Critical Pedagogy Research Paper Starter

Critical Pedagogy

This article presents an overview of critical pedagogy, an educational theory positing that schools are inherently biased and perpetuate social imbalances of power. Often, students internalize these biases based on hidden curriculum, or implicit lessons about behavior, morality, patriotism, and so forth. According to critical pedagogy, teachers must instill in their students critical consciousness—an awareness of these imbalances and a commitment to eradicating them in pursuit of social justice. Yet, in order for critical consciousness to occur, the teaching paradigm must change, from the banking model, in which students are discouraged from challenging authority or thinking independently, to the liberatory model advocated by Brazilian educational theorist Paolo Freire. Classroom applications of critical pedagogy include content analysis of the media, demystifying print, process drama, as well as the use multiple sources of knowledge, such as popular culture and everyday texts.

Keywords Banking Model of Teaching; Critical Consciousness; Deskilling; Hegemony; Hidden Curriculum; Liberatory Model of Teaching; Multicultural Education; Multiple Sources of Knowledge; Popular Culture; Social Justice

Multicultural Education: Critical Pedagogy


Critical Pedagogy is an educational theory based on the idea that schools typically serve the interests of those who have power in a society by, usually unintentionally, perpetuating unquestioned norms for relationships, expectations, and behaviors. In order to combat these taken-for-granted biases in schools, teachers and students must constantly question their world, both inside and outside the classroom. At its heart, critical pedagogy is committed to the transformative power of education for individuals and society as a whole, with the ultimate goal of creating a more equitable and just society for everyone. Because of its emphasis on diversity and rethinking the status quo, critical pedagogy has been embraced by advocates of multicultural education (Gay 1995; Nieto 2002).

Critical pedagogy first gained popularity in the 1960s through the work of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire. Although trained as a lawyer, Freire worked as a young man teaching literacy to poor farm workers, and he later developed a system by which literacy could be taught in as few as 45 days. A great motivation for his teaching the disadvantaged to read was in order to secure for them the right to vote, which at the time in Brazil was limited to those who were literate. Based in large part on these experiences working with the downtrodden, Freire began publishing his theories of education and social justice, the most renowned of which was Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970).

Critical Consciousness

One of the most important concepts stemming from Freire's work is critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is an awareness of the invisible oppression in society combined with a dedication to combating this oppression through education and activism. Historic examples of hidden oppression are readily recognizable, such as the status of women or African Americans during early periods in America's history, when their disenfranchisement went largely unquestioned. Yet it is more difficult to recognize these inequalities in one's own era. In the US today, for example, a critical pedagogue might point to English-only legislation, which aims to restrict public services such as education and the law to English speakers. While adherents of such legislation (e.g., the organization US English) argue that these laws are beneficial to immigrants in that they motivate them to acquire English, a critical approach would dispute this claim. Critical pedagogues would assert that such legislation succeeds only in keeping upward mobility and membership into mainstream America out of the hands of immigrant groups. For Freire, teaching students critical consciousness is the moral responsibility of the teacher and is necessary for positive social change to occur.

In another major contribution to the field, Freire (1970) describes a dichotomy between how most schools work—the banking model of education—and how schools should work—the liberatory model of education. In the banking model of education, the teacher is the source of all information and knowledge, while students are considered to be blank slates. Teachers in this model thus make 'deposits' of knowledge into students' mental 'banks.' For Freire, the banking model is destructive on a number of levels. Crucially, rather than encouraging critical consciousness, it works to reproduce the hegemony, or taken-for-granted power structures, of the school and society at large by devaluing inquiry, skepticism, and disagreement. In contrast, in the liberatory model of education advocated by Freire, knowledge is thought to be diffuse, coming from a variety of sources and rooted in a skepticism of traditional voices of authority. Teachers following this model value their students as people with unique experiences and knowledge of their own, and they work with students as partners in learning to set group goals and expectations.

The Hidden Curriculum

Many scholars have elaborated upon Freire's ideas or developed their own approaches to critical pedagogy. In particular, Henry Giroux is considered, with Freire, a founding father of critical pedagogy and is known for his work on the concept of the hidden curriculum (Giroux 1983). For Giroux, much of what is learned in school is not part of the official curriculum but rather is absorbed by students through a kind of socialization process. The hidden curriculum involves not only subtle behavioral rules such as sitting still and facing forward while the teacher talks, but also ideas about what constitutes 'good' and 'bad,' 'hardworking' and 'lazy,' and a wide range of other value judgments. Rather than universal, these notions are specific to particular groups and cultures and in many cases reinforce ideas that are unfair to minorities and other disadvantaged. For example, a student who comes from a culture in which frequent verbal interaction between teachers and students is the norm--and a sign of engagement--may be quickly dubbed a troublemaker and written off as a 'bad' student.

Alternative Materials

Teachers can integrate critical pedagogy in their classrooms in a range of ways. A primary strategy is for teachers, rather than relying exclusively on traditional textbooks, to use multiple sources of knowledge, including online materials, comic books, current music, television, and film, as well as other forms of popular culture. The use of these kinds of alternative materials in the classroom is important to critical pedagogy for several reasons. First, popular culture occupies the interest and time of many students and thus constitutes a good deal of their body of knowledge. Respecting this prior knowledge is a central tenet of critical pedagogy and can be effective in linking new lessons with what students already know. Second, studying media depictions in the classroom can help students recognize pervasive but taken-for-granted stereotypes that abound. Third, the use of popular art forms, such as rap or street art, in the classroom can serve to overturn these stereotypic messages by giving voice to people who, due to their color, ethnicity, economic status, or gender, have not historically had an official voice in places like school textbooks. Students themselves can be encouraged to create their own popular art as a means of self-expression and as a possible means of creating social change. Finally, many teachers feel like they have undergone a gradual deskilling, or loss of control of the educational process, as the result of the curriculum and materials being dictated by others. Incorporating multiple sources of knowledge can be empowering to teachers by giving them ownership of their own curriculum and classroom (Kanpol 1994).


Content Analysis of Media

Content analysis of media can be used to help students become aware of the stereotypes which surround them. For example, students can watch a popular sitcom and make note of a wide variety of representations. In particular, they can pay attention to the intersections of attributes: What kinds of jobs do the women hold in the show? Is there a difference in the ways in which people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds speak? How is humor, intelligence, or education mapped onto the show's diversity? Crucially, even 'neutral' news depictions are often replete with stereotypic representations. By watching segments of the nightly news, or by looking at the print media, students can compare and contrast the treatment of different topics or individuals (see e.g., Cortés 1983, 2000).

As with many strategies used in critical pedagogy, a crucial component is turning the in-class experience into a means of creating social justice outside of school. With this goal in mind, following a media analysis and discussion, students might be given the opportunity to write to television and...

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