Review of the Critical Pedagogy Reader

critCritical Pedagogy as an educational philosophy refers to education that advocates the liberation of oppressed communities through developing a critical consciousness among teachers and students so that they are able to critically interrogate the inter-relationships between culture, economics, ideology and power.  Critical Pedagogy concerns transforming theoretical and practical ways of doing education in order to work towards eliminating social inequalities and social injustices.  Many of you may have heard of Paulo Freire, one of the famous proponents of critical pedagogy; the book contains essential readings by influential advocates of critical pedagogy like Freire, as well as bell hooks, Gloria Ladson-Billings and Henry Giroux.

The second edition of the Critical Pedagogy Reader provides an updated in-depth and definitive approach to highlighting key issues in promoting educational practice that is critical of hegemonic mainstream policies, and thus is very useful for researchers of social sciences, in particular educational research, as well as beginning and experienced teachers who wish to teach their students to critique dominant assumptions that affect their schooling and everyday life. The essays chosen by the editors highlight the significance of critique, critical interrogation and critical consciousness through discussion of key intersectional issues of identity such as social class, gender and race, and the impact upon the theory and practice of educationalists. There is also a much needed discussion of disability as a social construct, just like race and gender.  Moreover we gain knowledge of the significance of dialogue in critical pedagogy, dialogue as critical consciousness and dialogue as collaborative form of communication.

The comprehensive introductory section usefully provides a socio-historical outline of how critical pedagogical thought emerged as well as useful detailed definitions of key terminology in the field of critical pedagogy: we learn about the necessity of understanding how hegemony works to keep some in society comfortable in their positions of power and privilege, as well as the interconnected relationship between hegemony, discourse and ideology. Definitions of concepts that need to be urgently deconstructed are provided for the reader, for example class and culture and its variant forms.

As well as referring to race, gender, sexuality and social class, the book provides us with an understanding of the notion of critical literacy which is one of the pillars of critical pedagogy required for its successful exploration.  We learn about how language and literature can be used to engage students to become critical readers and writers.   There is also a section on teacher training that outlines the crucial site of teacher education in empowering teachers to be critical of dominant social structures. Towards the end of the book, we learn about critical pedagogy beyond the classroom motivating teachers and students to interrogate other public institutions, for example the mainstream media.  Further the essay on Ecopedagogy gives insight into the challenges and solutions of environmental literacy and ecoliteracy, encouraging us to apply concepts of critical pedagogy to diverse areas that are increasingly crucial to the future of our world.

Throughout the book the theme of empowerment is evident: we are given insight into how to empower our students through the curriculum, classroom practices and beyond the confines of the classroom environment in order for them to become critical citizens.  We are able to read about the essays of educationalists who have illustrated personal critical pedagogy visions and actions through theoretical reflections of practical endeavours. The Critical Pedagogy Reader would be an authoritative, accessible and beneficial read for anyone who wishes to learn more about the key concepts, applications and theories of critical pedagogy without being overwhelmed because all the necessary terminology is explained thoroughly and clearly.  Researchers of Education and trainee teachers will be able to gain perspectives from a wide range of authentic voices in the area of critical pedagogy.

The strengths of the book are that the essays are scholarly and contemporary, but the history of critical pedagogy is evident in the background. The book is a massive contribution to the field of critical pedagogy, for as well as reminding us of classic writings of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, it succeeds in bringing new debates and definitions to the forefront of our minds.  The book contains questions for reflection and dialogue that you can ponder over yourself or use with your students or colleagues. The editors have structured the book neatly and thematically making it easy for the reader to navigate through a well-organised text. Each section is preceded by a summary of the main essays allowing for an overview of the key arguments proposed throughout each of the sections, also each section is concluded with a helpful list of recommended readings for future study providing more research sources for anyone wishing to delve further into critical pedagogy theory and practice.

Sadia Habib is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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