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Critical Theory Pedagogies Guide

  • Welcome to the Guide

Critical Pedagogy

  • Anti-Racist Pedagogy
  • Feminist Pedagogy
  • Inclusive Pedagogy

Critical Theory

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 Influences

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. 

Education as Political

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). 

Education and Social Justice

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). 

Empowering Students

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).

Putting it into Practice

Encouraging Dialogue

  • Focus on providing activities that encourage dialogue among students and instructor.
  • Dialogue is an area in which students can offer perspectives and contribute to the instruction as active participants. 
  • Incorporate discussion-based activities into instruction. 

Active Learning

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:

Small Discussion

  • Entry/Exit Tickets - short prompts that provide instructors with quick information. Entry tickets can help students focus on a particular topic. Exit tickets can help determine students' understanding of the material or allow students to think about what they've learned. 
  • Minute Paper/Free Writing: Short, 1-2 minute writing exercises where students can share their thoughts or provide feedback. Can also focus on a particular topic and have students make predictions about a topic.
  • A Gallery Walk: Prompts are placed around the room (or in a Google Doc if online) and students can go from station to station and answer the prompts.
  • Think-Pair-Share: Students are given a question or problem to consider on their own. Then, students are grouped into pairs to discuss and share their responses before sharing with the group. 
  • Jigsaw: Students are grouped into teams to solve a problem or analyze something. The teams can work on separate parts of an assignment before sharing to the whole class, or each student in the team can be assigned with a different part of the assignment. The puzzle pieces come together at the end to share a solution or conclusions. 

Large Groups

  • Incorporate pauses: Incorporate pauses into lectures to give students time to take notes or compare notes with peers.
  • Clicker Questions  / Polls: Can help increase participation in the class and facilitate active learning methods. Can be incorporated with other activities (e.g. clicker question, discussion with a peer, large discussion). 
  • Carousel Brainstorm: Students are separated into small groups, and a piece of paper is passed along from group to group with responses being written down. Students vote on the "best" responses. 
  • Role Playing: Role playing can be used to provide a new perspective. Students take on the perspective of historical figures/authors or other characters and interact from that figure's perspective. 
  • Sequence of Events: Students can work together to put a process into the correct sequence of events. This can test their understanding of the process. 

Diverse Perspectives

  • Activities which allow students to experience alternative perspectives can also help invite dialogue and critical thinking.

Key Figures & Theorists

  • Paulo Freire  (1921-1997) - Paulo Freire was a philosopher of education whose work became the foundation of critical pedagogy. Read more about Paulo Freire at the Freire Institute .
  • Henry Giroux (1943-Present) - A founding theorist in critical pedagogy, professor, and scholar. Read more about Giroux on Henry Giroux's website .
  • bell hooks (1952-Present) - A scholar, feminist, and activist whose work focuses on intersectionality, feminism, and critical pedagogy.
  • Peter McLaren  (1948-Present) - A leading scholar in critical pedagogy whose work relates to Marxist theory, critical literacy, and cultural studies. Read more about McLaren at his Chapman University faculty profile.
  • Ira Shor  (1945-Present) - A scholar and professor whose research is based in Freire's critical pedagogy. Read more about Shor on his faculty page at City University of New York.  
  • Antonia Darder  (1952-Present) - A scholar whose work covers issues of pedagogy, race, and culture. Darder's work is based in Freire's theories. Read more about Darder. 
  • Joe Kincheloe   (1950 - 2008) - Joe Kincheloe was a scholar whose work focused on critical pedagogy, cultural studies, and urban studies. 
  • Shirley Steinberg  - A scholar, activist, and author whose work focuses on critical pedagogy, cultural studies, and social justice. Read more about Steinberg at her faculty page at the University of Calgary. 

Key Readings

Cover Art

Paulo Freire Key Terms

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).

Additional Readings & Resources

Cover Art

  • Foundations of Critical Pedagogy (Stony Brook University) A LibGuide with a collection of readings regarding critical pedagogy.
  • Interrupting Bias - PALS Approach (University of Michigan) A PDF handout outlining the PALS method of interrupting bias in dialogue. The purpose of this method is to "introduce a new perspective in a way that others can hear."
  • Four Levels of Oppression (University of Michigan) Including 1) individual oppression, 2) interpersonal oppression, 3) structural/institutional/systemic oppression, 4) cultural oppression.

Referenced Guides & Sources

  • Bohman, J., Flynn, J., & Celikates, R. (2019). Critical Theory. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Concepts Used by Paulo Freire. (n.d.). Freire Institute.
  • Kincheloe, J. L. (2004). Critical pedagogy primer. P. Lang.
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what is critical pedagogy in education

5 Critical Pedagogy: Challenging Bias and Creating Inclusive Classrooms


Regardless of the type of library you work in, your learners will come from varied backgrounds, identities, and life experiences, and will bring different interests and educational needs to the classroom. These experiences shape how learners experience the classroom, the content, and the learning activities, and ultimately impact what they learn and how they use that knowledge. As instructors, we need not only to recognize these differences and how they influence learning but also acknowledge and honor the richness of experience our learners bring. We need to create an inclusive classroom environment where everyone feels welcome and valued, and where our content is relevant to our learners’ diverse identities and interests.

In order to be effective in this role, we must better understand how existing educational, social, and political systems shape our learners’ experiences from their earliest moments and continue to influence what and how they learn inside and outside of the classroom through the rest of their lives. We must recognize how bias has impacted and continues to impact both our learners’ and our own experiences, and develop culturally competent and inclusive practices in order to mitigate bias in the classroom and interact effectively with learners from varied cultural backgrounds.

Critical pedagogy provides a theoretical framework to examine issues of power in the classroom, and to surface and challenge the biases and oppressive structures that can undermine learning and alienate students. Inclusive teaching offers strategies for translating that theoretical knowledge into action. This chapter begins with a brief overview of critical pedagogy, followed by an examination of some of the biases critical pedagogy uncovers and how those biases can impact the work we do as instructors. Next, the chapter presents strategies for mitigating bias, improving our cultural competence, and creating inclusive classrooms where all learners are able to engage with relevant content and effective pedagogies. Chapter 6 extends the discussion of inclusion to address specific issues of accessibility and universal design for learners with disabilities.

Critical Pedagogy

As discussed briefly in Chapter 3, social constructivists in particular recognize that learners’ cultures, including shared values, behaviors, and beliefs, shape their knowledge. However, no society is made up of a single, monolithic culture; rather, different communities reflect different values and beliefs, and encourage and discourage different behaviors. Political, social, and educational systems tend to reflect the dominant culture, and over time the values, behaviors, and beliefs associated with that culture become so ingrained as to be invisible. Those living within the dominant culture do not recognize it as a system but simply see it as “normal,” and anything outside of that system is “other” than normal. Some educational theorists recognized that these differences have a profound impact on education.

Bourdieu (see, e.g., Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000) and Freire (2000), for instance, saw that traditional educational systems tended to reflect and favor the experiences of children from wealthy families. Because these children understood that system and saw themselves reflected in it, they thrived and were successful, while children from poorer families struggled. Since the dominant systems are essentially invisible, those in power tend to attribute the challenges faced by marginalized individuals as inherent to the person. In other words, if a child from a poor family struggles to learn to read, teachers will often assume the issue is with the child’s innate ability to learn, rather than recognize that the child might not have had the same preliteracy experiences and current support systems that other children have. Because they do not recognize the root issue, these educational models tend to replicate rather than challenge the existing systems, so learners from the dominant culture continue to succeed while those from marginalized communities continue to struggle, a phenomenon that Bourdieu refers to as cultural reproduction. While earlier theorists tended to focus mostly on the impact of economic disparities in education, other writers and educators like bell hooks, Henry Giroux, and Ileana Jiménez have applied feminist, queer, and critical race theory to examine how existing classroom power structures marginalize women, people of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+, and other learners as well.

Importantly, critical pedagogy does not end with theory but rather focuses on praxis, or translating knowledge into action. Critical pedagogy sees education as a tool for empowerment, a place where learners develop the knowledge and skills they need to undo oppressive structures and achieve liberation (Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015). Unlike the traditional “banking” model of education that positions learners as passive recipients of information, in a classroom guided by critical pedagogy, learners engage with problems that are personally meaningful and are active agents in their own education, and through that education gain agency to enact change in the world beyond the classroom (Elmborg, 2006; Freire, 2000; Tewell, 2015).

Critical pedagogy informs the critical approaches to information literacy discussed in Chapter 2, which urge us to move away from a skills-based, teacher-centered approach to information literacy toward one that questions dominant information structures and adopts student-centered teaching methods. Building on the ideas of agency and empowerment, critical information literacy encourages learners to see themselves as part of the “scholarly conversation” and as creators of information, rather than just consumers, and provides them with ways to recognize and challenge dominant powers within the current systems of creating, sharing, and evaluating information. Thus, for instructors, critical pedagogy pushes us to surface power dynamics in the classroom and the larger communities in which our learners live, and to reflect on how our own culture and biases color our approach to the classroom. In doing so, it offers a model for a more inclusive teaching practice.

Bias in the Classroom

We all have bias. These biases might be based on gender, race or ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, body type, or other elements of people’s personal identity. In some cases, we may be aware that we have a bias, while in other cases, we hold unconscious biases that we have unwittingly picked up over the course of our lifetime. Banaji and Greenwald (2013) show that our unconscious biases are particularly pernicious because we are unaware of the effect they have on our thoughts and actions, resulting in discriminatory judgments and behaviors that are automatic and hard to recognize. For example, research shows that when given résumés with equivalent qualifications from applicants with stereotypically white names and stereotypically Black names, search committees will favor applicants with stereotypically white names (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2003) and that orchestras have historically favored men over women in auditions (Goldin & Rouse, 2000). Unconscious bias also affects library services. Shachaf and Horowitz (2006) found differences in librarians’ replies to email reference queries based on the patron’s perceived ethnicity and religious affiliation, including the time taken to reply, length and quality of answers, and the use of welcoming, professional greetings and conclusions. These examples demonstrate one of Banaji and Greenwald’s important findings–that hidden biases result in acts of commission, such as favoring men or whites in hiring, as well as acts of omission, such as providing less thorough service to some patrons.

It can be uncomfortable and even challenging to recognize our own bias. As Sue (2010a) notes, most people “see themselves as fair-minded individuals who would never consciously discriminate” and “their self-image of being ‘a good moral human being’ is assailed if they realize and acknowledge that they possess biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings.” As we grapple with our own biases, it can be helpful to remember that our brains evolved to develop heuristics that allow us to function effectively and safely in our environment. These heuristics often operate at an unconscious level; if you have ever seen a snake and instinctively jumped back even before you could assess whether the snake was venomous, you have experienced an unconscious heuristic that told you snakes are dangerous. Unfortunately, unconscious thoughts and biases influence how we react to people as well, particularly when we perceive those people as “different” from ourselves. If we want to be fair-minded, rational people, it is essential that we identify and reflect on our unconscious biases, including recognizing how our society shapes and influences those biases, in order to mitigate the effect they have on our thoughts and actions (Banaji and Greenwald, 2013). Activity 5.1 provides an opportunity to learn more about unconscious biases you may hold.

Activity 5.1: Take an Implicit Bias Test

As part of its research on implicit bias, Project Implicit at Harvard University offers tests that attempt to measure personal biases. While these tests are not perfect measures, they offer a starting point for reflecting on how we might be impacted by unconscious bias. Visit Project Implicit and try one or more of the available tests.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • How did you feel about your results? Were you surprised or uncomfortable? Did other feelings emerge?
  • If your test results revealed a personal bias, how might that bias affect your work in the classroom? What strategies could you use to mitigate this bias and deliver high-quality instruction to all your learners?


One manifestation of bias is microaggressions, which Sue (2010a) defines as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Microaggressions may be aimed at women, people of color, individuals who identify (or are perceived) as LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities, among others. Microaggressions come in many forms, including verbal (e.g., “Where are you from?” which implies a person of color must be a foreigner; telling a woman to smile), nonverbal (e.g., clutching one’s purse more tightly or crossing the street around a person of color), or environmental (e.g., Native American mascots) (Sue, 2010b). While microaggressions may appear minor, they create hostile classroom environments, perpetuate stereotype threat, lower workplace productivity, and cause mental and physical health problems (Sue et al., 2009, p. 183).

