Critical Pedagogy Essay

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Critical pedagogy challenges both students and teachers to channel their experiences of oppression into educating and empowering marginalized peoples. Critical pedagogues approach education as a process of social, cultural, political, and individual transformation, where social equity can be nourished or social inequity perpetuated. According to critical pedagogues, notions defining rational classification of people into categories that diminish their social affect and importance keep them oppressed. Oppressed peoples thus require not only awareness of inequities they suffer but also an understanding of ways that oppressive social mechanisms and beliefs endure, and of resistance strategies. Reflection on one’s own experiences of oppression and the feelings of frustration, shame, guilt, and rage that accompany those experiences help shape practices of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogues redirect these feelings that can incite violent acts, submission, and/or ongoing repression into dynamic dialogue that defines literacy in terms of participatory citizenship.

Methods of critical pedagogy are as diverse as the people who practice them. However, some common elements and general themes include reworking roles of student and teacher, questioning economic categories of worth and success, and ongoing engagement with the social, cultural, and political interactions that perpetuate disenfranchised and marginalized identities. In a traditional educational environment, students listen to a lecturing teacher, who controls the flow of questions and answers. Part of the traditional student and teacher relationship is that students consume decontextualized knowledge produced by the teacher (and those who dictate what the teacher teaches). This arrangement, according to critical approaches to pedagogy, disenfranchises people by removing their control over experiential reflection, and neglecting to address emotionally charged daily experiences through which cultural symbols gain greater meaning.

Critical pedagogy incites critique of social values based on economic measures of worth and identity. When economic value defines products and peoples who can or cannot afford them, participation in community governance pits those who have against those who have not, and freedoms may only be afforded by people with enough money to buy them. Critical pedagogues teach people how to effectively participate in community governance (voting, legislating, finding alternative resources), thereby empowering people who are in no position to challenge oppressive economic systems and values based on economic leverage.


  • McLaren, P. (2002) Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. Allyn and Bacon Publishers, Boston, MA.

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