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Imagination, Exploration, and Transformation: Critical Pedagogy and Curricular Development Through a Study of 7th Graders in the South Bronx

Imagination, Exploration, and Transformation: Critical Pedagogy and Curricular Development Through a Study of 7th Graders in the South Bronx



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Published by: mblock1 on Feb 25, 2009
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Imagination, Exploration and Transformation:
Critical Pedagogy and Curricular Development Through a Study of 7 
Graders in the South Bronx 
Matthew Neill Fuerst Block 
Dr. Frank PignatelliNoah GreenDeborah KimMichael KleinIntegrative Master’s ProjectSubmitted in Accordance With the Requirements of Bank Street College of EducationSpring, 2009
 Part I: Introduction
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to live in Cuba for several months. I was aJunior in college, and through my experiences and studies in the field of education, I hadcome to recognize the pernicious inequities in American public education. I decided togo to Cuba to research and write about the nation’s public education system, which Iunderstood was founded upon the principles of universal literacy and Paulo Freire’srevolutionary
 Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
While in Cuba, I came to see that while theCuban educational ideals were liberatory and egalitarian, the achievement of those idealswas flawed, at best. Though my access to Cuban schools was somewhat limited giventhe political relationship between the United States and Cuba, in each class that I visited,I observed a drive towards conformity to an imposed standard of thinking. I wrote, in myanalysis of these classes,
“Mientras el hombre nuevo de Cuba está desarrollando y haciendo sus propias decisionesy su propio pensamiento, observé una conformidad que me sorprendió. La maestra preguntó varias veces a los estudiantes de octavo grado sobre la paz, relacionesinternacionales, y valores básicos. Algunas de las respuestas fueron escritas y otrasfueron más informales, pero casi todas tenían algo que ver con el imperialismo y elsistema estadounidense. Los estudiantes de doce, trece y catorce años repitieron variasveces cosas contra los Estados Unidos en cuales fue obvio que no habían pensado mucho.En las respuestas que no mencionaron el imperialismo la maestra recomendó, o más,exigió que los estudiantes re-escribir sus respuestas y cuando las hicieron otra vez,hablaron sobre el imperialismo.”
Since my observations and analysis of Cuban education, I have attempted to discern a process of education that better approximates the core tenets of Freire’s pedagogy, andmore completely empowers students as individuals, and as members of a community.Upon returning to the United States, I began teaching in various capacities. After 
School for International Training, Independent Study Project, 2004. “While the New Man of Cubadevelops and makes up his own decisions and his own mind, I saw a conformity that surprised me. Theteacher asked the 8
grade students several times about peace, international relations, and foundationalvalues. Some of the students’ responses were written and others were less formal, but almost all of themaddressed the topic of American imperialism. The students of twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years oldrepeated several comments against the U.S. in ways that made it obvious they were not fully thoughtthrough. In the answers that were given that did not mention imperialism, the teacher demanded that thestudents rewrite their answers, and when they did, they wrote about imperialism.”
graduating college, for the past four years, I have taught in schools in the low-income,underserved communities of Chester, PA, Brooklyn, Harlem, and the South Bronx.Throughout the past three years, I have also attended Bank Street College of Education,where I have focused my studies upon understanding the developmental processes of young people, and the kinds of individual and collective interpretations and actions of which they are capable at distinct ages and in distinct contexts. This work has led me torediscover Critical Pedagogy as a philosophy of education rooted in the formation of “empowered, learned, highly skilled democratic citizens who have the confidence and thesavvy to improve their own lives and to make their communities more vibrant places inwhich to live, work, and play” (Kincheloe, p. 8) At its foundation, Critical Pedagogy isthe philosophy of education that recognizes and “affirms men and women as beings in the process of 
- as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewiseunfinished reality” (Freire, p. 84). This philosophy not only accounts for, but inherentlyaligns with research in developmental and cognitive psychology that shows distinctcapacities of logical reasoning, symbolic functioning, and collective identification asindividuals mature into adulthood.In order for human beings to become empowered, for us to interpret the obstaclesto the achievement of our goals, and strive towards overcoming those obstacles, we mustundergo a process of developing a critical consciousness, what Freire calls“conscientização.” This development of critical consciousness, a consciousness thatallows one to be aware not only of his or her surroundings, but also meta-aware of him or herself, is a process deeply rooted in guided-experience and reflection. It is through this process that individuals can acquire a personal and collective agency to determine theavenues for action that most closely align with their intended outcomes. This notion of acritical consciousness was developed by Freire as the goal of a critical pedagogy, and has3

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