“Critical Pedagogy” or, no, no, no, don’t stick to the status quo

TABLE 1

COMPLEX CRITICAL PEDAGOGY GROUP DEFINITION:

Complex Critical Pedagogy (CP) comes from same place as Critical Race Theory in sociology and acknowledges intersectionality and difference.  Rooted in identity, and intersectionality, one’s position and interactions in the larger world are based on this identity. With that understanding, CP identifies intersectional identities and giving right resources to recognize the power structures which they are a part of and to challenge those same structures.  

  • As a teacher, understanding how the local, political, and social environments influence and impact individual learners, and with, and through, this knowledge tailoring methods to engage learners where they are and where they want to go.
Image result for critical race theory

Heather Kissel: Psychology, though it is a field that focuses on individual differences, often fails to focus on what these individual differences mean for a person situated within a particular, time, place, and power structure. In fact, to address these issues, there have been several subdisciplines of psychology that have been created and issues of culture, power, economics, and society are considered the purview of these fringe areas alone, specifically cultural psychology, environmental psychology, and socioecological psychology. However, if psychology is truly going to help insight change in education or itself, it needs to get over its distaste for qualitative methods and desire to distance itself from sociology. The APA realizes this, but only for some variables, for example, socioeconomic status. There is a clear relationship between SES and health and other important outcomes related to psychology. In studying SES in psychology, there are three approaches—the materialistic approach, the gradient approach, and the social class approach. In regards to critical pedagogy, the social class approach is the most relevant. This approach focuses on intersectionality and how having multiple identities leads to further advantage or disadvantage (the experience and opportunities for a white male in America versus a black woman are very different). Access to education differs based on differences in wealth due to historic discrimination (redlining cut off houses as a way to build wealth for African Americans) and just being “colorblind” now does not acknowledge that some people are trying to play the same game but without the same starting resources. As teachers of psychology, we have to realize that our students come from these diverse backgrounds within a certain power structure just as we recognize this in our research. Psychology research participants and researchers are too WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic)—this limits our ability to discover psychological principles that generalize to humanity in general, and better the lives of marginalized populations specifically. Who is in power (the researchers) determine what questions get to be asked. Similarly, who is in power in the classroom (the teacher, generally), impacts what is covered. In critical pedagogy, an equitable community needs to be built and the issues the students face in their particular society need to be addressed. One way to combine critical pedagogy with teaching psychology and performing psychological research is to shift to more community based participatory research (CBPAR), in which community members decide what questions are important and how to study them, rather than being recruited to answer the researchers questions that may not apply to them after the hypotheses and what is deemed to be important have already been determined.

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Davon Woodard:  Cities are the collective physical and social sites of our individual lived experiences.  In applying complex critical theory to teaching urban planning theory and praxis, planners must eschew the notion of the neutral planner and a positivist or monolithic experience of the city.  Instead, while rooted in our own identities, the planner should foster polyvocality, within our complex and interwoven environments. (Image: Polyvocality of Resilience –

Connor Owens: In the dairy industry and classrooms, we seem to be constantly working against the idea of tradition. “This is how we have always done it and it works for us” is commonly heard when my class visits a farm for a case study. This has been applied to either how the farm operates (what they feed or how the cows are milked) or who works where on the farm (men and young boys mostly doing the milking/farm work and women typically being left out of the big decisions). I try to show my students why this “tradition” excuse does not work and how not only can they critically evaluate the dairy farm, but how they can pass on these evaluation tools to the other dairy farmers. I get my students to question why the farm is operating in a certain manner, who is working where, and how, based on the climate of the dairy industry,  can they recommend evaluations to these farmers. Passing on the tools tied to critical pedagogy/critical consciousness on to the students will hopefully provide them the opportunity to pass them on when they work in the industry. It is also key to have my students step outside of the dairy industry and view the farm from an outsider’s perspective. While it is difficult, it is key to getting the students the reasons why certain operations exist in the dairy field and how they are important to the overall operations. It also gets them to view why certain “traditional” practices are actually not beneficial for the farmer or the cow (looking at you tie-stall farming). Overall, I need the students to realize the dairy industry is an interplay of multiple facets that dynamically interact. (image: van der Lee et al, 2014).

Robin Ott:  I believe in the importance of understanding students’ prior knowledge before beginning to teach a class.  Because the class cannot be designed to best work for each student until this information is known. I could expand the definition of prior knowledge to include more information about each student – a sort of demographic view of where they come from and what they believe in.  Having this understanding of each student’s starting point will enable me to create a more inclusive and less dictatorial learning environment, and is my definition of critical pedagogy. All of this sounds straightforward, however, I never have less than 400 students in a single class so I do doubt the likelihood that this plan is scalable to a class of my size.  

