In contemporary scholarly discussion, the theoretical construct “critical” has captured many scholars’ attention. With the backdrop of this construct, scholars have managed to generate important insights for the enrichment of theory construction. Critical Pedagogy, Critical Applied Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis are among other areas of inquiry that owe very much to the philosophical underpinnings of critical theory.
Inspired by the appeal of critical theory, this book is an attempt to provide justification for the pressing need for the adoption of Critical Pedagogy (CP) in the teaching of English as a foreign language in Indonesia. Criticizing existing curriculum paradigms in this country as adhering to Perennial Analyticism, which employs a top-down approach to teaching and learning, Joseph Ernest
Mambu proposes CP as a sound alternative curriculum paradigm for English teaching here.
Viewing the national curriculum for foreign language education, replete with the government’s interventions, the author contends that the present pedagogy is not a liberating one. He asserts that
“Accustomed to government guidance [or policymakers’ guidelines], ironically, a lot of [EFL] teachers lack the ability to think and act strategically in the era of more pedagogical freedom made possible by KTSP” (p.32). The panacea, Joseph argues, is to position Critical Pedagogy in Indonesian EFL curricula.
In the education landscape, CP is a relatively old concept, initially unveiled by noted Brazilian educator Paulo Freire though his widely cited book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the 1960s and 70s.
Freire was particularly critical of capitalistic oppressors (feudal landowners), and wanted to empower the oppressed (peasants working for landowners). Through the power of dialogues mediated by critical educators, Freire attempted to improve the latter’s awareness of their being marginalized.
Using two techniques of elicitation (pictures and dialogues) similar to Freire’s thematic investigation and coding a reality through abstraction, Joseph attempts to apply and relate the basic tenets of Freirean Critical Pedagogy to foreign language education, by conducting a study involving marginalized EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students in a rural school in Getasan, Central Java, and his own students.
Joseph’s aim was to make these marginalized students “more aware of issues that account for oppression, such as poverty” (p.47).
In a point no-less revealing, Joseph elucidates the relevance of literary studies in the exploration of Critical Pedagogies. Using three short stories written by Indonesian authors (Armijn Pane, Titis Basino and Pramoedya Ananta Toer), he raises the issues of gender, discrimination and development.
A closer inspection of the book reveals that Joseph uses the notions of critical thinking and (critical) praxis interchangeably, thus making the reader quite confused. Joseph’s unawareness of the distinctiveness of these notions is reflected in his shared assumption with one of the authors he quotes. Quoting the author, Joseph concurs that “…the essence of teaching is moral, not political in nature…” (p. 28).
Joseph does state that critical thinking is not the ultimate end of CP, but makes no mention of the distinct differences between the former and critical praxis as implied in CP.
Teaching under the CP paradigm is always politically engaging, and not neutral as in critical thinking, because CP aims to lead to social change. Any passionate readers wanting to find out more about this issue are advised to read Critical Academic Writing (2002) by noted Sri Lankan linguist Suresh Canagarajah.
Despite the lack of a clear conceptualization of critical praxis and critical thinking — two different important constructs that are the main concerns of this book — Joseph helps readers increase their awareness of the importance of CPs by situating them in foreign language education in Indonesia.
Most importantly, as a teacher-researcher, Joseph has presented genuine evidence (via insider perspectives) that shows the pressing need for the implementation of CPs in foreign language education.
The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.
He is also the chief editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching
and can be contacted at email@example.com.