Because microaggressions often reflect our unconscious biases, they can be hard to eliminate. Princing (2019) notes that when we first meet someone new, we tend to notice what makes them different from us. She recommends we reflect on those thoughts and question any beliefs or stereotypes that may accompany them. The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (n.d.) also recommends that instructors reflect on their assumptions and expectations as a first step to avoid committing microaggressions. For example, an instructor who assumes that learners from first-generation or lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less prepared for college might make a comment to that effect in the classroom, making students hesitant to attend office hours lest they confirm the instructor’s negative belief. Additional strategies instructors can use:

  • Resist the myth of color blindness. Unconscious bias makes it difficult to be truly colorblind. In addition, claims of color blindness obscure structural disadvantages and the very real differences in the experiences of people from marginalized groups (Princing, 2019).
  • Believe the stories of people from marginalized groups. We can learn more about everyday bias by listening to and learning from the stories of individuals who have firsthand experience with bias. We must take care not to dismiss those stories as exaggerations, misunderstandings, or isolated incidents.
  • Do not ask students to speak for their entire racial or culture group. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, and students may not feel capable of speaking for the experience of others (Reinert Center, n.d.). In addition, singling out learners in this way can make it appear that the instructor sees them as a one-dimensional representative of a particular identity, rather than as an individual bringing varied strengths, interests, and experiences to the classroom.
  • Assume groups you are talking about are represented in the classroom. Treating every classroom interaction as if we were speaking with a member of the group under discussion can remind us to choose our words with care (Reinert Center, n.d.).
  • Remain open to learning about microaggressions and yourself. While it is natural to feel defensive when others point out that we have said something problematic or offensive, we can approach such instances as learning opportunities.

In addition to recognizing the role that bias might play in our own actions, instructors should be aware that students will bring their own biases to the classroom. These biases will affect how learners understand and interact with instructional content, peers, and instructors, and instructors should be attentive to instances where learners commit microaggressions against one another. Microaggressions can be awkward and even challenging to address, especially if they were framed as a compliment (e.g., “You speak English so well”) or reflect commonly accepted stereotypes. Offenders may be unaware of the offense they have caused and because they did not intend to offend others, may be reluctant to accept responsibility for having done so. However, it is important to address such events clearly and promptly. Sue et al. (2019, p. 134) note that when microaggressions occur, small interventions by allies and bystanders have a “profound positive effect in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment” and discouraging further microaggressions. Strategies for addressing microaggressions in the classroom include:

  • Make the “invisible” visible.  Create awareness by naming the microaggression with statements such as “I think that’s a stereotype I just heard” (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Disarm the microaggression. Statements such as “I don’t agree” or “I don’t see it that way” and actions such as shaking one’s head communicate to the perpetrator and others that the microaggression is not acceptable (Sue et al., 2019, p. 136).
  • Take an educational, nonpunitive approach. Turn microaggressions into teachable moments by asking learners to reflect on their assumptions (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d., p. 11). Phrases like “it sounds like you think” or “Could there be another way to look at this?” can prompt speakers to identify and question their unconscious biases (Gonzaga et al., 2019). Ferguson (2015) suggests we approach microaggressions in the spirit of “calling in” rather than “calling out.”
  • Redirect. When students are asked to speak for all members of their racial or cultural group, we can redirect the conversation with statements such as “Let’s open this question up to others” (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Use “I” statements. The use of “I” statements such as “I felt uncomfortable when you said . . . ” communicate impact while minimizing blame (Gonzaga et al., 2019).
  • Discuss intent versus impact. Instructors can use statements like “I know you meant to be funny, but you hurt . . . ” to help learners recognize the impact of something they said. If learners struggle with the idea that they may have offended or harmed someone despite not intending to cause offense, instructors can use metaphors such as bumping someone in the grocery store or causing a car accident to explain the difference between intent and impact (and the need to make amends).
  • Rewind. Sometimes microaggressions happen so quickly, the conversation moves on before they are addressed. Statements like “I’d like to revisit something that was said earlier” allow us to step back and address these microaggressions ( Gonzaga et al., 2019).

Another manifestation of bias can be “othering,” or treating the history and experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people as universal or the norm, while presenting the history and experiences of other groups as unusual, exceptional, or only of interest to members of those communities. For example, displaying books by Black authors in February, but not at other times, sends an implicit message that the history of America is the actions and accomplishments of whites and that the accomplishments of others are of limited value or interest. While special displays and programs are an important way to recognize and support events like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month, librarians should also integrate materials by individuals of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ authors into displays year-round.

In some cases, the systems that are foundational to libraries treat selected groups as the other. For example, the Dewey Decimal System reserves 200-289 for topics related to Christianity and the Bible, leaving only the 290s for all other religions; Schingler (2015) points out that this reflects an underlying assumption that Christianity not only has more to say on theological topics, what it has to say is more valuable. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are notoriously problematic in their treatment of women and people of color (Berman, 1969, 1993; Drabinski, 2008; Knowlton, 2005). The presence of subject headings such as “women astronauts” and “African American business enterprises” reveals an assumption that these professions are for white men and that the presence of others is unusual or remarkable, while subject headings that utilize biased terminology, such as “illegal aliens,” send a message about who belongs in America.

These instances of bias and othering can create barriers to information seeking. Howard and Knowlton (2018) point out that Library of Congress Classification distributes materials related to African American and LGBTQIA+ issues throughout the collection, making browsing or even grasping the scope of the topic challenging for researchers. Even when controlled vocabulary uses neutral terminology, the accompanying thesauri can obscure topics for patrons trying to identify the database’s preferred subject heading. For example, a search for “queer” in the ERIC thesaurus returns “the term(s) you entered could not be found” with no suggestions for next steps ( ERIC uses the subject heading “homosexuality”). In comparison, a search for “queer” in the thesaurus for PubMed takes one to the preferred subject heading, “sexual and gender minorities,” along with notes about how the term is applied and related/narrower terms.

As part of creating inclusive classrooms, we must be aware of the ways in which library systems and spaces can “other” marginalized groups, and take steps to improve equity and inclusion in our spaces and collections. For example, when creating lessons, we can plan search examples that reflect the diversity of our community and learners’ interests. As appropriate, we can surface and acknowledge problematic practices, and engage students in a dialogue about the impact of those practices and how they might be changed. Integrating diversity into curricular content is addressed in more detail later in this chapter.

Deficit-Based Thinking

Learners, by their very nature, come to our libraries and classrooms with gaps in their knowledge and skills. Oftentimes, instructors seek out research that will help them identify these gaps in order to develop relevant content. While this research can provide valuable guidance for instructors, it is sometimes framed solely in terms of what learners are lacking and can lead us to focus exclusively on students’ weaknesses, an approach termed deficit-based thinking.

Increasingly, educators are taking an asset-based approach that recognizes and builds on the strengths students bring to the classroom (Heinbach, 2019; Ilett, 2019; Kocevar-Weidinger et al., 2019; Matteson & Gersch, 2019; Tewell, 2020). For example, research on returning adult learners may show that they lack up-to-date research and citation skills, framing this as a problem that will hinder academic success. An asset-based approach recognizes that adult learners, by virtue of having spent time in the workforce, bring valuable life experience that can enrich classroom discussions, along with strong collaborative and interpersonal skills developed in the workplace. In addition, adult learners tend to have clear educational and career goals and are highly motivated to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in higher education. As another example, Kocevar-Weidinger et al. (2019) show that despite the stereotype that first-year college students lack research skills, they actually have extensive everyday research experience that can serve as a starting point for academic information literacy instruction.

Sometimes things characterized as weaknesses or deficits are in fact strengths if we recast our narrative. For instance, research on first-generation students may focus on the challenges they encounter because their families are unable to advise them on how to navigate the academic and social aspects of college. Research also shows that first-generation undergraduate students are less likely to use campus support services (Longwell-Grice et al., 2016; Portnoi & Kwong, 2011). An asset-based approach recognizes that families of first-generation students are often very supportive of their students’ academic endeavors and, if given information about support services on campus, will recommend their students take advantage of such services. Thus, while they lack firsthand knowledge of higher education, family members can be a conduit to connecting first-generation students to campus resources. Activity 5.2 asks you to think more deeply about asset-based approaches.

Activity 5.2: Reflecting on Asset-Based Thinking

Individually or with a group of classmates, select a group of learners you might work with, such as recent immigrants, English-language learners, international students, or older adults.

  • What gaps in knowledge or skills are typically ascribed to this group? Are these viewed as simple gaps or as deficits?
  • What strengths will this group of learners bring to the classroom?
  • How could you use an asset-based approach to build on these strengths in designing instruction?

Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is the ability to work effectively with people from varied cultural backgrounds. Cultural competency is an essential skill for librarians; it prepares us to recognize barriers to information use, to work with colleagues and patrons of diverse backgrounds, and to develop culturally responsive services and programs (Cooke et al., 2017; Kim & Sin, 2006; Morris, 2007; Overall, 2009). Instructors who are culturally competent understand how culture influences teaching and learning, and are able to engage learners from diverse backgrounds in the classroom.

Cultural differences can emerge in our classrooms in numerous ways. For example, contemporary American classrooms tend to be student-centered; students are expected to ask questions during lectures, discuss ideas and even disagree with instructors and peers, and engage in self-directed learning activities. In contrast, some cultures value teacher-centered classrooms where learners are expected to listen respectfully as teachers share their expertise. International students and recent immigrants who are accustomed to teacher-centered instruction may be uncomfortable during discussions and student-led activities and may even feel instructors are abdicating their responsibility to share expertise. They may also be reluctant to “bother” the instructor by asking questions or admitting they did not understand something. Culturally competent instructors can attend to these differences by interspersing discussion and active learning with direct instruction, encouraging questions and participation in discussions, and explaining how the planned activities support learning. In addition, librarians can create more culturally inclusive classrooms by:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly, especially when working with learners from different cultures and language backgrounds.
  • Avoiding slang, idioms, and sarcasm, none of which translates well across cultures, and using humor judiciously.
  • Avoiding library jargon, which is likely to be unfamiliar to international students and recent immigrants, as well as to novice learners in general.
  • Respecting cross-cultural rules for personal space and touching.
  • Making expectations for participation explicit.

Cultural differences may surface in surprising ways. Bunner (2017, p. 43) provides an example of a student who got in trouble for answering a question in class, not realizing that the teacher was asking a rhetorical question, something that does not exist in his culture. The student explained, “in my culture when an adult asks you a question, you are supposed to answer.” Osa et al. (2006) highlight the care we must take in using or interpreting body language and facial expressions; they provide the example of raised eyebrows, which can indicate surprise, interest, approval, skepticism, or disapproval, depending on the culture of the speaker. Whether or not to make eye contact as a sign of respect and the appropriate finger with which to point also differ by culture.

These are only a few examples of cultural differences. Cultural differences also influence written and conversational communication styles, preferences for individual or cooperative problem solving and study, tolerance for uncertainty, conventions of politeness, and expectations for how children will interact with adults (Brook et al., 2015; Cifuentes & Ozel, 2006; Gay, 2002; Weinstein et al., 2003). Activity 5.3 asks you to think about cultural differences you have experienced.

Activity 5.3: Reflecting on Cultural Differences

Think of a specific instance of a cultural difference or misunderstanding that you have observed.

  • What behaviors were central to the situation?
  • What values, beliefs, or assumptions are reflected in the behaviors of each person involved?
  • How might these values, beliefs, or assumptions influence a person’s experience in the classroom?
  • How might your recognition of these values, beliefs, and assumptions impact your understanding of your students and your instruction?

In order to provide culturally competent instruction, librarians must develop their cultural knowledge and translate that knowledge into strategies for action. Villagran (2018) suggests librarians use the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) model as a framework for reflection and professional development. This model, shown in Figure 5.1, has four components: drive, knowledge, strategy, and action (Cultural Intelligence Center, n.d.).

  • Drive: This component reflects our interest, persistence, and confidence in learning about other cultures and working in culturally diverse environments. For example, librarians might be motivated to learn about other cultures in order to improve their ability to design and deliver inclusive services for members of their community.
  • Knowledge: This component is our understanding of cultural similarities and differences. Instruction librarians who want to improve their cross-cultural knowledge might seek out readings and professional development opportunities on how culture impacts teaching and learning.
  • Strategy: This component reflects the metacognitive element of cultural competence; it is our ability to plan for and reflect on multicultural encounters. Culturally competent instruction librarians recognize their learners will come from varied backgrounds, develop strategies to create inclusive instruction, and reflect on their teaching experiences in order to identify areas for improvement.
  • Action: This component is our ability to use appropriate behaviors during multicultural interactions. Instruction librarians can translate cultural competence into action through their instructional design and delivery and through their interactions with individual learners.

