Critical Pedagogy and What it Means to Us

This post is collective effort on behalf of Corrie Besse, Matt BlairMinh Duong, Kyunghee KimCindy Klimaitis, and Samuel Sherry

Critical pedagogy is a life-long, balanced, and transformative approach to teaching that nurtures understanding by integrating one’s passions with curiosity in an ever evolving, and challenging environment – both in the context of what is being taught, where it comes from, and how it is applied.

Above is our attempt at defining the undefinable. To us, critical pedagogy is our definition, and can be seen in the interplay between the words in our word cloud, but we also acknowledge that in actuality it is much more. We believe that fundamentally, critical pedagogy resides in the intersection of theory and practice and finds meaning in creating an environment that promotes understanding in education. Paulo’s assertion that you cannot teach without learning nor learn without teaching resonates with our understanding of critical pedagogy, in that we (as people, educators, learners, experts, novices) never stop learning or having things to teach and offer. Fostering a growth mindset is a facet of life-long learning, not only do we want to cultivate our students to remain open to the power of possibility, we as educators must also remain steadfast in always looking for ways in which we can be learning.

The fluidity of critical pedagogy, and its ubiquitous nature in our daily lives, contributes to the difficulty in defining it. We view its application as ever evolving to meet the needs of a changing and developing environment – whether in society, the classroom, the home, or the overarching framework of education. Here we believe that the ability to challenge – our ideas, conventions, paths of communicates, and structure for disseminating knowledge – can lead to a situation that fosters curiosity in our passions and lead to student driven learning.

The question is how? How can or does critical pedagogy manifest itself in our studies, classrooms, and professions?  How do we transform the intellectually stifling practices engrained in education into something much more effective and inclusive? To explore this concept further we looked at ways critical pedagogy manifests itself in our fields of practice.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Cindy
The components of the critical pedagogy definition have direct application to my field.  As a future ‘teacher of teachers” the life-long learner component applies to the research part of the position.  Educators need to stay up to date on the latest research to know implementation of best practices and current social justices issues that need to be considered in the classroom environment.

Knowing the students will help the professor with a balance of giving and getting – how much students need to get (build a knowledge base) and how much giving (giving time for students’ curiosity to allow for their own knowledge search).  The key to critical pedagogy is balance and that balance is based on the individual in the classroom. Balance is fluid and ever changing.

The 1st minute provides a visual for how working together benefits the group and each individual, just click on the image to view.


Food Science & Technology, Minh 
This week we discussed this week two extremes of how teaching can be accomplished: were “problem-posing” and “banking”. With banking, the student simply draws upon what is required by the teacher where usually the teacher provide information for students to consume and this information becomes regurgitated at the appropriate time (very similar to this Calvin and Hobbes comic below — excuse the potato quality.)

Problem-posing is sort of the opposite side of that spectrum that emphasizes critical thinking that involves listening, dialogue, and action through a positive learning atmosphere. A very well known example of this atmosphere is the Montessori method.

Food Science and Technology (FST) leans on the “banking” side of things currently, but needs to transition and move towards more of the problem posing mindset. Learning the information on a specific microorganism and its characteristics that cause foodborne illness is useful, but understanding the system and how the microorganism fits into that system is important.

We do a great job in Food Science of addressing the “what”, “who”, and “when”, all specific details, but struggle with the “why” and the “how”. As an educator in Food Science, I endeavor to bring in learning and teaching that involves experiences that help students think outside-the-box and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the “why” and “how”.


Engineering, Samuel & Matt
When I think of critical pedagogy in the field of engineering I think of the sharing my love/passion for the subject and a Socratic approach to learning.  If you present your passion for a subject this shows in a big way, it makes the students more excited/ peaks their interest about the material. In my mind this sets the wheels in motion, from the small material I covered, to the student/class probing larger topics. Ideally this could be done in the class room with me facilitating or individually when they want to go above and beyond the basics. The concept of critical thinking and asking why are the principles upon which engineering were built on.  I hope this approach to teaching fosters a love of life-long learning and critical thinking.


