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Critical Pedagogy – What is it?

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Critical pedagogy is becoming more and more discussed by teachers.

But what is it?

According to the academia, critical pedagogy is a “philosophy of education that has developed and applied concepts from critical theory” (Kincheloe, 1997), “It views teaching as an inherently political act, reject the neutrality of knowledge, and insist that issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning” (Giroux 2007).

So critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education that views teaching as a political act. This of course includes challenging students to examine the power structures and status quo of their surroundings.

The oft-cited example is the film Dead Poets Society, where a teacher encourages students to rip up their textbooks. The film is set at a traditional university and tells the story of how a teacher encourages students to seize the day and make the most out of their own education by rejecting traditions and thinking for themselves.

Advocates of critical pedagogy believe that a language classroom is not free of ideology. Education systems, as well as teachers to some degree, decide the content of a particular subject or course. For example, the process of selecting reading texts does not take place in a vacuum. It is motivated by political ideologies and worldviews.

Critics point out that while it makes sense in terms of the arts, it makes less sense when applied to maths or the sciences (although “intelligent design” taught in the US may contradict this supposition).

Should and how should critical pedagogy be used in a classroom?

Dr. Henry Giroux claimed in his book “Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope”, that “by creating appropriate conditions, teachers enable students to become cultural producers who can rewrite their experiences and perceptions.” (Giroux, 1997). By letting students be their own decision maker, it can help them better understand the world. Paulo Freire (1998) has a similar point of view towards critical pedagogy, he said that “classroom experiences, with the help of the teachers, should become situations in which students are encouraged to act as active agents in their own education and to develop a critical consciousness that helps them evaluate the validity, fairness, and authority within their educational and living situations”.

It is always good to form a decent learning and thinking habit, and the younger children can have that mindset, the better they can make good and rational decisions for themselves.

But isn’t this just critical thinking skills and discussing social issues?

Critical pedagogy goes one step further and in a classroom setting requires teachers to give more power to the students to decide what are they studying, from what sources and why.

If there are any studies or if anyone has shared this power with their students, we would be extremely interested in reading the impact.

Critical pedagogy in a classroom

So critical pedagogy is inevitably based on the world experience of the students and concurs with student interests and questions. It relies on students learning best when allowed to explore an answer for themselves.

I think all the best teachers allow students to follow any subject that captivates and inspires them. Indeed, inspiring these passions has to be a truly welcome reward for any teacher.

Curricula and teacher timetables need to allow for these “flights” of fancy if learning is to be an enjoyable activity for the student and self-learning embedded.

Critical pedagogy is a perfect riposte to those demanding ever more restricted curricula and the exam based system we seem to be becoming in the UK.



Giroux, H., 1997.Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: Theory, Culture, and Schooling. A Critical Reader. West view Press.

Giroux, H., 2007. Utopian thinking in dangerous times: Critical pedagogy and the project of educated hope. Utopian pedagogy: Radical experiments against neoliberal globalization, pp.25-42.

Kincheloe, Joe; Steinburg, Shirley (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Bristol, PA: Open University Press. p. 24.

P. Freire. Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare to Teach the Edge, Critical Studies in Educational Theory. West view Press, 1998.

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