Figure 5.1: The Cultural Intelligence Model

what is critical pedagogy in education

An example may demonstrate how librarians can use the Cultural Intelligence model as a guide to professional development. Early in her career as an academic librarian, one of the authors, Melissa, heard that international students from Asia would answer questions such as “Do you understand?” with “yes” out of politeness, whether or not they understood the material being taught. Concerned that she might not be teaching international students effectively (drive), Melissa sought out articles about library services for international students and talked with a colleague with expertise in the area (knowledge). This research helped her better understand cultural differences in teaching and learning, and confirmed the need to modify the instructional strategies she used in the classroom and at the reference desk (strategy). As a result, Melissa became conscientious about speaking slowly, avoiding slang and library jargon, using open-ended questions that could not be answered with “yes,” providing written handouts, and using a pencil or her entire hand to point, instead of the index finger (action).

Librarians can use a number of strategies to develop their cultural knowledge, including reading books and articles, participating in relevant conferences and webinars, and attending cultural events such as festivals, museum exhibits, and film screenings. Reflection is an important part of cultural competence; a teaching journal, discussed in more detail in Chapter 14, can prompt librarians to reflect on classroom experiences, record teaching success, and identify areas for improvement. Conversations with colleagues are also a way to increase cultural knowledge, reflect on one’s teaching, and develop new strategies for inclusive pedagogy. Activity 5.4 is an exercise to reflect on your own learning and instructional practices using the Cultural Intelligence model.

Activity 5.4: Building Cultural Competency

Using the Cultural Intelligence Model shown in Figure 5.1, reflect on your cultural competence, either in general or with regard to a specific patron group with whom you anticipate working.

  • How would you rate your cultural competence? Are you stronger in some areas, such as Drive or Knowledge, than others?
  • What motivates you to improve your cultural competency?
  • How have you built your cultural knowledge? What resources can you use to continue building your knowledge?
  • Do you feel confident applying your cultural competence in the classroom? What strategies would you use as you plan and deliver instruction?

While learning about different cultures can empower librarians to provide more culturally relevant instruction, librarians should avoid categorizing or stereotyping specific learners. Cultural groups are not static or homogeneous, meaning learners from the same broad cultural group will not necessarily share all of the same values, beliefs, and understandings, or react in exactly the same way to instructional experiences. In addition, learners are comprised of multiple identities, of which culture is only one aspect. Thus, we should use the knowledge we develop about different cultures as a way to be alert to potential differences that could lead to misunderstandings, but not to pigeonhole or predict the behavior and experience of an individual learner.

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching

Increasing our knowledge and understanding of other cultures is only a first step toward cultural competence and inclusive teaching. We also need to parlay that understanding into instructional practices that acknowledge, appreciate, and attend to the rich diversity of our classrooms. This section presents strategies for inclusive teaching, including fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Fostering a Positive Classroom Climate

Our sense of belonging in the classroom influences our motivation to learn. The Center for Teaching and Learning (2019) at Columbia University identifies four types of classroom environments:

  • Explicitly Marginalizing: The instructor or other students say or do things, such as committing microaggressions or repeating stereotypes, that exclude learners and perspectives from marginalized backgrounds.
  • Implicitly Marginalizing: The instructor excludes some learners through subtle actions such as calling primarily on male students or using examples solely from the predominant culture.
  • Implicitly Centralizing: The instructor will discuss issues of marginalization and diversity if a student raises the topic, but such conversations are not planned or presented as essential.
  • Explicitly Centralizing: The instructor intentionally integrates marginalized perspectives into course content, raises issues of diversity and inclusion, and takes action to foster sensitivity, such as establishing norms for discussion and group work.

While the environment in any classroom can fluctuate, the overall classroom climate is often less inclusive and welcoming than instructors realize. In one study, instructors rated their course as falling midway between implicitly and explicitly centralizing, while learners rated the same course as implicitly marginalizing (Center for Teaching and Learning, 2019).

One conclusion we might take away from this research is the need for critical self-reflection on the part of instructors. In addition, the research suggests that instructors must make a concerted effort to create an inclusive classroom environment. Some strategies we can use include:

  • Express interest in students. Welcoming participants as they enter the room and learning their names help participants feel recognized (if you are worried about remembering names, you can have them create a table tent or name tag). In addition, instructors should come out from behind podiums, which can be perceived as distancing, to engage with participants. Reflective activities such as minute papers also offer opportunities to respond to individuals and demonstrate interest in their learning (Center for Teaching and Learning, n.d.; Bunner, 2017).
  • Establish ground rules for discussions. Establishing guidelines for civil, constructive interaction is becoming more common in credit courses; oftentimes, instructors engage students in creating these guidelines in order to foster a sense of ownership. The time constraints of library workshops may not allow for lengthy or collaborative agreements; however, librarians can establish simple ground rules, such as respecting the opinions of others and valuing diverse perspectives, at the beginning of sessions (Watts, 2017).
  • Foster student-to-student relationships. Instructional strategies that foster interaction such as think-pair-share, small group work, and class discussions promote positive classroom relationships.
  • Make expectations explicit. As mentioned earlier, cultural background can influence classroom behaviors such as participation styles and how, or whether, to ask questions. Instructors should make their expectations explicit with comments such as “I hope you will ask a lot of questions as we go along,” or “Right now we are going to work independently, but later we’ll share our work with others.”
  • Express high expectations for all students. Instructors should use an encouraging, positive tone, while also setting high expectations for all learners. Gay (2002) and Weinstein et al. (2003) point out that stereotypes based on race and/or gender can cause instructors to lower expectations for certain groups of students. Weinstein et al. (2003) offer the example of a non-native speaker of English who was offended when a teacher told him his English was “good,” rather than suggesting he continue to practice. He felt the former was patronizing and did not help him improve his language skills.
  • Address microaggressions and other forms of bias. As discussed earlier, instructors should be mindful of stereotypes and take care not to perpetuate them, and to practice intervention strategies that can be used when microaggressions occur in the classroom.
  • Ask for feedback. Instructors can use course evaluations and classroom observations to gather feedback on how well they foster an inclusive classroom environment.

Integrating Diverse Content

All learners have a right to instructional offerings that address their needs and interests. At the program level, we should offer workshops and other instructional resources on a wide variety of topics that are suitable for patrons of varied ages and ability levels. We should take care to schedule classes and programs at varied times to ensure access for the widest number of people. For example, a traditional storytime program on a weekday morning will serve families with a stay-at-home parent as well as families where parents work the late shift or on weekends, while a pajama storytime held in the evening will serve families where parents and other caregivers work during the day.

In addition, our course content should reflect the diversity of our communities and the larger world. Not only does this allow learners to “see” themselves in the curriculum, it provides opportunities for all learners to learn about diversity and equity and to develop cultural competence. In addition, integrating discussions of diversity and equity throughout the curriculum ensures these issues are not “othered” or treated as an addendum to a curriculum where whiteness and heterosexuality are the norm. Further, we must engage these topics in authentic ways, rather than with benign or superficial celebrations of multiculturalism (Bunner, 2017, p. 42; Kumasi & Hill, 2011, p. 252). Some strategies librarians can use to integrate diversity and inclusion into instructional content:

  • Use diverse examples. For instance, a librarian teaching a workshop on Overdrive can conduct sample searches featuring authors of diverse identities. An academic librarian or archivist teaching students to locate primary documents from World War II might highlight sites with materials from the Tuskegee Airmen or the all Japanese-American 442nd Regiment. Hinchliffe (2016) notes that librarians can call attention to issues of human rights through the examples used in class.
  • Choose metaphors and analogies carefully. While metaphors and analogies can help learners build on prior knowledge and make concepts more concrete, they are often embedded in cultural knowledge or experiences that not everyone will share. Similarly, pop culture references may exclude learners based on their age or cultural background, although in some cases librarians can pause to offer a brief explanation.
  • Discuss how issues of race, class, and gender impact the material being covered. Gorski and Swalwell (2015, p. 36) argue, “at the heart of a curriculum that is meaningfully multicultural lie principles of equity and social justice—purposeful attention to issues like racism, homophobia, sexism, and economic inequality.” Gay (2002) suggests that instructors address topics such as racism, historical atrocities, and structures of power, and contextualize issues within race, class, and gender. While librarians may initially feel uncomfortable discussing challenging topics in the classroom, Bunner (2017, p. 43) found that ignoring issues of race is more problematic for students of color than imperfect conversations.
  • Model how participants can seek out marginalized voices and perspectives. In addition to incorporating a wide range of perspectives into our own teaching, we can encourage others to adopt a wider perspective and demonstrate resources and search strategies to uncover marginalized voices.

As part of creating a more inclusive curriculum, librarians will need to build collections that incorporate the histories and voices of marginalized groups. After all, it will be difficult to use diverse examples or demonstrate strategies for surfacing marginalized voices if our print and online collections do not contain that material. In addition, we need to be skilled at working within these collections. Curry (2005, p. 70) found that small behaviors like raised eyebrows, biting one’s lip, or a reserved or even neutral affect communicated discomfort while helping a patron research LGBTQIA+ topics, leading the patron to be less likely to ask for help in the future. In the same study, Curry (2005, p. 71) found that even librarians who indicated a willingness to help the patron lacked the necessary knowledge to identify appropriate sources of information. While Curry’s study focused on assisting patrons at the reference desk, her findings are very applicable to the classroom.

Part and parcel with building our knowledge of resources, we must understand the biases and weaknesses built into existing search systems, and develop strategies to find information within (or despite) those systems. Drabinski (2008) shares her experience of teaching with a colleague who incorrectly assumed that if LCSH has a heading for “African American women,” it must also have a heading for “white women” and advised students to use that phrase when searching. Noble (2012, 2018) shows that search engines such as Google are not neutral; rather, they replicate the biases inherent in society, delivering search results that reinforce stereotypical depictions of women and people of color. Ultimately, librarians who are committed to integrating equity and inclusion into the classroom must step back to look at the totality of their library’s spaces, collections, and systems.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Pedagogy is our approach to teaching. It reflects our understanding of the learning process, our goals for the classroom environment and student learning, and, subsequently, the activities one plans for the classroom. Instructors who practice inclusive pedagogy recognize that students have varied preferences for and comfort levels with different learning activities such as lecture, whole-class discussion, and small group work, and offer varied ways for learners to engage in the classroom.

Instructors can select from a wide variety of activities when planning instructional sessions. In fact, novice instructors are sometimes overwhelmed by the seemingly endless array of options. Chávez and Longerbeam (2016, pp. 8-9) suggest cultural approaches to teaching and learning range from “individuated,” which tend to compartmentalize content and treat learning as an individual experience, to “integrated,” which are more interconnected and focus on shared learning experiences. Instructors might seek to balance activities that reflect an individuated approach such as lecture, independent practice, and reflective writing, with activities that reflect an integrated approach such as discussion, case studies, and collaborative work.

Another approach we can take is balancing instructor-centered and learner-centered activities. Instructor-centered activities are those in which the instructor has a strong role in directing course content and the process of student learning, such as lecture and demonstration. In student-centered activities, students direct and shape their own learning; examples of student-centered activities include small group work, case-based and problem-based learning, and practice exercises that allow students to explore their own interests.

In addition to varying classroom activities, instructors can offer learners choices. For example, during an online searching activity, we might give learners the option of trying a task on their own or collaborating with their neighbor. Instructors can also adapt activities to create a more inclusive environment. For example, workshop participants might be reluctant to engage in a discussion with others they do not know well, especially if the topic is sensitive. A think-pair-share, which offers time for individual reflection and ordering one’s thoughts, or a small group discussion, where one shares ideas with just a few others, may feel safer for participants and can be used as a lead-in to a whole-class discussion or activity.

Emancipatory Education

While inclusive pedagogy outlines the strategies we can take as instructors to honor our learners’ experiences and make our classrooms and instruction welcoming and accessible to all learners, critical pedagogy also recognizes learners as agents in the classroom and in the world. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed , Freire (2000) discusses the emancipatory aspects of education, or how education can be structured so as to empower marginalized and oppressed communities to liberate themselves from systems of oppression. Crucial to Freire’s approach is that the learners are the agents of their own liberation. Instructors can facilitate this process by recognizing and mitigating bias and through the inclusive strategies outlined in this chapter, but ultimately, learners should be empowered to act on their own behalf.

