Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education and social movement that combines education with critical theory. First described by Paulo Freire, it has since been developed by Henry Giroux and others as a praxis-oriented "educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action." Among its leading figures are Michael Apple, bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), Joe L. Kincheloe, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, and Patti Lather.
Critical pedagogue Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as:
Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse. (Empowering Education, 129)
Critical pedagogy includes relationships between teaching and learning. Its proponents claim that it is a continuous process of what they call "unlearning", "learning", and "relearning", "reflection", "evaluation", and the effect that these actions have on the students, in particular students whom they believe have been historically and continue to be disenfranchised by what they call "traditional schooling".
Critical pedagogy has several strands and foundations. Critical pedagogy was heavily influenced by the works of Paulo Freire, arguably the most celebrated critical educator. Freire heavily endorses students’ ability to think critically about their education situation; this way of thinking allows them to "recognize connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded." Realizing one’s consciousness ("conscientization") is a needed first step of "praxis," which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression while stressing the importance of liberating education. "Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory. Social transformation is the product of praxis at the collective level."
Postmodern, anti-racist, feminist, postcolonial, and queer theories all play a role in further explaining Freire’s ideas of critical pedagogy, shifting its main focus on social class to include issues pertaining to religion, military identification, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, and age. Many contemporary critical pedagogues have embraced postmodern, anti-essentialist perspectives of the individual, of language, and of power, "while at the same time retaining the Freirean emphasis on critique, disrupting oppressive regimes of power/knowledge, and social change.". Contemporary critical educators, such as bell hooks and Peter McLaren, discuss in their criticisms the influence of many varied concerns, institutions, and social structures, "including globalization, the mass media, and race/spiritual relations," while citing reasons for resisting the possibilities to change. McLaren has developed a social movement based version of critical pedagogy that he calls revolutionary critical pedagogy, emphasizing critical pedagogy as a social movement for the creation of a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism.
Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have created the Paulo and Nita Freire Project for International Critical Pedagogy at McGill University. In line with Kincheloe and Steinberg's contributions to critical pedagogy, the project attempts to move the field to the next phase of its evolution. In this second phase critical pedagogy seeks to truly become a worldwide, decolonizing movement dedicated to listening to and learning from diverse discourses from peoples around the planet. Kincheloe and Steinberg also embrace Indigenous knowledges in education as a way to expand critical pedagogy and to question educational hegemony. One of the major texts taking up the intersection between critical pedagogy and Indigenous knowledge(s) is Sandy Grande's, "Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004). In agreement with this perspective, Four Arrows, aka Don Trent Jacobs, challenges the anthropocentrism of critical pedagogy and writes that to achieve its transformative goals there are other differences between Western and Indigenous worldview that must be considered.
In education, postmodernism rejects the notion that the purpose of education is primarily to train a child's cognitive capacity for reason in order to produce an adult capable of functioning independently in the world. That view of education is replaced with the view that education is to take an essentially indeterminate being and give it a social identity. Education’s method of molding is linguistic, and so the language to be used is that which will create a human being sensitive to its racial, sexual, and class identity. Our current social context, however, is characterized by oppression that benefits whites, males, and the rich at the expense of everyone else. That oppression in turn leads to an educational system that reflects only or primarily the interests of those in positions of power. To counteract that bias, educational practice must be recast totally. Postmodern education should emphasize works not in the canon; it should focus on the achievements of non-whites, females, and the poor; it should highlight the historical crimes of whites, males, and the rich; and it should teach students that science’s method has no better claim to yielding truth than any other method and, accordingly, that students should be equally receptive to alternative ways of knowing.
During South African apartheid, legal racialization implemented by the regime drove members of the radical leftist Teachers' League of South Africa to employ critical pedagogy with a focus on nonracialism in Cape Town schools and prisons. Teachers collaborated loosely to subvert the racist curriculum and encourage critical examination of religious, military, political, and social circumstances in terms of spirit-friendly, humanist, and democratic ideologies. The efforts of such teachers are credited with having bolstered student resistance and activism.
Any analysis of critical pedagogy must begin with an examination of the work of Paulo Freire who is generally considered to be “the inaugural philosopher of critical pedagogy." Freire seldom used the term "critical pedagogy" himself when describing this philosophy. His initial focus targeted adult literacy projects in Brazil and later was adapted to deal with a wide range of social and educational issues. Freire’s pedagogy revolved around an anti-authoritarian and interactive approach aimed to examine issues of relational power for students and workers. The center of the curriculum used the fundamental goal based on social and political critiques of everyday life. Freire’s praxis required implementation of a range of educational practices and processes with the goal of creating not only a better learning environment, but also a better world. Freire himself maintained that this was not merely an educational technique but a way of living in our educative practice.
