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Political Hermeneutics as Pedagogy: Service Learning, Political Reflection, and Action
Unformatted Document Text:  content of practical applications and examples is as important as the seminal texts that inform the conversation. For these reasons then, I have begun this class on citizenship with the question of prejudice. Following Hans Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, knowledge is always already understood through language as interpretation(1976, 1989). Understanding is a happening, an experience, which requires a dialogue between “I and Thou.” Thou here can be tradition, a text, an event, ourselves, or the Other. This means that we are always bring to our understanding our prejudgments embedded in our pre-understanding. We all have, if you will, some baggage, regardless of the topic. Hermeneutics instructs us that this baggage can be overcome through the process of interpretation, translation, the to and fro play of understanding. We emancipate ourselves from our prejudices through the process of reflection and interpretation. Needless to say, I do not require my students to read the fundamental texts of the Habermas-Gadamer debate, but the issue of prejudice is central to my pedagogy. How can the educational experience as interpretation empower students to disclose their own prejudgments, so that their political and moral perspective is situated in a conscious posture toward critical reflection? I endeavor to help them ask themselves, why do I hold this view of this problem or phenomena? What do I bring to this condition that shapes already how I conceive it? What new evidence should I pursue to enhance my understanding of the problem? If developing hermeneutic skills for interpretation and overcoming prejudice, then content is embedded in the pedagogical puzzle. Arendt’s conception of the political as a public space of appearances serves as a useful starting point for our collective investigation of citizenship generally and civic responsibility specifically. Students are introduced to the concept of the public realm as a place where human plurality can be seen (1998, 49). The pedagogy then serves the task of offering a phenomenological experience for entering the public realm as such. Each turn in the process requires a return to the task of reflection and pondering: why am I perceiving the problem in this way? What do I learn about myself through this experience? What is the nature of my relationship to this phenomenon or problem? Toward a Pedagogy of Civic Responsibility I have explained the problem of apathy and engagement. Now I offer a proposition for addressing this educational puzzle. I argue here that student propensity for thinking about civic responsibility can be encouraged through interlaced practices of active learning, service learning, and focused reflective writing. Next I will outline the literature informing my conception of civic responsibility. Then I will briefly describe the specific pedagogies employed to provide student experience of civic responsibility. Finally, I will present some preliminary assessment data that, I believe, supports my thesis and pedagogy. My conclusion will suggest some provisional analysis of the pedagogy’s shortcomings as well as consider prospects for longitudinal research to consider its effectiveness regarding civic dispositions and behaviors. Ingredients for a Pedagogy of Civic Responsibility Recently, there has been a resurgence in theoretical considerations of the classical question of citizenship. 1 While many contemporary political debates surround immigration and 1 This literature is too voluminous to capture here. I am especially indebted to Derek Heater for two texts, What is Citizenship (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999) and A Brief History of Citizenship. (New York: NYU Press, 2004). I McKinlay 4

Authors: McKinlay, Patrick.
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content of practical applications and examples is as important as the seminal texts that inform the
conversation.
For these reasons then, I have begun this class on citizenship with the question of
prejudice. Following Hans Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, knowledge is always
already understood through language as interpretation(1976, 1989). Understanding is a
happening, an experience, which requires a dialogue between “I and Thou.” Thou here can be
tradition, a text, an event, ourselves, or the Other. This means that we are always bring to our
understanding our prejudgments embedded in our pre-understanding. We all have, if you will,
some baggage, regardless of the topic. Hermeneutics instructs us that this baggage can be
overcome through the process of interpretation, translation, the to and fro play of understanding.
We emancipate ourselves from our prejudices through the process of reflection and
interpretation. Needless to say, I do not require my students to read the fundamental texts of the
Habermas-Gadamer debate, but the issue of prejudice is central to my pedagogy. How can the
educational experience as interpretation empower students to disclose their own prejudgments,
so that their political and moral perspective is situated in a conscious posture toward critical
reflection? I endeavor to help them ask themselves, why do I hold this view of this problem or
phenomena? What do I bring to this condition that shapes already how I conceive it? What new
evidence should I pursue to enhance my understanding of the problem?
If developing hermeneutic skills for interpretation and overcoming prejudice, then
content is embedded in the pedagogical puzzle. Arendt’s conception of the political as a public
space of appearances serves as a useful starting point for our collective investigation of
citizenship generally and civic responsibility specifically. Students are introduced to the concept
of the public realm as a place where human plurality can be seen (1998, 49). The pedagogy then
serves the task of offering a phenomenological experience for entering the public realm as such.
Each turn in the process requires a return to the task of reflection and pondering: why am I
perceiving the problem in this way? What do I learn about myself through this experience?
What is the nature of my relationship to this phenomenon or problem?
Toward a Pedagogy of Civic Responsibility
I have explained the problem of apathy and engagement. Now I offer a proposition for
addressing this educational puzzle. I argue here that student propensity for thinking about civic
responsibility can be encouraged through interlaced practices of active learning, service learning,
and focused reflective writing. Next I will outline the literature informing my conception of
civic responsibility. Then I will briefly describe the specific pedagogies employed to provide
student experience of civic responsibility. Finally, I will present some preliminary assessment
data that, I believe, supports my thesis and pedagogy. My conclusion will suggest some
provisional analysis of the pedagogy’s shortcomings as well as consider prospects for
longitudinal research to consider its effectiveness regarding civic dispositions and behaviors.
Ingredients for a Pedagogy of Civic Responsibility
Recently, there has been a resurgence in theoretical considerations of the classical
question of citizenship.
While many contemporary political debates surround immigration and
1
This literature is too voluminous to capture here. I am especially indebted to Derek Heater for two texts, What is
Citizenship (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999) and A Brief History of Citizenship. (New York: NYU Press, 2004). I
McKinlay 4


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