We can foster emancipatory education within the library classroom by surfacing oppressive practices not only within education but within library systems and structures, facilitating dialogues about these practices, and encouraging students to imagine and adopt roles for themselves in challenging those systems. Chapter 2 outlines steps we could take in the context of critical information literacy, such as helping students recognize how prevailing publishing practices and notions of authority favor some voices and marginalize others, and encouraging them to seek out those voices that have been marginalized to include their perspectives. We can also work with learners to take action in the wider world, as librarians at Dartmouth College did when they collaborated with students to petition the Library of Congress to eliminate the term “illegal aliens” from its official subject headings (Albright, 2019).

Our learners bring varied backgrounds, identities, and educational needs to the classroom. Using critical pedagogy as a guide, librarians can adopt inclusive teaching practices that create classrooms, libraries, and, ultimately, communities that are more just and equitable for all members.

Key takeaways from this chapter include:

  • Instructors should understand the role unconscious bias plays in discrimination and inequity, and develop strategies to prevent and address microaggressions, othering, and deficit thinking.
  • Cultural competence is a set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that enable librarians to interact effectively with patrons from diverse backgrounds. Instruction librarians need to understand how culture affects teaching and learning, and develop strategies for inclusive pedagogy.
  • Elements of inclusive teaching include fostering a positive classroom climate, integrating diverse perspectives and issues of diversity and equity into course content, and using inclusive pedagogies.

Activity 5.5 asks you to reflect on inclusive teaching.

Activity 5.5: Reflecting on Inclusive Teaching

Find (or draw) an image, photo, gif, etc., that captures your thoughts on inclusive teaching. Share your image and a brief explanation with your classmates.

Suggested Readings

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (Eds.). (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods . Library Juice Press.

Edited by leading writers on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS, this book offers a series of authored chapters that apply feminist, critical race, queer, and anti-oppressive theory and strategies to the library classroom. Chapters range from a broad examination of social power in the library classroom to application of specific strategies such as service learning and problem-based learning.

Adichie, C. N. (2009). The Danger of a Single Story. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading . https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Adichie’s warning about how seeing others through a “single story” reflects systems of power and leads to deficit thinking is an important one for instruction librarians.

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2013). Blind spot: Hidden biases of good people . Delacorte.

Based on the authors’ extensive research, this is an excellent and highly readable introduction to unconscious bias.

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen: Using student voices to design culturally responsive and just schools.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Bunner worked with students in grades 4 through 12 to identify strategies for culturally responsive teaching. In this article, she outlines six strategies and uses student voices to illustrate their importance and examples of successful implementation. The article includes an activity where instructors can reflect on their own practice.

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In the Library with the Lead Pipe . http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/

Ettarh coined the term “vocational awe” to describe the perception that librarianship is a calling that requires sacrifice. As a result of vocational awe, librarians are hesitant or unable to critique libraries and the work of librarians, not only leading to workplace problems but oftentimes preventing us from solving (or even acknowledging) those problems.

Feminist Teacher . https://feministteacher.com .

By noted critical pedagogist Ileana Jiménez, this blog explores a variety of issues around critical pedagogy, diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching, with a focus on the K-12 classroom.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary edition). Bloomsbury.

Freire’s foundational text examines the ways in which traditional models of education replicate oppressive structures and argues for an educational model that centers the learners’ experiences in order to empower them to challenge those systems.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487102053002003

Gay provides four strategies for culturally responsive pedagogy: developing knowledge about cultural diversity, designing culturally relevant curricula, developing cross-cultural communication skills, and demonstrating caring.

Inclusive teaching: Supporting all students in the college classroom. Center for Teaching. Columbia University. https://www.edx.org/course/inclusive-teaching-supporting-all-students-in-the

Available from edX, this professional development course offers a thoughtful introduction to inclusive teaching. Although aimed at faculty teaching credit courses, instructors in all types of libraries will find valuable tips for creating an inclusive classroom environment, diversifying content, and engaging in critical self-reflection. A print resource with similar information, Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia , is available online at https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/inclusive-teaching-resources/ and numerous videos from the course are available from Columbia Learn on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/CCNMTL/playlists?view=50&sort=dd&shelf_id=26

Jensen, R. (2004). The myth of the neutral professional. Progressive Librarian, 24, 28-34. http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/PL/PL24/028.pdf

Jensen challenges the myth of neutrality within libraries, arguing that to claim to be neutral is to support the existing political system. His critique of library programming is particularly relevant for instruction librarians.

Leckie, G. J., Given, L. M, & Buschman, J. E. (2010). Critical theory for library and information science: Exploring the social from across the disciplines . Libraries Unlimited.

Through a series of essays, chapter authors explore various aspects of library and information science through different critical lenses and apply the work of specific theorists to examine current practices in LIS. Chapter 8 proposes a model for transformative pedagogy based on the work of Freire, but readers will find inspiration and ideas for integrating critical theory into their work throughout the text.

McCombs School of Business. (2018). Implicit bias. University of Texas. https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/implicit-bias

This brief, nine-minute video offers a cogent introduction to unconscious bias.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2015). Speaking up: Responding to everyday bigotry. https://www.splcenter.org/20150125/speak-responding-everyday-bigotry

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers strategies and scripts for responding to microaggressions and other forms of bigotry in workplace, educational, social, and family settings.

Souza, T. (2018, April 30). Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: Taking ACTION. Faculty Focus . https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/responding-to-microaggressions-in-the-classroom

Souza provides a framework and helpful scripts for instructors to address microaggressions.

Storti, C. (1997). Culture matters: The Peace Corps cross-cultural workbook. Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange. https://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/library/T0087_culturematters.pdf

Developed for Peace Corps volunteers, this interactive workbook is an excellent introduction to cultural competence. Chapters address how people of different cultures understand the concept of self, personal and social obligations, time, and locus of control, and how these differences impact communication, interpersonal relationships, and the workplace.

Sue, D. W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M. N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C. Z., & Mendez, N. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: Microintervention strategies for targets, white allies, and bystanders. American Psychologist, 74 (1) , 128-42. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000296

Sue et al. provide a concise introduction to microaggressions and the harm they cause and suggest strategies that targets, allies, and bystanders can use to disarm them. Although the discussion and examples focus on racial microaggressions, the strategies are applicable to all types of microaggressions.

Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy: A review of the literature. Communications in Information Literacy, 9 (1) , 24-43. https://doi.org/10.15760/comminfolit.2015.9.1.174

Tewell provides a concise, cogent explanation of critical pedagogy and its application to library instruction.

Weinstein, C., Curran, M., & Tomlinson-Clarke, S. (2003). Culturally responsive classroom management: Awareness into action. Theory into Practice, 42(4), 269-276. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4204_2

This article is rich with examples of how culture affects expectations for teaching and learning, and provides strategies for developing a culturally responsive classroom practice.

Albright, C. (2019, April 22). ‘Change the subject’: A hard-fought battle over words. Dartmouth News . https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2019/04/change-subject-hard-fought-battle-over-words

Berman, S. (1969, February 15). Chauvinistic headings. Library Journal, 94, 695.

Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. McFarland.

Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination (NBER Working Paper No 9873). https://www.nber.org/papers/w9873

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.C. (2000). Reproduction in education, society, and culture (2nd edition). Sage Publications.

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library.  Library Trends, 64, 246-284. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2015.0048

Bunner, T. (2017). When we listen.  Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 38–45.

Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Guide to inclusive teaching at Columbia . Columbia University. https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/inclusive-teaching-resources/

Center for Teaching and Learning. (2019). Common challenges related to course climate [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=441&v=blM6IPlu2nM

Chávez, A. F., & Longerbeam, S. D. (2016). Teaching across cultural strengths: A guide to balancing integrated and individuated cultural frameworks in college teaching. Stylus.

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Cooke, N. A., Spencer, K., Jacobs, J. M., Mabbott, C., Collins, C., & Loyd, R. M. (2017). Mapping topographies from the classroom: Addressing whiteness in the LIS curriculum. In G. Schlesselman-Tarango (Ed.), Topographies of whiteness: Mapping whiteness in library and information science (pp. 235-250). Library Juice Press.

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Gorski, P. C., & Swalwell, K. (2015). Equity Literacy for All. Educational Leadership, 72(6), 34-40.

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Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism . New York University.

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Sue, D. W. (2010b). Racial microaggressions in everyday life. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life

Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15 (2) , 183-90. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014191

Tewell, E. (2020). The problem with grit: Dismantling deficit thinking in library instruction. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 20 (1) , 137-59. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2020.0007

Villagran, M. A. L. (2018). Cultural intelligence: Ability to adapt to new cultural settings.  Knowledge Quest, 46 (5), 8–14.

Watts, J. (2017). Inclusive cultural and social pedagogy in the library classroom. LOEX Quarterly, 44 (1) , 8-10. https://commons.emich.edu/loexquarterly/vol44/iss1/4/

Weinstein, C., Curran, M., & Tomlinson-Clarke, S. (2003). Culturally responsive classroom management: Awareness into action. Theory into Practice, 42 (4) , 269-276. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4204_2

Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers Copyright © 2020 by Laura Saunders and Melissa A. Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Evolving Education

Critical Pedagogy

what is critical pedagogy in education

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of progressive teaching whose objective is to promote the development of critical thinking in the student to generate individuals capable of examining the established power structures, as well as the patterns of inequality constituted in the status quo. Education emphasizes social responsibility and constitutes the motor of progress, since it helps students to develop a perceptive and investigative awareness of the cultural situation. In a world marked by violence, exploitation, racism, class differences and globalization, knowledge can not be treated from a neutral point of view and the student has to be constituted as an active citizen and committed to social reality. This trend considers the political nature of education. The school must generate individuals capable of having a critical vision about the construction of knowledge.

One of the main founders of this practice is Paulo Freire , who defined “ education can not be neutral, it is either an instrument of liberation or an instrument of domestication “. Education must liberate the individual through a conscious, understood and analyzed  act.

Teacher should encourage students to observe and stimulate the students’ awareness, with the objective that they value social reality and build knowledge based on their experiences. To achieve this goal teachers problematize the world, creating the right conditions for the learning process to take place.

Students build new expectations, reaching a state of reflection that facilitates the understanding of their own reality, identifying problems and inconsistencies and the search for new possibilities. The use of dialogue is essential for the learning process, as well as to create a mutual commitment among the participants. In addition, students’ autonomy and self-management are strengthened as well as responsability for their own learning. Critical pedagogy dynamics are based on social participation, contextualized education, horizontal communication and the evolution of social reality.

How can we move from passive students, consumers of information to radical critical thinkers, creators of a sustainable future? Discover how you can support this transition in The Learning Expedition , a formative experience to support learners to develop autonomy and responsability.

Contents vary according to students’ needs and interests, who participate in the establishment of goals, course objectives and expectations. The content treated must be significant and relevant to students. In this way, the student can relate knowledge to existing social problems in order to take the necessary actions to solve them. Learning involves exploring reality, developing awareness and critically intervening in it.

Methodological options start from the approach of problems or problematization of the reality and inquiry about problematic issues of the life of the students through questions. Within the method followed, 5 stages are observed: description of the discussion content, problem definition, problem personalization, discussion, and development of alternatives to solve the problem. 

The organization of the students and spaces may vary depending on the activities, although generally speaking, provisions that facilitate dialogue are used, such as tables arranged in a circle. This provision guarantees horizontal dialogue.

The teaching-learning activities are varied, although all of them start from problem definition and the use of dialogue as a fundamental element that directs learning. Among the most common activities are: experimental activities, round table, forums, seminars, lectures, debates, discussions, creative expression.

The teaching material is usually varied, authentic and inclusive, and can be provided by students based on their interests about relevant issues in their lives, such as news, readings, experiences .

Evaluation assesses the students’ productions such as diaries, presentations, critical reflections, exams and questionnaires; taking into account established standards. The student is also involved in the evaluation process through techniques such as self-evaluation, peer evaluation and hetero-evaluation. The evaluation process is accompanied by feedback and qualification sessions, within which the dialogue qualification is also used.

