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.


22 Replies to “Group Blog Post on Critical Pedagogy”

  1. This post really drives home to me how essential it is to create a culture in our classrooms in order to make thinking possible by incorporating dialogue, debate, and dissent in order to produce critically literate and actively engaged citizens of tomorrow.
    Thanks for sharing it!

    1. “actively engaged citizens of tomorrow” …I really wish more teachers had this idea as their end goal. We need so much more engagement from both students and citizens. Hopefully, we can be part of a revolution!

  2. I can definitely relate to the pictures included with the post. It is a shame that politics has such a firm hold on the education system. Meeting students where they are and considering their needs should be a priority. Thank goodness for our teachers who love and care for students.
    I wish every professor at VT would take this course and also consider the whole student instead of treating students like they are just another number in the class. In my opinion, when a professor brags that their course has a 50% pass rate for students who are qualified and smart enough to be in the course, then that person should walk away from teaching because he/she is in it for the wrong reasons.

    1. Too true. 50% failure means the professor failed 50% of the class, not the other way around. Professors are paid to teach, and you don’t do that by crushing people’s dreams and making them cry.

  3. I really like your post. The pictures are so meaningful. It is really clear how critical pedagogy is needed and we should stop applying traditional pedagogy in our classrooms. Out of curiosity, are there studies that show the inconveniences of starting preschool at 3 years old?

    1. As a quick search I came up with the following papers:

      I have not read any of these, but an incredibly quick skim says them might be relevant. It looks like age 3 isn’t an unusual start though. My guess is that this stems from parents both wanting/needing to return to work, but that is very much a guess.

  4. Hey Guys! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I agree when you say: “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.”. Because I am an international student, many things some professors talk about in class don’t not make any sense to me (only American students can understand the concept). Learning about critical pedagogy has amazed me in ways I could never imagine. Because of this class, I get motivated to be a better person and dedicate my career to be a good professor.

    1. This class has also made me interested in dedicating a life to being a good (or even great) professor! I’m even trying to subtly push out one of my department’s professors by offering to teach their class instead.

      If I may ask, what are some of the concepts you don’t understand? I’ve become close friends with a visiting scholar from Spain and have learned a decent amount about her cultural differences. For example, she was excited about our drinking games during a spring game tailgate because she has only seen such things in movies. We take such things for granted, and I’m always curious about what other experiences are foreign to people. This seems especially important as you’ve mentioned that it can impact your ability to learn.

  5. Hey! It is a really good post. I really liked the definition in the chemical engineering section. It kills me sometimes to know that the teacher is not interested in making the student understand the logic behind the derived equations. An engineer only works best if they completely understand the concept in and out. That also helps them in relating it to problems at hand

    1. Yup, I had a professor that felt obligated to teach the class a certain derivation, but he KNEW that it would go over all of our heads (half the class were synthetic chemists). His solution: go through it extremely quickly to get it over with. What was the point? Those that might have been able to understand didn’t have the time to, and those that couldn’t still had their time wasted.

  6. I really loved the cartoons and drawings in this post! Also, I was able to empathize with the comments from the engineering section. Often times, important concepts are taught in such abstract obscurity. You plug-in some input to a black-box and get certain desired output. Students are not taught how the science works inside the black-box. And this is exactly the kind of pedagogical practice that we should get rid of if we want to foster imagination, reflection and critical thinking in students.

  7. Hello Stephanie, Mohammed, Hani, Setareh, Bradley, & Raymond!

    This was such a fun post to read. Your group definition of Critical Pedagogy is both strong and comprehensive. The definition provided a great framework for thinking about the points (paired with great illustrations) that followed. I especially liked seeing how each of you shared how critical pedagogy can be applied in your disciplines, especially when those applications extended beyond the classroom and into society. You’re right: our students are on their way to being “actively engaged citizens of tomorrow.” We should be thinking about what we want them to know that will carry them through their 30-year+ careers.

    Thanks for developing this thoughtful post–especially the takeaways from each respective discipline. Although I’m not specializing in anything field that’s represented in this post, I learned a lot. When we’re all in it to help cultivate “students a spirit of understanding, compassion, connection, and critical thinking” the world will no doubt feel that positive impact from our efforts.

  8. I love the theory of allowing children to be curious. The bullet points provided in the definition of critical pedagogy states, encourage children to question and reflect on everything. This would be awesome if all classrooms provided this type of environment. It truly does make the different in a student wanting to learn more.

  9. Great work! The comment on the post that all of us have a “life outside the classrooms” stands out for me. It’s important to note that we all come from different cultures, nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. and all this together shapes our experience.

    It’s essential to recognize that we all come from different experiences and we all get to our classrooms is very important. This can add to the learnings in the classrooms.

  10. I love how you mentioned keeping in mind that students have a life outside of the classroom! I find that very important in not only getting to know my students, but also critical in helping me adjust the class to their needs. Maybe I change to format of an assignment to make it easier for students to engage outside of the classroom. Maybe the case study involves something the students are passionate about besides the topic. Keeping in mind that students are people and not information storage is key to getting them to think critically.

  11. Great post! I really liked the cartoon drawing in the post. It is creative and it says everything. The most important thing is to encourage students to think and learn through their experience their imagination, not cut and paste them into a robot who does what you ask them to do.

  12. Nice figures! Particularly, I like the third one and your corresponding argument about different personal stories which students bring into classrooms, and how these should be addressed by teachers. In my opinion, this is one of the essential elements of critical pedagogy!

  13. “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.” <–This gives me hope for the future right here.

    For the political scientist, I appreciate your discussion on reflexivity. I would ask given your desire to continually reinforce the importance of your field, how would you personally address the issue of incorporating erased or marginalized sources for political philosophy?

  14. I very much enjoyed the introductory part of your post!

    I particularly liked the political cartoon of the “education experts” and their lack of concern for the personal experiences of students. My group’s blog also included an image (drawn by none other than Ben in our group!) that showed not just the importance of the ‘experts’ understanding the different backgrounds of students but the instructors themselves needing to be concerned with that as well.

    We could never fully engage with students if we don’t know where they’re coming form and what they might be dealing with. That being said, I also think it’s impossible to fully know the inner workings of someone else. So it’s important for instructors to make an effort and at the very least be aware that their students *do* have different backgrounds that might show different results and aptitudes in the classroom.

  15. I enjoyed the post. I found it interesting how this blog post would change in the next couple of years in the evolution of critical pedagogy I think it would be interesting in comparing your group’s post to what was presented a couple of years ago.

  16. Great post, I really like how you used the cartoon pictures in your explanation of critical pedagogy, we are in need of this kind of pedagogy instead of using traditional pedagogy in our teaching and learning environments.
    Thank you for sharing this guys, good job!

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