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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