Sunday 28 September 2014

Presentation on a socially just pedagogy at the UKZN Teaching and Learning Conference

Vivienne Bozalek and I made a presentation at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Teachinga and Learning Conference, which was held from the 25 - 27 September 2014, at the Edgewood Campus. There was a fair amount of discussion of issues pertaining in one way or another to social justice. We will be writing this up shortly. There were three very interesting keynotes by Gayatri Spivak, William Pinar and Reitumetse Mabokela. They sparked much debate about what the appropriate responses are to the current inequalities and lack of progress with regard to higher education in South Africa. More information about these keynote speakers can be found on the conference website, at

Tuesday 23 September 2014

A valuable article: "Developing Socially Just Subject-Matter Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching" by Elizabeth Moje

Thanks to Anne Edwards and Viv Bozalek, my attention was drawn to Elizabeth Moje's review article, "Developing Socially Just Subject-Matter Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Disciplinary Literacy Teaching" (Review of Research in Education, March 2007, Vol. 31, pp. 1–44 DOI: 10.3102/0091732X07300046). Based on reading of a wide range of studies, focusing mainly but not solely on the US and on schooling and post-school youth, she provides an extremely useful introduction to educationists interested in making their disciplines more accessible to students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. From this point of view, the article is useful for a potential researcher who wants to situate him or herself in this field. It is a long article and I would not like to reproduce it here in any detail, but simply to say why I find it useful for the SOTL @ UJ - Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy research project.

Starting from the idea that we can fuse the 'moral' and the 'intellectual' projects in teaching, she  makes a distinction between socially just pedagogy and social justice pedagogy. A socially just pedagogy is one which initiates students in to the powerful knowledges and ways of knowing, and which provides students with the means to engage with and critique these knowledges. On the other hand she writes that 'Social justice pedagogy should, in other words, offer possibilities for transformation, not only of the learner but also of the social and political contexts in which learning and other social action take place (Saunders, 2006)". This is a broader purpose, and I would assume that the former is part of the latter, broader purpose. She covers various approaches:
  • Social Justice as Access to Expert Subject-Matter Knowledge (this, she claims has largely fallen by the wayside)
  • Social Justice as the Foregrounding of Everyday Knowledge (this is more of a 'way in' than an endpoint)
  • Social Justice as Access to Useable Disciplinary Knowledge and Ways of Knowing (though valuable, this will not lead students to criticality)
  • Social Justice as Access to Knowledge Via Access to Ways of Producing Knowledge (thus enhancing students' capacity for synthesis and critique).
A crucial point she makes along the way is with regard to the line of argument that we should make the norms, conventions and practices of the disciplines explicit to students. She points out that whilst this may be important, it does not cater for the phenomenon of students learning via apprenticeship, and that there is the danger that it can reify these ways of knowing. She also stresses the value of inducting students into the disciplines, and not selling them short at 'usable' or 'everyday' knowledge:

"It is not enough to talk about developing disciplinary literacy as useable knowledge for the average citizen. Producing and assessing knowledge in the disciplines and in everyday life relies heavily on one’s ability to access, interpret, critique, and produce texts, both oral and written, on both paper and electronic media. Those youth who come to school with high levels of fundamental literacy skill (see Norris & Phillips, 2002) across a range of textual media will be more likely to participate not only in advanced disciplinary study but also in civic conversations and activities driven by the natural and social sciences, by mathematical processes, and by themes and concepts informed via the study of literature (not to mention the domains of visual arts, music, and sports and fitness). Across these different perspectives, scholars agree that knowing how to connect disciplinary knowledge to everyday knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for full societal access. People need to be able to
navigate across disciplinary and everyday forms of representation, including print, numerals, and other inscribed symbols." (p.33)

Monday 15 September 2014

Indigenous knowledge and cognitive justice: Towards the co-production of knowledge.

A discussion led by Thea de Wet; Gert van der Westhuizen and Carina van Rooyen
 By Puleng Motshoane 

These three academics asked a central question “How do we do justice to the diversity of knowledge in the curriculum?”

Thea dealt with the concepts related to indigenous knowledge and Gert spoke on the issue of cognitive justice, while Carina related the two to classroom practice. She explained all the concepts and how they can be applied to teaching.  Thea alluded to the fact that our knowledge and networks of our environment are important in order for us to make sense and understand the social world. The example she gave was that we all have similar brains and we therefore confront similar challenges in the same way. She stated two reasons for her interest in indigenous knowledge and those were; firstly, the politicization of indigenous groups and indigenous rights; secondly, the practical development agenda, which is linked to questions of  emancipation.