Landscape Architecture, Kyunghee
I believe the core value of critical pedagogy is applicable in the field of landscape architecture as engagement and sustainability have been big words in the education and practice of landscape architecture. From the perspective of critical pedagogy, educators are responsible to engage in social, environmental, and political issues around the built and natural environments, and empower communities as well as students to be an agent of creating, implementing and operating their living spaces. Many students in the design field tend to focus on aesthetic/functional aspects, not being interested in social and environmental issues much, as I did when I was in undergraduate. I think that in order to prepare students to be a critically conscious landscape designer/planner it might be important for educators to closely engage in their needs/situation and inspire them to transform their motivations for social/environmental justice and ethics.


Arts Leadership, Corrie
As leaders in the arts we need to have an understanding of not only ourselves, but also how we present ourselves to others. In a critical pedagogical context, it’s important that as we move forward that there must be a sense of balance between these inner and exterior frameworks of self. When we lose sight of one over another, burnout or hollow-out or the loss of creativity can take hold.

Once we have that balance we can contextualize ourselves within a framework of how we connect and create meaningful relationships to our organizations, communities and society. Personally, I strive to provide a platform for the arts to help society see what they might not, to connect them to what is invisible to them in their daily lives.  Art does not exist in a vacuum, rather it needs to look critically at the needs and desires of our community in order to make an impact of greater inter-cultural understanding and social responsibility.


As we engage in our respective fields of practice we strive to balance the needs of our classroom and the mindset of our community in order to impact our living spaces, our organizations, and our institutions in order to empower our students to develop their own voices and what impact they want to see valued in the societies of tomorrow.  Critical Pedagogy provides a framework for that exploration while remaining cognizant of of our culture and ourselves within it.



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19 Responses to Critical Pedagogy and What it Means to Us

  1. mohammed baaoum says:

    Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing your fruitful thoughts. As an engineer your reflection on engineering and critical pedagogy resonate with me. I think we need more reflection practice and dialogue activities in engineering classroom since it usually taught based on baking education.
    Nice job!

  2. Ben Kirkland says:

    Calvin definitely has much to say on the matter, and this example was no less tame. Very powerful. and the balancing act of all the vast variables that make up our classrooms struck me as very poignant. Well done!

  3. Aislinn B McCann says:

    Cindy and Corrie,

    Your discussions on balance really resonated with me!

    I was reminded of Aristotle’s thoughts on moderation. One must strive for moderation. Even in moderation we must be moderate. While that’s not exactly the same as balance and not perfectly applicable to critical pedagogy, I think there’s something interesting in the comparison.

    A critical pedagogical approach cannot just be about one person, but must include the collective group. A critical pedagogical approach cannot be only about theory, but must also include practice. A critical pedagogical approach cannot just be about teaching, but must be about learning as well. Everything has a balance, as you two both pointed out.

  4. Ray Thomas says:

    The Calvin and Hobbes comic reminded me of how obvious some of the issues with education seem from the outside and how there hasn’t been significant development even in the last few decades. This was a great reminder that we, the people in academia, need to be self-reflective and work to better the system we’re in.

  5. Japsimran Singh says:

    Thanks for the post. It is a well-written post. The one thing that I liked was the balance between giving and getting as mentioned by Cindy. A teacher needs to find this right balance. A good base of knowledge along with enough stimulation of curiosity is the recipe for a perfect teacher and critical pedagogy.

  6. Connor says:

    I loved this line describing your collective quote of critical pedagogy.
    “We view its application as ever evolving to meet the needs of a changing and developing environment – whether in society, the classroom, the home, or the overarching framework of education.”
    I think its very important to realize that one method of pedagogy or teaching works. We as educators need to adapt based on the classroom environment and the social climate. I see too many older professors using the same things year to year and not changing. Hopefully we see that changing as more new professors start their careers.

  7. adbhut says:

    I think of all the definitions I have read of critical pedagogy, I can related best to the definition in this post. Its a concise and relatable definition and I especially like the part where you identify it as a life long, ever evolving process. Great post !

