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Critical pedagogy is a teaching approach which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate. In other words, it is a theory and practice of helping students achieve critical consciousness. In this tradition the teacher works to lead students to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive (including those at school), and encourage liberatory collective and individual responses to the actual conditions of their own lives.

The student often begins as a member of the group or process (including religion, national identity, cultural norms, or expected roles) they are critically studying. After they reach the point of revelation where they begin to view their society as deeply flawed, the next behavior encouraged is sharing this knowledge with the attempt to change the oppressive nature of the society.

Topics Introduced[edit | edit source]

To help encourage students to change their view from accepting the social norms (viewed by critics as being gullible) into being independently critical (viewed by mainstream society as being cynical) the instructors often introduce challenges to heroic icons and self-edifying history using contradictory reports or external points of view of the same subjects.

Generalized Examples[edit | edit source]

To encourage students to become critical the instructor might use these tasks to challenge the generally accepted paradigm of the student's society:

  • Cause the student to investigate a war that their society has waged and considered just and critically evaluate if it meets the criteria of a just war.
  • Encouragement to students to explore issues of power in their own families.
  • To lead students to examine the underlying messages of popular culture and mass media.
  • Require the evaluation of existing controversies in contemporary society, such as the relative merits of U.S. government spending on atomic weapons versus international health programs.
  • Ask whether the metaphoric emperor is, in fact, clothed.

Real-world examples of concepts often introduced to generate critical thinking:

  • A challenge to the reverential mythology around Christopher Columbus and leading students to investigate primary sources by and about the historical figure. One might possibly suggest sources such as the Black Legend, or other sources that cast more disconcerting views on the legacy of his efforts.

Results[edit | edit source]

A prevalent result of this method of teaching is that students view certain aspects of their lifestyles, nation, or culture negatively for the first time.

As an example, someone who follows this means of learning about the United States culture may develop a view that most people in Western society are sleepwalking through a banal existence of consumption, obedience, and propaganda, and that they need to be awakened.

Call to Action[edit | edit source]

Most instructors encourage students who have reached the state where they are enlightened to share their knowledge in an attempt to reveal the failings of the society to foster positive change. Other critical pedagogues, however, are suspicious of the claims encountered in certain modernist emancipatory discourses. Rather than seeking to 'enlighten' the 'gullible,' these instructors explore concepts of identity, history, desire, etc. with learners, and any subsequent calls to action are made by learners.

Examples[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

During South African apartheid, legal racialization implemented by the regime drove members of the radical leftist Teachers' League of South Africa to employ critical pedagogy with a focus on nonracialism in Cape Town schools and prisons. Teachers collaborated loosely to subvert the racist curriculum and encourage critical examination of political and social circumstances in terms of humanist and democratic ideologies. The efforts of such teachers are credited with having bolstered student resistance and activism[1].

Literature[edit | edit source]

Famous authors of critical pedagogy texts include Paulo Freire, Rich Gibson, Michael Apple, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, and Howard Zinn. Famous educationalists including Jonathan Kozol and Parker Palmer are sometimes included in this category. Other critical pedagogues, more famous for their anti-schooling or unschooling perspectives include Ivan Illich, John Holt, Ira Shor, John Taylor Gatto, and Matt Hern. Much of the work draws on feminism, marxism, Lukacs, Wilhelm Reich, post-colonialism, and the discourse theories of Edward Said, Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault. Radical Teacher is a magazine dedicated to critical pedagogy and issues of interest to critical educators. The Rouge Forum is an online organization led by people involved with critical pedagogy.

Famous quotes[edit | edit source]

Do not follow a life of evil; do not live heedlessly; do not have false views; do not value worldly things. In this way one can get rid of suffering.
Buddha, Dhammapada, Loka Vagga, verse 167
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Jesus, Bible, Gospel of Matthew chapter 16, verse 26
I knocked and the door opened, but I found I'd been knocking from the inside.
Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi

Movies[edit | edit source]

In the movie The Matrix, the setting is an artificial construction of oppression that instills complacency in its captives through a form of virtual reality, much like the World Wide Web you are currently immersed in. The movie's initial conflict sees the protagonist Neo coming to grips with this truth by suspending belief of the reality he has accepted as unquestionable.

