GIS: A Useful Tool of Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy suggests that teaching and learning should be contextual and aim at raising critical awareness among students. Critical pedagogy has been used by educators to refer to a broad range of pedagogies that employ critical theory, feminist theory, anti-racist theory, multicultural education, inclusive pedagogies, and so on.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is an useful tool of critical pedagogy becasue it has the potential to help reproduce or transform oppressive conditions in society and it can be used to examine and build contexts that maximize students’ ability to analytically observe, consider, and respond to the world in which they live (Crampton and Krygier’s “An Introduction to Critical Cartography”). Below are two examples to illustrate how GIS can be used for critical educators to engage students in critical thinking.

Veronica Velez, Daniel Solórzano, and Denise Pacheco explore the role of race and racism in shaping the historic, evolving spatial relationship between south Los Angeles high schools near the Alameda “Corridor,” and their surrounding communities. They apply GIS within a critical race methodology to examine geographic and social spaces, identify and challenge racism within these spaces as part of a larger goal of identifying and challenging all forms of subordination. They spatially examines how structural and institutional factors influence and shape racial dynamics and the power associated with those dynamics over time.

Matthew W. Wilson’s Critical & Social Cartography seminar in Harvard Graduate School of Design asked students to think and make pretty maps by their analytical skills. In order to make pretty maps to reflect reality, what information should be included or excluded? How to represent different variables or types of information?  How might a map designed to meet the needs? What would the students be required to do in order to create this map? Through the process of problem-posing, students were encoraged to think critically.

Merging GIS and critical pedagogy requires that we ask how GIS can help students theorize from multiple perspectives about the role that space and spatial relationships play in their immediate lives, local communities, and beyond. As a widely applied tool, GIS can be applied to critical pedagogy.