Critical Pedagogy

This week the topic of conversation focused on critical pedagogy. My reading was an expert from Paulo Feire’s book, Philosophy of Education, chapter 2, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. His writing in this chapter focused on movement away from the banking concept of education and towards a more liberated classroom. The idea essentially being that the professor relinquishes the complete control over the course and allows for students to teach each other and the professor. It recognizes that the students have a wealth of insight and perspective to offer as opposed to the idea that they are “empty vessels… the be filled with the contents of the [professor’s] narration”.

Thinking back on my own education, I realized that the professors whom I’ve had that bought into the banking concept were often the most boring. Even if the concept the professor covered was quite interesting, the approach was dry and tended to stamp the enjoyment out of it.

I also realized that my freshman/sophomore college had courses which were actively structured towards a critical pedagogy approach. They called them inquiry-based courses.

“Also called Ways of Inquiry, INQ, or simply Q courses, these classes help sharpen your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In INQ courses, you’ll learn to understand and question the ways in which knowledge is pursued. And you’ll develop abilities that transcend disciplines, honing skills in reading critically, communicating effectively and pursuing knowledge independently…. INQ courses will stimulate your intellectual curiosity and independent thinking—and many have service components.”

At the time, I signed up for them because they were a course requirement or because it was over a topic that I had an interest pursuing. Recently, I went back to my college transcript to see if there was any correlation between the classes I felt I learned the most from and the critical pedagogy structure. All but two of those classes fit into that category. One of the things I liked about those courses was that I felt like I had a voice. Participation was encouraged and expected.

To be fair, there were a couple of courses which fell into that category and were not enjoyable. One being a statistics course with rather ambiguous problem sets that my friends and I somehow muddled through. However, overall, those courses were a highlight of freshman and sophomore education. They helped me to think rather than memorize, and the time spent in the class was more meaningful. I also felt more compelled to show up because I felt valued by the professor.

Critical Pedagogy in Practice (Not a word cloud)

A blog from Amy, Yan, Shadi, Kadie, Sevda, and Chris, with contributions from Dr. Nelson

I feel it is appropriate to tell the story of this wonderful drawing. As we were discussing what to do for our artifact, we heard the term word cloud thrown around by the other tables. We knew we could make the best word cloud out of any table, but we weren’t that competitive of a table.  How it came up, I don’t know, but we learned about why you shouldn’t buy berries when visiting Ukraine. Going down that rabbit hole helped us to realize that anything we do, there can be more to the story as to why. At this juncture we realized our artifact for critical pedagogy was going to be an example that shows how we all can engage with common thing/idea from our respective disciplines. So with that, we settled on this dwelling as a representation of how everyone can engage with an idea or object. Even the picture itself is a reflection on critical pedagogy, as we are only seeing it from the south side. Maybe we need to hear the perspectives of the people on the north side to know that there is a door into the building and a spacious patio for the community to gather on. Below the picture each group member will explain how they were able to engage with this idea from their discipline.

You might be thinking this about our picture.

I’m with Han. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. Although, it doesn’t do 0.5 past lightspeed nor can it make the Kessel run in under a parsec.

Engineering impact (Amy H): In the renovation of the building and the development of the rooftop garden, it is important to consider the broader impacts of this project. Where is this building located? Why is it being renovated? What are the requirements, constraints, criteria, considerations in such a project? Who has access? Who does not have access? What is the broader impact on the local community?

Horticulture impact (Chris): In the creation of the rooftop garden, needs of the plants need to be considered such as sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. Likewise, if any from of cross pollination is needed, will the location of this garden inhibit that? Could we promote insect pollinators by using certain plant species. We also must consider the need for a rooftop garden in the first place. Is there a reason the residents need to be growing their own produce? Finally, we can say that the use of plants makes the building more aesthetically pleasing. While we can focus on the production value of our plants, there is a value to the greenery that is created.

Landscape Architecture impact (Sevda): To create more equal environment for local community, we renovated a building and installed a rooftop garden on the top of this building. Because there are so many international people in that neighborhood and they have an access problem to their traditional food and also fresh and healthy food. This situation is called as food desert. Since this building is in an urban area and the soil is not suitable for most of the plant which we planted here, we installed rooftop farm even if we have enough garden space around the building. In terms of creating a better support for trees and shrubs, which we planted here, we installed intensive green roof system. To provide equality, whoever needs those plants in this community has a card to enter this rooftop farm. And the product is divided to each person equally. Local community can use this farm as an education opportunity as well. There is a small space in the farm, which people can come and plant themselves and learn how to plant and grow plants, how to maintain them. This application provides an education opportunity to everybody in the community. Instead of teaching sustainability, plants, and ecology, people have an opportunity to observe, have an experience, and learn by themselves. It can be seen as a part of critical pedagogy.


