potentia of this circle emerges from the different experiences we bring to the discussion, the projects we have going on in our lives as educators, as students, as activists, as artists, as beings in this world.
Desire is never a given, but the long shadow projected from the past: it is a forward-moving horizon that lies ahead and towards which one moves. Between the no longer and the not yet, desire chases the possible patterns of becoming… desire sketches the conditions for the future by bringing into focus the present, through the unavoidable accident of an encounter, a flash, a sudden acceleration that mark a point of non-return. (2006, 197)
In this passage, Rosi writes about desire in the context of romantic love, but this reminded me of the potential that comes from a desire for positive social change. According to a 2014 StatsCan report, Alberta is home to the highest income disparity in Canada with the top ten percent of the population making more than half the provincial income. In Edmonton (Alberta’s capital city), homelessness rates continue to increase, while 40% of this population is Aboriginal. This is a hard reality, one that continues to be tucked away or brushed aside with overwhelming hopelessness. As a circle, we are challenging this denial through dialogue, bringing into focus the present situation in Edmonton. Together we are “between the no longer and the not yet” fueled with a desire to sketch out possibilities for a brighter future and a more critically engaged community.
Through dialogue we are developing a “collective assemblage of enunciations,” sharing our desire for social change, taking our time to build a community and transforming ourselves through the development of critical consciousness. This reading circle is proof of the transformative potential of education when we begin to develop capacities to resist and reject the production of docile bodies, the threat from a pedagogy of sedation.
Braidotti, Rosi. 2006. Transpositions. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1992. “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” October (published by MIT Press) 59:3-7. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.
Freire, Paulo. 1974. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Bloomsbury.
Guattari, Felix and Suely Rolnik. 2008. Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
Harvey, David. 2014. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kincheloe, Joe L. 2010. Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction. New York: Springer.
Lazzaroto, Maurizio. 2014. Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity. Los Angeles, California: Semiotext(e).
Lines, David. 2013. “Deleuze and Music Education: Machines for Change.” In Cartographies of Becoming in Education: A Deleuze-Guattari Perspective, edited by Diana Masny. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 23-34.
Patrick, Caryl. 2014. Aboriginal Homelessness in Canada: A Literature Review. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press, 2010.
Westheimer, Joel. 2010. “No Child Left Thinking: Democracy at Risk in Canada’s Schools.” Education Canada 50.2:5-8. Accessed February 27, 2015.