  • Aliakbari, M. y Faraji, E. (2011). Basic principles of critical pedagogy. IPEDR, 17(14).
  • Breunig, M.(2005). Turning experiential education and critical pedagogy theory into praxis. Journal ofexperiential education, 28 (2), 106-122.
  • Delgado-Noguera, M.A. (1991). Los Estilos de Enseñanza en laEducación Física. Propuesta para una Reforma de la Enseñanza. Granada:Editorial ICE.
  • Fernández-Balboa,J.M. (2004). Recuperando el valor ético-político de la Pedagogía: las diferencias entre la Pedagogía y la Didáctica. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.
  • Miller, R. (2004). A Map of the Alternative Education Landscape. Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO).
  • Ramírez, R. (2008). La pedagogía crítica. Una manera ética de generar procesos educativos. Folios. 28, 108-119.

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what is critical pedagogy in education

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Critical Pedagogy

  • Types of Critical Pedagogy
  • Introduction to Critical Pedagogy

What types of Critical Pedagogies are there?

Antiracist pedagogy, culturally sustaining pedagogies, engaged pedagogy.

  • Getting Started with Critical Pedagogy
  • Publications in Critical Pedagogy

Here, we will look more closely at a few select pedagogies. This is by no means an exhaustive list as there are many methods of teaching and learning that have emerged from various critical theories.

Antiracist Pedagogy has been defined as "a paradigm located within Critical Theory utilized to explain and counteract the persistence and impact of racism using praxis as its focus to promote social justice for the creation of a democratic society in every respect" (Blakeney, 2005). Like all critical pedagogies, antiracist pedagogy challenges the hidden curriculum and critiques the banking system of education, both concepts first introduced by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed .

An expanded definition that explicitly considers teaching offers this:

"Anti-racist pedagogy is not about simply incorporating racial content into courses, curriculum, and discipline. It is also about how one teaches, even in courses where race is not the subject matter. It begins with the faculty’s awareness and self-reflection of their social position and leads to application of this analysis in their teaching, but also in their discipline, research, and departmental, university, and community work. In other words, anti-racist pedagogy is an organizing effort for institutional and social change that is much broader than teaching in the classroom." (Kishimoto, 2018).

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP) "seeks to perpetuate and foster--to sustain--linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of schooling for positive social transformation" and "positions dynamic cultural dexterity as a necessary good, and sees the outcome of learning as additive rather than subtractive, as remaining whole rather than framed as broken, as critically enriching strengths rather than replacing deficits" (Paris & Alim, 2017). CSP builds upon and pushes forward concepts from previously posited asset pedagogies including:

  • Culturally Compatible Pedagogy (Jacob & Jordan, 1987)
  • Culturally Congruent Pedagogy (Au & Kawakami, 1994)
  • Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995)
  • Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (Gay, 2000)

Engaged Pedagogy was first posited by bell hooks who believed that teaching should center well-being which requires that teachers "be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students (1994). The overarching focus of engaged pedagogy is to educate as a practice of freedom.

Au, K., & Kawakami, A. (1994). Cultural congruence in instruction. In E. Hollins, J. King & W. Hayman (Eds.), Teaching diverse populations: Formulating knowledge base (pp. 5-23), Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Blakeney, A. M. (2005). Antiracist pedagogy: Definition, theory, and professional development. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 2 (1), 119–132.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Jacob, E., & Jordan, C. (1987). Moving to dialogue. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18 (1), 259-261.

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.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32 (3), 465-491.

Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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13 Critical Pedagogy

At the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify key elements of social reconstructionism and critical pedagogy
  • Explain the major tenets of critical pedagogy and how they can be utilized to support instruction
  • Summarize the criticisms of critical pedagogy and educational implications

Scenario: Ms. Barrows woke in the middle of the night to rethink her unit on ratios. Students seemed totally uninterested. She thought back to her own schooling and recalled the teacher who made the difference in her schooling, the one who encouraged the students to consider different points of view on contemporary and historic events and develop critical questions that connected to their own lives. Ms. Barrows recalled how she and her classmates had conducted a role play and hotly debated the issues. The students ultimately wrote letters to their city council about the issues. They felt they were actually doing something about it. It did not feel like school work, and it ultimately drew Ms. Barrows to the teaching profession. Through the years, Ms. Barrows had become the “expert teacher” who mastered her content area with great pride. Her lesson plans had not changed much from year to year, and they were becoming rather tiring, even to her.

Thinking about this special teacher, Ms. Barrows knew her learning activities needed to engage the students with something meaningful, something they would care about. Thinking about the legacy of the institutions that informed the social fabric upon which her students exist, it became clear that provisioning an environment where students could analyze disparities and act on them would provide a relevant topic in which to explore ratios.

After a long night of contemplation and rumination, she began to plan a lesson on income inequality, showing salaries of famous athletes, rappers, politicians, social media celebrities, teachers, construction and restaurant workers. She found some Youtube videos profiling these individuals to draw students in at the start. She built in places for students to express their ideas on the topic and feel the impact on their own lives. She took students through the concepts of ratios and created relevant word problems for students to solve. Depending on the students and the learning experience, Ms. Barrows knew she wanted to create space for students to come up with next steps, not just with math but with this topic of income inequality. She knew she had to see where the learning experience took them, that she had to open herself up to this uncertainty, that her students needed to decide what was important to them and co-create next steps in the learning.

As you read about critical pedagogy, consider how important it is for educators to know what is meaningful to their students, and how this involves getting to know their students. Students are not blank slates. They are full of rich stories and experiences, and effective critical educators seek to engage those stories and experiences.These educators know that  learning must be co-constructed and that they need to engage students in things they care about.

What kind of questions could such a photo elicit? Consider the rich discussion possibilities on the concepts of freedom, fear and love.


What is Social Reconstructionism?

Social reconstructionism was founded as a response to the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust to assuage human cruelty. Social reform in response to helping prepare students to make a better world through instilling liberatory values. Critical pedagogy emerged from the foundation of the early social reconstructionist movement.

What is Critical Pedagogy?

Critical pedagogy is the application of critical theory to education. For critical pedagogues, teaching and learning is inherently a political act and they declare that knowledge and language are not neutral, nor can they be objective. Therefore, issues involving social, environmental, or economic justice cannot be separated from the curriculum. Critical pedagogy’s goal is to emancipate marginalized or oppressed groups by developing, according to Paulo Freire, conscientização, or critical consciousness in students.

Critical pedagogy de-centers the traditional classroom, which positions teachers at the center. The curriculum and classroom with a critical pedagogy stance is student-centered and focuses its content on social critique and political action. Such educators propose a liberatory practice, in which the central purpose of educators is to liberate and to humanize students in today’s schools so that they can reach their full potential. Using power analyses, they seek to undo structural societal inequities through the work of schooling. They emphasize the importance of the relationship between educators and students, as well as the co-creation of knowledge. Education is a way to freedom.

Major influences on the formation of critical pedagogy: John Dewey, W.E.B. Dubois, Carter G. Woodson, Myles Horton, Herbert Kohl, Paulo Freire, Maxine Greene, Henry Giroux, Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis, Martin Carnoy, Michael Apple, bell hooks, Jean Anyon, Stanley Aronowitz, Peter McLaren, Donaldo Macedo, Michelle Fine

Paulo Freire: 1921-1997

Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in the northeastern city of Recife in Brazil’s poorest region, Pernambuco. Much of Brazil’s citizenry were impoverished and illiterate, and run by a small group of wealthy landowners.  Freire’s family was middle class but experienced hardships, especially during the Great Depression. His father died in 1934 and Paulo struggled to support his family and finish his studies. After completing his studies, Freire went on to work in a state-sponsored literacy campaign. It was here that Freire began to interact with the peasant struggle. Freire was nominated to lead Brazil’s National Commission of Popular Culture in 1963  under the liberal-populist government of João Goulart whose government created many policies to assist the poor such as mass literacy campaigns. As is often the case, these reforms were opposed by the upper classes who eventually supported the military coup which overthrew the government and installed a right-wing dictatorship. Freire was imprisoned for his political leanings and role with literacy reforms. Upon his release from prison, Freire went into exile for a number of years, returning in 1980 to become the secretary of education for the state of  São Paulo.

  Image 13.4

It was during his exile that Freire wrote the book which would make him globally famous.   Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in Portuguese in 1968, and in English in 1970 has had tremendous influence on educators worldwide. As people struggled for civil rights across the globe in the 1970s, Freire’s work had popular appeal. “However, [Freire’s] enduring popularity and influence attests to another, even more intractable context: even as many more people around the world have access to education, schooling everywhere remains intertwined with systems of oppression, including racism and capitalism, and traditional models of top-down education don’t work well for everyone” (Featherstone).

Freire’s critique of education was replicated and perpetuated the classist inequitable society, feeding oppressed workers into the capitalist structure. He wrote that  our educational systems have the potential to liberate or oppress their students, and in the process humanize or dehumanize their students. Freire argues that people live one of two ways: humanized or dehumanized, and that this is the central problem of humankind. Freire argued that people become dehumanized because of unjust systems, systems that provide access to some and not to others.

Freire highlighted the power dynamic between teacher and students and critiqued the power that teachers held with the supposed “truth” of their opinions and curriculum (what should be taught in a particular discipline), as well as their evaluation of students.  Freire critiques the  traditional frame of the teacher as the authority or expert and the students as “empty vessels” or sometimes referred to as “blank slates.”

Freire coined the term “the banking method” for the way in which traditionally teachers deposit information into their students, as if they are empty vessels or receptacles. Students become oppressed through this system of education where they learn to memorize and regurgitate the facts deposited in them by their teachers. Students in these systems, in fact, come to expect such oppression and are in fact upset when their teachers do not take on the expert role. Freire believed that the traditional model creates a kind of ignorance where students are unable to critique knowledge and power, and are in fact dependent on their expert teachers.

In fact, Freire believed this mentality makes students vulnerable to oppression in their lives moving forward: at work, school, and in society at large. Freire believes it is critical for students to participate in this process of learning, to liberate themselves.

“For apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, men cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Freire).

Freire proposes to overthrow the traditional hierarchy in the classroom. Liberation and humanization result from what Freire referred to as “dialogical” interaction between teachers and students and a co-creation of knowledge and learning. He came to understand that true liberation comes about through dialogue between the teacher and student, where they learn from each other.

“The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them” (Freire).  This pedagogy creates an environment of mutual respect, love, and understanding and leads students toward liberation. Freire believed that it is important that oppressed people define the world in their own terms. It is only with this common language (defined by the oppressed) that dialogue can begin. The concept of a superiority or hierarchy  of educators such as a teacher has no place in Freire’s classroom. Dialogue must engage everyone equally.

bell hooks: 1952- 2021

Image 13.5 “to educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. that learning process comes easier to those of us who teach who also believe there is an aspect to our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” (hooks).

bell hooks was born with the name Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952 in a segregated town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky to a working-class African American family. She was one of six children. Her mother worked as a maid for a White family and her father was a janitor. Eventually she took on the name of her great-grandmother, to honor her female lineage, spelling it in all lowercase letters to focus attention on her message rather than herself. She has written many books, and initially famous for her work as a Black post modern queer feminist and her first published work Aint I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism in 1981. She taught English and Ethnic Studies for many years at a variety of institutions of higher learning. She wrote books on many topics including multiple forms of oppression, racism, patriarchy, Black men, masculinity, self-help, engaged pedagogy, personal memoirs, sexuality, feminism, and identity.

bell hooks grew up in segregated schools which provided shining examples of what schooling could be. Bell loved her Black teachers and describes school as a place of ecstasy and joy. Her black teachers were committed to nurturing intellect and activism among their Black students. They considered learning especially for Black people in the US, an important political act, a way to counter White racist colonization. These teachers made it their mission to know their parents and communities. Bell describes how these missionary Black teachers saw this important work as uplifting the race and provided a level of caring  for the whole child, in order for that child to survive in a racist society.  Bell’s disillusionment with education began with school integration, when she was bussed across town to White schools, where schooling was about ideas and no longer the whole person. She continued to feel disillusioned when she entered higher education.

hooks describes Paulo Friere as a mentor for he embraced the idea that learning could be liberatory. At a time when hooks had become quite disillusioned with education, Freire gave her hope and the confidence to transgress as an educator. She recalled  “Finding Freire in the midst of that estrangement was crucial to my survival as a student” (p. 17). All the things Freire said about the banking method and traditional education complimented her ideas about what education should and should not be. hooks desired to co-create learning spaces with her students, to do away with the idea of the dictatorial teacher as an all-knowing expert. She passionately believed that learning should be engaging and ‘never boring,’ and without preconceived set agendas. Creating this excitement and engagement was dependent on knowing each other through dialogue in the classroom. The teacher must make every student feel valued and recognize that everyone in the classroom affects the dynamic.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, was another major influence for hooks particularly regarding health and well-being. Self-actualization can not occur without self-care. Hooks’ holistic concept of engaged pedagogy  centers care and healing in the process of learning. Thich Nhat Hanh was concerned with the whole body, more than just the mind (on which Freire primarily focused) according to bell hooks. This wholeness includes mind, body and spirit and emphasizes well-being, a somewhat radical notion in academia.