Physics (Shadi): We used solar panel to move one step forward to a sustainable lifestyle. Our sun is a generous source of energy which sends us 1000 W/m2 for free! The solar panels are designed to convert this energy to electricity through photovoltaic effect. Solar cells are made of silicon, which is a semiconductor. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.

When the light photons from the sun hit the solar cell it makes the electron loose and as a result they start moving due to the electric field provided by our semiconductor. The motion of electron is what we call the electric current.


Entomology Impact (Kadie): We captured the true essence of critical pedagogy and all worked together to create a project that incorporated all of our backgrounds. My background is in entomology. We decided to add a rooftop food garden to our renovated apartment building. This garden will help supply food into the community and is an optimization of space since this building is located in a city. As these plants grow and produce fruit/vegetables, they will become more attractive to insect pests. My background knowledge of working with agricultural pest management will be needed to keep pests away from our food. In addition, we have decided to make our rooftop garden a pollinator-friendly area and plan to include bee boxes. Our rooftop garden will be a model for future renovated structures to follow.


Critical Pedagogy


This post was a collaborative effort with Jack Viere, Heather Corley, Allie Briggs, Bailey Houghtaling, Tami Amos, and Neda Moayerian

This past week, our class used the Jigsaw Classroom technique to explore the ideas of Paulo Freire and Critical Pedagogy. Through the discussion of our different sources, we identified common themes, topics, and key words. As a table, we define Critical Pedagogy as the following:

Critical Pedagogy first acknowledges power structures in order to reciprocally cultivate knowledge within a dynamic learning space that acknowledges varying human perspectives and life experiences, promotes continual questioning, and liberates marginalized view points.

When looking to consolidate our ideas together, we decided to make a mural, or a shared whiteboard. The featured image above shows the whiteboard as of Wednesday, 3/28. The whiteboard has various phrases, ideas, and themes that we felt were important to the idea of Critical Pedagogy.

While it is creative, it also ties into the idea of Critical Pedagogy as a contrast to the Banking Model of Education. Freire critiques the Banking Model, which views students as nothing more than vessels to accept the knowledge given to them. In view of Critical Pedagogy, both students and teachers have the opportunity to learn. In order to keep with that idea that learning involves both the author and the reader, we invite you to add your own contributions to our whiteboard!

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.

Critical Pedagogy and Disney

Kincheloe. Freire. Hooks. These three educators, students, facilitators, trailblazers, and HUMANS have been extremely influential in the growing field/ideology/movement of “critical pedagogy.” So, what is critical pedagogy? Countless definitions abound, but our group thought critically and worked collaboratively to create this definition: 

“Critical pedagogy is a humanistic, interactive process that challenges hierarchical systems of learning, and establishes the co-construction of knowledge in collaboration with educator (facilitator) and student.”     

 ~Arash Sarshar, Erin Heller, Sogand Mohammadhasanzadeh, Patrick Salmons, Hana Lee, Jyotsana Sharma, and Selva Marroquín, 2018 ~

So how did we get to this definition (Mulan – “Let’s get down to business)? We can’t take full credit for it of course (and when you think about it, can we ever take full credit for anything we create, as our thoughts are the culmination of countless interactions and experiences obtained through interactions with countless of the other people … but that is another blog), as we used the expertise and thoughts of the above three stated pedagogical sensai. Their writings all shared common themes of the importance of less clear boundaries between students and teachers (or the elimination of these boundaries all together) … teachers are students and students are teachers … and the importance of teaching should not be merely the transfer of knowledge but the sharing of concepts and the encouragement to think for oneself (remember everyone always says “think outside of the box!”) The idea that ritualistic memorization and regurgitation of facts is not truly learning and that we need to shift away from this outdated approach to “judging” the intellect of students. We need to encourage students to think about things that are not explicitly taught, to think about things never thought about (or verbalized) before, and to not just judge others on their ability to retell what has already be told. School should not be about Beauty and the Beast — that is “tale as old as time.” New ideas, concepts, and theories are the core of growing, developing, and learning. If students only learn what they are told, everything remains stagnant. That brings us full circle (Lion King – “The circle of life!!”) to define the different aspects of our definition of critical pedagogy:

Humanistic: the ability to be human and be vulnerable with students. As an educator being able to convey that one is not necessarily an expert and that knowledge is not an absolute but co-constructed by all the individuals in the classroom environment.

