Critical Pedagogy

Education is not always an easy process. Learning a skill or studying requires constant improvement of one’s current knowledge/skill. Studying can be difficult at times as it demands rigorous discipline. However, studying can be fun too. Effective studying leaves students with ultimate pleasure. Therefore, we should acknowledge studying as both a necessity and a pleasure.

The majority of public schools struggle to make education a pleasant experience. The focus of education in most of these institutes is given based on:

  • the course contents covered by the teacher
  • the performance in standardized tests by the students

This approach of education believes that the memorization of the subject matter is enough to improve students for the future. Therefore, teachers in public schools provide all the subject matter information in the hope that students will magically gain the skill of thinking by the act of memorization. It is like hoping a person will become healthy and fit by just gulping a large amount of food – discarding the importance of exercising and nutrition values. Likewise, effective education depends on exercising the critical thinking of students with valuable questions, dialogue, and discussion. Paulo Freire describes the act of teaching as:

“To teach is not to transfer the comprehension of the object to a student but to instigate the student, who is a knowing subject, to become capable of comprehending and of communicating what has been comprehended.” [2]

The ineffective education approach mentioned earlier is like the “banking” concept. The “banking” concept of education limits students’ actions to only receiving, filling, and storing information – like deposits in a bank. The teacher and student relationship in this education are to transfer knowledge “one-way” from teacher to student. On the other hand, “Problem-posing” education poses questions regarding the problems of human beings in relation to the world. This develops students’ power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves. The teachers in problem-posing education animate students’ critical thinking. Students learn to relate to their surroundings and the different aspects of it. They learn that their surrounding is not a static reality; but a reality in process.

“The banking method emphasized permanence and becomes reactionary; problem-posing education – which accepts neither a “well-behaved” present nor a predetermined future – roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes revolutionary.” [3]

As an alternative to the public education system, Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire promoted “Critical Pedagogy” through his 1968 book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He outlined the key aspects of “Critical Education”: [4]

  • apprehend the object
  • learn the relation with the world
  • critical perception
  • object’s reason of being
  • sharpen learners’ curiosity

Critical pedagogy can help develop critical abilities in the students by their ideological beliefs and practices for democratic voice and participation. Students are first introduced to a problem, then they focus on the conflict with their living experience. Then using democratic participation, students learn what needs to change and actions to change them. Finally, they reflect on the overall process. In critical pedagogy, the act of dialogues and discussions play a huge role. They integrate both the individual and collective actions of the students; then consider the best approach by both study and struggle.

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education and social movement that developed and applied concepts from critical theory and related traditions to the field of education and the study of culture. [1]

Another important act in critical education is the act of listening. The teachers need to pay attention to the students as an active listener. This allows the teacher to learn about the students’ background, cultural upbringing, past experiences, etc. These factors of the students play a major role in their perception towards the subject matter. Listening to the student’s doubts, fears, and incompetencies that are part of the learning process. A teacher should acknowledge a student’s knowledge. For example, if someone is preferred by the name “Mary”, they should not be called anything other than “Mary”. Doing otherwise means the teacher is utilizing their authoritarian power to undermine the student. It is important to maintain a mutually respectful relationship between the teacher and the student. Finally, A teacher must develop a deeper critical understanding and analysis of pedagogical form and intent.

Critical pedagogy is very challenging to implement by nature. It demands great effort, knowledge, and proficiency from the teachers. The teacher also constantly learns about the teaching process. Due to its progressive nature, critical pedagogy can receive backlashes. The challenge may come from the reactionary colleagues and/or administrators. They might perceive critical pedagogy to be detrimental to the students as it does not simply provide students with predefined “knowledge”/notion. Also, trying something new has the risk of looking bad as students may do poorly in tests and in the follow-up courses. This may be the result of students being long habituated to passive schooling and they may feel that the teacher has no right to make critical demands on them. Having said that, critical pedagogy has the potentiality to greatly improve students’ knowledge, skills, and experience.

Thank you for sticking to the end and reading my thoughts on Critical Pedagogy.
Have a wonderful day!

~ Ri. 🙂



[1] Kincheloe, Joe; Steinburg, Shirley (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Bristol, PA: Open University Press. p. 24. Critical pedagogy is the term used to describe what emerges when critical theory encounters education.

[2] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.

[3] Freire, Ana Maria Araujo, and Donaldo Macedo. The Paulo Freire Reader. Cassell and Continuum, 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017, 1998.

[4] Freire, Paulo. “Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised).” New York: Continuum (1996).

4 thoughts on “Critical Pedagogy

  1. Hi Ri, thank you for your post! I thought that you brought up some great points about the American public school system. Having gone through public schools my entire K-12 career, I agree that there is much to be done in improving the system. The No Child Left Behind Act made standardized tests required for every state, almost forcing teachers to change their curriculum in preparation for a test toward the end of the year. In both my experiences and my opinions, standardized tests are not a valid reflection of a student’s ability to learn. Instead, they are a valid reflection on how well they can memorize unnecessary information. With that being said, it would really pay off for teachers if they would consider becoming active listeners. There is so much that can be learned from our students–you just have to stop and listen.

  2. You make a great point in that teachers should be active listeners and cultivate/maintain a culture of respect in the classroom. These are definitely important qualities to keep in mind as we continue embarking on our teaching journeys!

  3. Ri, thanks for the post! I found that the idea of banking approach to education really resonated with me, as it defines a lot of my early years in school. I think I recognized this method as problematic for selfish reasons early on – I’ve always been terrible at memorization! But reflecting on it more, I have recognized how much more I have learned through experiences, and not just because that was my personal preference.

    I also think that the banking metaphor has a greater applicability now, as more and more folx are becoming aware of the injustices that our financial system places on minoritized groups. I find that the racial inequities in the banking system seem to echo the injustices in education systems as well – poverty can manifest itself both in terms of cash, but also in terms of education. By taking Freire’s critical pedagogy approach, I think we can combat this oppression and injustice, and all the while make education something that more people are able to enjoy. Thanks again for the post, and I hope you have a wonderful day too!

  4. Thanks Ri for a thoughtful post that highlighted some important points regarding critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy should be promoted in a way that allows students not only to receive information but also to reflect and negotiate the topics covered during the class. As educators we should stop giving students a lot of information to memorize. Instead, we should encourage them to relate the class’ concepts or topics with their career practice or why not, with what is happening in today’s world. I agree with you regarding “problem-posing education” that activates students’ critical thinking. We have to incorporate critical thinking in the classroom and encourage students to question all the time what they are learning by posing problems in the learning environment that stimulate students’ curiosity. Actually, in our daily lives we don’t know the answer to many questions, asking questions is a practice that should get encouraged in the classroom. As Freire mentioned in his article, we can incorporate in the class thought experiments where we can ask students “what would happen if”. 

    Thanks agin for the post.

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