iii. The Role of Doubt in Teaching

Continuing my reflections on Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I came across an interesting quote, where Freire discusses the problem with adhering to a right wing or left wing position:

‘While the Rightist sectarian, closing himself in “his” truth, does no more than fulfil his natural role, the Leftist who becomes sectarian and rigid negates hives very nature. Each, however, as he revolves about “his” truth, feels threatened if that truth is questioned. Thus each considers anything that is not “his” truth” a lie. As the journalist Marcio Moreira Alves once told me: “They both suffer from an absence of doubt”.’ (Freire 1972: 18)

The mention of doubt here is interesting because I think the presence of doubt in teaching is actually fundamental to the opening up of positions. I have always been someone who puts viewpoints forward tentatively. This can prove problematic when conversing with someone who has a very clearly-defined position but when it comes to research it means you check your position from a number of perspectives. Too much certainty can shut down the discussion or make you miss possible critiques.

But reflecting on the quote above, doubt is perhaps productive not only in my research but also in my teaching practice. It allows students a way in to question the ideas that I put forward. That’s not to say that ideas shouldn’t be explained with clarity; it’s more to say that emphasising the speculative nature of critical theory is perhaps a good thing. It avoids dogmatic adherence to one position (something I seek to avoid, even if Cultural Studies has a Marxist/feminist/environmental inflection).

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