Interactive process that challenges hierarchical systems of learning: it emerged from the necessity of continuing to create an atmosphere of democracy in education because education follows political structures.

Co-construction of knowledge in collaboration with educator and studentWhen thinking about teaching and learning, it should not be understood as a simple student-teacher relationship. Rather what these readings demonstrate, and our own anecdotal teaching experience illuminates, is that there should not be an oppressive figure teaching what should be learned. Thinking about knowledge and its construction between multiple variables allows for diversity, opinion, and actual critical thinking. Opening up the conversation in a Hegelian fashion allows for facilitation by the educator.

Okie. That’s all we got. Education should be like acapella singers — the culmination of ALL of our voices (thoughts) is what makes us great. Drop the mic.

Related image

A Visual Definition of Critical Pedagogy

As a group, we were challenged to come up with a definition of Critical Pedagogy as championed by Paulo Freire.  The following definition is what we came up with in words:

“An educational approach emphasizing strategies of critical questioning, classroom community, sensitivity, vulnerability, contextuality, pluralism, and democracy.”

We had a lot more to say, and we put our summaries into a word cloud highlighting the most important aspects of Critical Pedagogy:

We also wanted to try to describe this concept through visual aids.  Here is a potpourri of our favorite visuals connected to Critical Pedagogy:

Every child left behind?

Learning and knowledge is like an endless game of hacky sack.

Taking risks is necessary to achieve educational rewards.

… or at the heart of anybody transforming education.

Reject the “banking model” of teaching–students are not simply vessels to be filled.

It is important to think critically and not constrain students from thinking outside the box in the classroom.


Contributing Authors: Jacquelyn Prestegaard, Shaun Respess, Maryam Yuhas, Yousef Jalali, Matt Cheatham, Ernesto Acosta, Greg Purdy, Kristin Ulmer

Evolving 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. DEFINE: Critical pedagogy is the ability to teach dynamically, collaboratively, and innovatively to humanize students … Continue reading Evolving Critical Pedagogy

Curiosidad! Educación! Libertad!




I’ve always felt passionate about teaching, reflecting on my own process, and striving to improve the content and experience of coursework. I’ve always strongly believed that education is crucial to critical inquiry, personal growth, social responsibility and societal change, but I’d never read about Paulo Freire directly (although I suspect I have read devotees of his work).

Freire’s assertion that teaching is a political act that can lead to liberation (economic, political, social, emotional and mental) is inspiring and empowering for teachers. My hope is always to create a classroom environment where students have those nearly tangible ah-ha movements, but it is hard to know if the practical, day-to-day classroom experience is fostering critical engagement. In the video interview with Freire, I think he gets to the heart of his pedagogical belief: eternal curiosity must nurtured. Curiosity — the asking of why, how and so what? — is a radical act that challenges the dominate culture. He remarks that he, too, has remained curious in old age. This calls for teacher to remain curious students, open to the process of lifelong learning as our teacherly, scholarly, personal selves continue to grew.

belle hooks adds to this conversation, suggesting that teachers who are in tune to society at large and are humane will help students question and challenge the dominant, oppressive socio-political structures in their lives. Students can help change the world, but first we have to see each of them as unique, individual, human. I began this semester giving myself a pass on learning my students’ names. I’ve ALWAYS done this in classes that were much smaller, but this time around I thought, “I’m in school too. Learning their names is less important than connecting with them. Just let it go.” But a month in, I felt a disconnect with them, and I think it might have been emanating from me. For me, putting forth the effort to know their names is one way I build a relationship. So, I started learning their names. In a class of 38, it has taken me some time, but I can do it (and I’m really bad with names). In the future, if I teach larger classes, I might have to find ways to better connect with students in a different way, but, for me, asking their name and calling on them in a personal way seems to remain crucial.

Ultimately Kinchloe states that some teachers depoliticize and water-down Freire’s work, focusing on the self-directed aspects. Others focus more on the political nature, ignoring the need for deep scholarly engagement. I can identify moments in my own teaching experience where I’ve run the gamut of this polarities, but giving them a context helps me to better navigate between them. Sign me up, I want to be a card-carrying member of Freirean Pedagogy.

1 2