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Enactment of Radical Honesty in the Teacher Education Classroom

Fri, April 5, 4:20 to 5:50pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Floor: 700 Level, Room 711


In this paper, I consider Williams’ (2016) concept of radical honesty as a pedagogical practice to “challenge racist and patriarchal institutional cultures in the academy” (p. 72). Radical honesty is a crucial element to a humanizing pedagogy because it calls for honesty about educator and student identities, assumptions and stereotypes. Teacher educators must practice critical internal reflection and question their role in the classroom. Radical honesty calls for three areas of focus: truth-telling, valuing narrative and personal experience, and acting.

In truth-telling, Williams portrayed a space where both instructors and students are honest about stereotypes and assumptions regarding identity markers such as race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Our first step must be to eliminate the myth of neutrality; it is a fictional operation within classrooms (Agostinone-Wilson, 2005). The teacher education classroom is deceptively viewed as a neutral space where instructors do not allow their personal beliefs or values to influence the academic space; however, neutrality is a myth because values are illuminated in our lectures and course materials. The classroom environment is a place to actively examine and challenge assumptions and support students through the process.

The second element, valuing narrative and personal experience, is a tool for viewing personal narratives as an opportunity to make connections to systemic issues. Teacher educators must develop classroom structures and assignments to serve as a vehicle for students to reflect on their personal experiences. Stories serve as authentic data (Brayboy, 2013). We must create space for students to not only critically reflect, but also shed light onto larger systemic issues that are often overshadowed by individual stories. Accordingly, it is a difficult balance to juxtapose individual experience and systemic operation; individuals have a stake in their personal narrative, and our students’ views are formed directly out of their own experience.

The final focus area of radical honesty, acting, calls for critical reflection, where theory informs praxis. Action can be achieved through various processes whether it is personal growth or broader social change. Williams’ concept reminds us that a humanizing pedagogy is both a reflective and responsive process. As teacher educators, we must take an honest and critical lens to reflect on our teaching practices. Allowing space for honest reflection of our students’ experiences offers the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of broader issues by changing pedagogical practices in direct response to their needs. A humanizing pedagogy is responsive to the needs of individual students in the teacher education classroom. Often humanizing practices are not acknowledged or supported in the academy, because they represent epistemological and ontological shifts from traditional Eurocentric ways of knowing and being in learning spaces. Yet, we must continue to learn from our students and face problematic viewpoints they sometimes present in order to challenge student thinking and stimulate action. Williams’ idea of radical honesty is critical to consider because it sheds light on honesty as a method to form relationships, shape effective practices for teaching and learning, and heighten critical consciousness.