Introduction to January 2009 Issue of Nelta Choutari

Critical Pedagogy is a term that refers to a whole range of educational theories that emphasize the need for the learner to be critically conscious about the process, purpose, and relevance of learning. Many of the key concepts of critical pedagogy are derived from a few major educational philosophers like Paulo Friere, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky. In this column, we are presenting a reading from the famous book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Freire in which he critiqued traditional systems of education as mainly an act of ‘banking’ or depositing of information by teachers into the heads of students as passive learners. As a more progressive, humanitarian, and democratic alternative, Freire proposed the idea of what he called the ‘problem-posing’ model of education, a process that involves learners in the understanding, application, and production of knowledge as it matters to their lives, situations, and needs.  Critical pedagogy is an educational approach that attempts to help students question and challenge existing social structures of inequality and domination, beliefs and practices to overcome problems and achieve intellectual and spiritual as well social and economic empowerment and emancipation. In his book Empowering Education, author Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as “habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse” (129). Some scholars argue that this concept evolved out of Paulo Friere’s philosophy of education; but there were other scholars before Friere who had laid much groundwork for the development of critical pedagogy. John Dewey (1859 – 1952), who is often considered the founder of ‘progressive’ and also ‘constructive’ education, had developed many ideas that helped define and shape modern pragmatic, student-centered, and experience-based pedagogies. Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934), a Russian psychologist whose work is often credited as the key source of constructivist theory of education, had contributed the idea that learners learn best from interacting with other learners and in real social situations instead of teachers’ lectured input. The common constructivist practices of collaborative learning, peer mentoring, group work, and peer review all draw on this idea that students can learn through meaningful interactions with their peers, rather than solely with the teacher. Critical pedagogy, in short, is the pedagogy of socially directed and intellectually conscious education.

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