Shannon Roosma:The idea of critical pedagogy can be seen in several areas of Counselor Education. Counselor educators place an emphasis on co-creating a learning environment rather than viewing the teacher as the expert and the learner as an information receptacle. Growth and learning happen in the context of a community and require openness to each other and new ideas. In this field learning is largely about becoming, rather than simply memorizing facts without digesting and incorporating them into oneself. Principles of critical pedagogy can also be seen in the emphasis on the unique qualities of the individual, including the culture and background from which they come. Learning is a unique process that cannot be based upon a teacher’s preferences or habits without consideration of who the learner is and how that individual will connect with and apply the information that is being explored.

Adbhut Gupta: I like the example of Einstein ( also because it is related to Physics). All students’ have different types of ways of understanding and thinking and approaching a problem. Einstein felt that school was mainly run by means of fear, power and artificial authority and did not arouse any curiosity or learning in him. He left school because of this reason. If there is  a classroom environment which encouraged critical thinking, an environment which includes perspectives of different students, we could have many Einsteins instead of just one.

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41 Comments

  1. The way you guys connected these ideas directly to your disciplines is really impressive to read. Super thoughtful in a way that makes it applicable. I’m curious to know how this thought process has started making you think about changes you would make to a current class and/or the approach you will take when you start teaching?

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    1. Gary, thanks for the comment! I cannot answer for my group mates, but I know for the class I currently teach (Psychological Measurement), I have already been trying to incorporate some of these ideas. Throughout the semester my students developed a new scale on personality based integrity and now are in the process of validating it. Part of the validation phase involves checking for differential prediction (which is related to things like test bias), and I have them focus on why this step is necessary (to make sure the scale is not discriminatory, yes, but also why that’s so crucial to check for as researchers who have the power to ask questions). I am hoping to teach more research/measurement classes in the future, and I plan to make the final project have to be CBPAR (as described in my section of the post).

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  2. As soon as I read the title, I knew I had to read this post! 🙂 I think Robin brings up a great point about the scalability of this pedagogical approach. It can be hard to really get to know and then tailor your teaching to a class of 400 people. Do you think there’s an upper limit to the number of students for which this type of course design could work? And how can we balance sparking curiosity and critical thinking while also fulfilling the teaching objectives set by our accreditation boards?

    I did really appreciate Connor’s thoughts on getting students to question the standing traditions. Asking “why” instead of just “how” is a good way to spark conversations and get students more engaged. Definitely will be thinking about how to incorporate that into the courses I design! Thanks for the post!

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    1. Meredith, I’m so glad to know there’s a fellow High School Musical Fan in the class! But in regards to your question about scalability, I think there are two possible solutions. The first is that perhaps we should work towards changing the university landscape so that there can be hiring of more professors so that there is no need for large lecture classes (which few students or professors enjoy). That’s a long term solution. For now, we can use technology to our advantage–for example, have students create a class directory on Google docs on the first day that includes information about their background. For getting more information about their current level of knowledge/understanding of the course material, give some version of the final on the first day (or within the first week) of class. Basically, I think we can be creative about scaling this to a class of any size.

      The next question for me is more challenging because I am from Psychology and there are not accreditation boards with strict standards for undergraduate programs. Hopefully someone else from my group is checking these comments and can provide some insight into that!

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  3. I like how everyone connected this topic to their field, we did something similar in our group. I think Connor raised a great point about resisting “This is how we have always done it and it works for us” mentality. I think Paulo Frere raised this point too and highlighted how it is inimical to inquiry. I try to invite my students to challenge assumptions, no matter how long its been in existence.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Dami. Like you and Susan pointed out, just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean it is the best way or the way things should be done. I think it’s great you invite your students to challenge assumptions, especially because the second part of that quote from Connor “it works for us”–many things only work for certain people, not everyone, and especially not necessarily the students.

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  4. Like Dami, I also think that Connor raises a good point with “this is how we have always done it and it works for us.” Challenging students to think outside the box is one thing, but how can we get other people to think differently? Specifically, the dairy farmers that Connor mentioned or “old school” professors or teachers who don’t want to change their ways of teaching?

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    1. Susan, this is an excellent point and I believe your questions directly relate to the blog post you wrote for this week. Somehow we need to find a way to encourage these “old school” professors to attend workshops on higher education pedagogy. Ben Kirkland also wrote an excellent blog entitled “Hippy Underwear” that speaks to how we have to change the system from within–maybe we change these old school professors by being the voice for change.

