Group Blog Post on Critical Pedagogy

What does Critical Pedagogy mean to you and your group?

For us, critical pedagogy encompasses a number of critical elements:

  • Ask questions and encourage students to question and reflect on everything.
  • Education is political and students must be aware of the vested interests and underlying assumptions in the information they are provided.
    • Democracy thrives in the illumination of learning, and withers without it.
  • Fostering a community of engaged learning in the classroom.
  • The passion that teachers and students both have for different subjects should be fostered and encouraged.
  • Encouraging childlike curiosity and unconstrained critical thinking.

This is contrasted from traditional approaches.

All too often we ignore the data we collect and continue full steam ahead because the data doesn’t support the people making money or the way things have “always been done”. We need to give children the freedom to be curious, not drown them in testing.

We need to remember that everyone in the classroom has a life outside of the classroom. This does not disappear when they walk into the room. If we want students to learn their best, we need to teach in ways that are relevant to their problems and their interests or the outside issued will overwhelm the class material.

The traditional pedagogy is like a banking system, which expects all students with different thoughts rooted in their various backgrounds to think in the same ways. On the other hand, critical pedagogy appreciates the diversity of learners and fosters their ideas with encouraging to think out of the box accepting the other’s opinions and come up with a genuine solution together.

How may you apply it to your specific fields and educational settings?


Chemical Engineering:

  • Emphasize the strategies to assess a problem, build a toolset of techniques and mathematics, and then apply them to a given situation. All too often students are taught formulas that apply to abstract situations and do not properly understand when they apply or when they do not. They can plug-and-chug their way through problems without understanding where the final equation came from. Teach students what went into each equation, conceptually, instead of just defining variables.

Political Science:

  • Particular segments of political science are already aware of the need for critical reflexivity in the discussion of different topics. Students should be made aware of different approaches to particular issues. In international relations, neither liberalism, realism, or constructivism are dominant and there are numerous scholars who promote their favorite rationales for their own reasons. The study of politics itself is often grounded in only occasionally questioned personal biases and beliefs. Students should be encouraged to express their own views and interests in their research classes. Different approaches to political issues should also be promoted through student-led research projects such as the State Department’s Diplomacy lab where students decide how best to solve or discuss issues facing the U.S. State Department around the world.
  • Should also continue to promote a sense of the reason why criticality and education matter. Going back to Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s The Politics and Constitution of Athens, and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws education and republican democracy are linked. It is important for democratic citizens to possess the ability to critically evaluate information beyond simply promoting rote memorization of facts but through really internalizing the need for self-critical reflection and development in students.

Hispanic Studies:

Critical pedagogy in the Hispanic studies classroom should encourage critical perspectives and understanding of language ideologies, culture and identities. This can be done by acknowledging the diversity in Hispanic cultures, disrupting stereotypes, and diversifying the representation in the material used in the classroom. With this, we can encourage students to step into perspectives that differ from theirs by showing how these language and cultural ideologies affect people from different socioeconomic, racial, and religious backgrounds.

Critical pedagogy in the Hispanic studies classroom should disrupt discrimination based on stereotypes, as well as the conflict and difficulties brought about when cultures and languages collide. Encouraging curiosity and questions in the classroom to create in students a spirit of understanding, compassion, connection, and critical thinking.

Lastly, critical pedagogy should create in students a desire to mediate for Spanish speakers in the country and also recognize underrepresented populations in the Spanish speaking world such as indigenous, afro-descendants, as well as religious minorities.

Industrial & Systems Engineering:

Based on my experience I found engineering education is dominated by the traditional lecture-based teaching and exams questions are presented as well-structured problems with given parameters that are stated, and students are asked for the correct solution. This type of education is characterized by what Freire called “banking education’ where the relationship between teacher and student is clearly hierarchical, where knowledge is transmitted through a top-down approach. Instead of banking education, critical pedagogy could enhance problem-posing education in engineering which would break the hierarchical relationship between students and teacher and develop critical consciousness and improve the learning process.

Engineering in General (Hani)

To be perfectly honest, a comprehensively-overhauled and critically informed engineering pedagogy would have almost nothing in common with current practices in the engineering department at R1 universities. Not only are engineering teaching practices at the department level still rooted in arcane conceptualizations of teaching like the banking model and myths of meritocracy and an abstraction-fixated curriculum; the very framing of “what an engineer does” conveyed thru the content is actively disempowering to the budding engineer. Not only are classes taught with the teacher as the sole authority; at no point is it ever included that an engineer is a human being who actually has a specific social location and lacks/has relevant information.

We engineers do not teach to solve problems any more than a calculator is able to “solve problems”, so when attempting to adopt a critical pedagogical approach, an engineering instructor rapidly encounters the staggering chasm between current practices and hypothetical someday. We can, of course, mimic the motions described in Friere and hooks’ works- let students choose their own projects, affirm the validity and importance of their unique experiences and knowledge, decenter our own choices as instructors to adopt a more collaborative course structure with our students, even encourage students questioning the posed problems. But a flipped classroom cultivating diligently unquestioning servants of existing hegemonies can hardly be described as serving the oppressed.

My attempt at a full-fledged implementation of a critical pedagogy in engineering would need to start with restructuring degrees around “what needs does the individual seek to address in their community?”, then go from there to having them address a succession of as many concrete, complete problems around that need as possible as situated design projects immersed in and in collaboration with their community. Course offerings under such a degree architecture could then make vastly more effective use of a critical pedagogy: with students routinely encountering the real-world intergroup power conflicts that seem to almost always underlie systemically unmet needs, instructors could genuinely engage with the realities of the classical content’s ideological background and its weaknesses while concurrently empowering students with the specific technical content they need to be immediately effective changemakers within and for their community. Without similar change to the underlying system of engineering departments, an individual instructor attempting substantial change toward practicing a critical pedagogy in their own classroom would find themselves spending half the semester attempting to unlearn in their students the trained helplessness & unhelpful misinformation that was taught in all the previous courses along the way.