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Critical Theory Pedagogies Guide

Key Terminology

  • Active Learning: According to Brown University, active learning refers to “teaching strategies that:

    • “Involve students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eisen, 1991, p. 2).

    • require “students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing” (Prince, 2004, p. 1).

    • “cognitively engage students in building understanding at the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy” i.e., critical thinking skills (National Academies, 2017, p. 3-3).”

  • Anti-Racism: "the actions, policies, and theories that challenge and oppose discrimination, inequality, and prejudice based on race" (Ornat, N., Binder, A., Bennett, A., & Beem, A.).

  • Bias: “Tendency to favour or dislike a person or thing, especially as a result of a preconceived opinion; partiality, prejudice. Also: an instance of this; any preference or attitude that affects outlook or behaviour, esp. by inhibiting impartial consideration or judgement” (OED Online). 

  • Implicit Bias: “Automatic preference… [for non-historically underrepresented groups that] predicts discriminatory behavior even among…[those] who earnestly (and, we believe, honestly] espouse egalitarian beliefs” (Banaji & Greenwald, 2013, p.46-47).

  • 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).

  • Critical Theory: 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).

  • 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).

  • Implicit Bias: “Automatic preference… [for non-historically underrepresented groups that] predicts discriminatory behavior even among…[those] who earnestly (and, we believe, honestly] espouse egalitarian beliefs” (Banaji & Greenwald, 2013, p.46-47).

  • Intersectionality: “The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise” (OED Online).

  • Microaggression: “A microaggression, defined succinctly, is an everyday exchange that cues a sense of subordination based on any one of a number of social identities, including: race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, nationality, religion, and disability (see Sue, 2010a, 2010b; Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007).” (Brown University). 

  • 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).

  • Privilege: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by an individual, corporation of individuals, etc., beyond the usual rights or advantages of others; spec.  (a) an exemption from a normal duty, liability, etc.;  (b) enjoyment of some benefit (as wealth, education, standard of living, etc.) above the average or that deemed usual or necessary for a particular group (in plural sometimes contrasted with rights)” (OED Online). 

  • Positionality: “The occupation or adoption of a particular position in relation to others, usually with reference to issues of culture, ethnicity, or gender” (OED Online). 

  • Stereotype Threat: “A type of social identity threat that occurs when one fears being judged in terms of a group-based stereotype”
    (Murphy, Steele, & Gross, 2011, p. 829)


Banaji, M.R. & Greenwald, A.G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. New York: Delacorte Press.

Bohman, J., Flynn, J., & Celikates, R. (2019). Critical Theory. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Concepts Used by Paulo Freire. (n.d.). Freire Institute.

Definitions of Inclusive Teaching. (n.d.). Brown University.

Kishimoto, K. (2018). Anti-racist pedagogy: From faculty’s self-reflection to organizing within and beyond the classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(4), 540-554.

Murphy, M.C., Steele, C.M., & Gross, J.J. (2007). Signaling threat: How situational cures affect women in math, science, and engineering settings. Psychological Science, 18(10): 879-885.

Ornat, N., Binder, A., Bennett, A., & Beem, R. (2021). Anti-Oppression Resources.

OED Online. (2021). positionality, n. Oxford University Press.

OED Online. (2021). bias, n., adj., and adv. Oxford University Press.

OED Online. (2021). intersectionality, n. Oxford University Press.

OED Online. (2021). privilege, n. Oxford University Press.