Critical Pedagogy in Standardized Courses


“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

Before this week, I had never heard about the Critical Pedagogy and Paulo Freire. The reading materials and the movie were very interesting. I am so glad I learned about the critical pedagogy.

My undergrad program was more like the Banking Model. However, my master degree courses were project based and were very similar to critical pedagogy model. I feel I learned a lot more in my master and what I learned in those courses I will never forget. Now, after reading about critical pedagogy, I have a better insight about my experiences and why I liked my master program more than the undergraduate one.

Overall, I think the critical pedagogy is a great model to use in teaching, especially at the present time that the business organizations need innovative people. However, I am not sure about applying it in all types of courses.

I feel applying critical pedagogy in a graduate level course is much easier than applying it in an undergraduate level course.  For example, in a course such as undergraduate Quantitative Methods for Decision Making (what I should teach the next year) the methods and concepts are very basic and solid. We expect all students learn the basics methods because they are the foundations for the next courses. Of course, there are some critical issues in the methods, but the topics are far beyond of an undergrad course.

The instructor in this course should make sure that the students learn the basics, considering that time is limited. I like using connected learning techniques in this course and increase critical thinking using the problem-based learning technique. But, I am not yet convinced that “raising awareness of critical issues” about some basics concepts, which are beyond an undergraduate course, will help students in that undergrad course.  Actually, with current settings, applying critical pedagogy in some standardized courses seems almost impossible to me.

7 thoughts on “Critical Pedagogy in Standardized Courses

  1. Carrie Jensen says:

    Thanks for your post, and I agree that critical pedagogy does not make immediate sense in some courses, at least the way they are currently structured. For example, I am thinking of an introductory statistics class, where you learn about the mean, standard deviation, and t-tests, and I also don’t see an obvious way to make that more “critical” without re-developing the entire way statistics is taught. However, (and maybe my experience was unique in this regard) I think that many of my undergraduate courses got at this “raising awareness of critical issues.” The courses I am thinking of tended to be upper-level classes in my major, but I also took several Spanish/Latin American literature classes, which might be skewing the distribution in favor of critical pedagogy in this case. These classes were usually smaller and involved more research papers, projects, and other activities that encourage more critical thinking than, for example, multiple choice exams. Of course, while we would all like small classes, the reality is that large lectures are kind of necessary for these introductory courses that teach “the basics,” which are an essential foundation, like you said, for being able to go on and think critically about those concepts later. So yes, to echo your point, I also don’t think critical pedagogy is automatically the best model in every case.

  2. I had a similar post on creating a project-based learning environment in first/second year undergraduate courses. I agree with you in that not all courses will lend themselves to a critical pedagogy format. However, with the way current classes are structured freshman and sophomore level courses are often a drag where students are learning concepts/tools that they are told will be useful in junior/senior level classes. Usually there is very little motivation provided for the student to learn and understand the “basics”, mostly because they won’t be using these tools for another year or two. Additionally, very little insight is provided behind the working of these tools and why they are needed (eg. real world applications). The current format of undergrad courses especially in universities where the student-to-teacher ratio is high does not allow students to have one-on-one interactions with the professors; often students mug up concepts instead of understanding them, which defeats the purpose of the course. We will need to get creative in how we teach “basics” in the future, so that students understand and are motivated to learn rather than see it as a class they have to pass to get a degree.

  3. Cody K says:

    I had the same struggle in application of critical pedagogy to foundation classes as well. Even more, every course has some area of focus that removes itself from critical pedagogy as well. This should be okay! In order to bring students to a basic understanding–to make sure they can relate on some level–foundational concepts must be taught, and they lend themselves to lecture-style delivery. In biology, if we are ever going to have discussions about physiology, we must understand the basics of mitosis, meiosis, respiration, etc. in order to make contributions to the discussion.

    I feel like this is a balanced approach to pedagogy.

  4. Mary Semaan says:

    You could assign chapters for students or groups of students to present to the class and you can be the moderator rather than the lecturer, thus achieving two goals: a) they are forced to learn at least the chapters assigned to them because and b) you introduce critical thinking and force the students to go above and beyond, rather than just bearing the brunt of the lecture.

  5. Greg Purdy says:

    Especially in foundational courses, you really have to think outside the box when looking to apply critical pedagogy. Since many of these concepts have been around for a very long time without changing, it is easy to present them to your students as facts and be done with it. Something which may be useful is trying to find ways for your students to come to the foundational realization while you lead them on the journey to new knowledge. It can definitely be more difficult and require more prep to figure out how to guide your students to a fundamental piece of knowledge instead of simply telling them. However, when you lead students to an answer, it likely will be more meaningful.

  6. Thank you for bringing up this issue! I, too, have gotten far more out of my courses that lent themselves to discussion and real world applications. I wanted to share a unique opportunity I had to learn the same ‘basics’ of fluid flow in two different classes at the same time, in a general fluids class and in a physiology class. I found that learning the equations in the context of blood flow in physiology was far more engaging and allowed me to better learn/apply the material. In short, I think if you take a short time to explain how the ‘basics’ are used in the ‘real-world,’ it could be very engaging for students. Good luck with teaching next year!

  7. I agree with you that project based course is better that banking model. But my concern is in project base course, you learned a lot about the concepts you applied in your project and part of the course would not be taken seriously by students. I think critical pedagogy alone may be not solve all the problem.

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