Education for Critical Consciousness and Getting More from Life

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Education for critical consciousness, improving critical thinking skills, or considering critical development more generally are all worthwhile goals for an individual at any stage of their life, young or adult. And yet, often I hear from friends, colleagues, and coworkers this almost self-defeating attitude of some subject being too complex, some puzzle being too tricky, or some challenge being too great to find a solution to. Watching the Great British Baking Show: “I could never make those cakes;” reading about space exploration: “I couldn’t fathom the physics that go into making that work;” hearing some revelatory thought or expression: “I would have never thought of that.”

One of the greatest treasures is the imaginative capacity to think beyond your current placements. What critical consciousness strives for is to engage in expanding one’s reality by allowing their care and consideration to infiltrate otherwise acknowledged as impassive elements of life. From the animals and plants that make your walk to the grocery store a hair more enjoyable to the passive and looming structures of power that attempt to reduce your neighbors or loved ones, critically engaging with this world means to think and act upon the things that you feel are fundamentally wrong.

Let stand what stands, go, my thought!

Filled with nothing other than our suffering.
Conform to us wholly!

Ingeborg Bachmann, Go, My Thought

What is Critical Consciousness?

Attaching ‘critical’ as a modifier or adjective to any phrase tends to elicit very particular reactions: people stop paying attention or feel that the tangibility of the conversation or subject is immediately endangered to enter the domain of the painfully ethereal. I’ve been that person who tries to evade tangible manifestations of thought and consequences by engaging with ‘critical thinking,’ too, so I understand the urge to flee from it.

Instead, I advocate that critical consciousness (critical thinking, critical anything) are facets to believing in a malleable world. Malleability, in many intended ways, is a function of power. When individuals or groups operate with an understanding that there’s nothing they can do, or nothing that can be done to improve a greater or larger group of individuals, there are many psychological and sociocultural impositions at work. My focus is on my background – primarily on the white ‘low-middle’ class, or a more traditional working class, and as such one of the greatest traits of these individuals is a lack of depth and breadth in their thought.

Spatial metaphors aside, critical consciousness becomes an operative mode to engage someone with their capacity to do. Whether that is setting aside money every month to be the person who funnels educational materials or resources into low-income, low-opportunity centers or neighborhoods, or doing the work to organize a group of individuals to demanding better pay and representation – action is possible, and action births new action. Critical consciousness is the seed and original thought which allows for the imagination to perceive these possibilities and empower one’s understanding of their world’s malleability.

He does not explain his words or citations; rather, his intention is to create the spark of insight by which the fire of knowledge, or recognition, is ignited.

Joseph Lumbard, Remembrance and the Metaphysics of Love

Differentiating Freire’s Critical Consciousness with General Critical Education

Paulo Freire first developed the concept of critical consciousness in his masterful work The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Below you can see a direct quote from him on his own ideas.

To achieve critical consciousness of the facts that it is necessary to be the “owner of one’s own labor,” that labor “constitutes part of the human person,” and that “a human being can neither be sold nor can he sell himself” is to go a step beyond the deception of palliative solutions. It is to engage in authentic transformation of reality in order, by humanizing that reality, to humanize women and men.

Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Particularly, Freire is invested in working on critical consciousness to disempower classist systems of oppression and labor abuse. Obviously this is a very honorable and expansive practice to invest critical attentions into. I’m not here to really say anything poorly about Freire or his operations, but mostly to offer: critical consciousness and critical attentions can be applied throughout life’s activities.

I love the idea of an ‘authentic transformation of reality,’ and I hope that’s what will be achieved with more attention to the malleability of the world. A perception might be: “I’m tired of working so hard,” or, “Aside from my apartment complex, my neighborhood is a dump.” And these thoughts might lead to, “I wish I could quit my job,” or, “I wonder if there’s someone in the town I could call to clean this up.”

When applying a type of critical consciousness, you can then take the next step of thinking, what can I do to achieve the world or community I desire to see? “I’m tired of working so hard,” can turn into, “How can I make my job easier?” which can turn into innovations and education for automating or making your traditional work more efficient. “My neighborhood is a dump,” can turn into, “I wonder if my neighbors would help me clean things up if I asked?” can turn into, “We should create a list of the things that would improve the neighborhood, and come together to bring them into reality.”

With this mindset, you can start to perceive and transform the world with more caring and consideration, possibilities of engagement that resist contemporary strains of disempowerment.

The Philosophy of Education and Improvement of the Self

Malleability firmly begins with education, in my opinion. Not necessarily rigid academic education (although it can be very helpful), but simply allowing yourself to explore and engage with the things that interest you and allowing your mind to create associations between processes and patterns.

Self reflection, emotional development, and internal processing are all key applications for shifting education and learned materials into real action. To improve your self and self processes, I’d recommend these three steps:

  1. Establish an understanding of your observations and perceptions: What are the types of things you tend to notice that jar you, or that you wish you could fix? Classify, organize, and relate what it is that you want to improve about them.
  2. Learn about the processes and mechanics that go into these subjects: Whether its natural sciences or cultural criticism, try to discern not only the theory of something but also the history and present moment of it: who else is attempting to transform any of these things, and what have they done?
  3. Find the others who care and observe in your communities and collaborate: Ask around, communicate, and do so with understanding; nobody has unlimited time, and everyone has ideas coming from unique perspectives and experiences. Facilitating the intermingling of ideas is the last step before meaningful action happens.

Indeed, the cultivation of life praxis is all about deliberate non-action, of letting things undo themselves in a manner best suited to their constitution. Knowing when to stop—when to let things be—serves the same purpose as getting use out of something through its apparent non-use.

David Chai, The Becoming of Nothingness

If you’re looking to learn more about intuitive or associative learning, emotional development, or want to take some special attention in understanding some greater themes like fear, reward, or shame, I implore you to look into taking a self-guided, self-development course in my Espials.

If you have any questions or anything you’d like to get my thoughts on more, feel free to contact me whenever.

Poem by Ingeborg Bachmann titled Go, My Thought
Go, My Thought by Ingeborg Bachmann