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  5. Cool collective post! What caught my attention was at the beginning of the post where Heather approaches critical pedagogy through change in Psychology through research and understanding more about context given a particular the situation. It was unique to me because it extends beyond the classroom where the community at large helps develop questions that need answers where the diverse backgrounds of the questioners come into play.

    My comment is kinda cryptic — TL;DR understanding diverse backgrounds in students gives motive to focus more on diversity of the community to get the best answers in both the classroom and in research in Psychology. Cool thoughts.

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    1. Tim, thank you for your comment! I really believe that education/research is for the common social good, not just for individual self improvement. To improve the community, education has to work with it, rather than be separate from it.

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  6. Thanks for the collective post, in reading it I can relate to Robin’s struggle with such a large number of students as I currently TA for a large class. One of the approaches we use is by asking the students for their first essay assignment to write about how art & creativity in used in their daily lives. Then the final essay in the class asks the students to explore how their perception of art has changed due to topics discussed in class. These assignments really help us as teachers have a better understanding for where are student’s perceptions lie in the beginning of the class and then how those have deepened throughout our semester together.

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  7. Thanks for this informative post. I loved reading different stories and how different people connected critical pedagogy to their own field. Davon said “while rooted in our own identities, the planner should foster polyvocality, within our complex and interwoven environments. ” — this stood out to me and essentially summarized the entire concept of CP for me. Planner = teachers/ our = students

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Vibhav! I think Davon probably did a better job of defining/summing up critical pedagogy than our group definition when you replace planners with teachers and our with students as you suggested!

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      1. I agree. After posting my earlier comment, I re-read the blog post and saw something even more interesting with Davon’s section — he said “planners must eschew the notion of the neutral planner and a positivist or monolithic experience of the city” and I saw:
        planners = power structures/ educators
        neutral planner = standardized tests, notion of exams to assess “learning”
        city = education/ educational career

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  8. I knew there were large classes at VT, but would have never guessed 400 students in one class. I think it would be important to do some type of grouping so students would at least have a few students in the class they could connect with. Love Robin’s ideas and can also see how it would be difficult to apply some of the best practices we are learning about in this course.

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    1. Cindy, thanks for the comment. But yeah, some of the class sizes can be ridiculous. The Introductory Psychology class I was TA for my first year had 800 students in one section, 600 in the other. I thought this was ridiculous. The department used to break these large groups up in to recitation sections of 30-40 students, but they stopped doing this–I wish they had not, because as you mention, there needs to be smaller groupings within these huge lectures if there is going to be any community building.

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  9. Good job guys for your great post. I liked the ways you applied critical pedagogy in your own fields. Connor, you are defenitively right. Keep pushing for a critical pedagogy in dairy industry and classrooms. Concerning Robin’s challenge in applying critical pedagogy in a large classroom, I like Corrie’s suggestion about having individual essays that reflect students’ perception at the beginning and at the end of the semester. May be another suggestion could be groupping the students based on their fields of study, or some other criteria, and work from there on understanding their backgrounds.

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    1. Maha, thank you for your comment! I think it would be an excellent idea to group students by various criteria. Perhaps you could even have them group themselves based on a different criteria each class so they would see how many similarities they have with others in the class while also meeting new people to build the community each time.

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  10. I think what Robin said about being unable to apply new age pedagogical theory to teaching in large classrooms in interesting. To me, it seems that being able to apply improved teaching methods starts a far up the administration latter. The university has allowed for large class sizes that the faculty are forced to teach. Even if a professor wants to get to know their student’s backgrounds, they can’t apply this to large class size.

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    1. Deb, thank you for your comment. What do you think we should do to push the administration to make changes then (besides just waiting until we are the administrators)?

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  11. Thank you for the post! I like how you elaborated the definition of complex critical pedagogy by using identity. In particular, as a landscape architect, I agree with the ideas of Davon that urban planners and designers should have political, cultural, and social identities and be able to interact with diverse individuals and ideas. I think it will be important for a teacher in this field of study to encourage students to have and express their own identities to deal with complex environmental and social issues.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Kyunghee! While I am not in your field or Davon’s, I think in all fields (and in life), to successfully interact with and understand those of different backgrounds, we have to first acknowledge our own backgrounds, identities, and biases. In social psychology, there is this idea of “perceiver induced constraint”–basically, we don’t often think about how the way we act limits/changes the way others behave around us. Acknowledging and thinking about how we might be perceived lets us give others the freedom to act more variably and naturally around us.