Gert continued  the discussion from where Thea left off and spoke about cognitive justice, emphasizing the fact that there are so many reasons to take this into cognizance in teaching and learning practices. He argued that academics are not changing the way they teach and that they are still doing what was done in the past 20 years without considering the fact that a lot of things have changed. He therefore suggested that the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has to transform the curriculum in order to be able to meet its vision (An international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future) and mission (Inspiring its community to transform and serve humanity through innovation and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge).

He also acknowledged that curriculum change would not come without any disruptions. He further suggested that  the UJ community has to problematize our own sense of agency, and the fact that  academics are choosing the content without being accountable to anyone else. He drew a lot from Visvanathan (2011) who argues,  “The survival of knowledge and how some of the knowledge are downgraded and unrecognized and that such knowledge should be given a right and not marginalized”. Gert further argued that academics need to recognize the plurality of knowledge and allow the different forms of knowledge to co-exist without duress. He concluded by drawing attention to the SAGE book titled "Indigenous knowledge and research methodologies" by Bagele Chilisa, which he said is a good source for academics to think about their roles as intellectuals as well as the research they do and how this impacts on teaching and learning.

Carina then brought the practical part to the talk on indigenous knowledge and cognitive justice as she talked about co-production of knowledge. She drew a lot from Lesley Green (2008) from the University of Cape Town, who argued, “Knowledge is contextual and emanates from culture and background that it is produced and reproduced”. Carina’s argument is about how knowledge is generated and transformed and not just about the actual knowledge content. She asked a question about how the principles of cognitive justice could be practiced. She further suggested that horizons need to be pushed further in order to stop perpetuating binaries. She said knowledge is not an acquisition of unmediated facts, but a multiple process of knowledge making with a strong idea of the participation of all the stakeholders rather than working in isolation. The overall message was to say that academics should think about asking the “ How” to teach rather than the “What” to teach, which is the capacity to generate and apply knowledge….

She highlighted the difference between the ontology and epistemology of knowledge. She then concluded by acknowledging that there is no individual ownership of indigenous knowledge but a collective one. The students’ expectations need to be taken into consideration in order to promote the UJ teaching and learning philosophy, which is 'learning to be' as opposed to 'learning about'. The slides are provided below.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Vivienne Bozalek's presentation on a Normative Framework for Social Justice, 29 August 2014 - Report by Bella Vilakazi

Bella Vilakazi compiled this report

The presentation was enlightening and it gave us areas to think about or consider when it comes to developing or researching on socially just pedagogies. Vivian encouraged dialogue among us so that we can think about the projects in relations to social justice, the capability approach and ethics of care.

Three areas of interest were presented:

1    .     Social Justice: Nancy Fraser
2    .     The Capability Approach: Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum
3    .     Ethics of Care: Joan Tronto

The premise that Vivienne started from in her presentation:
“It important to examine moral and normative framework, which put forward, how things ought to be, as well as the values that underpins policies and practices in order for us to consider issues of social justice, difference and care”
Vivienne pointed out that the analysis of normative framework is important because it
·       points out to what is important in social arrangements particularly with social justice, difference and care. The SOTL@UJ project can be guided by focusing on social arrangements that can enable socially just pedagogies, ethics of care and the capability approach.
Social Justice          
Socially just pedagogies in Vivienne’s view means that students and academics should be able to interact as equals and social arrangements need to be made to make these interactions possible. Vivian advised the seminar that socially just pedagogies should not be restricted to teaching and learning only. The SOTL@UJ project should consider looking at the entire context of higher education policies and structures. The goals of social justice should be located around participatory parity, human flourishing and abilities to give and receive care.

There are 3 aspects that Vivian presented on Nancy Fraser’s views
1     .     Redistribution of resources (economic dimension). This aspect of justice might be problematic because it does not include difference.  This is something that needs to be unpacked and find ways to make this aspect applicable to socially just pedagogies.
2    .     Recognition of status (a cultural dimension): how people are valued or devalued because of their attributes, distinct characteristics and cultural capital. In the social sphere, economic and political sphere, teachers might not be valued because the teaching career it is associated with women or with care or it is a career that does not yield strong economic benefits.
3    .     Cultural capital and recognition: These aspects are intertwined but they need to be analysed and understood separately in an affirmative and transformative way.
4    .     Social belonging and social inclusion. This is  the political dimension where students can be devalued, misrecognised or excluded and they cannot claim their rights. Globalisation and technological advances are  some of the aspects that highlight who is valued, recognised and belongs.