Author of critical pedagogy texts include not only Paulo Freire, as mentioned above, but also Michael Apple, Henry Giroux, Antonia Darder, bell hooks, Gloria Ladson Billings, Peter McLaren, Joe L. Kincheloe, Howard Zinn, Donaldo Macedo, Sandy Grande, SpearIt and Stephanie Ledesma, and others. Educationalists including Jonathan Kozol and Parker Palmer are sometimes included in this category. Other critical pedagogues known more for their anti-schooling, unschooling, or deschooling perspectives include Ivan Illich, John Holt, Ira Shor, John Taylor Gatto, and Matt Hern.
Much of the work draws on anarchism, feminism, Marxism, György Lukács, Wilhelm Reich, postcolonialism, and the discourse theories of Edward Said, Antonio Gramsci, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Radical Teacher is a magazine dedicated to critical pedagogy and issues of interest to critical educators.
Precisely by inculcating a critical attitude, the "canon" served to demythologize the conventional pieties of the American bourgeoisie and provided the student with a perspective from which to critically analyze American culture and institutions. Ironically, the same tradition is now regarded as oppressive. The texts once served an unmasking function; now we are told that it is the texts which must be unmasked.
Teachers must be aware of themselves as practitioners and as human beings if they wish to teach students in a non-threatening, anti-discriminatory way. Self-actualisation should be the goal of the teacher as well as the students.
Examples in the classroom
As mentioned briefly in the background information, Ira Shor, a professor at the City University of New York, provides for an example of how critical pedagogy is used in the classroom. He develops these themes in looking at the use of Freirean teaching methods in the context of everyday life of classrooms, in particular, institutional settings. He suggests that the whole curriculum of the classroom must be re-examined and reconstructed. He favors a change of role of the student from object to active, critical subject. In doing so, he suggests that students undergo a struggle for ownership of themselves. He states that students have previously been lulled into a sense of complacency by the circumstances of everyday life, and that through the processes of the classroom, they can begin to envision and strive for something different for themselves.
Of course, achieving such a goal is not automatic nor easy, as he suggests that the role of the teacher is critical to this process. Students need to be helped by teachers to separate themselves from unconditional acceptance of the conditions of their own existence. Once this separation is achieved, then students may be prepared for critical re-entry into an examination of everyday life. In a classroom environment that achieves such liberating intent, one of the potential outcomes is that the students themselves assume more responsibility for the class. Power is thus distributed amongst the group and the role of the teacher becomes much more mobile, not to mention more challenging. This encourages growth of each student’s intellectual character rather than a mere “mimicry of the professorial style.”
Philosopher John Searle characterizes the goal of Giroux's form of critical pedagogy "to create political radicals", thus highlighting the antagonistic moral and political grounds of the ideals of citizenship and "public wisdom". These varying moral perspectives of what is "right" are to be found in what John Dewey  has referred to as the tensions between traditional and progressive education.
- Kincheloe, Joe; Steinburg, Shirley (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Bristol, PA: Open University Press. p. 24.
Critical pedagogy is the term used to describe what emerges when critical theory encounters education
- Giroux, H. (October 27, 2010) "Lessons From Paulo Freire", Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 10/20/10.
- Kincheloe, Joe (2008) Critical Pedagogy Primer. New York: Peter Lang
- Critical Pedagogy on the Web
- The Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy
- Kincheloe, J. & Steinberg, S. (2008) Indigenous Knowledges in Education: Complexities, Dangers, and Profound Benefits in Ed Denzin, N. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies
- Four Arrows (2011) Differing Worldviews: Two Scholars Argue Cooperatively about Justice Education (Sense)
- Hicks, Stephen R.C. (2004) Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Tempe, AZ: Scholargy Press, ISBN 1-59247-646-5, pp. 18-19.
- Wieder, Alan (2003). Voices from Cape Town Classrooms: Oral Histories of Teachers Who Fought Apartheid. History of Schools and Schooling Series, vol. 39. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-6768-5.
- McLaren, P. (2000). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Possibility. In S. Steiner, H. Krank, P. McLaren, & R. Bahruth (Eds.), Freirean Pedagogy, Praxis and Possibilities: Projects for the New Millennium (pp. 1-22). New York & London: Falmer Press.
- Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage (Clarke, P., Trans.). Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
- John Searle, "The Storm Over the University", The New York Review of Books, December 6, 1990
- Shor, I. (1980). Critical Teaching and Everyday Life. Boston, Massachusetts: South End Press.
- Searle, John. (1990) The Storm Over the University, The New York Review of Books, December 6, 1990.
- Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education.