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  12. Thorough post. I would like to focus my comment on the portion that says “Principles of critical pedagogy can also be seen in the emphasis on the unique qualities of the individual, including the culture and background from which they come.” I couldn’t agree more. This sentence, to me, means that I should focus on individuals, not the amorphous group, and I should study my audience if I care to reach them. Thanks again for the post.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Andrew. I think you summed up the point of that quote very well–focus on and respect of individuals is crucial for reaching an audience. It’s just like how you should try to make eye contact with people in an audience, rather than just looking out over the group. That eye contact alone can make people feel more individualized and therefore connected as they feel what you are saying is for them personally.

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  13. I appreciate how you applied critical pedagogy to the critical race theory. Myself looking into this for my dissertation, agree that our interactions in the world are based on our identity. Regardless of how we are taught our identities make a difference in how we move through the world. Now when it comes to the decision of whether to learn or not to learn it depends on the situation or circumstance but teachers should encourage students everyday to learn, be curious and to question things.

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    1. Angelica, thank you for your comment! I would love to know more about your dissertation–one of my friends in Psychology comes from a marriage and family therapy background and she introduced me to critical race theory. Psychology tends to neglect the importance of ideas from sociology and other social sciences, to its own detriment. Because, as you note, our intersectionality and identities do have a huge impact upon how we are able to move through the world, but teachers must strive to make their classroom a place where all identities are respected and all are able to and encouraged to learn.

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  14. Good post guys. I really liked how all of you think differently on this topic but still, have one common definition of critical pedagogy. I really liked Shannon’s sentence “Learning is a unique process that cannot be based upon a teacher’s preferences or habits without consideration of who the learner is and how that individual will connect with and apply the information that is being explored.” A teacher is not only for disseminating information, but it is a teacher’s responsibility to generate curiosity and creativity as well.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Japsimran! I think what you like about our post (“how all of you think differently on this topic but still, have one common definition of critical pedagogy”) is at the heart of what critical pedagogy is. This relates to what you quoted from Shannon as well–our joint definition considers how each of us as individual learners connected with the information.

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  15. Great post! I loved reading your post. I like the picture which mentions “human existence cannot be silent”. This is a very powerful statement. Although I think we got to reflect on why do we end up protesting on the streets or we decide to speak up. What pushes us to do so?

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    1. Pallavi, thank you for your comment! I really appreciate that you hooked on to something in the post that no one had yet. I think what pushes us to do so is hope that doing so will actually lead to change, which begins with knowledge that things actually could be better. This is the point of critical pedagogy for Freire. He wanted to increase literacy amongst the disadvantaged of Brazil to enable them to see that change was possible and that they could advocate for themselves.

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  16. Like many others here, I had not considered the struggle of applying this to a large person class. It’s already a struggle for many people to implement parts of critical pedagogy in small formats, so I can’t imagine the work that would have to go into the large class sizes. I always wonder how many students get turned off from things they might otherwise be passionate about because they are stuck in formal, impersonal large lectures and never have the opportunity to follow something they are passionate about. Hopefully these ideas will help prevent that in the future.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Raymond! I appreciate you pointing out an additional feature of what critical pedagogy is about–instilling a love a learning, and education more generally–helping people discover their passions. I think attempts to make even large classes more student centered (for example, by letting them choose what type of assignment to complete) could help with still allowing some self-exploration and discovery of a new passion.

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  17. Firstly, what and excellent title. Secondly, you guys all included some really informative graphics!

    I’d particularly like to make note of Robin’s Venn diagram that shows the three characteristics she chose to highlight as part of critical pedagogy. I think throughout these posts there was not nearly enough of a focus on curiosity. A teacher cannot teach a student the definition of curiosity and expect them to be able to mimic it in practice. Instead, a teacher has to engage students in a more meaningful way in order to foster curiosity through theory and practice, both.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Aislinn! I almost included a High School Musical gif, but my group thought that was too much. I think you’re right about curiosity not getting enough traction in these posts. It makes me think back to the readings on mindful learning by Ellen Langer and how “sideways learning” and similar techniques can help foster curiosity. It really demonstrates how all the techniques and styles addressed in this class go together and can be used at once for the most effective class possible.

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  18. Freat post! Especially the use of graphics. The points raised are amazing, especially consideration of students racial, economic, social, and other backgrounds. They truly can affect how students receive and process information. I personally can say that my own experiences in life have changed the way i learn and understand info presented to me. I often don’t understand things my peers do and vice versa. Through discussion and open pedagogical tactics, we’re able to exchange and educate each other.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael! I appreciate you adding a personal testimony for the need for open and critical pedagogical practices. Anecdotes can sometimes be so much more effective than evidence in demonstrating an important point.

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