    Vivienne came up with the 4 R’s that are essential for social justice:
1   .     Resources
2   .     Recognition
3   .     Responsibility: Lotter (2011) argues that there has to be a justice of accountability and enablement. These are instances where an academic accounts for students who are under their care and create enabling environment so that students to can gain capabilities and flourish in their learning.
4    .     Representation: This is giving students voice. The feedback practice for instance is a dialogical practice which gives students voice. Academics however need to be aware of how their power can supress student voice.

The Capability approach: Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum
This approach is concerned with human flourishing. In this view students’ particularity, plurality, context and concrete others as opposed to generalised others, is important and valuable. Socially just pedagogies need to enable students to gain abilities, choose the lives they want, do what is valuable and achieve valuable states.
The capability approach takes into account where people are positioned and what they are able to do with their personal, social and material resources. It does not assume what people need nor decide for them what their needs might be. In the context of higher education, students bring along cultural capital which must be valued and built upon, for example their indigenous knowledge’s. The capital that they bring can only be enhanced to enable them to participate on par with others.
For me the capability approach however, involves all students; those who are prepared and under-prepared, who come from diverse socio-economic and schooling backgrounds. This holistic approach aims to cultivate and ensure students’ flourishing and their well-being during and after higher learning.
Vivienne shared a few ideas with us with are worth considering in the capability approach, social justice and politics of care
·       What are students and academics able to be and do?
·       What capabilities can they exercise?
·       How privileged or disadvantaged are they?
·       What implications does this have on their lives?
·       Are they able to interact on par?

Ethics of care: A social practice in Joan Tronto’s view
Vivienne gave the seminar questions or pointers to think about regarding the ethics of care
1.     what sort of work is being done,
2.     which responsibilities constitute giving of care or caring,
3.     how do power relations affect the work of caring and
4.     what kinds of practices are used to ensure that those who need care actually get it.
I found these questions important because it clarifies what ethics of care mean for higher education and for the project. Ethics of care are exercised when learning needs can be identified (Waghid, 2007; 2010) by both the students and academics.
The world does not always have people who are self-sufficient, independent and equal. Dependency is an inevitable condition in human life. In higher education students come with learning needs and social arrangements can be made to enable pedagogies of care to enhance their learning. Social arrangements can be feedback which reflects caring and ensuring that capabilities, flourishing and wellness in learning can develop.
The ethics of care sees human beings as having a relational ontology which is connection based rather that individual. In higher education caring for learning needs is academic discipline specific. A lecturer at engineering might not be able to give learning care to a student in the humanities.  The ethics of care are negotiated spaces; they consider familiarity and the context of the care giver and receiver. “Care consist of everything we do to care and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible”
There are 5 phases of care
·       Caring about is noticing that people have needs. It is an injustice to ignore that people need caring
·       Caring for is taking responsibility to ensure that people’s needs are met
·       Giving care: the work of giving care and competencies that go with it.
·       Responsiveness: taking responsibility in giving care where it is needed. This can be done however within the means of the care giver.
·       Caring with: Caring is a process and in this habits and patterns of caring emerge gradually, moral qualities of trust and solidarity develop and continue. 
We need to note that there is always care that is not always good e.g. bad teaching. In order for caring to be done well, attentiveness, responsibility, responsiveness, iteration of the process of care is needed.
The moral integrity of care means that participation and principle is co-constructed, dialogical and negotiated. Care also has notions of power e.g. assuming that you know more than the others, patronising, assuming that you know what people need. Good caring practices require good practices and dialogue between those giving and receiving care rather that pointing out what is right and wrong.
It is wrong to assume that
1    .     misfortune causes care: when care is regarded is belonging to the needy and the vulnerable. The ethics of care believe that all people are need of caring
2    .     care givers can determine what kind of caring is needed. This amounts to patronising, imposes power on care receivers and unfairly determines who needs care and how responsibilities  should be allocated
3    .     Care is a commodity (a neo-liberal argument). Students are not consumers and should not be viewed in terms of corporate pedagogy. Student learning is more important than giving a service. Care should rather be a process than a commodity

4    .     Care receivers can be excluded because they lack expertise and therefore cannot make judgments. Attentiveness and responsibility is needed in the giving and receiving care Management structures need to be close to the requirements and the recommendations of the ethics of care to avoid being disconnected from needs of students