Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” I find myself striving to remember this lately. I’ve received a deluge of feedback lately telling me I’ve been too critical of the subjects I advocate for, and that folks are becoming leery and weary of my analysis.
As frequent readers know, I embrace a philosophically grounded practice best described as an “educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.” In this movement, called critical pedagogy, I am determined to enact a culture of critical consciousness. I strive to make my work more accessible than my peers in this movement, and I parse my focus between in-school and out-of-school practices.
Its from this place that I have found a well of challenges. “Why so critical?”, my friends and colleagues ask. Many of them are well-meaning and intend to help me get more projects. But some are simply chopping at the tree, hoping I’ll give way and join the masses and just be happy with things as they are right now.
However, to do that would be to fulfill Aristole’s proclamation that “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” That would require me to turn my back on my personal history, and the history of the people and places I come from. My own working class, immigrant family has roots across two nations mired down in a neoliberal revolution that’s infiltrated the lives of countless millions in ruthless, oppressive ways. To back away from my own critical consciousness at this point in my life would be disingenuous at best. The poor neighborhoods I’ve lived in and homelessness I’ve experienced as a child call me deeper still though; I cannot abandon those identities. I am committed to liberating myself from those oppressive experiences, the realities of which stay with me to this day as a working class adult. So I struggle, challenge, and remain awake with an eye towards critical examination of the places in society where I believe we all have a democratic responsibility to engage with.
My own dad says that being adamant attracts adamant responses. My criticism is an attempt to act dialogically; which is, to build on the shoulders of the people, the oppressions, and the realities I’ve learned from. I’m not trying to be adamant, or even be adamant about critical thinking. I am acting from my belief that its my responsibility to critically respond to the systems, beliefs, and actions I attach to in any form. That doesn’t mean I will critically respond to every one, but opens the possibility of that interaction.
Critical engagement is one of the most radical expressions of love I have ever made. The people and actions I criticize most are generally ones that are closest to my soul, and my critical voice is drawn from that place. Expressing my own understanding of the social and cultural misgivings of a situation or belief and examining the potentialities of a situation are the calls of great hope and a belief that things can be better, should be better, and have the capacity to be better.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. King also wrote, “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” My happiness isn’t guaranteed; my passion is. This is the life I live—how about you?
PS—I recommend this good post on this topic by Alex Payne.