Critical pedagogy

From Academic Kids

'Critical pedagogy' is a teaching approach which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that support the proposed domination. In other words, it is a theory and practice of helping students achieve critical consciousness. In this tradition the teacher works to lead students to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive (including those at school), and encourage liberatory collective and individual responses to the actual conditions of their own lives.

The student must begin as a member of the society (society including religion, national identity, cultural norms, or expected roles) they are critically studying. After they reach the point of revelation where they begin to view their society as deeply flawed, the next behavior encouraged is sharing this knowledge with the attempt to change the oppressive nature of the society or withdrawal from society.


Topics Introduced

To encourage students to change their view from accepting the social norms (viewed by critics as being gullible) into being independently critical (viewed by members of society as being cynical or skeptic) the instructors often introduce challenges to heroic icons and self-edifying history using contradictory reports or external points of view of the same subjects.

Generalized Examples

To encourage students to become critical the instructor might use these tasks to challenge the generally accepted paradigm of the student's society:

  • Encourage the student to investigate a just war, in which their society was considered heroic, by studying the antebellum society and politics of the rival.
  • Encouragement to students to explore issues of power in their own families.
  • To lead students to examine the underlying messages of popular culture and mass media.
  • Require the evaluation of existing controversies in contemporary society, such as the relative merits of U.S. government spending on atomic weapons versus international health programs.
  • Ask whether the metaphoric emperor is, in fact, clothed.

Real-world examples of concepts often introduced to generate critical thinking:

  • A challenge to the reverential mythology around Christopher Columbus and leading students to investigate primary sources by and about the historical figure. One might possibly suggest sources such as the Black Legend, or other sources that cast more disconcerting views on the legacy of his efforts.


A prevalent result of this method of teaching is that students view certain aspects of their lifestyles, nation, or culture negatively for the first time.

As an example, someone who follows this means of learning about the United States culture may develop a view that most people in Western society are sleepwalking through a nightmarish culture of consumption, obedience, and propaganda, and that they need to be awakened.

Call to Action

Most instructors encourage students who have reached the state where they are enlightened to share their knowledge in an attempt to reveal the failings of the society to foster positive change. Other critical pedagogues, however, are suspicious of the claims encountered in certain modernist emancipatory discourses. Rather than seeking to 'enlighten' the 'gullible,' these instructors explore concepts of identity, history, desire, etc. with learners, and any subsequent calls to action are made by learners.



Famous authors of critical pedagogy texts include Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, bell hooks, and Peter McLaren [1] ( Famous educationalists including Jonathan Kozol and Parker Palmer are sometimes included in this category. Other critical pedagogues, more famous for their anti-schooling or unschooling perspectives include John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and Matt Hern. Much of the work draws on feminism, marxism, post-colonialism, and the discourse theories of Edward Said, Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault.

Famous Quotes

Buddha, Dhammapada, Loka Vagga, verse 167

  • Do not follow a life of evil; do not live heedlessly; do not have false views; do not value worldly things. In this way one can get rid of suffering

Jesus, Bible, Gospel of Matthew chapter 16, verse 26

  • For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi

  • I knocked and the door opened, but I found I'd been knocking from the inside.


In the movie, The Matrix, the setting is an artificial construction of oppression that instills complacency in its captives through a form of virtual reality. The movie's initial conflict is the protagonist Neo coming to grips with this truth by suspending belief of the reality he has accepted as unquestionable.


Paul Simon, Kodachrome

  • "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all." - Paul Simon.

Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall part 2

  • "We don't need no education, We don't need no thought-control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom - Teacher, leave those kids alone! All in all, you're just another brick in the wall." - Pink Floyd

Other Media

Critical pedagogy is used throughout Grant Morrison's comic book The Invisibles. It is a major theme and plot device through out the series, particularaly in the first few issues and the final series.

Critics of Critical Pedagogy

This approach has its critics. They attack the methodology, the goal, and appearances. Below are some contrary views.

  • This approach to understanding the nature of society is often presented in a very intellectual fashion. When an individual attains the interest to find out the validity of the statements they inherently must consider themselves separate from the rest of society. Critics will describe such a self-image as being elitist in a way which excludes the bulk of society thus preventing progress.
  • The goal exceeds the desire to instill creativity and exploration by encouraging detrimental disdain for tradition, hierarchy (such as parental control over children), and self-isolation.
  • Such a high degree of distrust in generally accepted truths will create or perpetuate conspiracy theories.

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