Critical Pedagogy

Below is a culmination of a Jigsaw Activity about Critical Pedagogy from Freire and hooks texts. This blog post is a group activity from authors: Mary Nedela, Luisa Burgos, Alireza Farzampour, Armin Yeganeh, Brittany Hoover, James Schlitt, and Britton Hipple.

Critical pedagogy is the ability to teach dynamically, collaboratively, and innovatively to humanize students through an open dialogue between students and teachers and empower them to critically think about education in order to find undefined solutions to ambiguous problems in our society.

Higher Education and Student Affairs: An example of how I personally have been able to engage as a critical thinker has been questioning the authors of any information I read. What I mean by that is looking up their background to better understand their perspectives and potential biases that they bring to their teaching. I think this allows us to then question the information that is being taught to us. But also keeping in mind that it is not only about questioning but trying to understand more than the surface level knowledge by looking into the core or as bell hooks states the “underlying truth”.

Human Development and Family Science: All about context: All aspects of my teaching involve strengthening critical thinking skills. I empower students to consistently interrogate information, research, and textbooks through stepping into other people’s shoes. I ask students to share their personal experiences and validate them, but then ask them questions to think about how certain phenomenon might differ under varying contexts.

Environmental Design and Planning According to bell hooks, Democratic values should be protected in education. This goal could be achieved by teaching student to contribute to the ongoing commitment to social justice. At the first step, different voices should be heard and contrasting opinions should be valued in the classroom. Students should become familiar with various social justice concepts, activities, institutions, and movements.

Biochemistry This might be a bit overused, but I engage students with “Why”? I do this in review sessions. I do this in lectures. I do this when they ask for clarification. The goal of education is to allow students to critically think about the problem and try to understand what they know first in order to tackle the problem at hand.

Genetics, Bioinformatics, & Computational Biology Recognizing the reciprocal learning from student to teacher, teacher to student, because knowledge is living and falters when stagnant.

Civil Engineering The complexity of the critical pedagogy is understood through actively asking questions and real-monitoring of the students’ feedbacks. In order to improve our critical thought process as a teacher, we could ask ourselves “what would happen if” type of questions, and encourage the students to actively participate in questioning regardless of how simple the question might are. The improvements in critical pedagogy are significantly related to how teachers deal with problems from unprecedented angles.

Agricultural Education I’ve encountered many theories and pedagogies in my field but critical pedagogy is one that has caused a shift in my life and outlook on society. Critical pedagogy asks students to challenge and question the hegemony. Using this pedagogy, I’ve been able to be critically reflective of how the interrelation of race, gender, class, and power has influenced my life. I want this life-changing experience for every student that I encounter. But I also recognize that students may be resistant to critical pedagogy due to differing ideologies, fear of criticism, and/or discomfort with discussing complex issues. As an action, I need to learn more about how to engage resistant students. Another action is to keep in mind that all students have valuable input regardless of background and viewpoint.

Teaching for Social Justice

A quick look at the racial composition of students and teachers in the U.S. reveals why a racial gap exists between the two. White teachers constitute 85% of all public school teachers in the U.S. and this share is expected to increase. About half of current public school students are non-Whites and the share of non-White students will increase in the coming years. According to Carlisle, Jackson, & George (2006), academic achievement is racially correlated and drop-out and attempted suicide are high among LGBT students. These trends indicate why teachers should be well-prepared to teach in diverse contexts: social justice and student achievement are inseparable (Carlisle, et al. 2006). Nevertheless, research (Cross, 2003) shows that such preparation is not yet achieved, e.g., to respect student’s language, to use diverse literature in the syllabus, to acknowledge diversity, and to recognize personal knowledge and experience.  These concerns become even more meaningful when inequity in the U.S. education is seen from a structural perspective. For example, since public education funding is tied to local property taxes, students in wealthier communities, which are predominantly White, have access to superior educational opportunities (Dover, 2009). Thus, researchers like Cross (2003) suggest that it is not enough to take a neutral approach and just realize that there are differences, e.g., in the language spoken by students. Rather, they advocate active behaviors or strategies for teaching in a multi-cultural context. Carlisle, et al. (2006) addressed such strategies through five key principles. These principles, according to Dover  (2009), try to reduce educational inequity through a comprehensive and systemic reform, which is increasingly framed as social justice in education. For example, working in reciprocal collaboration with students’ parents and communities, and teaching about activism, power, and inequity in schools and society are among such principles. Overall, I think such ideas are highly valuable if realized. It seems that with an increase in the number of students of color, existing racial gaps will gradually diminish. However, as long as the society is structured to provide a better education for the high-income populations, more work is needed to achieve social justice in education.  Also, other issues, e.g., religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTs, etc. will shape the next steps in reaching social justice.


  • Carlisle, L. R., Jackson, B. W., & George, A. (2006). Principles of social justice education: The social justice education in schools project. Equity & Excellence in Education, 39(1), 55-64.
  • Cross, B. E. (2003). Learning or unlearning racism: Transferring teacher education curriculum to classroom practices. Theory into practice, 42(3), 203-209.
  • Dover, A. G. (2009). Teaching for social justice and K-12 student outcomes: A conceptual framework and research review. Equity & Excellence in Education42(4), 506-524.

My Authentic Facilitating Other

As I take more classes on pedagogy and read more about education in academia, I find myself in favor of the notion of teacher as a facilitator. Whenever I look back to past years, I find lecture-based classes the worst class experience I have ever had. On the other hand, the most enjoyable and memorable classes to me are those in which the teacher spends less time on talking and more time on educational activities. Rarely were there exceptional lecture-based classes that I really enjoyed as a result of my personal interest in the topics. At least in my field, which is environmental planning, design, and construction, many aspects of traditional lecture-based classes are entirely redundant. As a result, I find both useful and redundant takeaways from readings on an authentic teaching self.

This week, I am going to have my first independent teaching experience at Virginia Tech, and my plan for the week includes zero minutes of lecturing. Rather, students are free to use the resources whenever they need them. Interestingly, I find similarities between my plan and Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. For example, I have organized each class hour into three segments, each including a 20-minute activity. These activities include independent learning by watching video tutorials, independent working on a CAD project, and watching a video conference as a group. To encourage communication between students, I have considered peer teaching, group projects, and group conversations using ICT in the following sessions. While I agree with Fowler in many aspects, I somehow disagree when she says “ALWAYS engage with your students; do not do something to them, or for them, or at them.”

I don’t think that a good class should necessarily have a teacher who, as Fowler says, always engages with students or, as Deel says, is obsessed with how he/she is read as a “SELF”. Although teacher’s characteristics are to some extent important, a good class, in my view, is the one in which authentic teaching is replaced with authentic learning. Comparing classroom with a movie, I think teacher’s role is being changed from an actor to a director. Teachers are becoming less visible in the classroom and their role is taken more and more by media and virtual content. Teachers are now behind the scene of guest lectures, group discussions, and peer assessments. All in all, I think teachers should be more obsessed with the course objectives and learning outcomes and less on their own personal expression. Again, this is my view as a graduate student in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. How much do you think teacher’s personality affects learning outcomes?

Goal-Oriented Assessment

With the existing transition from traditional education inspired by the notion of standardization toward more recent approaches, there is an emphasis on treating students as individuals. Taking this individualist approach seems necessary in both teaching the course content and assessing the student work. In “The Puzzle of Motivation” Pink discussed the trio of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the most important aspects of self-actualization, which is somehow missing in today’s world of business and education. Also, Elbow (1993) discussed a number of problems associated with rank-based assessments and the benefits of qualitative evaluating methods. The contemporary way of looking at education and the two arguments made by Pink and Elbow call for a need for individual goal-oriented assessment plans. In the context of prevalent practice in higher education, such interrelated assessment methods do not typically take place. The common method is that students take a number of different core and elective courses, with each course having a separate assessment method. Although there are some levels of autonomy in selecting the elective course, the existing assessment methods do not really encourage autonomy, mastery, and any purpose other than passing the course and moving to the next semester. Nor is there a goal-oriented assessment attached to a self-development plan based on the gradual mastery of the curricular content. I think a major takeaway from the Pink and Elbow’s argument for contemporary pedagogical practices is that beyond base-line assessment techniques, instructors need to work with students to develop an individual self-development plan. Then, based on a primarily qualitative assessment method, instructors should help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and move toward their self-set goals. Pursuing a set of goals that have personal meanings while receiving proper feedback oriented toward personal achievement could increase intrinsic motivation and lead to student success (Cherry, 2017).


  • Cherry, K. (2017). Intrinsic motivation. (Blog Post)
  • Elbow, P. (1993). Ranking, evaluating, and liking: Sorting out three forms of judgment. College English55(2), 187-206.
  • Pink, D. (2009) The Puzzle of Motivation. (YouTube Video)

Education Against Inspiration

Bob Marley (1945–1981) was an international musical icon who once said: “We don’t have education, we have inspiration; if I was educated I would be a damn fool.” Marley’s quote somehow summarizes Langer’s discussion on the need for maintaining a mindful versus a mindless state of learning. Langer (2000) refers to five psychological states (e.g., openness to novelty) that relate to the same concept: mindfulness. However, the history of education shows that much of human education has been based on mindlessness and a lack of dynamism. There is no wonder why Orwell (1903-1950) doubted whether classical education could be carried out without corporal punishment. Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the mechanistic view of conventional methods, which are based on standardization, and called for a need for an organic transformation to adapt to the dynamics of a new world.

Jean Piaget (1896–1980), is known as the first psychologist who systematically studied human cognitive development (McLeod, 2015). His constructivist views had profound impacts on the contemporary theories of education and the critical role of experiences (interactions with the environment) in children’s learning. Piaget emphasized that the goal of education is not to make conformists by increasing the amount of their knowledge. Rather, education should make creators and inventors by providing opportunities for students. Accordingly, Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the obsoleteness of memorization and emphasized the need for the usability of course content and its connection with the real environment. This forced memorization of isolated information and the lack of engagement with the material on a deep level seems to play a role in students’ dislike of conventional education.

Thomas and Brown (2011) discussed that learning through play and imagination is a way to engage students with the constantly changing world. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of proper technological infrastructure to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real-world experiences. Langer (2000) put a heavier emphasis on teaching methods and questioned the prevailing approaches to teaching, such as unconditional acceptance, lack of openness, and the value of overlearning, as the cause of mindless education. In general, new approaches to education seem to commonly insist on inspiration as an important goal of education and the need for an organic connection with real-world experiences. As John Dewey (1859-1952) said: “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”.


  • Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current directions in psychological science, 9(6), 220-223.
  • McLeod, S. (2015) Jean Piaget. Retrieved from:
  • Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

A Prison or A Democracy?

A recent American Psychological Association report alarms about sharp rises in serious mental health problems on campus. Depression and anxiety, as the most common mental disorders, are typically associated with eating disorders, drug abuse, and self-injury in the U.S. universities (Eiser, 2011). In “Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education” Gray (2018) refers to the fact that students normally have no or little power in creating the rules that they are forced to follow. Also, little differences in shallow accomplishments (e.g., an A versus a B) could lead to a great sense of shame, intense anxiety and fear in a classroom, which more or less works like a real society.

Not only are traditional lectures and classroom settings boring, politically speaking, they are comparable with a monarchy in which the ruler may or may not follow a written constitution. The way a classroom is governed typically represents the broader patterns of the governance of its context. Thus, there is no surprise that in more democratized countries, students gain a little more power. Because we spend so many years in school and university, shaping a small scale monarchy in classroom impairs the quality of student life by creating perpetual, toxic anxiety (Lee, 2015) and making a prison out of school. Transforming this monarchy to a democracy may address the aforementioned issues of mental health, and better prepare students for the future.

Traditional lectures are the legacy of our ancestors who had no medium other than their tongue to deliver the course content, and no means other than standard exams to assess student achievement. The legacy, which persists in the form of today’s crowded classrooms with a single source of information, is somehow responsible for killing students’ creativity, motivation, and critical thinking, especially at younger ages. With a decrease in these positive student characteristics, there is an increase in the lack of interest, sense of forced education, and anxiety. There are national initiatives, such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, that address mental health crisis on campus. However, except in pioneering institutions, there seems to be a general lack of interest in planning for and integrating new approaches to education and technology to help address life quality issues and to prepare students for the complexities of the 21st century. Oltermann (2016) described ESBC, a school in Germany, as a prototype of such efforts with the mission of re-inventing “school” based on free learning and bottom-up decision making. In ESBC student work is not graded until the age of 15. The school fully abandoned lecture-style instructions and timetables. Instead, the teachers let their students decide what to learn and when to take an exam. Due to ESBC’s success, more schools in Germany are now adopting the free-learning methodology.

Despite the fact that a great amount of flexibility and options could be offered to students, discipline is commonly enforced by required contents and schedules in passive education systems. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and pioneering institutions, such as ESBC, call for the democratization of the classroom by transferring the power of decision making from teachers to students. There is evidence that moving toward this power transfer by planning for flexibility and the proper use of technology prepares students for the future life, improves their motivation, retention rate, communication abilities, and helps them learn at their own pace (Cox, 2017). The ESBC experience showed that this change in mission and strategies, which is not necessarily expensive, improves students’ health and quality of life.