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Theory–Praxis Gap: Social Studies Teaching and Critically Transformational Dialogue

by Kevin Russel Magill & Brooke Blevins - 2020

Background/Context: Social studies scholars have suggested that dialogue is vital to helping students develop the skills and disposition for becoming engaged civic participants. More critical interpretations of dialogical education would suggest that dialogue can also help students develop critically conscious understandings of the world to help them see, share, and overcome the oppressive power relationships that often order civic life.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our study examined critical social studies teacher engagements in dialogical teaching, looking at what we term the dialogical theory–praxis gap. We claim teachers tend to engage in skills-based or critical dialogue (as compared with dialogue for more transformational intent), and we were curious about how and why some go further—engaging in what we call transformational critical dialogue as part of their civic teaching praxis. Our two research questions were: (1) How do self-identifying critical social studies teachers use dialogue as part of their critical instructional praxis? (2) What types of critical dialogue do self-identifying critical social studies teachers have with students?

Research Design: We conducted a multisite critical case study of two self-identifying critical social studies teachers to explore how dialogue existed as an aspect of their praxis.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our study revealed that both focal teachers used critical historical inquiry as a way to help students develop the foundational knowledge for discussing social studies concepts and to interpret their placement along spatial and temporal axes of existence. Both teachers grounded their dialogical praxis within the sociocultural knowledge that students brought with them to their classrooms. In all contexts, dialogue was unquestionably learner centered, and teachers used critical dialogue to help students engage in society for real-world social justice purposes. We found that participants differed first in their approach to curriculum as it related to the way they understood the purpose of dialogical instruction. Second, critical dialogue as an educational practice/praxis was situated based on real and perceptual instances of power that a teacher experienced. Third, teacher ideology unquestionably informed how dialogue transpired in the classroom.

Recommendations: Developing dialogical pedagogical content knowledge with new teacher candidates is foundational to their willingness to engage with students in critically transformational dialogue. Teacher educators can encourage teachers to understand and incorporate the sociocultural knowledge of students and ensure that epistemic justice occurs in their dialogical exchanges. Teachers of privilege may need to shed or reject the problematic and internalized identities that situate their acting to fully engage in material praxis. Reframing the purpose of schooling and dialogue might be grounded more fully in efforts to improve society by incorporating more critically humanizing education and possibilities for social action.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 7, 2020, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23325, Date Accessed: 9/27/2021 12:22:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Kevin Magill
    Baylor University
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN RUSSEL MAGILL, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of secondary and social studies education at Baylor University. He is particularly interested in how social studies teachers understand the relationship between teaching and civics and how internalized ontologies and ideologies inform their pedagogical practices. His most recent scholarly works include “The Primacy of Relation: Social Studies Teachers and the Praxis of Critical Pedagogy” and “Critically Civic Teacher Perception, Posture and Pedagogy: Negating Civic Archetypes.” He is coeditor of Imagining Education: Beyond the Logic of Global Neoliberal Capitalism and Taking Sides: American History Vol. 1 & Vol. 2.
  • Brooke Blevins
    Baylor University
    E-mail Author
    BROOKE BLEVINS is an associate professor of secondary and social studies education at Baylor University. Dr. Blevins’s research focuses on social studies education as a means to prepare active and engaged citizens. In her work, Dr. Blevins examines how to prepare teachers to develop both political clarity and pedagogical content knowledge that encourages them to engage in transformational-based and humanizing social studies education. In addition, Dr. Blevins is also interested in how to educate and empower young people to become active civic participants through participation in action civics and digital technologies. Dr. Blevins’s work has been published in journals such as Theory and Research in Social Education, Social Studies Research and Practice, The Social Studies, Multicultural Perspectives, The Teacher Educator, and the Journal of Social Studies Research.
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