Critical Pedagogy, JST 3

Hey, guys! Writing on behalf of Jigsaw Table 3.

As a group, we worked to define critical pedagogy, then crafted three sections of responses that consider how we apply critical pedagogy in our respective fields.

Thank you for reading, & wishing you all a happy start to your week!:)

– JST3 (AKA Helen Ajao, Carter Eggleston, Qishen Huang, Leslie Jernegan, Medha Satyal and Ruixiang Xie)


Group definition: Critical pedagogy comes from a desire to foster curiosity and acknowledge the realities of student experiences through the application of relevant material. In practice, it centers around an inclusive, equity-focused environment of collective learning between teacher and student where all are able and encouraged to learn from each other. Such a space liberates and empowers learners—both teachers and students—to engage with the world outside of the classroom.


Student-Centered Learning as a type of Critical Learning

Student-Centered Learning – video.

The video is about a school and the strategies used to ensure that their teachings are student-centered. These strategies explain three main tactics which include

Collaborative group work

Student choice

Inquiry-based activities

Collaborative group work:  The lesson plan was designed  to engage students in a group work activity. These activity helps the student to learn from each other and makes them successful.

Student Choice: This strategy involves empowering to the student to decide how they want to learn. It gives the student the feeling that they have control of their learning. Part of the activities includes mind mapping exercise, role play and setting ground rules for themselves.  One of the experience while taking a class was being given an opportunity to redesign the class syllabus, the instructor gave the opportunity to choose the deadline date for our assignment and also to include our expectations for class into the syllabus.

Inquiry-based activities: This was used to encourage the student to research independently with inquiry-based activities. These activities include student given task that has to do solving real-world problems. It makes the student engage in critical thinking, teachers listening to students’ questions and inspire them to put forward further questions to deepen student’s investigations

These three strategies explain Freire ideology about laboratory action. The liberation is a social dynamics involving working with and engaging other people in a power-conscious process. The students are empowered to think critically. It brings the cultivation of both teachers and students critical consciousness. Above all, it maintains the authority of the teacher as well as respecting the being and experiences of students.


Critical Pedagogy in the Arts

Foster curiosity and acknowledge the realities of student experiences through application of relevant material. This focus is typically a key focal point for creative writing, as much of the creative work (e.g., short stories, novels, poems, essays, plays) we (students and teachers) produce tends to be influenced by what most interests and concerns us, tends to leverage writers’ experiences—or, as Paulo Freire puts it, discusses “the concrete reality of [our] lives.” Although some teachers experiment with requiring students not to write about themselves in their submitted work, these teachers are apt to encourage their students to write about people, places and ideas that, although non-autobiographical, nevertheless inspire their curiosity.

Nonetheless, as a teacher, I urge caution with limiting the subjects about which students can/cannot write. (An example: A creative writing professor told me this past week that she once asked students not to write about guns in their work, as she was sick of reading about them. This censorship, she reported, proved suffocating for her students, particularly those who genuinely felt pressed to include guns in their creative work for myriad reasons. Is the classroom not a place to play with and enhance our skills to best relay our messages?) While I acknowledge the benefits in placing constraints on writing and providing prompts, these assignments seem to best serve students in the experimentation and idea-fruition stages.

To put things more concisely, as a teacher I’m working to help my students build their toolkits for best crafting the creative work they wish to create. The strongest creative work, from my experience, has been the work that’s been honest—the work that’s been written by a writer with something to say. Who am I to muzzle that?

The students and teacher are all learners. The ability of the instructor to transcend the role of a knowledge dispenser is paramount to the concept of critical pedagogy. As stated by Joe L. Kinchloe, teaching is complex, and involves much more than serving “as deskilled messengers who uncritically pass along a canned curriculum.” This particularly resonates as a teacher in the arts. Intrinsic to any successful artist is their ability to create work that is undeniably their own. Its forms exhibit manipulation from the artist’s own hand, its aesthetics reflect choices guided by the artist’s own beliefs, and its messages are delivered through a voice molded by the artist’s own passions and experiences.

There is no “canned curriculum” for this. As a teacher, I must expect to learn from my students, just as they expect to learn from me. I can certainly share with them the knowledge that I have gained from my own experiences, but I must be aware that their experiences are different from my own. Establishing a relationship where I’m comfortable learning from my students broadens all of our perspectives and enables all of us to further develop as artists in way that is honest to our individuality.

Trust yourself. All great teachers are able to inspire self-confidence in their students, and students who believe in themselves and the work that they do are almost always more successful than those who don’t. In the arts, a lack of self-confidence can be more difficult to conceal, as there aren’t as many facts, figures, or formulas to hide behind. Assessment is typically done through the creation of art, not through testing, and an unavoidable component of this is evaluating student creativity. How can I adequately gauge creativity if my students don’t feel confident and comfortable enough to infuse their work with their own fears, passions, and ideas? Every aspect of my role as an instructor must be mindful towards instilling confidence in students. This empowers them to create more successful work, and also carries with it benefits for life outside the classroom. Creating environments that build self-confidence during sensitive moments like critique or other periods of feedback are particularly important.

