The Critical Graduate Experience

An Ethics of Higher Education Responsibilities

by Charlotte Achieng-Evensen (Author) Janae Dimick (Author) Ndindi Kitonga (Author) Maryann Krikorian (Author) Kevin Stockbridge (Author) Barry Kanpol (Author)
©2015 Textbook VIII, 130 Pages
Series: Critical Education and Ethics, Volume 7


The Critical Graduate Experience is a collection of scholarly reflections on the possibilities of a new vision for critical studies. It is a remarkable book that provides daring analyses from the vantage of the graduate student experience. Drawing from individual knowledge and research, the authors invite you to re-imagine education for justice. Barry Kanpol opens the work with a brilliant meditation on joy and cynicism in university classrooms and educational theory. The book continues to unfold as an open and honest conversation with doctoral students and recent graduates concerning the ethics of higher education. In a true critical approach, each chapter problematizes a new facet of academic assumptions and practices as they touch the lives of students. The authors explore the ethical implications of acknowledging student spirituality and expanding the role of critical education studies. The book concludes with a transparent self-critique on the process and ethics of graduate students writing for publication. This is a wonderful text, guiding students and professors as they enter into dialogue on the ethics of an authentic critical education studies. Classes on practical ethics, educational spirituality, student voice, collaborative publishing, and critical pedagogy could benefit from the insights offered here. Daring to believe that student experience and knowledge have a place in the world of academic publishing, this book is both a prophetic proclamation of and humble invitation to a new future in the field.

Table Of Contents

Section One:
The Role of the Spiritual Self in Critical Education Studies

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Identity Politics: THE Dialectics OF Cynicism AND Joy AND THE Movement TO Talking Back AND Breaking Bread


Testimony is a very hard spirit to convey in a written text…it struck me that dialogue was one of the ways where a sense of mutual witness and testimony could be made manifest. I link that sense to regular communion service in the black church at Yale where we would often stand in a collective voice and sing, “Let Us Break Bread Together on Our Knees,” and the lines in the song which say, “When I Fall on My Knees with my Face to the Rising Sun, Oh Lord Have Mercy on Me.” I liked the combination of the notion of community which is about sharing and breaking bread together, of dialogue as well as mercy because mercy speaks to the need we have for compassion, acceptance, understanding and empathy. (hooks & West, 1991, p. 1).


The above quote from hooks and West perhaps adequately describes the struggles one may have in personal and/or collective testimony. Tied to this struggle is the realization that this form of engagement can be lonely, cynical, or joyful; it can be unified with others. Ultimately, personal testimony is hard as well as deep and committed work. With that in mind, my experiences as a professor, both in teacher education units and as a past department chair in teacher education and dean of a college of education, has lacked both using and witnessing personal testimony as a form of pedagogical reflection and interrogation. On the one hand, higher education in general, it seems, is trapped in a cultural war (Smith & Tatalovich, 2003) ← 3 | 4 → that pits secular humanist philosophy against faith-based practices (Poplin, 2014; Sommerville, 2006; Palmer & Zajonc, 2010). On the other hand, universities are also entombed in a neo-liberal mindset (Peters, 2011; Giroux, 2004, 2009, 2014), where social justice is preached daily, but is done so, at least from where I presently sit in teacher education units, as it is continuously trapped in a vicious accountability scheme that has found its way into the dominant university culture.1 Additionally, teacher education has been historically caught up in methodological practices that distance the prospective teacher from the self. In part, then, teacher education in general has helped reproduce a school system that resembles much of the 1950s authoritarian mold of domination and patriarchal control. As a result, teacher education has been heavily criticized for not developing the pre-service student’s deeper understanding of moral, political, social, and cultural codes (Britzman, 1991; Hargreaves & Fink, 2005). Similarly, in university leadership, at least from my 15 years of various leadership through administrative roles, little is talked around the tables of the self, cultural codes, and their relationship to what is right and ethical behavior. For instance, there is little mention in university cultures, unless one attends a faith-based university, of how one’s identity to faith or religion may impact one’s teaching, behavior, and thought processes.2 It seems to me that to be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, for example, may have a powerful impact on how, what, why, and how one teaches (Purpel, 2001). Of immense concern to me is how this form of identity connection can take on an emancipatory agenda involving the postmodern repositioning of the subject. One’s identity can take on testimonial dimensions in many ways—reflection on schooling and relationship to teachers as one source, as well as to better comprehending how leadership is also reflected in university structures as another source. As some of my colleagues in this book reiterate, identity can also be intimately linked to a faith-based component and the home as a source of that kind of growth. Ultimately, for the critical pedagogist who is searching for an answer to the question, “To what end do I do what I do?” identity politics can also be contextualized within theological traditions. This was an argument I and others have made over many years (Kanpol, 1992, 1996, 2010; Buley-Meissner, Thompson, & Tan, 2000).

