Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy- Part III: Critical Consciousness: Becoming

Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy- Part III: Critical Consciousness: Becoming

post by Amira Abdel-Aal, Member of The Educator Collaborative

Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy*-

Part III: Critical Consciousness: Becoming

*Some of this content was produced in conversation with Dr. Ahmed Younis, an Assistant Professor of Integrated Studies at Chapman University, an expert in Critical Pedagogy and Leadership Studies. 


Identity is the Achilles heel of American youth. In a hypersensitive world of the politically correct (and politically incorrect) it is difficult to develop the resilience of ethics while growing as a person. It is very difficult in general to be a young person in America today. How can we equip students to negotiate their discomfort and grow through their surrounding confusion to develop an authentic view of themselves and themselves in the world? That seems to be the personal development portfolio of a teacher/mentor in our time. Critical consciousness requires reflexivity–the capacity to look inward, to challenge assumptions, to incorporate personal experience, to reach for resources that help one negotiate the complexity of one’s ecosystems. 

What are the tools of meditation, exercise, and physical development that allow a student to fully incorporate their commitment to personal growth and development while they walk through the world? Students must master the dialectic tension between the world and their view of self. Leadership studies is replete with theories and practices that help develop this line of being, thinking, and doing. 

How do we engage students in the question of “Who am I?” A dialectic tension will always exist between doing and being in the process of becoming. There is a connection between the young person’s awareness for social development and their awareness for personal enhancement and development. The more I do, the better I am, the better I become–recognizing a duality between social action and personal reflexivity/development where the outward and inward work are done in order to be better. 

Part of social change is developing the maturity to say, “I was right on this; I was wrong on that.” We each must negotiate that space and process of reflexivity. If such a process begins earlier in life, we are better able to enhance our personal development as we contribute to the development of society. The interdisciplinary nature of social change requires a focus on personal development. 

There need to be more opportunities for dialogue. In addition to individual reflexivity, dialogues must happen together, with one another. In doing this we can construct knowledge and engage in reflection + action. The classroom then collectively becomes a space where we are open to thinking and working through the complexities, to fully actualize who are intended to be, and to recognize the right to make a new choice or evaluation. 

Paulo Freire teaches us that we are always becoming. We, like nature, are never static. The space between the public and the personal–from inputs through analysis to output–requires a young person who is confidently always becoming. How can we equip teachers to help that process? Each of us must always be moving toward something. Teach students that there is no finality in the development of identity; that you as a person are always becoming. You do not need be invested in the ideas of those who came before you, the people who surround you, or your own ideas five years ago. You are free. You are free to develop, to change, to reflect, and to enhance your perception of reality and your role in it. Without freedom, there is no accountability for individual actions. Freire taught that “No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from doing so.” To be authentically human, one must embrace one’s “unfinishedness”. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire reminds us, “Education does not make us educable. It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable”.

The hope is that we create an environment where students can understand reality from a lens of social justice and develop, based on critical consciousness and critical understanding of their reality and potential, where they are not acted upon but are the actors of their worlds, and where communities can enhance their participatory capacity in the journey of renewal, reform, and renaissance.