Critique is an interesting thing to examine especially within the education space. We work with human beings which elicits emotion thus causing us to take our work personal. But should that absolve us from critique and criticism? Why is it so hard for many educators to handle both?
The ability to analyze is such an important part of an effective educators practice. Criticism and critique are necessary parts of this analysis. Any current practitioner, should be regularly analyzing some of the following things:
- What were the positives and negatives of our lesson?
- What are effective and ineffective things with my classroom practice?
- How have I made my classroom space inclusive and safe for all students?
- What materials do I need to support all learners in my classroom? Why are these materials needed?
- How am I creating a safe space for student to exercise agency?
- What am I doing to listen to and amplify marginalized voices in my school?
- How am I disrupting the status quo within my professional practice or within my school?
- What am I doing for self-care to be mentally and emotionally at my best for the students in my care?
- Who receives opportunities and/or support in my classroom? Why do they receive them?
- How is my pedagogy equity minded?
- How am I bringing social justice and politics in the classroom?
- What are the gaps in my curriculum and what should I use to fill those gaps?
Just like our states and districts require us to continually assess and critique our students learning through tests, we must be willing to do the same assessment and critique of ourselves professionally. Not only should we critique ourselves, but be open to the critique of our students and other adults within our profession. It is okay to not get everything right, we are human, so we are not supposed to. But the best way to get a lot wrong is refusal and defensiveness in the face of critique and criticism.
Critique and yes even criticism are both good for us and our practice as educators. We do not do everything right and people calling out problematic things we do or things we say isn’t hate or negativity. Sometimes our methodology is outdated or our pedagogy stale. Sometimes our privilege creates blind spots we are oblivious to or not cognizant of. Sometimes there are lanes not meant for us or things outside our knowledge base. It takes a critical eye and sometimes a different perspective to dissect those things we cling to, resist changing, or always do to actually make us better. The problem with criticism and critique oftentimes is our perception. We often perceive correction, pushback, checking, calling out, or calling in as a personal attack. Yes, being a good practitioner is a personal thing, but our practice is broader than us as individuals because it impacts so many others. Not only does what we say and do as educators impact current students, but also has impacted former students and even impacts our colleagues in both our in-person and our digital spaces. We must move from receiving criticism as personal attacks and instead see them as perspective widening opportunities for growth and suggestions for potential direction change.
An interesting observation I’ve made recently is around critique and criticism on social media is the new wave of dialogue and nuance that is occurring within the educator community. I am grateful that especially on social media and in digital spaces, more educators are now willing to speak up and out no longer resigned to just be force fed generalizations, platitudes, and clichés about our profession and general practices. To see more educators exercising critical thought, critique, and criticism regularly pushing back on status quo or even problematic ideals or unrealistic expectations is a very positive thing for our profession. However, within this wave of increased pushback, it is so unfortunate to regularly see white males educators be the most resistant to criticism and critique publicly from fellow educators. I often find myself baffled to see the reactions from white male educators when they are criticized or critiqued. I believe the intersection of their male and white privilege has positioned them in a position of high visibility and power and that power has been or regularly goes unchecked. Quite often for individuals with power and/or privilege anything besides praise feels extremely uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is something often foreign for many white men especially those who are not actively divesting from patriarchy or whiteness. Privilege positions us into places where we are not often questioned or do not receive critique. Once the criticism happens because it is so unfamiliar and uncommon, we do not handle it well, project more, and also publicly get defensive. Who we receive the criticism from also matters. I’ve increasingly noticed alarming when women (especially BIPOC) are leading the critique or criticism, how even more projection, defensiveness, and name calling come into play during the dialogue with men on social media. Just this weekend, I watched a number of men in education respond to critique and questioning from women in a problematic, toxic, and sometimes fragile nature. This should not be the case, as I wish we all took critique better, but it unfortunately is a common observation for me and other educators on social media. I’ve also noticed trends in who engages in the dialogue, who actually gets supported, and how the support rallies and manifests around certain people or groups of people. However, my detailed thoughts about how the dynamics of race and gender within education circles plays out publicly on social media, I think I will save for another day. 😊
Generally, all adults need to handle critique and criticism of our speech and practices that impact the lives of others better. I need all the adults in education (myself included) to do better with critique and criticism too, because as a profession so many of us have operated and have been complicit in maintaining the status quo for so long. Consistent and impactful critique and criticism eventually leads to personal analysis, and ultimately change in behavior, decisions, and language that will benefit all students and learning. Educators who are put in charge of human lives should always expect to be critiqued and criticized. The unfortunate part is because many take this profession personally we always want to turn down the volume and frequency of critique so to not lose clout, social capital, or save face. The volume and frequency of our compliments should be at the same level as our critique and criticism. Both make us better and are necessary for us to hear clearly so we personally work to improve and shift our profession.
Educators need to remember critique is just as important to our practice as compliments. Both can and will greatly improve our practice. We should equally reflect on critique and complements then use them to spur growth and improvement. Let’s use the start of the year to remember and remain mindful of how we publicly handle them both.