With the preceding points in mind, when I stand in front of my undergraduate and graduate education foundations classes, I usually tell my students that education is invariably about who you are and what you believe in. It is, in short, about one’s identity. Concurrently, I elaborate on the importance of personal narrative as a starting point to scrutinize what education means in the large community picture as a commencement to interrogate different dimensions of personal identity. There is no doubt in my mind that a part of this narrative is reaching deep down into the gut of one’s personal faith (or, in some cases, no faith) in order to answer these particular questions: Is, or can, my faith be connected to the everyday lifeworld of teaching, learning, and leadership? If so, how do I keep true to both my faith and ← 4 | 5 → a rapidly changing postmodern world? In short, I ask students, as I do myself, to think about their particular testimony and identity as it relates to multiple social, cultural, religious and moral formations of the everyday lifeworld. I make it clear to students that being vulnerable is part of opening up to one’s history, beliefs, and prejudices. I make it as clear to myself to be just as vulnerable.3

With the above in mind, in this chapter I will quickly summarize critical theory models as being couched within what I call a politics of cynicism and joy. I then relate personal identity narrative experiences as a child and as an adult that connect directly to my past Jewish experiences. I analyze these experiences in light of the theoretical framework developed in the first section. Finally, I conclude with the ramifications of the identity issues raised and the theoretical frameworks analyzed for the practices of an enlightened teacher education and continued leadership roles in higher education in an age of neo-liberal hegemony.


I have continuously argued elsewhere (Kanpol, 1996, 1998a, 2010) that the educational left, particularly those aligned with the critical pedagogy movement, have still yet to develop a common language that speaks to and with multiple sets of audiences.4 Mired in postmodern critique, I have also argued that jumping on the postmodern bandwagon has simply become another avenue for one-upmanship and rush to publication (1998b, 2010), a form, I would argue, of academic nihilism. In short, more of the same old academic jostling for position and resultant political games. Frankly, I have become extremely bored with all of this, especially as I have witnessed it firsthand across university lines as a past academic leader and particularly as I don’t often see the results of creating democratic spaces within the public.

In my mind, the time is ripe for the educational left, particularly those who align with critical pedagogy, to come to terms with the profound theological possibilities and implications of its work. With the continued descriptions of Kozol’s (1991, 1994, 2005) devastating descriptions and critique of inner-city schools in the United States, critical pedagogues in the educational arena have offered much deconstructive analysis of structural school issues concerning race, class, and gender, most of which have suggested social, cultural, and structural hopelessness and despair. Ultimately, to ask the question that I alluded to earlier, to what end is all this deconstruction needed, has to be continuously and reflectively asked for social justice to be served, particularly as inroads into a more equal education for the underserved has made very little progress over the years (Ornstein, 2007).

In the larger theoretical frameworks, educational postmodernists have negated Truth and have concentrated on the particular (Lyotard, 1984, Peters, 1994, ← 5 | 6 → 2011, Peters, 2010). Within this value of difference and the particular as a marker, a lot of good has happened in critical educational circles. We have viewed ourselves as pioneers in a new educational movement, a rallying call for “critical multiculturalism,” feminism as well as gay rights, and other claims to personal and public spaces involving the marginalized and the oppressed (Giroux, 2009). While critical educational history is too cumbersome to enter into detail here, if I was to describe where it has led us, I would argue that the postmodern stuff of endless deconstruction has a history of cynicism connected to it, necessary but not sufficient for an authentic emancipatory agenda. Certainly, this cynicism, connected in some form to my Jewish roots, will be elaborated on shortly.

It is critical to note, even reiterate, that critical theorists in general, myself included, have carried an air of cynicism into their work for many years now. For me, cynicism, or the cynic, is one who is inclined to investigate the sincerity and goodness of people’s motives and actions, or the value of living—one who highly questions the material interests of individuals. Let me be clear here. I am not arguing that cynicism as defined above is necessarily a bad or evil thing. Critical theorists in education have known for a long time now that there are good reasons to be cynical of a society whose institutions—like schools and universities—claim democratic virtues, yet in the everyday lifeworld espouse a contradictory capitalistic and market logic rationality (Shapiro, 1990; Peters, 2011; Giroux, 2014) resulting in continuous race, class, and gender inequities (Giroux, 2009).


VIII, 130
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
K-12 academic publishing science
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VIII, 130 pp.

Biographical notes

Charlotte Achieng-Evensen (Author) Janae Dimick (Author) Ndindi Kitonga (Author) Maryann Krikorian (Author) Kevin Stockbridge (Author) Barry Kanpol (Author)

Charlotte Achieng-Evensen, Janae Dimick, Maryann Krikorian, and Kevin Stockbridge are PhD students at Chapman University. Ndindi Kitonga is a former doctoral student at Chapman University, and Barry Kanpol is Professor of Educational Foundations at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne.


Title: The Critical Graduate Experience