Bettina Love: c. 1981-present

“When you understand how hard it is to fight for educational justice, you know that there are no gimmicks; you know this to be true deep down in your soul, which brings both frustration and determination. Educational Justice is going to take people power, driven by the spirit and ideas of the folx who have done the work of anti-racism before: abolitionists…this endless, and habitually thankless, job of radical collective freedom-building is an act of survival, but we who are dark want to do more than survive: we want to thrive. A life of survival is not really living” (Love, p.9).

Bettina Love describes being raised in the 1980s in Rochester, New York. She is an American academic and author, and currently is the William F. Russell Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she has been instrumental in establishing abolitionist teaching in schools. Love defines abolitionist teaching as restoring humanity to children in schools. Abolitionist schooling is based on intersectional justice, anti-racism, love, healing and joy, that all children matter, and specifically affirming that Black Lives Matter.

“Abolitionist teaching asks educators to acknowledge and accept America and its policies as anti-Black, racist,  discriminatory and unjust and to be in solidarity with dark folx and poor folx fighting for their humanity and fighting to move beyond surviving. To learn the sociopolitical landscape of their students communities through a historical intersectional justice lens” (Love, p. 12)

Love weaves themes of hip hop into her education praxis. She believes the elements of hip hop have everything to do with self-awareness, critical thinking, and social emotional intelligence. She gives particular attention to knowledge of self. In elementary classrooms, she breaks down the elements of  hip hop to work with her students.

Love is known for advocating for the elimination of the billion-dollar industry of standardized testing, opposing English-only policies and the school-to-prison pipeline, and providing a strong critique of how teachers are prepared. She began her teaching career in a “failing” school in Florida serving low-income immigrant children of many educational and language backgrounds. It was here she began to see how “educational reforms” such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Common Core, and Race to the Top created a sense of hopelessness for students, their families, and staff.

Love unapologetically states that some people should not be teaching because they lack understanding of oppression and oppressed groups who may be sitting in their classrooms  (Love, p. 14) and that such teachers should not be teaching Black, Brown, or White children. “Many of these teachers who ‘love all children’ are deeply entrenched in racism, transphobia, classism, rigid ideas of gender, and Islamophobia” (Love, p. 12).

“Teachers must embrace theories such as Critical Race Theory, Settler Colonialism, Black Feminism, dis/ability, critical race studies and other critical theories that have the ability to interrogate anti-Blackness and frame experiences with injustice, focusing the moral compass toward a north star  that is ready for a long and dissenting fight for educational justice” (Love, p. 12).

Love points out that when educators do not understand the meaning behind the statement/the movement “Black Lives Matter,” they should not be teaching because they lack a fundamental understanding of systemic and historic racism and how it has impacted Black communities and Black students. Such educators tend to blame the victim instead of the systems, for example blaming the incarcerated father instead of learning about how the justice system has incarcerated disproportionate numbers of Black men.

Critical Race Theory

So, what is Critical Race Theory anyways? Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been used by all sides of the political spectrum as a marketing tool or divisive instrument. In popular media, there is not much accurate information about it. Educators who use CRT believe it is vital to understand how racism operates at all levels in US society, whether by law or custom. Any educator who cares about effectively working with communities of color must spend some time understanding the tenets of this theory, and it behooves anyone who works in US schools to take the time to learn the theory, and especially if they are critiquing it. This is simply a brief introduction and further study is strongly recommended.

CRT was initially developed by Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman who were frustrated by the slow pace of racial reform in the US. In the 1970s many activists and scholars felt that while the Civil Rights Movement had stalled, the law disregarded people of color and lacked an understanding of racism and how deeply embedded it was in US society. CRT provides an analysis in which power structures in the US are based in historic and systemic White supremacy and White privilege which in turn marginalizes people of color. With CRT, the individual racist is irrelevant because society is set up to give more access to White people over others in all areas of society: education, health care, housing, politics, justice etc. This is what is known as White privilege and it has to do with our collective history of inequities upon whose foundation this nation is built. If you do not know much about this history, plan on building your knowledge base through workshops, classes and other resources such as what is listed below:

As leaders and as educators, we should not perpetuate wrongs of the past, and this happens when we do not examine our past and do not account for things that have had a huge impact on our present lives. We need to recognize historical patterns and understand their impact, such as how the people who had access to housing (especially in certain neighborhoods) built their wealth which has compounded and created the income gap that exists between White and Black families (see Video 13.2), and impacts all aspects of society including education. The US educational system has not adequately educated us on this topic and at the same time has become highly politicized regarding topics such as race or inequality which have been presented as antithetical to notions of meritocracy and patriotism. This dichotomy does not serve us well as it prevents us from evolving and moving forward as a nation. As a result, many educators have been coached or mandated to avoid these topics. Generations of US Americans have internalized these stories, unconsciously or consciously, and hence, do not see the oppression unless they are called to examine it, and this is what Critical Race Theory helps us to do.

What does “White Supremacy” Mean?

White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and individuals of color by white individuals and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege .

The main tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) are:

  • Racism is deeply embedded in all aspects of US society . The power structure  is based in W hite supremacy and privilege. CRT rejects myths of meritocracy and liberalism because they ignore systemic and historic inequities (for example: meritocracy doesn’t add up when some people have been accumulating generational wealth due to historic racism for many decades. Check out resources above; educate yourself!
  • Intersectionality : recognizes a multidimensionality of oppressions including race, sex, class, gender, sexual orientation and how in combination, these play out in a variety of settings. CRT seeks to recognize all oppressions and how they intersect with race.
  • Counter narratives challenge the dominant narrative and give voice to those who have been silenced by white supremacy . Their stories are critical to centering the experiences of people of color.
  • There is a commitment to Social Justice to end all forms of oppression.

While CRT started in the legal field, it has spread to other disciplines such as education.

When applying CRT to public K-12 education, one must consider:

  • Who are our teachers?
  • Who are our students?
  • What is in our curriculum? Who created it? Who is promoted in the curriculum? Which voices are centered? Which voices are left out? Do they not matter?
  • Who gets promoted in our schools?
  • Who tests well? Who gets into TAG and honors courses?
  • Who sits on our school boards? Who are our educational leaders?
  • How are schools funded?
  • Whose language is promoted? Whose language is left out and what is the impact of that?
  • How is success measured? Grading for what? Whose values? Who decides?
  • Who is made to feel that they belong? Who does not belong?
  • Who typically gets the best prepared teachers?
  • Who gets college degrees, masters degrees, and how recently?
  • Does race correlate with any of this? (a fundamental question when using a CRT lens)

How do the answers to all these questions help you to think about CRT as it applies to our educational system? If you do not know how race correlates, you probably will not understand CRT. Critical educators would recommend that you deepen your understanding of how race is so embedded in our institutions and our history, and specifically our educational system, which has clear repercussions for how our society is ultimately structured, and who becomes our political, economic, and social leaders. In order to live in a more just society, critical educators want our students to wrestle with these questions, and fight for a more just future. They want the learning to move beyond the classroom and connect with the lives and challenges of our students. Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Bettina Love, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King and many others have said this will be a fight and a struggle that will likely not be realized in your own lifetimes. When you understand this, you can grasp the enormous potential and responsibility of educators on a daily basis in the United States.

Criticism of CRT

Critical Race Theory very recently has become a source of much debate across the country, somewhat to the surprise of people who have been studying these issues for years. “Fox News has mentioned ‘critical race theory’ 1300 times in less than four months. Why? Because critical race theory (CRT) has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present” (Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons, Brookings Institute). NBC News reported that Critical Race Theory is not actually taught in K-12 education but due to the negative attention it is getting, educators are weary of using certain authors, teaching about systemic racism or on a variety of historic and social topics. Most people critiquing CRT do not seem to understand what the theory actually stands for, and have framed it as a divisive framework. Again, it is important for all educators to understand what the theory stands for, and that is not taught in US schools. This debate continues to highlight how divided the country is on race and racism, as is brought into focus through the debate over the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”


Image 13.1 “Fist Typography” by GDJ  is in the Public Domain, CC0

Image 13.2 “Liberate Minnesota Protest” by Wikipedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Image 13.3 “Paulo Freire” by Flickr is in the Public Domain

Image 13.4 “Income Inequality”  is in the Public Domain

Image 13.5 “As More People of color Raise their consciousness” by Flickr is in the Public Domain

Image 13.5 “We want to do more than survive” by Bettina Love  

Image 13.6 “HipHop Mascot” by vectorportal.com is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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  • Darder, Baltodano, Torres, The Critical Pedagogy Reader, 2nd edition, New York, RoutledgeFalmer,  2009

2.         Featherstone , Liza https://www.jstor.org/stable/4028864?mag=paulo-freires-pedagogy-of-the-oppressed-at-fifty

3.     Freire, Paulo, 1921-1997. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York :Continuum, 2000.

4.     Hooks Bell. Teaching to Transgress : Education As the Practice of Freedom , Routledge 1994.

5.    https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-oneonta-education106/

6.         https://newsreel.org/video/RACE-The-House-We-Live-In

7.     https://www.mediamatters.org/fox-news/fox-news-obsession-critical-race-theory-numbers

8.    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/15/books/bell-hooks-dead.html

9.    Ladson-Billings, Gloria; Tate, William F, IV. Towards a Critical Race Theory of Education, Teachers College Recor d, Vol. 97, Iss. 1,  (Fall 1995): 47.

10.   Love, Bettina L. We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, Massachusetts, Beacon Press, 2019.

11.   McCausland, P. 2021. Teaching critical race theory isn’t happening in classrooms, teachers say in survey. NBC News , July 1. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/teaching-critical-race-theory-isn-t-happening-classrooms-teachers-say-n1272945

12.   O’Kane, C. 2021. Head of teachers union says critical race theory isn’t taught in schools, vows to defend “honest history”. CBS News , July 8. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/critical-race-theory-teachers-union-honest-history/

13.   Ray, R., and A. Gibbons. 2021. Why are states banning critical race theory? The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/

14.   Sawchuck, S. 2021. What Is critical race theory, and why is it under attack? Education, Week , May 18. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05?utm_source=nl&utm_medium=eml&utm_campaign=eu&M=62573086&U=1646756&UUID=cc270896d99989f6b27d080283c5630c

15.     Skloot, Rebecca, 1972-. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York :Random House Audio, 2010.  

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What is Critical Pedagogy? Rethinking Teaching Methods

Critical Pedagogy is a way of thinking about and teaching education. It’s not just about learning facts and figures but about understanding the world around us and how we can change it for the better.  This approach encourages students to ask questions, think critically about their society, and recognize the influence of power and politics in their lives.

Today, we’ll explore what Critical Pedagogy is, how it differs from regular teaching methods, and why it’s important.

Key Principles

Critical Pedagogy

Critical Pedagogy revolves around the concept of “critical consciousness” – a term coined by Freire to describe the ability to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions and to take action against oppressive elements in society.

It encourages students to analyze their own experiences in relation to the broader social context and to understand the power dynamics at play.

This pedagogical approach challenges traditional teaching methods, which often ignore these larger societal issues. It emphasizes the role of education in shaping more just and equitable societies.

Furthermore, Critical Pedagogy is not just about understanding the world, but also about transforming it through informed action.

Focus on Social Justice

Critical Pedagogy - Critical Consciousness

A significant aspect of Critical Pedagogy is its commitment to social justice. It aims to educate students not just academically but also as active, critical citizens who can challenge injustices and inequalities in society.

This approach fosters a sense of responsibility among students to work towards a more equitable world. It goes beyond the classroom, inspiring students to apply their learning in real-world contexts.

The focus on social justice equips students with the skills and knowledge to become agents of change in their communities. It also leads to the development of empathy and understanding of different perspectives and experiences.

