Critical self-reflection about their own social perspective
1. Critical analysis of knowledge claims that are presented as objective, neutral, and universal; for example, Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America
2. Critical self-reflection about their own social perspective and
subjectivity; for example, how the Columbus myth and the teacher’s racial identity influence what they know and teach about the history of North America
3. Developing the skills with which to see, analyze, and challenge ideological domination; for example, rewriting existing school lesson plans or curricula to reflect the complexities of the myth of discovery and the political investments in this myth
In these ways educators who teach from a critical perspective guide their students in an examination of the relationship between their frames of reference and the knowledge they accept and reproduce. Of course this is no easy task because for many Westerners the ideal of positivism (that European science followed rules and thus its findings are indisputable) is very powerful and deeply entrenched. It is challenging to guide people in a critical examination of knowledge that they have been taught is indisputable. Thus what critical educators often begin with is an examination of students’ own social positions and the relationship between those positions and the knowledge that they have.
For this reason the concept of positionality has become a key tool in analyzing knowledge construction. Positionality asserts that knowledge is dependent upon a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences, and social positions. The ability to situate oneself as knower in relationship to that which is known is widely acknowledged as fundamental to understanding the political, social, and historical dimensions of knowledge. Positionality is a foundation of this examination.
James Banks is one scholar in education who has made significant contributions to the understanding of knowledge as socially constructed. Banks (1996) explains that the knowledge we create is influenced by our experiences within various social, economic, and political systems. Thus who we are (as knowers) is intimately connected to our group socialization (including gender, race, class, and sexuality). For example, consider the Columbus story. Whose racial perspective is reflected in the idea that the continent was “discovered”? Which racial groups may be invested in this story? Which racial groups may be invested in challenging it? Asking questions such as these develops a clearer picture of how “what you know” is connected to “who you are” and “where you stand.”
Positionality: The recognition that where you stand in relation to others in society shapes what you can see and understand about the world.
Banks’s knowledge typology has become a classic framework used by