Critical pedagogy is based in critical theory. Critical pedagogy connects the concepts of critical theory with education.
“Many “critical theories”...have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms" (Bohman, J., Flynn, J., & Celikates, R., 2019).
Critical pedagogy originates especially from the work of Paulo Freire, an educator and philosopher whose work Pedagogy of the Oppressed formed the basis for critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy overlaps with pedagogies such as feminist pedagogy, anti-racist pedagogy, and inclusive pedagogy. These three pedagogies strongly pull from key theories introduced by critical pedagogues.
Critical pedagogy identifies education as being inherently political, and therefore, not neutral (Kincheloe, 2004, p.2). Critical pedagogy encourages students and instructors to challenge commonly accepted assumptions that reveal hidden power structures, inequities, and injustice in society.
Critical pedagogy acknowledges education is political; education has a history of inequalities, oppression, and domination that need to be recognized (Kincheloe, 2004). Likewise, education can become a way in which students are equipped to engage against systems of oppression when existing structures in education are challenged.
"A central tenet of pedagogy maintains that the classroom, curricular, and school structures teachers enter are not neutral sites waiting to be shaped by educational professionals" (Kincheloe, 2004, p.2).
Critical pedagogy connects social justice and teaching/learning. Students are seen as active participants in the classroom, and students, alongside teachers, have power.
Critical pedagogy at its core seeks to recognize systems and patterns of oppression within society and education itself, and in doing so, decrease oppression and increase freedom. As such, social justice is at the core of critical pedagogy.
"Questions of democracy and justice cannot be separated from the most fundamental features of teaching and learning” (Kincheloe, 2004, p.6).
In order to decrease oppression and domination, critical pedagogy seeks to empower students through enabling them to recognize the ways in which "dominant power operates in numerous and often hidden ways" (Kincheloe). Students and instructors alike are empowered through their knowledge of the hidden influences and politics within education and throughout society that lead to oppression and domination.
In this system, teachers become students and students become teachers. Paulo Freire introduced the concept of the "banking model of education" as a criticism of passive learning (Freire, p.72). Critical pedagogy pushes against passive learning, which places the instructor in a position of much higher power than the student. Active learning is one method in which the instructor can become less powerful in the classroom by having students collaborate in creating the content of the course. Dialogue is also used as a form of education. By allowing many perspectives, students' and instructors' perspectives can be changed and learning takes place.
“We must expose the hidden politics of what is labeled neutral” (Kincheloe, 2004, p.10).
Active learning gives students an opportunity to engage in the course using their own knowledge and personal experiences, as well as to learn using multiple methods of engagement. Active learning strategies such as group activities need to have clear expectations and roles, and instructors can check in to make sure students understand the expectations and roles. Brown University provides several examples of active learning strategies outlined below:
Key Terms Introduced by Paulo Freire:
Banking Model of Education - On the banking model of education, students are empty receptacles and teachers hold the source of knowledge. Students are treated as passive and as lacking knowledge themselves. "Knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing" (Freire Institute).
Praxis (Action/Reflection) - "It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality. They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection" (Freire Institute).
Dialogue - "To enter into dialogue presupposes equality amongst participants. Each must trust the others; there must be mutual respect and love (care and commitment). Each one must question what he or she knows and realize that through dialogue existing thoughts will change and new knowledge will be created" (Freire Institute).
Conscientization - "The process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action. Action is fundamental because it is the process of changing the reality. Paulo Freire says that we all acquire social myths which have a dominant tendency, and so learning is a critical process which depends upon uncovering real problems and actual needs" (Freire Institute).