Emotions and Social Change

My reflection explores two themes that came across the readings for this week.

The significance of emotions and affect

As someone interested in studying emotions in learning, I was excited to see how across the readings, scholars called for the significance of considering emotions in learning, education, and critical pedagogy. According to the literature on emotions in education, the over emphasis of the cognitive and the stigma of emotions in regarding the learner and knowledge production has persisted since Descartes’ era, but can even be traced back to the Greek philosophers. Arguing in My Pedagogic Creed I got a sense that Dewey supported this assumption when he argued, “emotions will take care of themselves” when educators secure right habits of action and thought. It seems that Dewey’s main concern is to connect action and thought, while considering emotions as secondary to the process of learning.


By understanding that “emotions are the reflex of actions” puts Dewey in contrast to other readings this week. For example, Giroux argues educators must address the strong emotional investments students may bring to their ideological, economic, and political interests. I found it helpful to me as an educator when Felman (citied in Giroux 2004) considers teaching to take seriously the role of resistance in learning. For Felman, ignorance is a passion that is an active stance toward ignoring, which is less cognitive than performative. It is vital for educators to take students’ resistance (or ignorance) toward learning as part and parcel of their active stance as a learner. Although this may be a “paradoxical situation” according to Amlser, if not considered then students’ resistance and ignorance toward learning can become individualized (i.e., resistance becomes an individual problem that downplays the social and pedagogical context). In a sense, as educators we cannot impose our pedagogy or social change, for those interested in social justice on students no matter how much we think that is what the students’ need.


This brings me to my second theme of imposing social change on students. In Amsler, the argument is that before educators can reveal an innate need for freedom, the task of pedagogy ought to make people to believe that these possibilities are worthwhile in the first place. I believe this is an important critique for the left that can at times assume that they better then themselves without gaining the students perspective. I also see this point of being aware of not imposing social change on students as a gap in Nieto’s “Teaching as Political Work: Learning from Courageous and Caring Teachers”. Although I agree with much of what Nieto’s “The Way We Teach Project” I felt that a consideration for gaining the students’ perspective in regarding social change, forms of inequality and oppression were lacking. Even though the section, “solidarity with, and empathy for, students” somewhat touches upon this topic, but shedding light on the importance showing “respect for students’ identities as well as high expectations and admiration for them” (2006), I do not think it was clear enough that the students’ perspective ought to be part and parcel in creating the classroom as a site for social change.


  • Mike,

    You brought up some important points about the emotional investment on ignorance. Too often, students take an “ignorance is bliss” position which is sometimes misinterpreted as students not knowing any better rather than students being invested in ignoring problems.

    I’m so glad to see that you also brought up the issue in Nieto’s paper. I thought that it was top-down and positioned students as non-agentive subjects – and thus, as you mentioned, imposing. Nieto (and to some extend Giroux) position teachers as saviors in a way that undermines all that students have to offer. That really bothered me.

  • I really like how in your essay you frame student resistance in the classroom as in fact a demonstration of agency.
    I also really appreciate your critique of Nieto’s hierarchically organized perception of the classroom experience. I wanted to add that Nieto, in some other papers I have encountered in the past as well, seems to be speaking from a messy, practice based platform rather than a philosophically positioned stance. It made me wonder about what it means for us as activist researchers to put into conversation such different positions, as an example Isabelle Stengers is a phenomenal philosopher who sculpts these ephemeral ideas and Nieto stands next to teachers to listen to stories of the everyday.

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