Transformative Learning

Critical Thinkers

Critical Pedagogy is transformative in nature. It seeks to transform the traditional teacher-student relationship, promoting a more participatory and collaborative learning environment. It also aims to transform students into critical thinkers and active participants in their communities, capable of challenging and changing oppressive structures.

This transformation extends to how knowledge is created and shared, making it a more democratic and inclusive process.  The learning experience under this model becomes more engaging and relevant to students’ lives.

Ultimately, Critical Pedagogy empowers students to not only question what they learn but also to shape the learning process itself.

Implementation of Critical Pedagogy

In the classroom.

Implementing Critical Pedagogy

Implementing Critical Pedagogy in the classroom involves creating a learning environment where dialogue, critical thinking, and reflection are encouraged. Teachers act as facilitators rather than authoritative figures, guiding students to question and challenge prevailing norms and ideas.

This includes using teaching methods that are interactive , such as group discussions, debates, and problem-solving activities that are relevant to students’ lives and societal issues. These activities are designed to foster a sense of community and collaboration among students.

The role of the teacher shifts from being a dispenser of knowledge to a co-learner and co-creator of knowledge with the students. This approach helps to break down the traditional power hierarchies in the classroom, promoting a more egalitarian learning experience.

Beyond Traditional Curriculum

Critical Pedagogy pushes for a curriculum that is not confined to traditional academic subjects. It incorporates themes around social justice, cultural diversity, and political awareness. The curriculum is often tailored to reflect the experiences and backgrounds of the students, making learning more relevant and engaging for them.

This approach ensures that education is not just about the acquisition of knowledge but also about understanding the context and application of that knowledge. It also allows for the inclusion of marginalized voices and perspectives, which are often overlooked in conventional curricula.

By doing so, Critical Pedagogy makes learning more inclusive and representative of the diverse world we live in.

Student Empowerment

Students Empowerment

A key aspect of implementing Critical Pedagogy is empowering students . This means giving them a voice in their education, encouraging them to express their views and opinions, and making them active participants in the learning process.

It also involves helping students develop the skills and confidence to effect change in their communities and society at large. Empowerment in this context is about more than just academic success; it’s about nurturing independent, critical thinkers who are socially and politically aware.

It’s about equipping students with the tools to critically analyze the world around them and to envision and work towards a better future. This empowerment can have a lasting impact, not only on the students themselves but also on the communities and societies they are part of.

Challenges and Criticisms

One of the main challenges in implementing this approach is the resistance it often meets from traditional educational systems. These systems are typically structured around standardized tests and a fixed curriculum, leaving little room for the flexible and dynamic approach that Critical Pedagogy requires.

This resistance can stem from a lack of understanding of the approach or from an adherence to more conservative educational philosophies. Additionally, the shift from traditional methods to a Critical Pedagogy approach requires significant changes in teaching practices, which can be a daunting task for educators.

Balancing Academic Goals

Another challenge is balancing the goals of Critical Pedagogy with academic standards and requirements. Teachers need to find ways to integrate critical and reflective thinking into the curriculum without compromising on academic rigor and excellence.

This balance is crucial to ensure that students are not only critically aware but also academically competent . Finding this balance often requires innovative teaching strategies and a willingness to experiment with new methods of instruction.

It also involves advocating for changes in educational policies and standards that recognize the value of critical thinking and social justice in the curriculum.

Criticism of Ideological Bias

This method has been criticized for being overly ideological and for promoting a particular political agenda. Critics argue that it might lead to indoctrination rather than education, as it emphasizes certain worldviews at the expense of others.

These criticisms highlight the need for Critical Pedagogy to remain open and inclusive, ensuring that diverse perspectives are acknowledged and discussed. It is important for educators to be aware of their own biases and to strive for a balanced approach to their teaching.

The goal of Critical Pedagogy should be to foster independent thinking and critical analysis, rather than to impart a specific ideological viewpoint.

Can Critical Pedagogy be applied to all age groups and educational levels?

Yes, this philosophy can be adapted to suit various age groups and educational levels. For younger students, it might involve more basic discussions about fairness and justice, while at higher education levels, it could include in-depth analyses of social, political, and economic systems.

The key is to tailor the approach to be age-appropriate and relevant to the students’ experiences and understanding.

How does Critical Pedagogy handle the diversity of student opinions, especially on controversial topics?

It encourages diverse opinions and open dialogue. It aims to create a safe space where all students feel comfortable sharing their views, even on controversial topics. Educators facilitate discussions in a way that respects different perspectives while guiding students to critically analyze and question underlying assumptions and biases.

This approach helps students develop empathy and a deeper understanding of complex social issues.

What role do parents and guardians play in Critical Pedagogy?

Parents and guardians play a supportive role. They can encourage their children to question, reflect, and engage with societal issues at home, reinforcing the principles learned in the classroom.

Open communication between educators and parents about the goals and methods of Critical Pedagogy can also help create a more cohesive and supportive learning environment .

Are there specific subjects where Critical Pedagogy is more effective?

This philosophy can be effective in any subject, as it is more about the approach to learning than the content itself. However, it is particularly impactful in social sciences, literature, and history, where there is ample scope to discuss social justice, power dynamics, and cultural contexts.

That said, it can also be integrated into STEM subjects by exploring the ethical and societal implications of scientific and technological advancements.

How do educators prepare to teach using Critical Pedagogy?

They often undergo specific training or professional development to understand its principles and methods. This can include workshops, courses, and collaborative learning with peers.

Educators also need to be committed to continuous self-reflection and learning, as this philosophy requires an awareness of one’s biases and an ability to facilitate open, respectful discussions on a wide range of topics.

While Critical Pedagogy presents its own set of challenges and requires a shift in traditional educational practices, its focus on social justice, student empowerment, and transformative learning makes it a valuable approach in today’s rapidly changing world.

Ultimately, this approach is about creating a more equitable and just society through education.

Related Posts:

  • Pedagogy vs Andragogy - Different Teaching and…

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Teaching students about gloria ramirez, teaching students about brothels: contextualizing the topic in education, 22 spectacular manga for kids, primary assembly: meerkats as pets, exploring alternatives to ieps, 26 geo board activities for kids, 28 money-based activities to expand financial literacy, demonstrating fairness, consistency, and accountability in the classroom, examining the links between professional development and behavior: part 2, how to implement critical pedagogy into your classroom.

what is critical pedagogy in education

Critical pedagogy is a teaching philosophy that invites educators to encourage students to critique structures of power and oppression. It is rooted in critical theory , which involves becoming aware of and questioning the societal status quo. In critical pedagogy, a teacher uses his or her own enlightenment to encourage students to question and challenge inequalities that exist in families, schools, and societies.

This educational philosophy is considered progressive and even radical by some because of the way it critiques structures that are often taken for granted. If this is an approach that sounds like it is right for you and your students, keep reading. The following five steps can help you concretely implement critical pedagogy into your classroom.

  • Challenge yourself. If you are not thinking critically and challenging social structures, you cannot expect your students to do it! Educate yourself using materials that question the common social narrative. For example, if you are a history teacher, immerse yourself in scholars who note the character flaws or problematic structures that allowed many well-known historical figures to be successful. Or, perhaps, read about why their “successes” were not really all that successful when considered in a different light. Critical theory is all about challenging the dominant social structures and the narratives that society has made most familiar. The more you learn, the better equipped you will be to help enlighten your students. Here are some good resources to get you started.
  • Change the classroom dynamic. Critical pedagogy is all about challenging power structures, but one of the most common power dynamics in a student’s life is that of the teacher-student relationship. Challenge that! One concrete way to do this is by changing your classroom layout . Rather than having students sit in rows facing you, set up the desks so that they are facing each other in a semicircle or circle. This allows for better conversation in the classroom. You can also try sitting while leading discussions instead of standing. This posture puts you in the same position as the students and levels the student-teacher power dynamic. It is also a good idea, in general, to move from a lecture-based class where an all-wise teacher generously gives knowledge to humble students to a discussion-based class that allows students to think critically and draw their own conclusions.
  • Present alternative views. In step 1, you, the teacher had to encounter views that were contrary to the dominant narrative. Now, present these views to your class alongside the traditional ones. Have them discuss both and encourage them to draw their own conclusions. If a student presents a viewpoint, encourage him or her to dig further. Asking questions like “why do you believe that?” or “why is that a good thing” will encourage students to challenge their own beliefs, break free of damaging social narratives, and think independently.
  • Change your assessments. Traditional assessment structures, like traditional power structures, can be confining. You don’t have to use them ! Make sure that your assessments are not about finding the right answer, but are instead about critical thinking skills. Make sure students are not just doing what they think they need to do to get a particular grade. You can do this by encouraging students to discuss and write and by focusing on the ideas presented above presentation style.
  • Encourage activism. There is a somewhat cyclic nature to critical pedagogy. After educating yourself, you encourage students to think critically, and they, in turn, take their newfound enlightenment into their families and communities.  You can do this by telling your students about opportunities in their community where they can combat oppression, like marches, demonstrations, and organizations. You can help students to start clubs that focus on bringing a voice to the marginalized. You can even encourage students to talk about patterns of power and oppression with their family and peers.

Concluding thoughts

Obviously, implementing critical pedagogy will look different in different subjects, and what works for one class may not work for another. For example, a history teacher may challenge an event that is traditionally seen as progressive, while a literature teacher may question a common cultural stereotype found in a book. A science teacher, on the other hand, may encourage students to look at the impact of scientific discoveries on marginalized groups. Often, this will involve finding common bonds between subjects as the critical approach is not confined to only one area of education and culture.

How have you implemented critical pedagogy in your classroom? What strategies have you found effective? Let us know by commenting below!

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Critical pedagogy: 8 key concepts you need to know, 11.04.22 | by dns student.

critical pedagogy

What is Critical Pedagogy?

Critical Pedagogy is a philosophy of education that encourages the students to be critical towards their reality – its power structures, contradictions and flaws. Most often associated with the pedagogical thinkers Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux , Critical Pedagogy is a fascinating school of thought that deserves to be considered in depth: its underlying concepts are far from obvious – in fact, they alone might be able to change how you view education, society and power.

Eight Concepts of Critical Pedagogy

In this article, we thought to shed some light on 8 key concepts that stand at the base of Critical Pedagogy. Hopefully, this will give you the basic notions and the terminology that you need in order to deepen your understanding of this fascinating topic.

critical pedagogy

1. Critical theory

Critical Theory is one of the first fundamental concepts to grasp, if you want to understand Critical Pedagogy. It is a school of thought associated with the Frankfurt School , a Marxist-oriented research center founded in 1923 by a group of German philosophers of Jewish origins. It comprises different ideas and theories, united by the belief that the primary goal of philosophy is to help understand and overcome the social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed.

It’s easy to imagine how this idea, central to Critical Theory, has later on inspired and supported the development of Critical Pedagogy. If philosophy and knowledge should serve to liberate people from oppression, what is the role of Pedagogy, teachers, and educational institutions? Freire and Giroux’s reflections spark exactly from this question: what is the purpose of education?

critical pedagogy

2. Pedagogy as a Moral and Political practice

“Pedagogy can’t be separated from how subjectivities are formed, desires are mobilized, how some experiences are legitimized and others are not, how some forms of knowledge are considered acceptable, while other forms are excluded from the curriculum” – Giroux claimed during a lecture fully available on YouTube. In other occasions, he had added that “issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning ” .

What Giroux means is that Pedagogy forms, influences and shapes the personalities of the students – their understanding of the world, of themselves in it, their deepest values and even desires. These same students will grow up and become the driving force of their society, acting and making decisions on the base of their personalities and beliefs – which had been vastly shaped by the educational system. How can Pedagogy be seen as something detached from Politics, then?

critical pedagogy

3. The neutrality of knowledge

“Pedagogy is a moral and political practice, because it offers particular versions and visions of civil life, and how we might construct representations of ourselves and others in our physical and social environment” Giroux continued in the same lecture . This is the reason why Critical Pedagogy supports the belief that Education is never neutral .

In other words, Pedagogy always makes a choice : to either transmit knowledge and values that support and perpetuate the status quo – in terms of politics and culture – or that challenge and dismantle it. Not taking a stand doesn’t equal being neutral : it equals conforming to the ways and ideas dominant to the societal context.

critical pedagogy

4. Democracy and Social Justice

Critical pedagogy views Democracy and Social Justice as the goals education should strive to achieve – but not only: as the values education should be based upon, too. In some interviews, Henry Giroux refers to “the tension between how things are and how they ought to be” as the driving force of social change – which has as an objective, clearly, values such as fairness, equity and freedom.

