What is Critical Pedagogy?

Lesley University’s Creative Arts in Learning division in the Graduate School of Education offers a course “Critical Pedagogy through the Arts,” which is taught by Professor Aziza Braithwaite Bey.  Dr. Aziza chaired the Critical Pedagogy and the Arts Committee 2007 – 2011 and is the creator of this blog at Lesley University.

For this course, Dr. Bey has compiled excerpts from recent articles, books, and chapters that depict the current work and beliefs in the field, and organized these excerpts into chapters summarizing various perspectives within the field, such as on race, class, gender, education, etc. During this semester, students in her Critical Pedagogy class are required to present on various topics throughout the semester depicting the multiple facets Critical Pedagogy addresses. A summary of each presentation has been compiled as follows:

Below is the first summary of the semester, which reflects the students’ theories and answer to the question…What is Critical Pedagogy?

Discuss the philosophies and theories of several thinkers who were key in developing the current concept of Critical Pedagogy, with a major focus on John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

Together, Dewey’s and Freire’s ideas have shaped the current day concept of Critical Pedagogy. Critical Pedagogy not only compares the relationship between learning and teaching, but moves beyond this comparison to state that the relationship between teaching and learning takes on a life of its own.

This dynamic of teaching and learning, as expressed within the context of Critical Pedagogy, is greatly shaped by our culture’s dynamics of power; whether or not we recognize it. The true Critical Pedagogue will continually wrestle with this dynamic and question the influence of power structures as they shape our ideas about not only how we teach, but what we teach.  Furthermore, Dewey and Freire collectively assert that teaching and learning occur between both teacher and student.  In addition, Freire emphasizes that true Critical Pedagogy, the true way of learning, extends into a practical involvement in the community.  It is never only just about the intellect but also involves praxis.


Freire, P. (2012). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Race, Class, and Gender in Critical Pedagogy

Below are key points discussed by the students in regards to the theories they found most important to race, class, and gender within Critical Pedagogy:

Sex Versus Gender

-Sex is biological while gender is a part of a socially constructed meaning that is associated with different sexes.

-Sex role stereotypes – What is “natural” behavior?

-In reality women do much physical labor. In poor countries it is the women who complete the backbreaking work. This is a huge contrast to the dainty role a woman is expected to play, in more affluent Western countries.

-“Gender is a socially imposed division of the sexes.”

-Boys and girls are put under stress to conform to sex-role stereotypes.


-Race is socially constructed as well.

-Ethnicity vs. Race?

-Race is more a political categorization than a biological or scientific category.

** What does the term race mean? What does the term ethnicity mean? How have we, as a society changed these terms to mean what is socially acceptable behaviors of certain groups??

-Race is a social concept.

-The term “black” has come to mean anyone who is not white. How does one act “black” or white or Latino? (Racial etiquette).

-The terms lower class, working class, and upper class as a way to socially categorize people.

 Creating White Privilege

-“Teach whites the value of whiteness in order to divide and rule the labor force,” (Rothenberg, 2001, 32).

– To keep the racial categories separate, a 1661 law increased the punishment of European women who marry African or Indian men; towards the end of the late 1600 a white woman could be enslaved for marrying a black.

-Laws were created that made it illegal for slaves to learn to read.

-Laws were created that made being white better than being black. Even if you were a white slave, you had more rights than a black slave. This was done to control the people and keep blacks in a class of their own.

-Thomas Jefferson advocated the establishment of a solid white Anglo-Saxon yeomen class of small farmers, who, as property owners, would uphold law and order in return for property.

-Media, such as newspapers and forums, created a “psychological wage”, which helped make even poor whites look down on blacks. This feeling of superiority helped keep the races separate, even though there were not huge financial differences.

 Social Construction of Gender

-Gender is something that comes naturally to most people. We don’t even realize we do it, but it happens from the minute we are born and our parents put on the pink or blue outfits.

-Gender is a major way in which humans organize their lives. It is important to remember that gender and sex are not the same!

