Critical Pedagogy: An Overview

By Smith, Matthew; McLaren, Peter | Childhood Education, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Critical Pedagogy: An Overview


Smith, Matthew, McLaren, Peter, Childhood Education


Critical pedagogy is a state of becoming, a way of being in the world and with the world--. a never ending process that involves struggle and pain but also hope and joy shaped and maintained by a humanizing pedagogy.

--Macedo, 2006, p. 394

Critical pedagogy gained significant momentum with the translation of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), along with Freire's subsequent exile from Brazil, which included time spent first in Bolivia and Chile, and then throughout the world. Broadly speaking, critical pedagogy is an approach to understanding and engaging the political and economic realities of everyday life. Distinct from critical thinking (a term that has been hijacked by many anti-critical teachers and textbook publishing companies), critical pedagogy calls for an active engagement with oppressed and exploited groups (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008). Critical pedagogy challenges the social, environmental, and economic structures and social relations that shape the conditions in which people live, and in which schools operate. Such an approach includes different dimensions, of which only a few will be discussed here.

It must be said that any attempt to define or categorize critical pedagogy is usually counterproductive to the development of radical agency, for to do so risks limiting its constant evolution and re-invention by numerous communities and collective struggles worldwide. Critical pedagogy demands that people repeatedly question their roles in society as either agents of social and economic transformation, or as those who participate in the asymmetrical relations of power and privilege and the reproduction of neoliberal ideology.

Critical pedagogy lies in direct opposition to the current educational landscape in the United States. Jaramillo and McLaren (2009) argue that

Education is being used as a vehicle primarily to generate and promote the value of [a] capitalist society.... Schools have become transformed into corporations in themselves, dedicated to engorging students, assimilating them into the culture of consumption, and then vomiting them out--some of the students, of course, will be in a better position to consume (knowledge, material goods, life itself) than others. (pp. 8-9)

Critical educators agree that public education is now inculcating students with capitalist values of individualism, ravaging competition, and disdain for collective efforts and benefits. They also argue that the privatization and militarization of public education are more entrenched than ever. The corporatization of education has resulted in the purging of any political ideology associated with Marxism or socialism. Needless to say, one of the goals of the corporatization of education is to undermine, suppress, and eliminate any political ideology that exposes capitalism's governing dynamics of exploitation.

Critical Pedagogy and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

In the realm of public education, critical pedagogy is thus situated against class exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression that pervade the current education climate and the larger society. Critical educators/pedagogues have condemned the standardized testing frenzy fomented by No Child Left Behind and the importation of what are considered "best" classroom practices, methods that usually amount to the misguided advice printed in the margins of pre-packaged materials.

Standardized testing and prepackaged teaching materials are forced upon schools by literacy "experts" and school districts under the guise of attempting to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color, between wealthy schools and impoverished schools, and between students fluent in English and students whose dominant languages are not English (Macedo, 2006). By claiming that these pre-packaged materials are valid vehicles for instructing and assessing student progress, school districts divert astronomical amounts of money away from addressing the needs of their children and into purchasing materials that do not develop critical thought, but rather reinforce low levels of literacy (Giroux, 2004). …

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