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WHAT IS CRITICAL PEDAGOGY?
 

The purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of Critical Pedagogy to the classroom teacher - the person who literally spends his or her life and energies in direct interactions and relationship with the students in the public schools - and to offer examples of Critical Pedagogy itself as implemented in the classroom. This writer is at heart an elementary teacher, and is well aware of the many demands placed on teachers today such as standardized testing; the constant paper mill of reports and documentations; the domİnant, conservative philosophy of education in which the structure of our schools is established: how schools are organized, the arrangement of the typical classroom, the state mandated curriculum and textbooks, the standardized assessment of teachers’ teaching abilities, the concept of the teacher as the authoritarian giver of knowledge and the student as the passive receiver. These aspects of education will be addressed, analyzed and evaluated in relation to freedom, oppression, and democracy.

The basic tenet of Critical Pedagogy is that there is an unequal social stratification in our society based upon class, race and gender. McLaren states that Critical Pedagogy:

“resonates with the sensibility of the Hebrew symbol of tikkun, which means ‘to heal, repair, and transform the world, all the rest is commentary.’ It provides historical, cultural, political, and ethical direction for those in education who still dare to hope. Irrevocably committed to the side of the oppressed, critical pedagogy is as revolutionary as the earlier view of the authors of the Declaration of Independence: is history is fundamentally open to change, liberation is an authentic goal, and a radically different world can be brought into being.”

Those of high power and status are at the top of society and control the rest of society. By doing so, the unequal conditions can be maintained; in other words, the status quo remains. Those who wish to maintain this status quo do so because of the economic and social benefits they derive from this stratification, hence, not wishing to lose these benefits they fight to keep them by oppressing others. Your reaction by now may be, “That’s ridiculous. We live in America, the land of plenty, the land of hope and freedom. Anyone to wants to be successful in this society is free to do so. We can’t possibly have that condition in the United States.” After all, that sounds like some sort of dictatorship, and in a free society no one could get away with that sort of control and power. Yet, this control is wielded through a tool known as hegemony. Under hegemony those who are oppressed are giving their permission to be oppressed to those who are dominating them. It is a subtle, almost invisible, form of control, in which everyone (including the oppressors and the oppressed) believe it is the only way, the right way. Apple states that hegemony acts to “saturate our consciousness”, so that the educational, economic and social world we see and interact with, and the commonsense interpretations we put on it, become the real world, the only world. Hegemony is a process in which domİnant groups in society come together to form a bloc and sustain leadership over subordinate groups. Rather than relying on coercion, it relies on winning consent to the prevailing order by forming an ideological umbrella under which different groups who usually might not totally agree with each other can stand. The groups are offered a compromise and feel as if their concerns are being listened to while the domİnant groups still maintain their leadership of general social tendencies.

Although Dewey does not use the term “hegemony”, he too, describes this process. “Etymologically, the word education means just a process of leading or bringing up . . . we speak of education as a shaping, forming, molding activity - that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity . . . The required beliefs cannot be hammered in; the needed attitudes cannot be plastered on. But the particular medium in which an individual exists leads him to see and feel one thing rather than another; . . . Thus it gradually produces in him a certain system of behavior, a certain disposition of action.” So, what schools do is help to create and re-create the existing culture, beliefs and practices, which is the hegemony. Hegemony is hegemony because of its “invisibility”; it appears to simply be living and doing in the only way we could, it seems to be perfectly natural and is therefore accepted as commonsense. Dewey describes how the structures within schools - the subject matter and the organization of the school - contribute to the hegemony of our society. “ . . . the bonds which connect the subject matter of school study with the habits and ideals of the social group are disguised and covered up. The ties are so loosened that it often appears as if there were none; as if subject matter existed simply as knowledge on its own independent behalf, and as if study were the mere act of mastering it for its own sake, irrespective of any social values. Since it is highly important for practical reasons to counteract this tendency the chief purposes of our theoretical discussion are to make clear the connection which is so readily lost from sight, and to show in some detail the social content and function of the chief constituents of the course of study. . . . The material of school studies . . puts before the instructor the essential ingredients of the culture to be perpetuated.” According to Raymond Williams, “Schools . . not only process people, they process ‘knowledge’ as well.” As Apple explains, they act as agents of cultural and ideological hegemony, as agents of selective tradition and cultural incorporation. . . . They help create people (with the appropriate meanings and values) who see no other serious possibility to the economic and cultural assemblage now extant.

Democracy and freedom from oppression are the cornerstones of Critical Pedagogy. Apple and Giroux have approached this concept, appropriating or applying the works of Marcuse and Freire, to the situations of many Americans whom they perceive as being blocked from fulfilling their potential for happiness and freedom due to their race, class and gender. Like Marcuse and Freire, the first step for attaining the necessary change and freedom is a raising of the consciousness of the people. Both Marcuse’s and Freire’s theories held that the existing inequalities in their countries, or in any society, were possible to overcome once the oppressed became aware of the hegemony - the blindness, unconsciousness of the true situation and possibilities - which held them captive. They were slaves to a belief system which was an integral part of the domİnant culture. Once the oppressed become aware of their situation they can then critique it to determine what is wrong and what should be, then make decisions and take actions toward the perceived needed change.