-Transsexuals and transvestites are cross over genders, but they are not considered a third gender.

-One must be taught gender. Children learn to walk, talk, and gesture the way their social group says a boy or girl should act.

-Gender norms are inscribed in the way people move. Schools, parents, peers, and the media guide young people into gender roles. The gendered practices of everyday life reproduce a society’s view of how men and women should act.

***“Gendered social arrangements are justified by religion and cultural productions and backed by law, but the most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are virtually unthinkable”  (Goodman, 2010, 24).

-In society gender means difference. If men and women are doing the same tasks, they are given different tasks.

-Women recruits in the U.S. Marine Corps. are required to wear makeup. This feminization is part of a deliberate policy to make them clearly distinguishable from male Marines.

-Gender stereotypes rank men above women in status.

The Social Construction of Sexuality

-Much of the Western thinking about sexuality is based on the Christian definition of sexuality, and Christian beliefs.

-As adults and parents, we teach children that sex is only for making babies. Once they reach adolescence they are flooded with hormones and peer pressure and many do not have the proper information on the topic of sex.


-A patriarchal society is one that is male-dominated, male-centered, male-identified, and oppresses women.

-Women who have high-powered jobs are looked upon as the exception to the rule.

-Women are historically praised for their beauty and ability to produce and raise children, not for their intellectual aptitude.

-Historically women have been excluded from the church, state, universities and high-powered professions.

 Going Beyond Black and White, Hispanics in Census Pick ‘Other’

-“There’s a Latino identity that’s neither white nor black, and it’s a positive identity,” (Navarro, 2003).

-“Some other race” Hispanics do not constitute a separate race, and can be any of the five standard, government-defined racial categories.

-Asian American is a huge umbrella term used to lump together Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, and many other people. They have extremely different languages, ethnicities, and traditions.

-Violence towards Asian immigrants began when Asian immigrants were given labor jobs because they were willing to work for low wages. Americans viewed them as stealing their jobs.

-1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin was beaten to beaten with a baseball bat by unemployed auto workers who thought he was Japanese.


Goodman, J. (2010). Global perspectives on gender and work: Readings and interpretations.Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Navarro, M. “Going Beyond Black and White, Hispanics in Census Pick ‘Other’.” November 9, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/09/nyregion/going-beyond-black-and-white-hispanics-in-census-pick-other.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

Rothenberg, P. (2007). Race, class, and gender in the united states. New York: Worth Publishers.

Gender, Feminism, Class, and Critical Pedagogy

To discuss the role of gender, feminism, class and critical pedagogy, students used a video to visually portray the life of a peasant and the beliefs they most likely held. In addition, the students offered ample amount of opportunities to discuss these perspectives as a class. Furthermore, the group strategically created a game that illustrated the “system of profit” in our society today. Lastly, the students found a poem by Rudyard Kipling to illuminate bullying within the school system. Below is a brief summary outlining the video presented, the open discussions that were debated, the game that was created, and the poem that was shared:

1. Constitutional Peasants


2. Open Discussion: If you had to choose one factor that determines social class, what would it be and why?

3. The Unfair Game: while playing this game please imagine you are a public-school student.

Before the game: Teacher prepares small slips of paper of different colors labeled in the following monetary denominations: 5$, $10, $50, $100, and $500.  The $500 bills should be on plain white paper.

Each slip should be folded so the printed denominations are not visible until it is unfolded.

Teachers(s) divides class into groups of four to five students each and asks them if they would like to play a game called The Unfair Game.  Naturally, being students, they will want to play, even though the teacher cautions them that, no matter who wins, the result will almost certainly be unfair.

Teacher instructs students to draw four folded slips from a bowl.  Students are not to unfold the slips until told, or they will forfeit their reward for waiting (usually a piece of candy).

Teacher instructs students to unfold the paper slips and count their “money.”  Teacher then asks each group who has the most money, the second-most money, and so forth, recording this data on board.

