Societies globally are facing a troubling time and embedded societal inequities lead to adverse impacts for marginalised groups which can be magnified in times of crisis. This can be seen in the second part of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change sixth assessment report (released in late Feb 2022 – blink and you missed it) which explored the coupling of climate systems, ecosystems and human society:
“Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions (very high confidence), driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance (high confidence).” (IPCC, 2022).
As educators of the generation who are likely to spend their lives adapting to a low carbon economy in an age of social upheaval, what is our role to empower all students across further and higher education to act with agency within their systems? How can they be equipped to challenge oppression and work towards equity within their organisations and the unbalanced societies we all work in?
Critical pedagogy positions education as a place to identify systems of oppression and equip students to notice them and (if they choose) resist. While broader criticality requires us to notice and critique power relations at multiple scales, critical pedagogy takes this ethos into the classroom itself. Educational spaces become places for students to explore power and equity. In critical pedagogy, the educator becomes a co-explorer. We are all trying to unlearn the unjust practices we have been enculturated with.
In order to become critical pedagogues, we necessarily have to begin with ourselves. Useful questions to pose along the journey include the following:
- What am I doing to foster a sense of belonging and community in my classes?
- How am I preparing my students to play a positive part in a globalised and diverse world?
- How am I enabling my students to express their views and respect the views of others?
- How am I helping students to gain ‘cultural competence’ and how secure is my own knowledge of people who are culturally different from myself?
Critical pedagogy is about collective and collaborative re-imaginings of the world we find ourselves in. Not doing things for or to our students, but with them, be it through pedagogical relationships which may be rhizomatic and go beyond the classroom walls, creative, art-based processes that allow students the scope to think ‘what if?,’ and co-constructed curricula that fill in the missing voices of the past and allow us to think about the present. Shoe-horning in stand-alone pieces about equality may be important and worthwhile, but democracy and social justice need to cut through the very heart of what we do. The cult of ’embedding’ needs shifting to a movement of ‘promotion’ where we model behaviour, enable thinking to happen, and become more overt about what we are doing to create those transformative, pro-social spaces of belonging and community. Despite the challenges of academia, this is possible wherever we gather people together for the process of learning. And of course it is not limited to classrooms, but also our social and work spaces. As Giroux (2016) states:
‘…education is fundamental to democracy. No democratic society can survive without a formative culture which includes but is not limited to schools capable of producing citizens who are critical, self-reflexive, knowledgeable and willing to make moral judgements and act in a socially inclusive and responsible way. This is contrary to the forms of education that reduce learning to an instrumental logic that too often and too easily can be perverted to violent ends’ (Giroux, 2016).
Different sectors have different relationships with critical pedagogy and the notion of criticality. The principles appear more aligned to the humanities and arts than the sciences. It is hard to see where there is space for organic and disruptive conversations when multiple mathematical principles and standard practices need to be learnt for students to enter their profession. Scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in particular come from apolitical educational traditions with respect for the heritage of technical constructs and pedagogies developed in the past. The established educational model for many subjects comes from a time when the outcomes of education served the powerful in society, and our behaviours were not compromising the viability of multiple regions of our planet. By repeating patterns of education, we should ask whether we risk repeating our mistakes. Critical pedagogies have been developed principally by scholars in the Global South and from minoritized groups such as Paolo Freire and bell hooks, individuals well practiced at working from within and against social systems that resisted them. Their work on critical pedagogy can offer all of us a way to break the cycles that trap our thinking. With them as guides, we can leave the beaten path (Freire) and work with our students to explore and co-create new ways towards a more just world.
Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of Hope: reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Giroux, H. (2016). The Violence of Forgetting. New York Times. Opinion. 20th June 2016
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. London: Routledge
IPCC (2022). Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
Sidebottom, K. (2018). Becoming Radical. http://adventuresinlifelonglearning.blogspot.com/2018/01/becoming-radical.html
Join Us 🕗
The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 16th March 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT
During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT.
Q1. ‘Critical’ is a contested term in pedagogy. What does it mean in your discipline?
Q2. Critical pedagogies aim to equip us all to resist systems of oppression that harm. What examples can you provide where educational and broader social systems cause harm?
Q3. Critical pedagogues seek to ‘leave the beaten path’ (Freire, 2014), disrupting established educational power dynamics. In what ways do tweetchats subvert the usual power relationships within education?
Q4. Students, lecturers and those supporting learning increasingly suffer with mental health, precarity and poverty. How can we narrow the gap to find spaces of support and solidarity?
Q5. Leonard Cohen wrote ‘There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ What ‘disruptive behaviours’ in and outside the learning environment might shake-up the unjust status quo and widen those beautiful & hopeful chinks of lights?
Q6. In identifying disruptive behaviours, what are the challenges and opportunities of acting on them in our learning environments? How do we maintain hope through the struggle?
Here’s a link to the Wakelet of this week’s chat: https://wke.lt/w/s/QZn3Pp
The Hosts’ Bios 📷
Kay Sidebottom is a Senior Lecturer in Education and Childhood at Leeds Beckett University. Her current research explores how teachers can work with posthuman ideas to facilitate meaningful and disruptive education spaces for our complex times. With a background in community and adult education, her pedagogical specialisms include critical, radical and anarchist education, arts-based practice and community philosophy.
Darren Minister is an Academic Developer at Swansea University. He supports academics with inclusive learning and convenes the Critical Pedagogy community of practice at Swansea University, bringing together educators with an interest in social justice as a way to support the development of praxis.
Patricia Xavier is an Associate Professor in Engineering at Swansea University. A water engineer by training, Patricia now conducts research in engineering education as part of a multi-disciplinary team. They explore the role of value systems in furthering understanding of what happens when the worlds of STEM and inclusivity collide, using critical pedagogies as tools to reimagine engineering education.