Critical Communicative Pedagogy: Framing Critical Pedagogy with the Theory of Communicative Action

By Widdersheim, Michael M. | Making Connections, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Critical Communicative Pedagogy: Framing Critical Pedagogy with the Theory of Communicative Action


Widdersheim, Michael M., Making Connections


This essay presents the educational philosophy known as critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy, though an attractive educational philosophy, lacks broader theoretical context. The aim of this essay, therefore, is to connect critical pedagogy with Habermas's theory of communicative action. This essay presents the theory of communicative action and explains why critical pedagogy fuses well with it. When critical pedagogy is viewed through the lens of the theory of communicative action, the resulting educational philosophy is critical communicative pedagogy. This essay concludes by addressing possible objections to critical communicative pedagogy and proposing potential directions for future research.

Critical Pedagogy

The field of educational philosophy examines the contents, processes, and purposes of education. The development of a coherent educational philosophy is important for pre- service and practicing educators because one's educational philosophy guides how one teaches, what one teaches, and why one teaches. Educational philosophies can be student- centered or teacher-centered; they can emphasize the three Rs-reading, writing, and arithmetic- or visit the perennial questions intrinsic to great works of literature; they can be postmodern or existential, progressive or pragmatic; they can prioritize the interests of the individual over the interests of society, or vice -versa. Educational philosophies can be combinations of all these things (Kauchak and Eggen).

One educational philosophy is critical pedagogy. The goal of critical pedagogy is emancipation-the elimination of oppression in all forms. Amongst educational philosophies, critical pedagogy opposes traditional, essentialist, teacher-centered perspectives of education in almost all respects. Whereas traditional educational philosophies conceptualize formal schooling as an "input-output," a factory-like system that produces laborers, consumers, taxpayers, soldiers, or loyalists for the capitalist state (Ewert 6), critical educators believe that education should enable learners to become active, democratically-oriented, noncomplacent citizens who are sensitive to human suffering and critical of capitalism (Freire, Pedagog y; Kincheloe, Critical). To this end, critical educators struggle with students to decipher power relations-not regurgitate facts, not groom the students for the power elite, not reproduce the status quo. From a critical pedagogical perspective, educators, and students must uncover power relations and challenge them. Critical pedagogy is a student- centered, progressive educational philosophy (McLaren; Freire, Pedagogy; Kincheloe, Critical).

Proponents of critical pedagogy, including Freire, McLaren, Giroux, Kincheloe, and Steinberg, draw support for critical pedagogy from the intellectual tradition traversing through Kant, Hegel, Marx, Weber, and members of the critical theory movement. Critical theorists include figures of the Frankfurt School, such as Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Benjamin. Frankfurt School writers developed critical theory in an attempt to understand the causes of the massive destruction and human suffering they witnessed throughout the twentieth century (Kincheloe, Critical). Critical theory problematizes basic societal assumptions and conventions, especially the current mode of material reproduction (Giroux, "Schooling"; Giroux and McLaren). Besides economic critique, critical theory also analyzes hegemonic, oppressive systems within our society and culture, including racism, gender subordination, class discrimination, and mass media (Hallin). Drawing from critical theory, therefore, critical pedagogy problematizes current economic, cultural, and social configurations with a view to liberation. Proponents of critical pedagogy contend that education is an important site from which to contest oppressive institutions (Giroux, "Schooling"; Morrow and Torres; Gur-Ze'ev; Wain; Giroux and McLaren; Kincheloe, Toward, Critical; Forester). …

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