Thursday, April 24, 2008

Critical Pedagogy: Description of the Theory


Most adherents to Critical Pedagogy define their philosophy by what they are not rather than by what they believe. For example, a proponent of the theory might say, “We’re not traditional. We’re not oppressive. We’re not intrusive.” Yet, they have a difficult time setting down distinct ideas about what they do believe.

Part of this is understandable. Due to the dialectical nature of Critical Pedagogy, they are careful about setting up rigid theories that might become dogma. Also, because they are so global and span such a long time period, each theorist has a different set of ideas of how to define the theory. Finally, out of fear of Critical Pedagogy becoming too institutionalized, most people who practice it are slow to make it universal.

Historically, Critical Pedagogy has had a Marxist bent. Some of the theorists have been more outspokenly Marxist, such as Paulo Freire or Howard Zinn. Others, like Edward Said or Noam Chomsky have simply advocated for a more democratic educational system. Although he wrote very little about education, critical theorists often find inspiration from Michel Foucault and his analysis of hierarchichal systems of control. The most popular critical theorist for a popular market in the United States has been Jonathan Kozol, whose first work, Savage Inequalities, which evalted the racial and socioeconomic gap, raised eyebrows throughout the educational community.

Facets of the Theory
These Facets of the Theory are more like rough guidelines than rigid ideas:

  • A Critique of Power – Critical Theorists are slow to accept the current political and educational structures. Indeed, they question whether the current system actually indoctrinates children rather than teaching them to think independently.
  • Democratic – They believe that the group as a whole should decide the course of education. The teacher is simply a guide or a facilitator who leads discussions toward the greater goal. Eventually, every teacher should be able to leave a group of students alone to fend for themselves.
  • Dialogue – Even in a math class, there needs to be dialogue. Students need to generate questions and give answers. Conflict is encouraged, because it is part of how students create their own belief system. However, eventually students should be able to come to some sort of conclusion.
  • Education Cannot be Neutral – This is the idea that there are times when teachers cannot present information as simply objective facts. Indeed, students must figure out who is “right” and who is “wrong,” although many of them would use terms such as who has freedom and who is marginalized or who has power and who needs to be empowered. According to Critical Pedagogy, there is always a distinct connection between philosophy, culture, institutions and power.

    Major Goal
    Education must be active! Every student must be able to use what they learn in the real-world so that they can benefit society. The following diagram was formulated by Paulo Freire.

    According to this idea, a student who learns, but doesn’t apply the knowledge becomes a dry intellectual. However, someone who acts without reflecting (both ahead of time and afterward) becomes a social activist without much thought.

    Revisionists have attempted to add aspects to this cycle. Some have used "prior experiences,"others "dialogue" and even "direct instruction." Yet, there is something clear and realistic in this simple cycle. True, it might not be perfect, but the attempts to alter it often cause it to lose its effectiveness.

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