Critical Pedagogy: This is Real Life!

In “Teaching As An Act of Love: The Classroom and Critical Praxis,” Antonia Darder (2002) draws from Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the concept of teaching as an act of love is directly connected to educators who have passion for teaching to the extent that they may have had a lifelong dream to teach.

As a child I would always hear, “wait until you experience the real-world,” and it was my understanding that the real-world experience would occur post my undergraduate college experience or upon entering the working world as an adult. Because I was conditioned to think of the real world in this way, I sustained that same pattern of thought. As an adult, I found myself repeating the same thing to younger generations: “wait until you experience the real world.” With a passion to teach in higher education, I intended to influence the next generation by preparing them for—you guessed it—the real world. Friere’s perspective is that “anywhere where human beings are congregated and engaged in relations of power (as they are in schools) constitutes a real-world experience” (p. 98). Friere is absolutely right! I think somewhere in my mind I envisioned higher education as a microcosm of real-world experiences that encompass greater risks to our quality of life. The lack of consideration for higher ed as the real-world can impact the lens students use in learning new knowledge—students not forming their own connections between lessons and applicability of those lessons to their lives. Perhaps as instructors, we are working harder to incorporate “real-world applications” because we demarcated the academy from the rest of the world.

I am excited about Friere’s work because he demystifies ideologies we live by as pedagogues. Unfortunately, he made recommendations and expressed concerns with oppressive pedagogy over 50 years ago, and we have still managed to maintain these bad habits as standards. For example, earlier in the semester, we read Ellen Langer’s (2000) “Mindful Learning,” which discussed an approach where learning is framed as fun using play as a teaching method. Friere refutes learning as only fun in that students will face difficult concepts and educators should be prepared to support difficult moments. Essentially, learning isn’t consistently experienced as fun, which aligns with a real-world experience—-life isn’t always fun. We face challenges and ideally, we’re prepared to face them. As educators, we can help students understand how to manage the ebbs and flows of our reality because academia is the real-world. In critical pedagogy, I grasped the importance of embracing humanity in our experiences to meet the real needs of our students. Our pedagogy affects our student’s real lives.



Darder, A. (2002). Teaching as an act of love: The classroom and critical praxis. Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of love, 91-149.

Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current directions in psychological science, 9(6), 220-223.

5 Replies to “Critical Pedagogy: This is Real Life!”

  1. I have also been told that higher ed is a path to the real world, rather than the real world itself. Because the work I was doing/am doing in college & grad school isn’t seen as ‘real world’ experience, I felt like it had less value. I agree in that it is important to educate younger generations/change the school of thought surrounding the ‘real world’. Changing the conversations surrounding what constitutes the real world is something that I think will only have positive implications in how students perceive the work they’re doing.

  2. Thanks for the post, Amilia! According to my parents, I’ve wanted to be a professor from a very young age. I’m not sure why I was so fascinated with this profession, but I do think it stems at least partially from my love for gaining new knowledge and sharing it with those around me. In this sense, I whole-heartedly agree that for me teaching is an act of love. I also think that, to some extent, higher education requires some element of that passion, just because it takes so much time and energy to earn the degrees that are required for us to pursue this career. Without passion, the journey of a PhD would be so much more daunting!

    To your point about ‘real-world’, I guess my sense is that this phrase means different things to different people. For us, as future higher educators, I see the real-world as a diversity of experiences and perspectives. For me, I didn’t get that sort of exposure until I started college, then joined the workforce, and then continued into my graduate education. In contrast, much of society might not often leave the community where they were born, and for them the real-world might represent something smaller and more homogenous. But because we’re deciding to work in schools where we’ll need to be “engaged in relations of power”, I think we have a responsibility to push ourselves and our students to think critically and challenge assumptions of oppression. Great post!

  3. Thank you for your post. It is really interesting how cultural change is not easy, even 50 years later Friere’s work is still relevant. I like your perspective that we as educators have a responsibility to help students understand how to manage reality because academia is part of the real world indeed!

  4. Thank you for the post! I can relate to your experience because I was told the same by my parents and teachers. I came to realize that they were right, and they made me a big favor by challenging me to bring out the “best” in me. However, it was also a lot of pressure. I think, especially in cases like Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that extra effort to “show the real life” comes from the compassion towards the students and the faith in the cause that empowering the community starts with empowering the individual.

  5. Hello,

    I have also heard talk about the “real world” all throughout my education. Some people, especially in my field, seem to feel that education is of less value than “real world” experience. While I do understand the value of this experience, I think that many people fail to see the logistics of attaining the experience. For example, I am earning a degree in forestry. Some loggers have expressed that while I may know a good bit from books, I don’t actually know what is going on because I have never been a logger. I have always thought that some experience in logging would be useful for me. However, to work my way through a crew and gain experience with each piece of equipment and aspect of the operation, it would take years. It would be unrealistic to gain “real world” experience in all of the aspects of forestry, then earn my degrees and try to build a career as an academic or researcher. It would simply take too long. So while there is value in “real world” experience, I think that there is also great value in classroom experiences.

    Austin Garren

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