I’m a fist-shaking, bleeding-heart, critical pedagogy, politiciany sort of guy. I believe that it’s useless and even potentially damaging to treat learning as apolitical, and I believe that learning theorists of all political bents do themselves a disservice and learners an injustice when they assert an ideologically neutral stance. Because there is no such thing as an ideologically neutral stance.
- We may mean ‘neutral’ as in ‘Switzerland,’ as in ‘we choose not to get involved.’ When we choose not to get involved, we choose not to throw our weight against any particular wheel. We choose to allow the people with the most guns to have their way.
- We may mean ‘neutral’ as in ‘agnostic,’ as in’ no opinion either way.’ When we choose not to state an opinion, we choose not to throw our weight against any particular wheel. We choose to allow people with the loudest voices and the most microphones to have their way.
- We may mean ‘neutral’ as in ‘multipurpose,’ as in ‘there is no ideology built into this theory,’ as in ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Nope. Cotton balls don’t kill people. Kool-Aid packets don’t kill people. Why? Because their design makes it really hard to use them as murder weapons. Whereas guns are a tool of choice for killing people, because they’re designed to be very good at sending projectiles at a very high rate of speed toward people’s heads.
We are reminded by Kris Gutierrez (2002) that “culture is encoded not only in practices, experiences, and beliefs; culture is also indexed in language” (p. 313). It follows, then, that the very crafting of theoretical claims about learning indexes individual and shared beliefs and value systems, and that, therefore, the most dangerous utterance a learning theorist can make is: “I am ideologically neutral in my approach to learning.” Any theory that claims to be “ideologically neutral” is probably simply so well in line with dominant cultural practices that the beliefs it indexes are simply too broadly accepted to strike anyone as worth challenging on the level of ideology.
I believe, then, that claiming that a learning theory is ‘ideologically neutral’ is so deeply troubling, so dangerous to all learners and to education in general, as to make it effectively and practically indistinguishable from educational malpractice.