How do We Practice Critical Pedagogy?

This week I want to reflect on Paulo Freire’s concept of  “banking” in education and what it means to practice a critical pedagogy in the classroom. For Freire, this “banking” approach to pedagogy means treating the student as an object to be filled with ‘correct’ information. It assumes that the student is passive, only a spectator, who needs to regurgitate what is already known (Freire, p. 70). Ultimately, the shortcoming of such an approach is that it annihilates the students’ curiosity and interest in learning. It turns education into memorization and never encourages the growth of their intellectual capacities.


On the other hand, Freire understands a critical pedagogy as being very holistic in nature. Critical pedagogy concerns encouraging autonomy, freedom, as well as increasing one’s political consciousness and learning ethics. Part of this includes learning one’s limits to freedom, which gives our freedom substantive content. Antonia Darder expands on this as well that a critical pedagogy must be a problem solving one that refuses to accept the present as well as precludes the possibility of a “predetermined future” (Darder, p. 102). In other words, critical pedagogy is ‘demythologizing’, it attacks ‘common sense’ in order to cultivate in the student a reflexive and attentive self who will learn for themselves, taking nothing for granted. One could perhaps summarize a critical pedagogy as one concerned with ‘learning how to learn’, with the ‘teacher’ themselves aware of their limits to know everything. Still, as both Darder and Freire note, this does not mean the teacher completely abdicates their responsibility in running the class, they must still use their authority without being authoritarian. Many who are interested in practicing a critical pedagogy feel guilty about how much they may lecture, as they understand this as potentially reproducing the banking educational approach they seek to avoid (Darder, p. 111). Admittedly, I have wondered this myself at times. However, I think that even if one seeks to practice a critical pedagogy, lecturing at times will be necessary. In practice, I will often ‘lecture’ such as by providing historical context, before asking questions about the text that I would say are problem-solving in nature.


As I have asked in some of my previous posts, though, is how to actually practice such as critical pedagogy. While I would say I have many common commitments as Freire, and I also seek to cultivate in students a critical capacity that will exceed whatever class materials we may cover, this is a difficult task without any clear prescriptions. And, unfortunately, it oftentimes seems short-circuited by embarrassingly mundane problems, for example, two-thirds of the students may not have read the class text, at 9:00 AM students may not have any interest in talking, and so on. In other words, I would like to hear what others do practically in class for constitutes a critical approach to pedagogy. For instance, I learned early on never to ask questions that were simply “What did you think of the text?” For far better results, I found that asking questions that were closer to “How does this concept work throughout the text?” Such questions forces students to have to reflect and apply the concept. Typically, I usually end class with questions that seek to apply whatever text we are reading to the current moment or to their daily lives. This is all structured through a more or less Socratic dialogue in which I may begin with a more philosophical question “Is there any power higher than national interest?” that may be followed with short 5-10 minute lectures that flow into open-ended discussion between students. It is oftentimes difficult to assess after class if it was a ‘successful’, as I am not assessing their knowledge, but seeking to cultivate an orientation to the world that will be able to form questions and answers on their own.


To return though, I am interested in the more practical tips on what students do that may fit what Freire is calling for. What are the types of questions that get students interested and make them question what they have learned?


I have also received from time to time the comment that my class does not offer the practical learning they desired (this is usually from students seeking to work for intelligence agencies). Some students will think they have not learned as much as they hoped since now they are questioning what they learned previously and since I offer no conclusive answer in my course. Instead, I offer multiple theoretical approaches to political inquiry that are oftentimes incommensurable. For many students, they seek pre-given answers and I have to take time throughout the course to explain that I fundamentally disagree with this pedagogical approach and instead seek to get them to find answers for themselves in various ways. In other words, this oftentimes a quite real tension in my experience, and I am admittedly still struggling to come up with sufficient answers for myself.


In any case, I look forward to hearing what other practices others employ or are experimenting with that may constitute a critical pedagogical orientation.



Darder, Antonia. Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Freire, Paulo. The Paulo Freire Reader. Edited by Ana Maria Araujo Freire. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 1993.

5 Replies to “How do We Practice Critical Pedagogy?”

  1. Freire’s critical tone about banking education is fundamental to the issues of learning issues. I agree with you in the sense that we have to divert from banking education and promote curiosity and reasoning in students. In particular, stimulate discussion and questions that promote critical thinking without stigmas.

  2. Thanks for sharing Sam! I think you mention some really good point. We all still question what kind of questions should be asked to awaken the critical thinking in students. Although from personal experience I can also relate that specific question are more effective in some instances, I also do think the type of questions in not the whole story. I think encouraging students to interact and striving to implement the critical pedagogy approach is based on an environment created within the classroom by the teacher. This is part of why, as you mentioned, mundane problems might hinder the process of getting students to talk. But regardless, I do think initiating the conversation between students will always be the hardest part.

  3. Thank you Sam for sharing your thoughts in this topic and I do share some of your concerns regarding what kind of practices could pour into better critical pedagogy. The challenge is in changing the opposite way of thinking, as you ave mention in the beginning, that our lack of critical thinking have led to annihilate the student’s curiosity and interest of learning, due to our indulgent of teacher learner relationship, therefore, changing this mentality will need time and determination. Project base learning might help in establishing such strategy, specially when there is no right or wrong answer. Even though, it is highly recommended, we can’t only rely on them, it is all about having a safe space to learn and interact.

  4. Sam, thanks for your post! I teach via Zoom at 9 am every MWF, and have developed ciritical pedagogical strategies for engagement. It was actually after conducting an observation on a first-year GTA that I realized you can call students out. This comes with a few caveats: I wouldn’t pick on a student that you know is not paying attention, as you will likely have to repeat the question a few times and explain the context. Second, this should not be in an attempt to trip up the students. I have learned that students all perk up when they realize you’re picking someone random, and that they do not have to volunteer. This change came in my class after I would ask a question and no one would unmute themselves, making it sometimes more painful than a silence in a real classroom. I hope this helps!

  5. I agree with many of the points in this post and can relate to many of the challenges that are mentioned. For instance, when students figure out that I am going for a critical thinking, rather than memorizational, approach to my class, they often end up seeming confused about what to do. Sometimes, in fact, they assume that the course is unserious, doesn’t have clear objectives, and that they don’t have to try. Some of these students are disappointed when the feedback they ultimately receive on their writing assignments, the main form of assessment in my classes, is not positive. However, I have found that there are some students who eventually do come to appreciate that I am creating a more open-ended class that allows for students to pursue the questions or concepts that are interesting to them. So, I have a few students who do participate a lot. The problem that I haven’t figured out is how to integrate the students who are left behind, and who perhaps have had their learning practices shaped by so many years of standardized testing that they don’t know how to learn or participate otherwise. I also resonate with the phenomenon of feeling guilty about lecturing. However, I have found that with the inconsistency with which undergraduate students do the reading, it is necessary for me to give at least a short lecture to introduce a set of topics before setting students loose to discuss. That way, at least they can talk about what they found interesting about the lecture. I don’t necessarily think that this is the ideal situation, but at least I have some open-ended discussion time in every class, which is better than nothing. The students eventually have to do some of the reading to write their papers, at the very minimum.

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