Critical meaning. There is no pure subjective insight.

Critical
educational theorists view school knowledge as historically and socially rooted
and interest bound. Knowledge acquired in school or anywhere, for that matter
is never neutral or objective but is ordered and structured in particular ways.
It’s emphasis and exclusions partake of silent logic. Knowledge is a social construction
deeply rooted in a nexus of power relations. When critical theorists claim that
knowledge is socially constructed, they mean that it is the product of
agreement or consent between the individuals who live out particular junctures
in time. To claim that knowledge is socially constructed usually means that the
world we live in is constructed symbolically by the mind through social interaction
with others and is heavily dependent on culture, context, custom and historical
specificity.  And this particular
referential field will influence how symbols generate meaning. There is no pure
subjective insight. We do not stand before the social world; we live in
the  midst of it. As we seek meaning of
events we seek the meanings of the social. We can now raise certain questions
with respect to the social construction of knowledge, such as: why do women, dalits
and minorities often view social issues differently than upper caste males?

Critical
Pedagogy asks how and why knowledge gets constructed the way it does and how
and why some constructions of reality are legitimated and celebrated by the dominant
culture while others clearly are not. Critical pedagogy asks how our everyday commonsense
understandings our social constructions or ‘subjectivities’ get produced and
lived out.

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Let’s
put this in the form of further questions: What is relationship between social
class and knowledge taught in school? Why do we value scientific knowledge over
informal knowledge? Why do we have teachers using ‘Standard English’ or in other
words academic English? How does school knowledge reinforce stereotypes about women,
dalits, adivasi’s, minorities and disadvantaged peoples? What accounts for some
knowledge having high status while the practical knowledge of ordinary people or
marginalized or subjucated groups is often discredited and disvalued? Why do we
learn about the great ‘men’ in history and spend less time learning about the contributions
of women and dalits and the struggles of people in lower caste castes and
classes? How and why are certain types of knowledge used to reinforce dominant
ideologies, which in turn serve to mask unjust power relations among certain groups
in society?

 

Hegemony

The
dominant culture is able to exercise domination over subordinate classes or groups
through a process known as hegemony. Hegemony refers to the maintainance of a domination
not by the sheer exercise of force but primarily through consensual social
practices , social forms, and social; structures produced in specific sites
such as the schools, family, media, political system. Social forms refer to the
principls that provide and give legitimacy to specific social practices. For
example, the state legislature is one social form that gives legitimacy to the
social practice of teaching.

Hegemony
is struggle in which the powerfull win the consent of those who are oppressed,
with the oppressed unknowingly participating in their own oppression. Hegemony
refers to the moral and intellectual leadership of a dominant class over a subordinate
class achieved not through coercion or willful construction of rules and
regulations, but rather through general winning of consent of the subordinate
caste, class to the authority of the dominant caste class.

Ideology

Hegemony
could not do its work without the support of ideology.

Ideology
permeates all of social life and does not simply refer to the political
ideologies of socialism, liberalism, communism, ambedkarism, rationalism.
Ideology refers to the production and representation of ideas , values and
beliefs and the manner in which they are expressed and lived out by both individual
and groups. (Giroux, 1983)

Simply
put, ideology refers to the production of sense and meaning. It can be
described as a way of viewing the world, a complex of ideas, various types of social
practices, rituals and representations that we tend to accept as a natural and
common sense. It is the result of the intersection of meaning and power in the
social world. Ideology include both positive and negative functions at any
given moment. To understand the negative function of ideology, the concept must
be linked to a theory of domination. Domination occurs when relations of power
established at the institution level are systematically asymetrical; that is,
when they are unequal, therefore privileging some groups over others.

According
to John Thompson, ideology as a negative function works through four different
modes: legitimation, dissimulation, fragmentation and reification. Legitimation
occurs when a system of a domination is sustained by being represented as
legitimate or as eminently just or worthy of respect. For example by
legitimizing school system and its curriculum as a just and meritocratic, as
giving everyone the same opportunity of success, the dominant culture hides the
truth of the hidden curriculum. The fact that those whom schooling helps most
are those who come from the most affluent families. Dissimulation results when
relations of domination are concealed, denied or obscured in many ways. For
instance, the practice of institutionalized tracking in school purports to help
better meet the needs of groups of students with varying academic ability. However
describing tracking in this way helps to cloack its socially reproductive
function:that of sorting students according to their social locations.
Fragmentation occurs when relations of domination are sustained by the production
of meanings in a way which fragments groups so that they are placed in opposition
tone another. Reification occurs when transitory historical states of affairs
are presented as permananet, natural and commonsensical as if they exist outside
of time. (Thompson, 1987)

This
has occurred to a certain extent with the current call for a national
curriculum based on acquiring information about the ‘great books’ so as to have
a greater access to the dominant culture. These works are revered as high
status knowledge since purportedly the force of history has heralded them as
such and placed them on book lists in respected cultural institutions such as
universities. Here literacy becomes a weapon that can be used against those groups
who are ‘culturally illiterate’, whose social class, caste gender renders their
own experiences and stories as too unimportant to be worthy of investigation.
That is a pedagogical tool, a stress o the great books often deflects attention
away from the personal experiences of students and the political nature of
everyday life.

 

The
dominant curriculum separates knowledge from issue of power and treats it in an
unabashedly technical manner; knowledge is seen in overwhelmingly instrumental
terms as something to be mastered. That knowledge is always an ideological construction
linked to particular interests and social relations generally receives little consideration
in education programs.

The
work of French philosopher Michel Focault is crucial in understanding the socially
constructed nature of truth and its inscription in knowledge/power relations. Focault’s
concept of ‘power/knowledge’ extends the notion of power beyond its conventional
use by philosophers and social theorists who, like Americal John Dewey, have
understood power as ‘the sun of conditions available for bringing the desirable
end into existence.’ (Dewey, 1939)

Discourse

Power
relations are inscribed in what Focault refers to as discourse or a family of concepts.
Discourses are made up of discursive practices that he described as,

A
body of anonymous, historical rules, always

determined
in the time and space that have defined a

given
period , and for a given social, economic,

geographical,
or linguistic area, the conditions of

operation
of the enunciative function. (Foucalt, 1972)

Discursive
practices, then refer to the rules by which discourses are formed, rules that govern
what can be said and what must remain unsaid, who can speak with authority and
who must listen. For education discourse can be defined as a ‘regulated system of
statements’ that establish differences between fields and theories of teacher
education and curriculum. It is not simply words but es embodied in the
practice of institutions, patterns of behavior, in curriculum and in forms of
pedagogy.’

From
this perspective, we can consider dominant discourses as ‘regimes of truth’, as
a general economies of power/knowledge, or as multiple forms of constraint. In
a classroom setting, dominant educational discourses determine what books we
may use, what classroom approaches we should employ, and what values and
beliefs we should transmit to our students. This follows the discussion that knowledge
is socially constructed. And how through the formation of the curriculum the socially
constructed knowledge helps the dominant groups in the society.