In John Carpenter´s "They Live" special sunglasses help the protagonist see the hidden messages that lull the population to sleep and seduce them to obedience. These special sunglasses are a visual metaphor for critical consciousness. But this sort of consciousness is disturbing, and the protagonist has to fight to get someone else to put the glasses on.

In the biographical film Stand and Deliver Jaime Escalante challenges urban students to excel at math.

Dead Poets Society, a Peter Weir film, is set in a 1950's American prep school. Teacher John Keating encourages students to think freely, challenge social norms and seize the day.

Music[edit | edit source]

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all.
Paul Simon, Kodachrome
We don't need no education, We don't need no thought-control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom - Teacher, leave those kids alone! All in all, you're just another brick in the wall.
Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall part 2

Interestingly though, all the surviving pupils who took part in the Pink Floyd recording collectively agree they would not now support as radical a position as the sentiments expressed by the composers in this song. [1]

The teacher stands in front of the class, but the lesson plan he can't recall. The student's eyes don't perceive the lies bouncing off every fucking wall. His composure is well kept, I guess he fears playing the fool. The complacent students sit and listen to some of that bullshit that he learned in school.
— Zack de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine, Take the Power Back

These are a few examples of musical artists who have explored the world of critical pedagogy. Artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Public Enemy, System of A Down, Propagandhi, The Beatles, and Eminem have been viewed as raising critical consciousness and challenging authority through some of their works.

Other media[edit | edit source]

Critical pedagogy is used throughout Grant Morrison's comic book The Invisibles. It is a major theme and plot device through out the series, particularly in the first few issues and the final series. Also, the book intended for adolescents, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, depicts a utopian society that gradually begins to appear dystopic. Jonas, the story's protagonist, becomes the "Receiver of Memory" and undergoes a process that is comparable to the development of critical consciousness. Despite the criticisms of various conservative groups who cite that the ideas in the book are inappropriate for children, the book is still included on the middle school reading lists of many school districts.

Critics of Critical Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

This approach has its critics. They attack the methodology, the goal, and appearances. Below are some contrary views.

  • Teachers that use this method will often bias the class towards an anti-status quo position instead of allowing them to decide if they agree or disagree with the situation at hand.
  • This approach to understanding the nature of society is often presented in a very intellectual fashion. When an individual attains the interest to find out the validity of the statements they inherently must consider themselves separate from the rest of society. Critics will describe such a self-image as being elitist in a way which excludes the bulk of society thus preventing progress.
  • The goal exceeds the desire to instill creativity and exploration by encouraging detrimental disdain for tradition, hierarchy (such as parental control over children), and self-isolation.
  • Such a high degree of distrust in generally accepted truths will create or perpetuate conspiracy theories.
  • Critical pedagogists selectively pick icons to interrogate and subvert: for example, Thomas Jefferson but not Martin Luther King.
  • Many people involved in critical pedagogy have never been involved in serious struggles and have used the field to build themselves and a small publishing cabal rather than a social movement. Paulo Friere, for example, can be rightly critized for being for revolution wherever he was not, and for reform wherever he was.
  • Critical pedagogy is, in many instances, a movement in opposition to revolutonary or marxist movements as easily seen in its roots in Catholic base communities of Latin America, created to stave off the potential of class war. Much of critical pedagogy focues on cultural, language, and abstractions about domination rather than criticizing the centrality of class, alienation, and exploitation.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wieder, Alan (2003). Voices from Cape Town Classrooms: Oral Histories of Teachers Who Fought Apartheid. History of Schools and Schooling Series, vol. 39. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-6768-5.

External links[edit | edit source]

es:Pedagogía crítica fi:Kriittinen pedagogiikka

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