Round 1: Teacher instructs students that they have one minute to trade papers within their groups only.  At the end of the minute, students count their money and teacher records new tally on the board.

Round 2: Teacher instructs students that they have one minute to trade papers amongst members of other groups only.  At the end of the minute, students count their money and teacher records new tally on the board.

Final round: Teacher calls the “richest” member of each group to the head of the class.  In the event of a tie, teacher will call both/all the richest.  Teacher may opt to include the second richest member of the group if that person is richer than any of the richest of the other groups.

Teacher tells this elite group of students that they have one minute to make up the rules for the final round or else they will lose all of their money.  Almost invariably, this results in them assuming most or all of the wealth of the other students.

Tendencies to notice:

  • In each round, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
  • Some poor lose interest in the game, participating only superficially, resigning themselves to being at the bottom.  These essentially resemble ghettoes, economically depressed areas of widespread hopelessness.
  • Some students sometimes express resentment.  This is acceptable as long as the student remains in control. Remind them that the game is called The Unfair Game, and that they were informed at the beginning that the result would probably be unfair.  These students are like those who protest against unfairness in society.
  • Sometimes there is widespread dissatisfaction among those who were forced to give up their money in the final round.  In effect, this illustrates that, if those in power push things too far, they could wind up with a revolution on their hands.

MA Learning Standards: History and Social Science USI.12 Explain and provide examples of different forms of government, including democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, and autocracy.

Further discussion:

  • How is economic power related to feminism and gender?
  • Is the USA an oligarchy?
  • Thoughts on the Gloria Steinem quote, “Women need men like fish need bicycles.”
  • Do you think it is necessary for women to give up their jobs in order to have babies?
  • “Critical thinking” does not appear in any of the learning standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for History and Social Science, English Languages Arts and Literacy, or Science and Technology/Engineering. What are your thoughts on this?

4. “We and They” by Rudyard Kipling

Father and Mother, and Me,

Sister and Auntie say

All the people like us are We,

And every one else is They.

And They live over the sea,

While We live over the way,

But-would you believe it? –They look upon We

As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef

With cow-horn-handled knives.

They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,

Are horrified out of Their lives;

While they who live up a tree,

And feast on grubs and clay,

(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We

As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.

They stick lions with spears.

Their full-dress is un-.

We dress up to Our ears.

They like Their friends for tea.

We like Our friends to stay;

And, after all that, They look upon We

As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.

We have doors that latch.

They drink milk or blood,

Under an open thatch.

We have Doctors to fee.

They have Wizards to pay.

And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We

As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,

And all good people say,

All nice people, like Us, are We

And every one else is They:

But if you cross over the sea,

Instead of over the way,

You may end by (think of it!) looking on We

As only a sort of They!

Further Discussion:

  • Focus on the problem of bullying in our school…
  • How does it reflect and strength this problem of our society?
  • What does it say about the phenomena of “the haves and have nots,” “us vs. them,” and a general fear of difference?


Kipling, Rudyard “We and They.” (n.d.), http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_wethey.htm

Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom

In response to focusing on critical pedagogy in the classroom, student’s within Dr. Bey’s class created a variety of interventions to use within the classroom based on critical pedagogy principles. Through the use of music, open discussion, and response to current trauma in our society the group proposed a wealth of opportunities to incorporate critical pedagogy in the classroom. Their ideas, interventions, and discussion are as follows:

A Model for Teaching Social Justice through Music

“Our children’s natural desire to make sense of their world can be enhanced through the appreciation and application of popular media as a pedagogical tool.” (White, 2005, http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/cho3023l5.htm)

“Popular media embodies a language of both critique and possibility; a language that allows students to locate themselves in history, find their own voices, and establish convictions and compassion necessary for democratic civic courage.” (Freire and Giroux, 1989 as quoted in White& Walker, 2008, 82).

