Recently I have been reflecting on Schön’s ideas around ‘reflection-on-practice’ (1983) and trying to come to grips with what it means to ‘critically reflect’. In general, I am enjoying the process as I read my books and discuss the ideas with my friends and colleagues both here at EARI and NEARI and with others besides.
However, I do feel a certain sense of frustration, when it comes to accessing good, up-to-date literature on critical reflection. As an ordinary, practising teacher I have limited access to any academic libraries and therefore, sourcing literature is a problem. As a paid-up member of the Teaching Council of Ireland (the professional standards body for teaching that promotes and regulates the profession), I am entitled to limited access to EBSCO, for which I am hugely grateful. But, access is limited. It is very frustrating when I search for a paper on a particular topic, and find that while it may be listed on ‘our’ version of EBSCO, it is not available to view or download for us ordinary teacher, especially those who wish to adhere to copyright legislation.
I decided I would try to do something about my dilemma: I would become a member of an academic library and pay whatever fees were required to gain access to a library and online journals.
Readers, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that I could become an alumni member of my old alma mater; visit the library; read the books and even, believe it or not, access online journals! However, my joy quickly evaporated as I came to learn that I could not borrow any books; could not access the online journals from home; could not bring my laptop into the library to access online journals nor even print any sections from journals accessed from within the building!
As I returned discontentedly (and crankily) to my own pile of bought books and slightly out of date academic papers, Chomsky’s words around an education system that keeps ‘people from asking questions that matter’, (Chomsky 2000, p.24) came to mind. I wondered how I could reflect on my practice; question any underpinning assumptions regarding my practice; and become a critical thinker, unless I had adequate access to the literature. I speculated about how educators are expected to keep abreast of current thinking in education, unless they can access current journals. I wondered if my exclusion from online libraries was more than just a major inconvenience, or was something more sinister afoot.
Freire (2003) believed that issues of power, oppression and culture existed in many aspects of education, and he sought to unravel their existence and I began to think that, perhaps, I too am a victim of power and oppression in a culture that presumes that educators do not need to read. The word ‘hegemony’ floated into my thoughts. Gramsci (1971) has been instrumental in developing our understanding of ‘hegemony’ and Brookfield described it as: ‘The assumptions we accept unquestioningly as commonsense are sometimes the same ones that have been constructed by a dominant group or class to keep us servile and marginalised’ (2009: 295). Brookfield suggests that for reflection on practice to be critical, it needs to call power relations and hegemonic dimensions into question.
So I began to ask myself some questions (that matter) as I reflected critically:
I wonder why we think it is acceptable for educators to have limited access to the literature on education?
I wonder who makes up the rules for academic libraries?
Who really thinks it is good for us to be excluded from academic libraries?
Who are the powers-that-be that benefit from a teaching population that is not allowed access to current thinking in education?
Why is this situation acceptable to (nearly) everyone?
Brookfield, S. (2009) ‘The concept of critical reflection: promises and contradictions’, European Journal of Social Work, 12:3, 293-304
Chomsky, N. (2000) Chomsky on Miseduation, Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield
Freire, P. (2003) ‘From Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ in A. Darder, M. Baltodani and R.D. Torres, (eds), The Critical Pedagogy Reader, London: RoutledgeFalmer, 57- 68
Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the prison notebooks. Ed. Q. Hoare and G.N. Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Schön, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.