We believe that in the scholarly social work literature discussing Freire's influence on education, the analytic lens tends to fall onto his philosophy ofpedagogy, whereas the method or the mechanism of putting such a philosophy in practice is rarely explicated and exemplified. To this end, we believe that Freire's critical literacy and use of images for deconstructive inquiry (Freire, 2000) is particularly overlooked. We find these activities to be powerful for the purposes of exploring self in relation to others and building critical inquiry and appraisal skills. Similarly, although role-play and improvisation techniques have been previously used with social work students (Moss, 2000; Todd, 2012; Walker, 2003), we found no existing literature applying formats associated with Theatre of the Oppressed (i.e., Newspaper, Image, or Forum Theatre) in social work education, although it does exist in the social work practice literature (Pyles, 2009). Based on our experience, however, we view these methods as excellent tools for decoding “existential situations” (Freire, 2000), increasing awareness, and generating dialogue in a social work classroom.
Echoing Freire (1974, 2000) and bell hooks (1994), Zull (2011) draws from neuropsychology to further suggest that implementation of an instructional approach that is the agenda of this chapter is challenging in today's “organized education” system wherein students are kept without control of their own and under control of others. Most social work programs are extremely structured; classify content as well as students into micro or macro; and are limited by resources, marketability (of the course and students), and policy even if they support the use of alternate approaches. Much like the welfare system, the system assumes more importance than the people and purpose for which it has been built. Such restrictive conditions and dogmatic thinking deprive students of the freedom and joy of learning (hooks, 1994; Zull, 2011). Zull accentuates the importance of transformative, joyful learning experiences by stating that they are related to the brain's plasticity. This means that learning that is rooted in positive emotions can alter people's emotional functions such as curiosity, optimism, and focus (Zull, 2011).
Based on our conceptualization of, reflection on, and student feedback for this classroom experience, in Figure 9.1 we lay out a visual map of transformative learning. The figure depicts a process of teaching to the holistic self that begins with a specific teaching philosophy and style. In our example, the creation of the classroom setting is informed by critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire that centers learners as knowledgeable actors and emphasizes reflexive learning. Such a process incorporates interactive and participatory activities in the classroom (e.g., the SHOWED questioning technique or Image Theatre) with an underlying pedagogic logic to tie content and method, to generate dialogue, and to foster analysis and reflection. A composite of such a pedagogic strategy is treating “hot moments” (a heated discussion when a clash of ideas occurs), emotions, creativity, empathic connections, and our physical bodies as valid ways of knowing and learning. We suggest that through such teaching, a holistic self of the learner is staged and transformation of self, knowledge, power, and professional practice may occur.
Not only is this nontraditional approach transformative but also, we argue, it results in more sustainable knowledge and skill development. It is more sustainable because knowledge development is meaningful to the learner and his or her context, promotes analysis rather than recall, and integrates the cognitive and emotional journeys of the learner. Specifically, we draw from the neuroscience of
Teaching to the Holistic Self.
learning and speculate that an approach to teaching that requires application of knowledge by taking actions and making decisions will result in better learning. Because the knowledge is sought by the students rather than being imparted, the students are engaged in seeking and applying it to what they already know and perhaps problem-solving issues important in their life or work context. Freire's and Boal's techniques can harness the elusive neuroscience of learning while neuroplasticity can change the way people are programmed to act. Hence, the physiological effect of challenge, ownership, creativity, and satisfaction of learners on their learning process and outcomes can be achieved and sustained.