Many renowned educators and theorists works contribute to or support this theory; they include Peter McLaren, Douglas Kellner, Ira Shor, Henry Levin, John Goodlad, Theodore Sizer, Jonothan Kozol, the Holmes Group, Michel Foucault, the Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School, Pierre Bourdieu, Stanley Aronowitz, and Antonio Gramsci.

Critical Pedagogy studies the role which schools play in maintaining the social stratification of society, and the possibilities for social change through the schools. “Critical pedagogy is both a way of thinking about and negotiating through praxis the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the larger institutional structures of the school, and the social and material relations of the wider community, society, and nation state.” Peter McLaren explains that Critical Pedagogy is an approach adopted by progressive teachers attempting to eliminate inequalities on the basis of social class, and that it has also sparked a wide array of anti-sexist, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic classroom-based curricula and policy initiatives. Common questions for the critical educator include: What knowledge is of most worth? Whose knowledge is most important? What knowledge should be taught, and just as important, what knowledge is not to be taught? How does the structure of the school contribute to the social stratification of our society? What is the relationship between knowledge and power? What does this imply for our children? What is the purpose of schooling? Is it to ensure democracy or to maintain the status quo and support big business? How can teachers enable students to become critical thinkers who will promote true democracy and freedom?

Ira Shor identifies principal goals of Critical Pedagogy: “when pedagogy and curricular policy reflect egalitarian goals, they do what education can do:

I. Oppose socialization with desocialization

II. Choose critical consciousness over commercial consciousness

III. Transformation of society over reproduction of inequality

IV. Promote democracy by practicing it and by studying authoritarianism

V. Challenge student withdrawal through participatory courses

VI. Illuminate the myths supporting the elite hierarchy of society

VII. Interfere with the scholastic disabling of students through a critical literacy program

VIII. Raise awareness about the thought and language expressed in daily life

IX. Distribute research skills and censored information useful for investigating power and policy in society

X. Invite students to reflect socially on their conditions, to consider overcoming limits. . . .

Shor says we must pose the question of critical pedagogy (desocialization) when we discuss teacher education programs or curriculum at any level of schooling. Once we accept education’s role as challenging inequality and domİnant myths rather than as socializing students into the status quo, we have a foundation needed to invent practical methods.”

Critical Pedagogy, then, is defined by what it does - as a pedagogy which embraces a raising of the consciousness, a critique of society, as valuing students’ voices, as honoring students’ needs, values, and individuality, as a hopeful, active pedagogy which enables students to become truly participatory members of a society who not only belong to the society but who can and do create and re-create that society, continually increasing freedom. Marcuse states that liberation “presupposes a knowledge and sensibility which the established order, through its class system of education, blocks for the majority of the people.”

Freire states that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process. “Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation in to the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom’ the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” Michael Apple also argues that education is not a neutral enterprise, that by the very nature of the institution, the educator is involved, whether he or she is conscious of it or not, in a political act. He attempts to analyze and understand the relationship between education and economic structure, and the connections between knowledge and power. Apple approaches his analysis in three ways: l) the school as an institution, 2) the educator him or herself, and 3) the knowledge forms. Each of these are situated within the larger context of society. Ira Shor states that the strongest potential of education lies in studying the politics and student cultures affecting the classroom. “It is politically naive or simply ‘technocratic’ to see the classroom as a world apart where inequality, ideology, and economic policy don’t affect learning

“The first need is to become aware of the world in which we live; to survey its forces; to see the opposition in forces that are contending for mastery; to make up one’s mind which of these forces come from a past that the world in its potential powers has outlived and which are indicative of a better and happier future.” In 1958 John Dewey described the contradictions and problems with which our society was dealing; those issues remain today, and the relevance of Dewey’s recommendations are as true for us today as they were in 1958. He states that it is the task of teachers to help put things right, whether or not teachers feel it is their duty; whether teachers choose to do so or not, they are still choosing, since the very act of intentionally doing nothing is still doing something. One cannot not choose. “Drifting is merely a cowardly mode of choice” His point is that teachers should become aware themselves of our present situation and after conducting intelligent study they should make a choice and base whatever actions they choose on that informed decision. He felt that it was important for teachers, parents and other educators to understand the social forces and movements of the times and the role of the schools, which could not be accomplished unless teachers were aware of a social goal. Dewey knew that teachers, in general, do not feel that they have time for general theories, yet he states that the first prerequisite of intelligent decision and action is understanding of the forces at work. “The most specific thing that teachers can first do is something general.” For this reason, it is imperative that teachers as well as those in teacher education programs take the time to study the constructs and power structures within our society, to determine how these impact educational policies, curriculum, testing, accountability, teaching methods and materials. Teachers need to reflect upon what they are doing and why they are doing it.

When offering suggestions for the elements of an educational platform, Henry Giroux discusses Critical Pedagogy . . . Rejecting the traditional view of instruction and learning as a neutral process antiseptically removed from the contexts of history, power, and ideology, critical educational theory begins with the assumption that schools are essential sites for organizing knowledge, power and desire in the service of extending individual capacities and social possibilities...