In the field of Critical Pedagogy, this translates into concrete methodologies that can help the students develop particular skills, which would in the long term contribute to shaping a democratic and fair society. Such skills are, for example, critical consciousness, language and emancipation.

critical pedagogy

5. Conscientisation

Critical Consciousness is a concept that is central to Critical Pedagogy: k12 Academics defines it as “going beneath surface meanings, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, to understand the deep meanings, root causes, social contexts, ideologies, and personal consequences of any topic” .

Freire’s idea of ‘ Conscientisation ’ indicates the process of an individual or community of acquiring critical consciousness , of becoming aware of one’s own context and identity. After the individual begins to perceive the social and political contradictions of their world, it becomes possible to take action and to seek a positive change.

critical pedagogy

6. Language and power

“Who says that this accent and this way of thinking are the cultivated ones?” Freire asked in an interview, in 1996 . What he put up is a question of legitimacy : why do we associate legitimate knowledge with certain symbols? Why does legitimate knowledge, in our collective imagination, look like old, white professors in dark brown suits, and not like indigenous women in Brazil?

Freire continued by stating that it is impossible to teach language without ideology and power. He proposed that ethnic minorities should be taught to speak and write their native language – and should be shown that it is as beautiful and valuable as the language of the dominant culture. On the side, they should be taught the dominant language, too: to be able to express themselves in what is considered the “legitimate” way – and to articulate the thoughts that will serve their struggle for liberation .

critical pedagogy

7. Oppression and Liberation

As you might have understood by now, Critical Pedagogy is all about striving for a better, fairer, and more democratic world – and for the ultimate liberation of the individuals who are part of it. If Freire was concerned with the oppression and liberation of entire social groups, like oppressed and marginalized ethnic communities, Giroux goes as far as to advocate for the liberation of the middle-class individuals in Western societies.

“Our society is affected by an inability to translate private troubles into larger social issues. We now individualize the social. When we talk about poverty, we talk about lifestyles; when we talk about homelessness, we talk about character; when we talk about racism, we talk about ignorance. All the systemic metaphors disappear, which makes people powerless, because they blame themselves. […] They blame themselves for a system that failed them , because they had no other language.”   This, among other problematics of our times, is what Critical Education aims to show and to change.

critical pedagogy

8. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

The concepts we presented so far concern Critical Pedagogy as a philosophy of education – but certainly, Critical Pedagogy translates in a number of pedagogical tools and strategies. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy is one of the pedagogical methodologies that springs out of Critical Pedagogy – and which is specifically applicable to educational contexts that involve students from cultural minorities.

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy aims to accept the backgrounds of students and to connect to students’ cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and frames of reference – but not only. It aims to create a means through which their culture can be sustained , rather than eradicated.

In practice, this happens by including topics relevant to the culture in question in the curriculum – not as an “add-on” but as a central and integral element of it. It also entails engaging in conversation with the community itself , to understand its desires as for what aspects of the culture should be sustained through schooling. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, just like Critical Pedagogy, also supports students to critique and question the dominant power structures of their society.

critical pedagogy

With these 8 concepts of Critical Pedagogy, we hope to have cleared your mind on all the basic terminology you need to dig deeper into the topic yourself. Critical Pedagogy is, ultimately, not a single, well-defined set of methodologies – rather an authentic philosophy of education, composed of different thoughts, concepts and practical implications.

Which of these 8 concepts surprised you the most?

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Other Pedagogical Tools

Critical Pedagogy is just one of the unconventional pedagogies we take inspiration from, at our Teacher Training College . Check out this article about 5 unconventional pedagogical methods .

alternative education

Alternative education

If you are interested in Alternative Education , you might want to read about the 10 pedagogical principles that lay at the base of our alternative pedagogy.

what is critical pedagogy in education

What is DNS?

“The Necessary Teacher Training College” is an alternative higher education aiming to  train progressive personalities who are able to understand and respond to the many challenges of our times .

Based in Denmark, our 4-year Bachelor Programme aims to enable its students to become global citizens and proficient educators.

Since DNS was established in 1972, over 1.000 graduates have played an important role in bringing equitable quality education to children and youth, as well as in all sorts of other projects and development programmes worldwide.

what is critical pedagogy in education

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what is critical pedagogy in education

Let’s start a discussion!

Did you like this article let us know what you think in a comment.

“Critical Pedagogy is a philosophy of education that encourages students to be critical towards their own reality.”

Author of the article , 2nd year student of DNS

Here is what others think:

Name *Erick Matheus Vieira

Parabéns pelo brilhante artigo, Paulo Freire merece destaque, tanto pelo conteúdo, quanto pela prática dele na Educação. Atualmente, no Brasil, os eleitores de Bolsonaro, inclusive educadores, criticam Paulo Freire. Muitos professores e pedagogos nunca leram livros de Paulo Freire, lamentavelmente. Tamanha ignorância também é sobre não saber do grande trabalho dele como secretário de Educação da então prefeita Erundina, na cidade de São Paulo. Todavia, como disse no livro Conscientização, “A revolução deve ter como arma a palavra”, inclusive para conscientizar trogloditas.

shiva aryal

I, shiva aryal from the eastern part of Asia, Nepal, I am really influenced by the ideas that are present in this article. I am interested to know more about how to implement the CP in the school education system. I have no more ideas about this concept. if you do not feel difficulty, I really requested you more information.

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what is critical pedagogy in education

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<span class='p-name'>What is “Critical Pedagogy”?</span>

In moving away from this banking model of education, Friere envisioned schools as critical spaces where students would be empowered to interrogate and question social conditions through the use of discourse about issues of high interest and relevance to their lives (Dewey, 1910, 1916; Marzano, 1991).  He further transformed instructional practices with the concept that critical theory could separate theoretical endeavors from practice through the concept of “praxis.” Freire (1970) defined praxis as “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” (p. 91). In this model, educators sought to synthesize and critique power systems and to dissect the truths upon which these systems were based while facilitating discourse in the classroom. His model posited that “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Friere, 1970, p. 72).

With the transition from oppression to critical consciousness as a goal, Friere suggested that pedagogy be imbued with a critical reflection process he called “concientización” (Friere, 2005). This process marked a shift in critical theory from a critical reflection on societal mechanisms that make social justice impossible to a call to action for social justice. Using this shift as guidance, educators created spaces in which the traditional roles of power relations could be examined, and teachers and students collaboratively critiqued, interrogated, and constructed theories of knowledge (Van Sluys, Lewison, & Flint, 2006). This pedagogical model has been viewed as “one of the most dynamic and controversial educational schools of thought of the past 30 years” (Fischman & McLaren, 2005, p. 426).

Opportunities to question power

Critical pedagogy as developed by critical literacy elements in the classroom invites and encourages students to question issues of power. These issues include multiple indicators: socioeconomic status (SES), race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and age (Cervetti, Pardales, & Damico, 2001).  This technique requires students and teachers to master the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to read and critique messages for understanding why certain knowledge belonged to the privileged class (Street, 2003).

Knobel and Lankshear (2002) argue that when students become critically literate, they were able to “examine ongoing development, the parts they play in the world, and how they make sense of experiences.” Further facilitation of critical literacy skill development promotes the examination and reform of social situations and exposes students to “biases and hidden agendas that exist within texts” (Simpson, 1996).  In addition, Morgan stated (1998, p. 157), “Critical literacy teaching begins by problematizing the culture and knowledge in text – putting them up for grabs, critical debate, for weighing, judging, critiquing.” Eventually, educators are responsible for developing a student’s understanding of how inequalities and injustices are socially constructed (Luke, 1999). Thus, students and teachers are challenged to question previously accepted truths to determine their current efficacy.

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Alvermann, D. E. & Hagood, M. C. (2000). Fandom and critical media literacy.  Journal of  Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43 , 436-446.

Alvermann, D. E. (2004). Media, information communication technologies, and youth literacies: A cultural studies perspective.  American Behavioral Scientist, 48 (1), 78-83.

Anderson, G., & Irvine, P. (1993). Informing critical literacy with ethnography. In C. Lankshear and P. McLaren (Eds.)  Critical literacy: Politics, praxis, and the  postmodern . Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Beck, A. (2005). A place for critical literacy.  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy,  48 (5), 392-400. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.48.5.3

Browne, M. N., Freeman, K. E., & Williamson, C. L. (2000). The importance of critical thinking for student use of the Internet.  College Student Journal, 34 (3), 391–398.

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Critical Pedagogy – What is it?

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Critical pedagogy is becoming more and more discussed by teachers.

But what is it?

According to the academia, critical pedagogy is a “philosophy of education that has developed and applied concepts from critical theory” (Kincheloe, 1997), “It views teaching as an inherently political act, reject the neutrality of knowledge, and insist that issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning” (Giroux 2007).

So critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education that views teaching as a political act. This of course includes challenging students to examine the power structures and status quo of their surroundings.

The oft-cited example is the film Dead Poets Society, where a teacher encourages students to rip up their textbooks. The film is set at a traditional university and tells the story of how a teacher encourages students to seize the day and make the most out of their own education by rejecting traditions and thinking for themselves.

Advocates of critical pedagogy believe that a language classroom is not free of ideology. Education systems, as well as teachers to some degree, decide the content of a particular subject or course. For example, the process of selecting reading texts does not take place in a vacuum. It is motivated by political ideologies and worldviews.

Critics point out that while it makes sense in terms of the arts, it makes less sense when applied to maths or the sciences (although “ intelligent design ” taught in the US may contradict this supposition).

Should and how should critical pedagogy be used in a classroom?

Dr. Henry Giroux claimed in his book “Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope”, that “by creating appropriate conditions, teachers enable students to become cultural producers who can rewrite their experiences and perceptions.” (Giroux, 1997). By letting students be their own decision maker, it can help them better understand the world. Paulo Freire (1998) has a similar point of view towards critical pedagogy, he said that “classroom experiences, with the help of the teachers, should become situations in which students are encouraged to act as active agents in their own education and to develop a critical consciousness that helps them evaluate the validity, fairness, and authority within their educational and living situations”.

It is always good to form a decent learning and thinking habit, and the younger children can have that mindset, the better they can make good and rational decisions for themselves.

But isn’t this just critical thinking skills and discussing social issues?

Critical pedagogy goes one step further and in a classroom setting requires teachers to give more power to the students to decide what are they studying, from what sources and why.

If there are any studies or if anyone has shared this power with their students, we would be extremely interested in reading the impact.

Critical pedagogy in a classroom

So critical pedagogy is inevitably based on the world experience of the students and concurs with student interests and questions. It relies on students learning best when allowed to explore an answer for themselves.

I think all the best teachers allow students to follow any subject that captivates and inspires them. Indeed, inspiring these passions has to be a truly welcome reward for any teacher.

Curricula and teacher timetables need to allow for these “flights” of fancy if learning is to be an enjoyable activity for the student and self-learning embedded.

Critical pedagogy is a perfect riposte to those demanding ever more restricted curricula and the exam based system we seem to be becoming in the UK.

Giroux, H., 1997.Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: Theory, Culture, and Schooling. A Critical Reader. West view Press.

Giroux, H., 2007. Utopian thinking in dangerous times: Critical pedagogy and the project of educated hope. Utopian pedagogy: Radical experiments against neoliberal globalization, pp.25-42.

Kincheloe, Joe; Steinburg, Shirley (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Bristol, PA: Open University Press. p. 24.

P. Freire. Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare to Teach the Edge, Critical Studies in Educational Theory. West view Press, 1998.

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Freire and critical theorists

Crystal Green. Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2023, 136 pp. Freire in Focus series. ISBN 978-1-350-33370-3 (hbk), ISBN 978-1-350-33371-0 (pbk), ISBN 978-1-350-33373-4 (ePUB), ISBN 978-1-350-33372-7 (ePDF)

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  • Published: 01 March 2024

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The critical theorists covered in the book include Erich Fromm, bell hooks, Enrique Dussel, Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Jürgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu and Iris Marion Young.

Waghid, Y. (2024). Philosophical, educational, and moral openings in doctoral pursuits and supervision: Promoting the values of wonder, wander, and whisper in African higher education . Routledge.

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