Critical Pedagogy on the Web

Linked with Freire Project.

This site has a dual focus, providing both a general overview of critical pedagogy–its definitions, history, key concepts, and major theorists–and links to other critical pedagogy resources on the web. It began as a final project for an independent study in educational theory in the Fall of 2002. It will be updated periodically, however, so feel free to send links, updates, and information regarding critical pedagogy resources on the web by e-mail … (about).

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Definitions – What is Critical Pedagogy? Although there is no static definition of “critical pedagogy,” as the term has undergone many transformations as educators have deployed new strategies to confront changing social and historical contexts, the term has traditionally referred to educational theory and teaching and learning practices that are designed to raise learners’ critical consciousness regarding oppressive social conditions.

In addition to its focus on personal liberation through the development of critical consciousness, critical pedagogy also has a more collective political component, in that critical consciousness is positioned as the necessary first step of a larger collective political struggle to challenge and transform oppressive social conditions and to create a more egalitarian society. As such, critical educators attempt to disrupt the effects of oppressive regimes of power both in the classroom and in the larger society. Critical pedagogy is particularly concerned with reconfiguring the traditional student/teacher relationship, where the teacher is the active agent, the one who knows, and the students are the passive recipients of the teacher’s knowledge (the “banking concept of education”). Instead, the classroom is envisioned as a site where new knowledge, grounded in the experiences of students and teachers alike, is produced through meaningful dialogue (see dialogical method).

Critical pedagogy has its roots in the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, whose influence is evident in the emancipatory works of Paulo Freire, the most renowned critical educator. For Freire, liberatory education focuses on the development of critical consciousness, which enables learners to recognize connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded. Coming to consciousness (”conscientization”) is the necessary first step of “praxis,” configured as an ongoing, reflective approach to taking action. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory. Social transformation is the product of praxis at the collective level.

Postmodern, feminist, anti-racist, postcolonial, and queer theories have all played a role in expanding and transforming Freirean critical pedagogy, shifting its predominant focus on class to include categories such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, and age. In place of the Marxist metanarrative and essentialist categories upon which Freire’s vision of liberatory education relies, many contemporary critical pedagogues have adopted more postmodern, anti-essentialist conceptions of identity, language, and power, while at the same time retaining the Freirean emphasis on critique, disrupting oppressive regimes of power/knowledge, and social change. Contemporary critical educators, such as Henry A. Giroux, Bell Hooks, and Peter McLaren, turn their critical gazes upon the impact of various issues, institutions, and social structures, including globalization, the mass media, and race relations, while also pointing out potentially productive sites of resistance and possibilities for change.

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