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The scandal of a culturally responsive pedagogy, or teaching “anything to anyone”


In chapter 5 I explored the beginning of educational theory as intimately linked to the possibility of democracy, in which education and teaching no longer only confinn an already existing privilege, but in which anyone can be taught anything. That is, a democracy in which anyone can embody culture in how one lives one’s life, thereby contributing to both its continuation and change, renewal and preservation. The early Sophists placed educational thought in the centre of paideia, in the centre of culture, as such making it possible for both culture and society to extend into the future.

Education is, for the early Sophists in Jaeger’s (1939) reading, the very praxis through which the living arete of the people continuously takes actual form. I also suggested that “the people” in early Greek thought is to be understood as founded not on the oneness of a people as a singularity, but on the divinity of at least two, that is, on the ambiguity of both human and god. Another way of expressing this state of affairs is to say that the early Sophists’ formulation of arete was entirely about the ability to make politics, and spoke “foremost to intellectual power and oratorical ability” (Jaeger, 1939, p. 291).

That is, it is firstly with the figure of two that the political is possible, and because the ambiguity needs to be clarified, translated and negotiated, meaning is not self-evident: Who are you who come before me? The oneness of a people, on the other hand, excludes any possibility of the political to emerge and blocks the possibility of two in its very foundation.

Politics, as the distribution of things, values, identities, within a conception of oneness, cannot tolerate the other, and leads to the necessary violent repression of the other (Langmann & Safstrom, 2018). The political, as formulated by Mouffe (2005), among others, on the other hand, is founded on the figure of two (see also Cassin, 2016, particularly pp. 34—35) and, in my reading, makes both education and democracy possible: the figure of two turns democracy and education into a praxis of democratization. This praxis of democratization is, in other words, what gives meaning to pedagogy.

In this chapter, I explore educational thought as intimately linked to processes of democratization, to pedagogy. I will return to Jaeger’s reading of paideia, but this time to emphasize the very praxis which pedagogy and education entail, as the very etiergia of culture. In particular, I will elaborate on what has been formulated as a culturally responsive pedagogy (Pirbhai-Illich, Pete & Martin, 2017), to make problematic what is, in my mind, an all-too-monastic interpretation of culture.

My intention is not to dismiss the political necessity of giving voice to suppressed voices in the course of violent colonialism, which is the context for culturally responsive pedagogy, but to explore conceptually how such an endeavour could be linked to the very democratization processes suggested by pedagogy. I know that this is a delicate task, but it is one I nevertheless think is necessary in order for pedagogy itself not to be reduced and made instrumental, which would work against the very ambitions and necessities of a culturally responsive pedagogy in the first place.

I intend to make three moves in this chapter to link culture as praxis with pedagogy and democratization. First, I will use Zygmunt Bauman’s (2000) term “polycultural society” to argue for culture’s embodied, relational and multifaceted existence in any society. This means I will be extending the explorations in previous chapters of ways in which culture can be understood as praxis, as something that is perpetuated through our actions, both reproducing patterns as well as changing them and thereby constantly producing cultures. This is in contrast to basically understanding culture as static, as responding to a certain set of inner abilities expressed through one’s identity, nationality or ethnicity, which supposedly reproduces the nation or society or community over time.

Second, I will explore what can be understood as pedagogy, tracing its tradition to the early Sophists’ articulation of teaching anything to anyone. As I explored in chapter 5, teaching anything to anyone is the seed that makes it possible to even think democracy, and therefore for culture to be inherently open and changeable, and infuse newness in the present. Education as praxis, and as making democracy possible in the first place, is in opposition to modern ideas of a teacher as leading a learner to that which the teacher already knows. I suggest, as an extension of chapter 3, that leading learners to knowledge merely reproduces hierarchical and oppressive power relations expressed through fixed abilities and talents, rather than emancipating students from such power by verification of equality. Teaching as verification of equality is rather what can be expected from education in line with democratization. In this discussion, I again draw on Werner Jaeger’s work on paideia, particularly the concept of arete, as well as Jacques Ranciere’s ideas on emancipation, which quite surprisingly, since they are ideologically quite apart, tend to reinforce each other on this point.

Third, I suggest that a culturally responsive pedagogy will always conflict with educational policies that are based on any version of monocultural ideals,

nationalistic beliefs and schooling as a realization of so-called inner abilities which are unevenly distributed in the population and which mirror the hierarchical order of society. In line with this, I view culturally responsive pedagogy as that which breaks into existence as a scandal in the existing monocultural ordering of society.

I discuss this scandal as central to opening up the relation between democracy and education as one of democratization; rather than static expressions of education for or about democracy, identities or fixed cultures, pedagogy is instead, in my reading, inherently the energia of praxis in democratic pluralistic cultures. I conclude the chapter by suggesting a pedagogy' of translation, so as to emphasize this energia coming into existence by the ambiguity of two, the tensions within the divinity of the one and the other, and of the political (and ethics) that follows as a necessity of this ambiguity, enough for newness to emerge, and for democratization to take place in the present.

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