  8. angelicaw says:

    I agree with Cindy. When looking at education, teachers need to be current. Even though one graduates and may be considered an expert in their field, things are continuously changing. Teachers should maintain their knowledge base by staying up to date on subject matter and learn along side their students. The visual meme is also something that I can relate to. Minds should have multiple browsers open because they should always been learning something new.

  9. Sara says:

    Hi Corrie, Matt, Minh, Kyunghee, Cindy, & Samuel!

    I can relate to the struggle of trying to define something that seems a bit obscure–especially when applied to different disciplines and areas of expertise. Despite this, I think you provided a nice definition to Critical Pedagogy and I really appreciate your group’s emphasis on cultivating lifetime learning, a growth mindset and the power of possibility in students (and within the self.)

    My favorite part of these jigsaw posts is where each student reflects on how critical pedagogy can be applied to their respective discipline. These are the parts that give me interdisciplinary takeaways that I can tie back to my own field. The overarching theme (even if y’all didn’t say it outright) that I took away from this post is the importance in helping students develop into compassionate, good people who are engaged with society.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

  10. bpsutliff says:

    “Here we believe that the ability to challenge – our ideas, conventions, paths of communicates, and structure for disseminating knowledge – can lead to a situation that fosters curiosity in our passions and lead to student driven learning”

    I think challenging ideas and conventions can be one of the most difficult parts of teaching properly. People often don’t want to take in the information that contradicts their preconceived notions, which makes it difficult to challenge their thoughts. I think children are more likely to accept challenges, but I’d love to find a good way to get adults to open up to new and contradictory ideas.

    • corrie says:

      I agree with you, perhaps it begins with the way we present information to our students in that we are careful to notate ideas are surrounding in complexity and that there are multiple perspectives that can be studied when approaching the work.

    • Cindy Klimaitis says:

      I agree with you that it is harder for adults to open up to new ideas. I’ve heard it referred to as being “set in your ways.”

  11. Deb says:

    This is a great post that illustrates nuances teaching in your respective fields. From each person that contributed, it looks like you understand the importance of developing a passion in each of your current and future students. I especially liked that you related the beginning of the post back to Paulo Freire

  12. timstelter says:

    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed how multiple discipline view points influenced the collective definition of critical pedagogy. One point I liked was the Problem-posing idea. As an engineer, the importance of problem posing couldn’t be stressed enough. The details of a problem help us develop a solution and any missing information can cause a lot of problems down the line. And for academic purposes, we want to be cognizant of making light of problems just to game the system for student. We want to be sure we pose the correct problems to engage the curiosity and intelligence of a student where a solution can be developed and justified. Now how does this go back to humanities based disciplines — honestly, I am not the one to say as it is isn’t my background, but my best English, history, culture teachers engaged us in some aspect of the discipline we found enjoyable where we practiced our skill sets.

    • Corrie says:

      Hey Tim- While I can’t answer how all the humanities may approach problem posing, I can share with you one approach through the medium of theatre is via Augutso Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” which was heavily influenced by Freire.
      I’ve experienced his work with underrepresented communities in which a facilitator to help volunteers create dramas around problems that affect their lives. At the performance, audience members are free not only to comment on the action, but also to step up on stage and play roles of their choice. In doing so, they discover new ways of resolving the dilemmas that the play presents. In follow-up exercises, community members learn how to translate these insights into social action.

  13. Shannon Roosma says:

    I really appreciate your post! I especially like that you include the life-long element of learning in your definition. I think that we generally do a poor job of helping our students develop a passion for life-long learning. While I believe helping students develop this mindset is most helpful in the long run, I wonder how we can effectively and realistically begin this process pf development in the elementary grades while still covering the content that is currently required at the same time.

    • Cindy Klimaitis says:

      Thank you for the comment. As an elementary school principal, I can say we have moved in a positive direction on helping students develop a love of learning. We try to avoid “sit and get” and encourage student voice and choice. Students are constantly working in small collaborative groups and are praised for thinking out of the box. I especially love problem based learning and STEM in elementary schools. Student creativity is amazing!
      We are not where we need to be….but are better than we were.
      Now, if we could just get rid of those standardized tests!!

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