Interview by Chronis Polychroniou
You are one of the world’s major theorists on critical pedagogy. Would you define the term and elaborate on its use?
Critical pedagogy refers to a set of particular theoretical principles that embrace the primacy of the political and the ethical as a central feature of educational theory and practice. In opposition to the conservative view that pedagogy is simply a set of strategies, methodologies, and skills to use in order to teach prespecified subject matter, critical pedagogy is defined as a moral and political practice that represents a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what knowledge, values, and subjectivies are produced within particular sets of social relations. Pedagogy is understood in this context as political and moral practice that treats education as a project related to the ongoing struggle over an inclusive and substantive democracy. Critical pedagogy attempts to understand and engage schools as places where culture, power, knowledge, and experience come together to produce particular identities, narratives, and social practices that always presuppose a vision of the future. The critical question here, of course, is whose future, story, and interests does the public school, higher education, or any other educational site represent? Critical pedagogy argues that school practices should be informed by a public philosophy that addresses how to construct ideological and institutional conditions in which the lived experience of empowerment for the vast majority of students becomes the defining feature of education. In part, this suggest providing the conditions for students to engage in unlimited questioning and sustained dialogue so that teachers and students can experience themselves as critical agents and learn how to oppose dogmatic forms of education which not only limit critical thinking, but also close down the capacity for self-determination, agency, self-representation, and effective democracy. By viewing the classroom as a space of dialogue, critique, and translation, critical pedagogy offers educators a new language for enabling teachers and students come to terms with their own power as individual agents and critical citizens. Students, in particular through this approach, are taught about the relationship between knowledge and the power of self-definition, and what it means to use knowledge not only to understand the world, but to be able to influence those who are in power and help to mobilize those who are not. More specifically, critical pedagogy attempts: to reclaim those forms of knowledge that not only provide the range of capacities necessary for young people to function in an empowering way in every sphere of society, but also to create new forms of knowledge that engage the new modes of literacy necessary to understand, critically engaging, and transforming the changing conditions under which people experience their lives, especially with regard to the new media.
Central here is the assumption that young people should be educated to not only have the skills necessary to be workers, policy makers, intellectuals, and other social roles, but also to be both cultural producers and critical intellectuals capable of producing and not merely carrying out particular types of social practices, roles, and forms of creative production. Critical pedagogy also places an emphasis on breaking down disciplines and creating interdisciplinary knowledge, especially knowledge that provides new ways to raise questions and enhance our role as individual and social agents in a global world; it also raises questions about the relationships between the margins and centers of power in schools and is concerned about how to provide a way of reading history as part of a larger project of reclaiming power and identity, particularly as these are shaped around the categories of race, gender, class, and ethnicity; critical pedagogy is also attentive to the context in which learning takes place and is concerned about making curriculum knowledge responsive to the everyday knowledge that constitutes peoples’ lived histories differently. Finally, critical pedagogy illuminates the primacy of the ethical and the political in defining the language that teachers and others use to produce particular cultural practices, especially as these link the challenge of providing the conditions of individual and social agency with the expanding and deepening of democratic public life.