“Through its history, pop music like all forms of music has not only served as a reflection of the times, but it also has been a catalyst for critical social efficacy and societal change.” (White & Walker, 2008, 10)


1. Pass out lyrics to any song that deals with social issues such as:

Where is the Love by The Blackeyed Peas

2. Play the song, play other examples of songs that deal with social issues.

3. Ask the following:

What is the song about?

What issues and ideas are presented?

Why does the song begin and end when it does?

4. Place students in groups of approximately 4.

5. Tell students that they are going to write their own lyrics on an agreed upon social issue.

6. Have students individually brainstorm current social issues.

7. Have group members share.

8. Create a group stanza.

9. Pass out transparency and have groups write new stanza.

10. Each group will share/sing new stanza.

11. Following the sharing have groups discuss rationale for events/issues included.


Individuals in groups brainstorm themes, social issues and examples of music for integration.

Brainstorm application ideas. Share.


Have examples of music for groups to investigate. Examples can include songs from Public Enemy, System of a Down, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Ani DeFranco, Woody Guthrie, etc. Furthermore, discuss the examples and choose specific examples of music for classroom integration. Then, groups should brainstorm integration ideas.


Freire, P and H. Giroux (1989). Pedagogy, popular media, and public life. Ib Popular Media: Schooling and Everyday Life, ed. Giroux, H. and R. Simon. Granby, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers.

White, C, & Walker, T. (2008). Tooning in: Essays in popular culture and education.Maryland:

Rowman &Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

White, C. (2005). “Integrating Music in History Education.” Academic Exchange Quarterly,

9(2), http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/cho3023l5.htm

Creating Classroom Rules through Discussion Questions

1. How can we involve students in the creation of classroom rules/agreements to promote equity and social justice in the classroom?

2. What are the benefits of including students in this process? How could it ultimately impact the classroom environment?

3. Do you feel students will take ownership/ be more committed to these rules if they are the ones creating them?

4. What are some rules that you would hope that your students would choose?

By allowing students to take part in the creation of classroom rules the rules become more meaningful to them. They are not just something hanging up on the wall that they are told to do. They will take ownership of these rules and be more inclined to follow them. By directing this activity we can ideally have them create rules that promote equity and social justice in the classroom. These rules can help create a more positive and tolerant classroom environment that values acceptance, and reduces the occurrence of bullying and negative behaviors.

Please refer to the following link for more information regarding the creation of classroom rules:


Crisis Response and Intervention — Response to Tragedy

1. Have counselors on hand at the schools to speak to the children. They may not react immediately; some may be in shock at first.

2. The community response is very important to children. Churches in particular as well as other community centers usually have prayer vigils or some kind of gathering after a tragedy. If the child has been exposed in some way, it may be a good idea to attend one of the vigils.

3. If it is a very young child and they are not aware of the tragedy, don’t bring it up. Wait for questions and just answer the one’s they ask. Don’t offer lots of information to a very young child.

4. The arts can be very therapeutic: songs, poetry, and visual arts are all frequently a part of a memorial in times of tragedy.

5. Many times people from other states will try to reach out and help the survivors, or just let them know they are being thought of.

An example of this support can be found at the following link:


6. There is no right answer to handling a tragedy.  Always take advantage of the resources available through the schools and the community.

7. If the students want to be involved in the memorial, don’t discourage them.  Let them attend services (but don’t make them go) and make art, write poems, or just talk about what happened.

Example of a poem as a response to Sandy Hook:

“We see each young person as a distinct individual with her or his own hopes and fears and goals.

We help young people to be their best and most honest selves.

We organize and advocate for young people and for the kind of school communities that allow young people to share their own stories and to move toward the kind of stories that they want to tell about themselves.

We show our love through our focus on our students as people who will grow, rather than only focusing on them as a series of ‘achievements.’”

The above poem is referenced from the following link:

Fredriksen, J. (2012). Educators’ voices: some responses to sandy hook.