Feedback. Just as teachers teach students and students teach teachers, students serve the purpose of teaching each other in the classroom. Much of my academic world spins around the creative-writing workshop—classes in which students turn in their creative work to their peers, and peers return the next week with thorough feedback, both written and to be discussed as a class, with other students and/or the instructor as the discussion facilitator.

In such classes, students are in a constant cycle of collective learning via critical thinking, as those responding to a piece are learning from the process of giving feedback, and the person receiving the feedback, after having first learned from the process of producing the work, is now learning from the process of actively listening to responses regarding the next steps to take with that work. Such a space exemplifies self-directed, democratic education; each student in the group should and must be heard, and should and must actively listen. The antipode of passive learning, workshops, when facilitated properly, exemplify the practice of critical pedagogy, and serve not to tear apart peers’ work. Rather, the questions, collectively addressed, are: What does this work, on its own terms, seek to do? What have we discovered and appreciated with respect to the sensibility particular to this work? How can we work to make this even better?


Critical Pedagogy in Science and Engineering

The traditional lecture, with teachers as deliverers of information and students as passive receivers, is very popular in undergraduate courses in the sciences. These lectures tend to focus almost exclusively on information transfer—which is certainly important, but should not be the only goal. There are key facts and concepts that are important to know in every discipline, but in today’s world where information is constantly readily accessible, it isn’t important to have every fact or reaction or equation memorized. Instructors should place greater focus on how students might apply concepts in different contexts rather than focusing on memorization of concepts.

What differs the critical pedagogy from traditional lectures is that critical pedagogy emphasize on active thinking and learning of students. The education system right now is more like a screening system, which can provide all the information students want, in order to put students into places that he/she is comfortable to stay at. It focus on the input and output of the system regardless of the processing method of it. However, an ideal critical pedagogy would encourage the students to actively find out the direction they want to go by learning and thinking about what information they can get from the system. Thus the students will no long just be inputs of the system, but become variables of the system. The final output will change with them interactively.

Table – Comparison between traditional lecture and ideal critical pedagogy.

Typical Situation Ideal Critical Pedagogy
Information Delivery Lecture, passive learning Active, student-centered learning
Assessment Standard tests Applied question (not of the purpose of testing, regurgitation of information)
Student-teacher interaction Authoritarian Interactive
Class activities None Group work
Class size Huge Small
Priority Knowledge (facts) Curiosity, skills


It is well-established that passive learning strategies are not as effective as active learning strategies. In my view, the traditional lecture style likely persists for two main reasons. The first being that professors tend to teach the same way they were taught. As future educators, it is our responsibility to not fall into this trap. The second reason, and perhaps the greatest challenge, is large class sizes; at some large universities, introductory classes can have hundreds of students. Having large class sizes is economically effective for universities, but makes courses impersonal for both instructors and students. It can be difficult to design engaging activities that can be scaled up to such a large group of students, and lecture halls don’t provide an appropriate physical environment for collaborative group work. Smaller class sizes would allow for more personal and interactive relationships between instructor and student as well as among students. With technological advances, one strategy to encourage engagement that has become popular is presenting quiz questions during lectures which students respond to using clickers. This is a good way to check that students are present and absorbing information; however it falls short in that it doesn’t require students to apply or manipulate or synthesize the information they have learned.


Critical Pedagogy (Table 5)

Cognitive mapping is a qualitative research process that uses drawing to answer questions. In simple terms, instead of interviewing people, which is the most common methodology in qualitative research, questions are answered by drawing. There are no rules. Nothing is wrong or right. It is meant to be highly personalized. Many people worry about drawing skills, but again, that does not matter because questions can be answered in the most beautiful drawings or stick figures. The merit of the tactic is that cognitive maps are expressions of the brain’s emotions about a question.

As a group, we decided to answer the questions about critical pedagogy by each creating a cognitive map. Here are our artifacts:

An Interdisciplinary Conceptualization of Critical Pedagogy

This time, something a little different: a blog posted co-created by myself and some colleagues with different academic backgrounds.


In our contemporary pedagogy class, we were challenged to consider critical pedagogy in groups of peers from different academic disciplines.  Heading into discussion, we each had the context of a separate reading, either by Paulo Freire or bell hooks, and the background that comes with our fields: communication, environmental engineering, higher education, rhetoric and writing, food science, and civil engineering.  Additionally, we had a common background as presented by Shelli Fowler.  To summarize our experience, we opted to compile our notes on critical pedagogy and create a group definition. We then discussed how critical pedagogy could be applied in education in our own disciplines.

Freire and hooks
Freire suggested that education could either control and contain students, or it could empower “students to be critically engaged and active participants in society” (Fowler).  Accordingly, Freire’s critical pedagogy, stemming from the emancipatory and participatory aims he saw for education, “involves not only reading the word, but also reading the world‘ as students think through and examine the structural dynamics and political components as well as the cultures surrounding them. Critical pedagogy has manifested in the U.S. higher education system within classrooms that connect “content with social issues,” eliminate “conventional power relations,” and acknowledge “the personal and political in teaching, learning and constructing knowledge” (Fowler).

In her Introduction to Teaching Critical Thinking, bell hooks reflects on her own early education, where she learned from her teachers that a “good education” “was not just one that would give” students “knowledge and prepare” them “for a vocation,” but instead it was also “an education that would encourage an ongoing commitment to social justice, particularly to the struggle for racial equality” (1).  As a student Stanford, hooks encountered a wide range of teachers — from overtly racist white supremacist patriarchal authoritarian types, to exceptional progressive teachers. hooks writes that progressive teachers “educated for the practice of freedom” and although they were rare, “their presence inspired” hooks, and she set out “to follow their example and become a teacher who would help students become self-directed learners” (3). In the following section, we have offered ways in which we understand critical pedagogy, what our own definition of critical pedagogy may look like, and how, specifically, we aim to incorporate critical pedagogy into our own field / classrooms.

Our collaborative definition of critical pedagogy:

Critical Pedagogy:

  • Uses a teacher as a facilitator, not a total authority on the knowledge – a guide instead of a bank of knowledge.  
  • Encourages questions.
  • Roots the knowledge in the experience of the the learner–being able to answer “so what?”
  • Recognizes learning is inherently a part of teaching, and teachers must be aware of and respect the knowledge and experiences of learners.
  • Takes place in an engaged classroom, where students and teachers work together to cultivate new knowledge, as intelligence and curiosity drive inquiry.
  • Involves facilitating the process of co-constructing new knowledge with students in the context of their own lived experiences; the goal is not for students to learn dominant narratives but achieve the capacity to critically evaluate ideas and create new knowledge.
  • Is an opportunity for a teacher to recognize the power and serve as a facilitator to students while having respect for their knowledge and experiences, encouraging questions and varying perspectives to challenge authority and traditional ways of thinking.
  • Is an approach, a way of doing things differently in order to allow connection  learning with social issues, eliminate conventional ways of exercising authority but also acknowledge the personal and political in teaching , learning and constructing knowledge.
  • Means the teacher is not just a teacher. It’s political, philosophical, critical work. Students are not just recipients, but they are part of the learning process, and thus they should be looking at the big picture and reflect accordingly in class.

Field-Specific Examples of Critical Pedagogy

Rhetoric & Writing, SPM:

In my writing classroom, I engage in critical pedagogy by helping students examine the ways in which texts and images represent the movement of power through discourse. Specifically, I help students think about the ways in which archives, in their organization, structure, and public access, are indicative of and influenced by western, capitalist, patriarchal systems of power. In response, I ask students to write about the ways in which the archive limits or directs their own research. Additionally, I write along with students, for any in-class writing prompt I assign, as hooks suggests in her piece “Engaged Pedagogy.” By writing alongside students, I am able to more fairly and successfully encourage students to share their work, as I demonstrate my willingness to engage in a dialogue about the course material and to think critically through it.

Higher Education, Jake : In my work in higher education, I work with students outside of the classroom, which offers plenty of opportunity to root the learning in their own experiences.  In creating programs for a residence hall, I avoid a prescriptive approach with the goal of co-creating programs with student staff and students. The hope is to engage students in difficult conversations about topics that matter to them.  It is not my own perspective that will help students learn but the process of engaging with a variety of perspectives that students from different backgrounds bring into the room. My hope is that students learn the skills involved in engaging in dialogue and develop their own perspectives that transcend the narratives they held when the entered college.  The primary example of this has been engaging students in all-male residence halls in conversations about masculinity. The topics are loose and can be guided by the students, and staff members merely serve as facilitators so that we may all learn with and from each other.

Communication, M.K. : Combining a variety of perspectives is encouraged and, at times, even expected within communication studies. Freire and Hooks offered expertise that placed an emphasis on encouraging questions, challenging authority, and not being afraid to think outside of the box. In a public speaking class, students come to theirs desks with a certain trepidation, anxious about speaking in front of their peers. Naturally, they start to “group up” with people they feel comfortable with- people like them. To combat this, the instructor breaks up the class into small sections, called “Critique Groups”, which act as their group for the semester. When I split my students up, I try to be intentional about grouping students that may not have communicated with one another previously. My hope is that they will be able to engage and offer their own backgrounds to the conversation.

Here, I feel the need to bring up one of my favorite things, the “Love Language” test. Love languages is a quiz that identifies one of five “languages” with which an individual likes to receive love: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and gifts. Since everybody has a different background and personality, it stands to reason that people will express and receive love in different ways. Keeping this in mind, I would like to propose the idea of “learning languages”, in which we are able to clearly identify our students’ preferred way of learning within the classroom. In my classroom, I feel like having an understanding of which of my students are visual learners vs. auditory learners, or even people who learn by doing, I believe that instructors can have more respect for the knowledge our students already have. In this way, I feel I could incorporate a more critical approach to teaching, and hopefully learn a thing or two myself.

Food Science and Technology, Oumoule: Food product development stages can be long arduous, it is about creating new product and should be done in order to end up with a standardized recipe. It addresses issues such as : safety, quality and regulatory requirements.

Considering that Critical pedagogy involves facilitating the process of co-constructing new knowledge with students in the context of their own lived experiences, incorporating this way of teaching through activities in a Food science class might be beneficial for students. In industries, scientists come up with new food products that people can go and buy from stores. Such an approach will consist of making students work in group and go through the whole processes of creating a new food product. The main steps they will have to undergo involve ideation (brainstorming new food idea), development stage, consumer, testing stage, packaging stage, shelf-life testing stage, final production stage, test marketing stage and commercialization stage.

Environmental Engineering, AamayaToday, my colleague explained to me that he wanted to go into industry to make good money then come back to teach. He said this because his favorite professor as undergraduate in environmental engineering was a man who worked in industry for 30 years as a design engineer in wastewater treatment. My colleague said that he admired that he would filter through the “bs” for them (i.e., not focusing on topics that were not relevant in the industry he had just spent 30 years in). When thinking about critical pedagogy, I can see how this particular professor could have an authority on knowledge. Transferring his own understanding of what is and what is not important on his students. I wonder how instructors teaching fundamental concepts in water and wastewater design can serve as more of a facilitator. One way I can see this in my classroom is asking students what they think important considerations of designing a treatment process, digging deeper by asking what potential impacts a plant could have on a given community. Hopefully leading them to think about what a local wastewater treatment plant, for instance, could do to the value of homes nearby or recreational swimming downstream.


A special thanks to my colleagues!  This was a post that could not have been written without their contributions.  Note that their blogs are linked in their names in the field-specific examples!


Week 9: “We don’t need no education.”

“All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall…”

So, we all have visions of The Ideal School in our heads, but we are also aware of the fact that the school systems in which we were taught we not ideal (though for a lucky few of you, they came quite close). We have also been thinking about how we as teachers can push back against the forces that make schools less-than-ideal, especially the systemic ones, like standardization, lack of attention to students, an a general trend of “phoning it inthat completely mystifies me. In that vein, we split up the class into smaller groups and tried to boil down our ideas of what critical pedagogy meant into the simplest possible form. My group came up with this graphic: the bridge serves a callout to Milad, the civil engineer of the group as well as mimicking the appearance of a pyramid, which is how we view the terms listed below (curiosity leads to radical openness, which leads to questioning, which leads to dynamic knowledge-seeking, and so on).

The color gradient is a nice aesthetic touch, but it also serves as a way to draw the eye upward, which is the whole point. The children at the bottom represent us and the hope that we maintain the same curiosity and thirst for knowledge that we had as children. Some of the children are holding signs with pictures, which represent the disciplines of each member of the group, from right to left: History (that one’s Heath), Civil Engineering (we just really like Milad a lot), Creative Technologies (that’s mine), Communications, Chemistry (that’s Kristen’s–we wouldn’t have the adorable children without her photoshopping them in), and archaeology (that’s Dana). I think this is an excellent way to think about critical pedagogy, and more importantly, its’ easy to remember and understand, and I believe that makes it more likely to show up in our teaching practice, which is a wonderful thing.


Defining Critical Pedagogy

This blog post is an attempt to synthesize the readings on Critical Pedagogy, a concept that was largely pioneered by Paulo Freire. In his experiences, he noticed a large number of issues surrounding standard teaching practices. Some of these are:

  • Students are expected to just absorb the information provided to them– not to question it or really think critically about what it means
  • Students are often de-personalized, making the material difficult for them to relate to in a meaningful or lasting way
  • Standard teaching reinforces current norms and standards, which in turn means that inequality, oppression, and exclusion are reinforced. This process is cyclical and self-reinforcing as those who learn under such structure eventually become the teacher themselves and conform to the methodologies that they learned under
  • Traditional teachers ignore or neglect the inherently political position that they hold
  • Students likely don’t realize they many ways in which they are being conditioned for compliance and sameness
  • Subject matters change over time, yet this fluidity is rarely reflected in practice; course materials often take a long time to change, if at all, making it out of touch with reality
  • Over time, students who cannot comply with the expectations of the standard classroom are at least disengaged and demotivated, if not completely left behind. (Most students fall into this category simply because of the diversity that exists in humans.) This occurs in spite of the fact that every student was once a naturally curious and inquisitive child; this curiosity, inquisitiveness, and the associated creativity has been neglected and discouraged for so long that they no longer have the same desire to pursue or express these drives
  • Teachers don’t realize the role that they can play in helping students become self-realized, fulfilled members of society

To combat these issues, Critical Pedagogy calls for a very different classroom in which the student is at the focal point of the material. Their experiences and individuality are highlighted, and the society in which they live is exposed for all that it is– good and bad. Specifically, Critical Pedagogy indicates that teachers have a moral and political imperative to:

  • Emphasize students’ personal growth and, in particular, critical thinking about societal norms and standards and how they interact with them
  • Relate material to real-world examples, highlighting how it may be useful for students later (rather than just the immediate, course-related benefits like grades)
  • Incite critical questioning, creativity, and understanding such that students are able to seek out answers individually; have deep, meaningful, and constructive conversations; and better understand all sides of an argument
  • Relate to students on an individual level, recognizing each student as a whole, unique individual who comes to the classroom with a different background and level of understanding from other students
  • Meet students where they are in their current understanding to help them rise to the “goal” understanding of the course
  • Understand that teaching will help drive research and that research can better inform teaching by keeping the material relevant and up-to-date for students
  • Accept that teachers will learn as they teach and that their students will teach as they learn
  • Adopt a cooperative teaching strategy in which students (in conjunction with the teacher) are in control of the classroom

In reflecting on these aspects of Critical Pedagogy, I noticed many overlapping ideas with Inclusive Pedagogy and Mindful Learning. That is, Critical Pedagogy reflects these teaching ideals as well by emphasizing a need to adapt to each individual students’ needs and perspectives while enforcing a need for students to directly interact with and incorporate the material into their own knowledge and experiences.

However, Critical Pedagogy takes this a step further by detailing how exactly this internalization of the material should occur in the context of current societal influences. That is, Critical Pedagogy involves combating societal and political norms very directly in order to enable each student to become self-realized and to understand where they (and their knowledge) fit into “the real world.”

Overall, I overwhelmingly agree with the ultimate recommendations and overarching rationale that drive Critical Pedagogy. Yet I find myself somewhat turned off by the overtly political nature of many of the points… That is, while I find myself shocked and amazed by Freire’s experiences and completely understand his political stances (and how they drove him to strongly encourage Critical Pedagogy whenever he could), I found it hard to relate much of these political points to my own experiences and hopes for teaching. For me, it’s much easier to see the liberating and world-changing impacts of teaching students how to read and write and how to think critically about what they read (especially in the context of their lives and the societies they belong to) than to see these kinds of impacts in my own field of Computer Science. (But perhaps that is under the assumption that students already know how to read and write by the time they enter my classroom…) In other words, reading and writing is so fundamental to accessing information and communicating with people that its enormously positive impact on people’s lives is not surprising. Computer Science is not quite as impactful and, taken as only the basic skills that are needed to develop programs, does not have the same level political undertones that reading and writing inherently do. Given this in combination with my own distaste for politics in general, I find myself resistant to incorporate such political undertones in my own teaching. Therefore, I think I find myself siding with– though not quite entirely– those who would take Freire’s teachings and attempt to de-politicize them to an extent for their own purposes.

Choose your Critical Pedagogy adventure

To begin, in order to understand this blog post, one must first understand how this blog post even came to fruition. Having said that, let’s first dive into what was Week 10 of our course, Contemporary Pedagogy.

The class was dedicated to the idea of critical pedagogy and ultimately, defining what critical pedagogy means to us. Prior to the class, we were tasked with completing a reading based on a number (1-6) that we were given in week 9. To start class we were grouped with others in the class who read the same number as we did. Here, we collaborated and compiled the key points of our assigned reading. Following this short activity, we were split up and put into a new group of students from the remaining five groups and here we shared our key points from each of our individual readings. In doing so, based on the numerous readings we shared with one another, our group created and collaborated to create a cohesive definition of what critical pedagogy means to us.

In order to better understand that definition, one must first grasp the main points of our readings, which are listed below:

READING #1: “Paulo Freire (1921-1997)” in The Critical Pedagogy Primer (2004) P. 69-75 by Joe L. Kinchloe

    • Our role as the educator is to cultivate “critical consciousness” in our students
    • What we teach has a ripple effect in society
    • It is imperative to meet our students where they are: to understand who they are and that includes knowing their learned experiences. This creates space for dialogue.
    • Education is inherently political; as educators, we must accept, acknowledge, and embrace this
    • Literacy enables freedom, empowering individuals to challenge dominant culture and oppression

READING #2: “Moving to Critical Complexity,” in The Critical Pedagogy Primer (2004), pp. 108-110 by Joe L. Kinchloe

    • Information pushing is dominant among practitioners
    • Those who implement complex critical pedagogy should study their students and where they come from and their backgrounds and cater their teaching to those needs
      • Standardized education does not recognize these complexities
        • However, to understand these complexities, you have to understand the limitations of mainstream schooling
          • People like Einstein would not stand out in today’s standards-driven schooling
    • In order for Einstein students to fit in, teachers need to understand complex critical pedagogy and teachers need to implement complex critical pedagogy

READING #3:  “The Banking Concept of Education,” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Ch. 2, pp. 71-86 by Paulo Friere

    • Discusses power structure – a teacher is correct ie: History and biases
    • 2 approaches:  spoon-feeding
    • Should create an environment for students to explore
    • Use mindfulness in teaching
    • Allow students to ask questions: it is a 2-way process
    • Lack of equal opportunity, dynamics of the power structure
    • Knowledge is static and the students do not necessarily challenge the professor’s thoughts
    • Narrative style
    • Intentional and Unintentional processes that are involved
    • Opening up to students to challenge the style of working
    • Letting students ask questions such as why? And how?
    • More application based learning is required
    • Point of education is not teaching them to do a something but to help them explore how they can look at a problem and solve it on their own

READING #4: Pedagogy of Freedom, Ch. 2, pp. 29-37 by Paulo Friere

    • No teaching without learning
    • Brings up the banking system of education, where students’ minds are empty vessels to be filled by the professor
    • We need to galvanize the flame of adventure in our students, do not settle for the status quo!
    • Students should be more aware of how they have been taught and what is that system, there is some responsibility on the students to resist the current culture
    • Show students that there is a goal (what is being learned) that you are trying to reach, and show them how to reach it.
    • Be transparent with your students so they understand that you will change your methodology from time to time, and that they are active participants in the process rather than a passive experimental unit.
    • Must have an open mind, learn critically, have a world view, do not get bogged down in the details / one subject.
    • Teach students what they need to know, not just mindless information.
    • Research is an integral component of teaching, as you must continually ask questions, learn and grow.
    • Do not be afraid to learn from your students; if they have information you do not, why not examine it?
    • We must ask questions, even if they seem offensive
    • Be disruptive of teaching norms

READING #5: Critical Thinking by bell hooks

    • Education system beats the critical thinking out of students
    • Teachers need to acknowledge that they don’t know everything
    • Everyone has to be engaged in critical thinking – students and teachers

READING #6: Democratic Education by bell hooks

    • Equal access to education irrespective of gender, race, etc
    • We need to follow ‘Practice what we preach’ approach
    • Conservative dominating culture should be checked
    • Education is the primary place to understand democracy not only in theory but also in practice
    • Democracy was always meant to be adaptive, to change with the times

READING #7: Engaged Pedagogy by bell hooks

    • Learning the name of the students to make the class more engaging
    • Treating students as collaborators rather than students
    • Active engagement: is also listening
    • Not forcing everyone on the same scale/level

Keeping all of this in mind, what does critical pedagogy mean to us?

Describing critical pedagogy, tools to be used and outcomes of implementing it:

  • Creating a better society by awakening critical consciousness,
  • open-mindedness,
  • equality,
  • question and challenge the norms,
  • self-determination, and
  • respect towards each other.

Now its time to adventure!

Given the diverse nature of our group members, coupled with the differing fields for which they study and teach in, we have composed a number of examples to share with you. Based on the field for which you most associate, we recommend jumping to that specific person’s post on how critical pedagogy is applied to their field of work.

For Landscape Architecture read more from Sara Harrell

In landscape architecture, we teach with the mindset that we are leading our students through the process of design. We provide prompts on projects and then guide students toward resources (i.e.: data, criteria, policy, tools) that help them make decisions about their work. We don’t tell them what to do or how to do it, but we do point them in a direction, help them develop the lens through which to view the world based on their individual interests.

There are many dimensions to landscape that many may take for granted. Let’s start with the those that are more obvious: what one can see physically present in the place at a given time. This could be the hardscape (paths, structures, built objects) and softscape (plants). The creatures that inhabit the landscape are also pretty easy to identify: so people (and animals) who inhabit, use, travel to and through a space. Less obvious are the stories about a place and the culture that underpins the narrative. This could be the collective memory of the people–watershed moments where everyone can recall significant events or moments. And akin to mainstream history, the narratives about a place are written by the dominant culture (or winners of a given conflict). What is still even more difficult to appreciate are those counter narratives, those that are suppressed by the dominant culture, and the stories of the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the underrepresented, and the oppressed. It is our job as educators in landscape architecture to illuminate these stories and narratives and teach our students how to ask the right questions to do the same.

Because of this, critical pedagogy is extremely important to the discipline of landscape architecture. If we allowed our students to just take design (or understanding place) at face value, we would be committing an injustice to both our students and to society. Freire says that the duty of an educator is to cultivate critical consciousness in our students. To not would be to indoctrinate students into the dominant worldview and would be perpetuating oppression and landscapes that oppress.

We meet each student where they are. Landscape architecture studios are designed so that the instructor provides the same site and list of conditions/requirements/deliverables to each student, but then each individual receives critique and direction based on their focus. In this way, we teach them to be literate, help them develop the ability to step back from their projects, understand the bigger picture, and then how to act and make decisions that are equitable, just, and socially responsible.

For Communication read more from Blayne Fink

Communication is a field for which pedagogy and critical pedagogy are stuck in what some might consider limbo. For instance, while some courses involve the typical Western style of learning (aka pumping information in and then it being dumped out come test time), there are also courses for which students have the freedom to learn and create as they choose, with a little bit of guidance along the way. Given the structure of the Communication field at Virginia Tech, this balance allows students to learn the basics of the field and the core concepts that drive Communication studies, while also giving them the freedom to explore projects, case studies, and the like from their own special lenses.

When it comes to Public Speaking particularly, the same tends to apply. From the student perspective, students are given expectations and parameters for which they are expected to follow, however in terms of topic choices, there is an abundance of freedom for them to explore. This allows students a level of comfort when it comes to speaking, especially since they tend to have a better grasp on topics that they choose. From a teaching perspective, Klinchoe explains that critical pedagogy presses educators to learn their students and their style of learning in order to cater teaching to those students. As a TA, I have become very aware of my students and what works and what does not work and by getting to know my students, even through fun little in class activities, I can thus cater my teaching to best impact their learning.

For Engineering read more from Akshay Jain and
Khushboo Gupta

Engineering is one field which has been on the wrong side of the pedagogy for a long time. It has been known for the banking system and teachers throwing equations and concepts without helping much with the background. Students are expected to memorize and throw it on the exam papers. However, with the concepts learned in the critical pedagogy collectively, there are multiple areas of improvement. First of all, the students should be more involved in the course development. They should be given background information and there should be more discussion involved on the problems. For developing critical consciousness the students should be made aware of what they are learning and why they are learning and how they can proceed using the concepts learned.  

For instance, infrastructure management is one of the civil engineering application, which involves a lot of collaboration and there is no single way to manage infrastructure as it depends a lot on the city/region, with respect to which the management  

For Entomology read more from Jackson Means

The majority of our classes in the Department of Entomology would most assuredly fall into the category of the “banking system” style of teaching. There are lots of insects, and lots of facts about insects for students to learn. But here’s the thing: most of these facts can be looked up online fairly easily, and the vast majority of students, both undergraduate and graduate, in entomology will not need to know about the wing venation of a muscid fly, or the trochanters of a sphecid wasp (man I sound smart). These details are specific, esoteric, and not subject to change, other than over evolutionary time. So why memorize them? We can look these things up, and most sources we would use would, most likely, not be outdated due to new research. There is something to be said for being exposed to a variety of entomological information, but knowing where a topic stops being interesting and starts being dull is extremely important for teaching in a mindful manner.

Therefore, I propose a structure and function class in the spirit of Paulo Freire, where rather than passively absorb information that will, in all likelihood, never impact their lives, students are encouraged to seek out what they find fascinating about the mechanics of insect flight, jumping or metamorphosis and present it to the class. A structure and function class where students are taught to be literate in the 21st century, not taught to read, but rather to find information online. There are many useful sources of entomological information on the web, but you need to know how to access that information, the (unfortunately) often necessary jargon and how to tell when a source is untrustworthy. is a great example of an incredible resource that has a steep learning curve, though once you understand how it works it can help you identify insects, find esoteric resources and connect with experts in a variety of taxa. However, the comments sections are also full of people that think they are experts, when really they are just retired and like to look at lots of pretty bug pictures. Being able to tell an educated guess from a wild one is pretty important for any discipline, and as educators in the information age it is our job to facilitate that understanding. Entomology is as intricate and varied as its subjects, and we should translate the exciting, fascinating aspects of that variation to our students, not expect them to mindlessly memorize obscure structures in the hindguts of cockroaches.

For Soil Science/Ecology read more from Sarah Shawver

Science labs are an excellent platform to engage critical pedagogy. For most of my academic career science experiments followed the format of “Here is this experiment, here are the results you should see”. However the classes that I learned the most from were the ones where students had some say in the direction of their learning. In some labs the major project was a research experiment designed by the students. The level of engagement was far beyond anything seen in a typical “follow the instructions and you should get this result” model. Self-determination, even if it’s only for a small portion of the lab get students really thinking and applying knowledge to answer questions they care about. When I taught Introductory Soil Science, students brought in their own soil samples. Although the experiments were already decided by the instructor, there were no known answers. I didn’t know the percent of sand in the soil samples that were brought in, so I couldn’t tell the students if they were “right”. Rather, the students had to think and determine whether the results of their experiment made sense. Some of my students brought in a soil sample from their family farm and said “I want to know more about my soil so I can grow crops better.” By allowing the students to bring in samples from wherever they wanted, they found motivation to learn, think, and apply knowledge.

Critical pedagogy can also take place in science lectures as well. One example is having groups of students develop activities to teach a section of material to the rest of the class. This has worked well in the past and students have come up with very creative ways to explain complex topics. I have also found that students learn a topic much better when they create an activity or method to teach it to other students. This also successfully empowers students to be in charge of their education.

We hope you enjoyed the adventure! 

Critical pedagogy is hard to define and even harder to implement. However, with a better understanding of the benefits of its implementation and practice, as well as the drawbacks of continuing on in our current pedagogical landscape, our hope is that one day the ideas of Paulo Freire and bell hooks are no longer anomalies, but rather expectations in education!

Educational reality and critical pedagogy

I was quite shocked when I learned of Critical Pedagogy through this lesson. I have been worried for a long time (just this week) why I did not receive such education. In my country, people who learn a lot of knowledge, and the think based on that knowledge called “smart”. Under such an educational reality, it was impossible to imagine a suspicious act of knowledge from teachers and books. If I have been suspicious and critical in my knowledge, it would not have been natural for knowledge to be forgotten.

Through Paulo Freire’s belief in education, I deeply wondered how to teach my students if I become a teacher.

“Critical pedagogy is teaching approach which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate them. It tries to help students become critically conscious.”

So how can we make students critically conscious?

Ira Shor defines “critically conscious” in Empowering Education (1992):

“A student can be critically conscious by thinking, reading, writing, and speaking while going beneath the surface meaning. A student must go beyond myths, clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions. Most importantly, students must understand the deep meaning, root causes, social contexts, and personal consequences of any action, events objects, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy mass media and discourse.”

It is not a simple thing to go beyond the generally recognized dominant opinion. Creating a student who thinks, “Maybe not,” feels curious and rethinking without accepting things and knowledge, but it feels like a very difficult task. Educating students to accept my opinions critically can sound like a contradiction. My conclusion is that the ultimate goal is critical pedagogy, but it is rather radical when considering the reality of education. In the middle of it, I believe that mindful learning/teaching and inclusive pedagogy give students experiences to find happiness and find something they like and value, rather than conveying knowledge. I think that critical pedagogy is probably the next step after these are accepted.

Modeling critical thinking

Seeing both sites of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms young ideas, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth. (Daniel Willingham in Critical Thinking: Why is it so Hard to Teach)

I want to develop critical thinking in my students- the idea that one should always seek to see “both” sides of an issue and that one should always be prepared to disprove an idea. Though Willingham says “young idea,” I would substitute “all ideas, especially old ideas.” Because the institutionally-accepted facts comprise the tool set of what is referred to by Freire as the oppressor, Gramsci (and others) as the hegemony. Critical thinking from students should question these institutional ideas. “Authentic education is not carried on by “A” for “B” or by “A” about “B,” but rather by “A” with “B”” (Freire). bell hooks suggests that “professors [should] no longer assume the sole leadership role.” The implication being that I should cede some power in the classroom to my students.

These concepts make me (as an instructor) a bit nervous. Because by trying to empower my students to question the course content I am teaching, I am allowing the probability of showing my fallibility- the limitations of my own understanding and learning and the possibility of fumbling my words. I am showing myself to be “merely” a student, as well as a teacher and perhaps allowing students to become teachers.

But just because these ideas make me nervous doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t embrace them- or at least question why I shouldn’t allow them into my classroom with an open mind. The issue is not whether allowing/encouraging students to engage in these critical thinking is good for students, but rather what is stopping instructors from trying them. It seems the largest hurdles are our probably our own fears.

I will be questioned on concepts that I perceive as facts, and not be prepared to respond. & Topics about which I am unfamiliar will be brought up. These fears are based on our desire to not look stupid, some impostor syndrome feelings that I would suspect most new instructors have, and in the knowledge that we have also unquestionably ingested some “facts” rather than spend hours researching the topic. We should remove the shame in not knowing every answer- we cannot be experts in all topics, especially when teaching broad introductory courses.

Instead of fearing this situation, we should embrace this as an opportunity to delve deeper into our subject(s) and employ our own critical thinking. When caught off guard in a class, we should be prepared to show ourselves as fallible but still acknowledge that our job is to facilitate our students’ education.  E.g. “That is a great question. I don’t remember off the top of my head, but I’ll look into it and put together something for next class…”

By allowing students to take on leadership (teaching) roles and myself to take on student roles, I will undermine my own authority. I would suspect that this fear is correlated with the instructor’s leadership experience and inversely correlated with the age difference between student/instructor. But one does not only have authority by lording that authority constantly over ones students. As instructors, we are invested with authority by the school. Nothing we do in class will change the fact that the institution has put students in a subordinate role to us.

We’ve been fed on ideas that a good leader/boss/instructor maintains control by being flawless, speaking with authority on all topics, being directive, not allowing people to question us, etc. However, not only do these ideas of good instructors enforce the hierarchical “banking concept” teaching that discourages critical thinking, but it is also forcing instructors into inauthentic roles. These good/ideal/traditional teaching attributes are based on cultural norms, norms which are based on “western,” patriarchal criteria. By rejecting these norms, we are fostering critical thinking among our students, and we are modeling successful critical thinking by being authentic teachers ourselves.


For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority… Cultural invasion is, on one hand an instrument of domination and on the other the result of domination… [it] always involves a static perception of the world. (Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed)




Some references

Joe L. Kinchloe, “Paulo Freire (1921-1997)” in The Critical Pedagogy Primer (2004).

Paulo Freire. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” (2007).

Bell hooks, “Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom.” (2010)


Teaching As A Creative Manifestation of Ideas – By Efon

Paulo Freire tempo-political narratives of teaching are perhaps the most systematic assessment of pedagogy concepts that I have read in my educational career. While I agree with his banking concept of education, I would argue that social, economic and political philosophies may have stronger underlying influences than any actual teaching method. On the other hand, project-based learning practices are […]
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