AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Critical pedagogy has been widely characterized as a crucial construct in challenging the inequalities that have evolved in the context of schooling in the U.S. Evidence of this can be found in critical pedagogy's attempt to offer critique of the analytic connections between race and education within the context of the African-American struggle for humanity. In particular, critical pedagogy has functioned as a discourse on schooling and inequality that has developed in tandem with theories of race and pedagogical practice in ways that reflect the context of African-American education. This work expounds upon our previous scholarship to offer a broadened conception of critical race pedagogy that incorporates central aspects of critical pedagogy but is drawn from African-American epistemological frameworks.
Origins of Critical Pedagogy within Critical Theory
Critical pedagogy has maintained its status as an important component of educational research and inquiry since the early 1980s when critical educational theorist popularized the concept in academic writing (Bennett & LeCompte, 1999; Sleeter & Bernal, 2004). Since that time, these theorists have continued to struggle with the central question of critical pedagogy: "Whose interests are served?" (Bennet & LeCompte 1999, p. 250). In answer to this query, Gordon (1995) asserts that "Critical theory seeks to understand the origins and operation of repressive social structures. Critical theory is the critique of domination. It seeks to focus on a world becoming less free, to cast doubt on claims of technological scientific rationality, and then to imply that present configurations do not have to be as they are" (p. 190). Not only do critical theorists attempt to discover why oppressive structures exist and offer criticisms of their effects; they also explore the ways in which we can transform our society. In this sense, critical theory is not simply a critique of social structures it is an analysis of power relations that asks questions regarding: what constitutes power; who holds power; and in what ways power utilized to benefit those already in power.
Critical theory emanated from "the Frankfurt School" under the auspices of cultural theorists Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Eric Fromm, and Walter Benjamin) worked together at the Institute for Social Science Research originally located in Frankfurt, Germany. The group began to form under the leadership of Max Horkheimer in the 1930s but later changed location several times throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Eventually, the group returned to Germany during the early 1950s (Giroux, 1997; Bennett & LeCompte, 1999).
Although no single or unifying theory emerged from their work, the Frankfurt School generated a strong set of critiques arguing that social phenomenon could not be understood solely through the use of scientific methods. This was an important challenge because the use of scientific methods in analyzing social phenomenon was widely thought to be scientific, objective, and value-free (Bennett & LeCompte, 1999). Instead, the Frankfurt School researchers felt that both social phenomenon and the scientific research methods used to explore them were tied to social and historical contexts that made neither of them neutral or value-free.
Other individual theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, Jurgen Habermas, and Michael Foucault also played important roles in the development of critical theory. Antonio Gramsci (1971) was an Italian theorist and activist who explored the ways in which individuals were active rather than passive agents in the face of even the most oppressive conditions. He coined the term "hegemony" to describe the complex process that allows dominant groups to establish and maintain control of subordinates by using specific ideologies and particular forms of authority that are reproduced via social and institutional practices (Leistyna, Woodrum, & Sherblom, 1996). Gramsci believed that this hegemony would be challenged and social change would occur only when an intellectually sparked "revolutionary consensus" occurred amongst the subordinate classes. This would, in turn, lead to the creation of alternative institutions that would defy the hegemony previously imposed by dominant groups (Bennett & LeCompte, 1999).
Jurgen Habermas and Michael Foucault both developed special interest in the relationship between knowledge and power. They strongly believed that knowledge was an important social resource that rivaled land, money, status, etc. in terms of importance. Foucault believed that knowledge and power were largely synonymous thus focusing on power as an agent controlled by those who defined the standard of "true" knowledge. Habermas asserted that the restriction of information in society fostered and maintained inequality through controlling access to knowledge (Bennet & LeCompte, 1999). Thus he advocated that the "free flow" of ideas was important for the creation and maintenance of "true" knowledge. Both of these theorists emphasized the importance of social and historical contexts in their analysis of knowledge and inequality. In doing so, they urged contemporary social science to re-evaluate positivism as a guiding tool for research.
One of the first theorists to specifically align critical theory with the interest and needs of educational research was Brazilian educational researcher, Paulo Freire. Freire is known for his work in literacy and anti-colonialism both in South America and Africa (Leistyna, 1999). His seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), discussed education as both an oppressive and liberating force in our social order. Freire also emphasized the need for the development of a critical consciousness in students that would help to transform society and he believed that it was important for oppressed people to develop a critical consciousness that would help them analyze their social, historical, and economic conditions. The development of a critical consciousness can potentially encourage both teachers and students to be more reflexive of their experiences and therefore more open to understanding how the hegemony of the state has structured their life experiences (Freire, 2000; Bennett & LeCompte, 1999). Freire believed that translating this critical consciousness into action required both reflection, dialogue and action which he refers to as "praxis." This dialogic approach can be summarized as "the ongoing relationship between theoretical understanding ... and action that seeks to transform individuals and their environments" (Leistyna, 1999, p. 45). The idea of dialogic transformation was a central component of Freire's thought because of the importance he placed on moving from reflection and discussion towards positive action. Through his research and work in South America and Africa, Paulo Freire helped to ignite a spark of interest in critical pedagogy that quickly spread to the United States. However, it was not until 1983 that Henry Giroux coined the term "critical pedagogy" which expressed the fusion of critical theory with the practice of teaching and learning. Soon after the release of Giroux's first book, Theory and Resistance in Education: A Pedagogy for the Opposition (1983), research in the field of "critical pedagogy" became one the major paradigms in contemporary educational thought. Evidence of the proliferation of critical pedagogy in the academy can be seen over the past twenty years in the numerous variations that have arisen espousing these same values. These variations have been labeled in numerous ways including: "border pedagogy (Giroux & McLaren, 1994);" "transformative pedagogy (hooks 1994);" "pedagogies of dissent;" (McLaren, 1997) and "critical race pedagogy" (Lynn, 1999; Jennings, 2000). While there may be differences in how individual theorists define these critical ideologies they have all relied on a mutual desire for social transformation both in schooling and the larger society.
The Foundations of Critical Pedagogy
Critical Pedagogy as a discourse on schooling and inequality relies mainly on three …