Retrieved from http://www.jimfredricksen.com/?p=215

Celebrating Language Diversity in the Classroom

“If we saw how natural Kenya sounded and her audience is Black students, why shouldn’t she be allowed to speak Black English? Now she sees [her usage] listed as needing improvement. The idea is that’s something that she should change. And that’s a problem.”
Seemingly prodded by this query, the class discussion spiraled out from there. We engaged a variety of issues, among them the nature of the relationship between language and the mainstream power structure, what acceptance of mainstream codes meant for speakers whose language and culture differed from that of the mainstream, the roles of English teachers and students of language, and what it means to study the mainstream codes while celebrating the home codes. In our excitement, ideas were tumbling out one upon the other and we all were competing to hold the floor in order to make our collective points–so much so that when the bell rang signaling the end of the school day, nearly half the class remained at their own choosing to continue the conversation.”


Fecho, B. (2000). Critical inquiries into language in an urban classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 34 (3): 368. Retrieved from http://ezproxyles.flo.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docv

Revolutionary Pedagogy

Students provided a journal review of Peter McLaren’s article on Revolutionary Pedagogy. The students shared their interpretation of the article and what they found helpful as training educators in today’s society.

Revolutionary Pedagogy in Post-Revolutionary Times: ReThinking the Political Economy of Critical Education by McLaren (2005) provided real life examples. His critique of what critical pedagogy has evolved into was insightful, and left us as future teachers aware of how much work and scrutiny really goes into true critical pedagogy.

As stated by McLaren,

The conceptual net known as critical pedagogy has been cast so wide and at times so cavalierly that it has come to be associated with anything dragged up out of the troubled and infested waters of educational practice, from classroom furniture organized in a “dialogue friendly” circle to “feel-good” curricula designed to increase students’ self-image. Its multicultural education equivalent can be linked to a politics of diversity that includes “respecting differences” through the celebration of “ethnic” holidays and themes such as “Black history month” and “Cinco de Mayo.” If the term “critical pedagogy” is refracted onto the stage of current educational debates, we have to judge it as having been largely domesticated in a manner that many of its early exponents, such as Brazil’s Paulo Freire, so strongly feared. (234)

This was shocking to read because we have been diligently studying how critical pedagogy is far removed from this approach to education. Yet it is visible how old patterns can easily “creep back in” if we are not aware and constantly seeking to improve our educational practice.

Therefore, the group chose to focus on wealth inequality in America in our capitalist society, how it affects classrooms and students today, and additionally, what we (as future teachers) can do about it. This problem has all forms of discrimination and biases tied to it, such as classism, racism, sexism, etc. which are impacted by the vastly unequal wealth distribution in America. Thus addressing this issue is a good bridge into addressing other prejudices, or it can be used as a culminating discussion in a classroom.

McLauren (2005) call for pedagogy based on Marxism and Marxist Humanism, both terms that need to be further investigated. Different political ideologies could also be an excellent way to examine societies and utopias. We have learned through this research that Marxist Humanism is based on Karl Marx’s Theory of Alienation, which states:

Theory of Alienation (Entfremdung) is the systemic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marx%27s_theory_of_alienation, Retrieved October 29, 2013).

After completing this research it can be concluded that understanding the authors’ purpose and ideology is a key component to the true meaning of Revolutionary Pedagogy, which calls for an eradication of capitalism and revised democracy and socialism.


McLaren, Peter. “Revolutionary Pedagogy in Post-Revolutionary Times: Rethinking the Political

Economy of Critical Education.” January 25, 2005,


Published in: on December 2, 2013 at 9:53 am  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. thank you Aziza, and thanks to your students as well. Your reports reflect not only your creativity, but your passion for teaching and learning. love to you, eleanor

    Eleanor Roffman, Ed.D. Professor and Director of Field Training Division of Counseling and Psychology Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences Lesley University 29 Everett St. Cambridge, Ma. 02138 Office address: 3 Phillips Pl. Cambridge, Ma. 02138 617 349 8334


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: