by Sadia Habib
Henry A Giroux. 2013. On Critical Pedagogy, New York: Bloomsbury
On Critical Pedagogy by Henry A. Giroux is a collection of essays providing engaging, confident and hopeful insights, as well as “an important set of theoretical tools” enabling contemporary ways to benefit from critical pedagogies, particularly “in dark times” of neoliberal economics and socio-politics adversely affecting culture and pedagogies (p3). Democracy needs education, and more than that Giroux argues, democratic societies benefit from “citizens who are critical, self-reflective, knowledgeable, and willing to make moral judgements and act in a socially responsible way” (p3).
Critical pedagogy is a “theoretical and political practice”, not just a teaching technique (p3). Critical pedagogy sees social inequalities and injustices as impacting upon the lives of ordinary people, and thus, crucially provides hope and possibility for oppressed and marginalised communities (Freire, 2000, Freire and Freire, 2004, Darder et al., 2009, Apple et al., 2009, Giroux, 2013). Critical pedagogy “represents a transformational educational response to institutional and ideological domination, especially under capitalism” (Gruenewald, 2003:4).
Schools are sites where hegemony is perpetuated through teachers and students (Apple, 2013, Giroux, 2013). Critical pedagogues recognise resistance is possible – students can challenge hegemonic practices through complex modes of agency and resistance (Giroux, 2001, Anyon, 2011). Critiquing of curriculum and pedagogy can disrupt hegemony and challenge the “invisibility… of subjugated knowledges”(Edgeworth, 2014:38).
Educationalists witness growing neoliberal education philosophies producing non-autonomous state subjects, rather than critical citizens (Di Leo et al., 2014). Classrooms and curriculums too frequently serve to “function as modes of social, political and cultural reproduction” by utilising banking methods, rote and transmission teaching, and through instilling “a culture of conformity and the passive absorption of knowledge” (p5). Such passive pedagogies contribute to the construction of a docile and unresisting student, who in turn will become a citizen in the same submissive mould:
Students learn to be passive or cynical in classes that transfer facts, skills, or values without meaningful connection to their needs, interests or community cultures. To teach skills and information without relating them to society and to the students’ contexts turns education into an authoritarian transfer of official words, a process that severely limits student development as democratic citizens (Shor, 1992:18).
In pressing need of a radical solution, we seek to enhance our philosophies and practices of education with “an enobling, imaginative vision”(p5). We can look to critical pedagogues and their philosophies of education: the argument for the relatively new concept of critical pedagogy, influenced by Paulo Freire, is that it is “ethically responsible to scrutinize, challenge, and oppose people, structures, and systems that oppress and dehumanize”(Kirylo, 2013:xix), and to challenge mechanisms of oppression in order to demand equal opportunities to participate in the world.
Giroux’s book highlights the ways critical pedagogy provides essential tools to reflect and act upon social struggles and social problems in specific contexts with local communities and students inhabiting these local places. For the educational researcher, critical pedagogy, as a theory, helps us ask necessary questions needed to better understand the social world (Kincheloe and McLaren, 2002). Teaching and learning “entails judgements about what knowledge counts, legitimates specific social relations, defines agency in particular ways, and always presupposes a particular notion of the future”(p6). We can ensure students and teachers become critical agents if they begin to interrogate commonsense assumptions about the nature of legitimate knowledge, social relations, and ideologies (Giroux, 2013). Critical pedagogy encourages students to use their counter-narratives to “critique the world in which they live and, when necessary, to intervene in socially responsible ways in order to change it”(p14).
Section II Pedagogy as Cultural Politics introduces differing views on knowledge production – is it teachers who are uncritical or is it the system that dominates the ways they teach? Some argue teachers are not engaging in critical deconstruction of dominant assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning, whilst others state social control results in policies and practices being imposed upon powerless teachers (Giroux, 2013). We also learn about the “death of history” (p20) and “depoliticizing education through historical amnesia” (p30).
Giroux outlines how the culture of positivism has greatly impacted upon social studies and classroom pedagogies (p31). He then draws upon the works of Gramsci to emphasise connections, in education and wider society, between cultural hegemony and political ideologies. Giroux provides us with hope and possibility about social transformation and democratization through the “promise of critical pedagogy” (p69) by discussing the “responsibility of teachers as public intellectuals”, as well as critical pedagogies in the classroom (p73).
Section III Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth brings forth neoliberal ideas about commodification and disposability, as well as their impact upon youth identities. We are urged to “reclaim” Higher Education:
“one of the few sites left in which students learn the knowledge and skills that enable them not only to mediate critically between democratic values and the demands of corporate power and the national security state, but also to distinguish between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive , unbridled individualism that celebrate self-interest, profit-making, militarism, and greed” (p100).
Thus leading us towards a “politics of educated hope” (p120). Section IV Neoliberalism, Public Pedagogy, and the Legacy of Paulo Freire develops Freirean thought on possibility and hope by outlining his promise of critical pedagogy. Section V Does Critical Pedagogy Have a Future? is an interview of Giroux by Manuela Guilherme summarising Giroux’s engaging principles and notions of critical pedagogy possibilities.
Critical pedagogy is “a position that threatens right-wing private advocacy groups, neoconservative politicians, and conservative extremists” (p158). It may never have occurred to some students, and teachers, to question the status quo, to interrogate prevailing ideologies that serve to privilege the elite, to challenge media/political narratives that perpetuate hegemony. Students may need to explicitly explore their situationality through the problem-posing education, advocated by Freire (2000), developing critical consciousness in order to better grasp how social institutions control and repress communities.
Education should not be about creating subservient automatons unwilling to rise up to transform social injustices pervading local, national and globalised space. Education needs to inspire and enable students to grow in confidence to critique the social order that subjugates social beings perceiving them as the “other”. Critical pedagogy gives students space to be more than “merely disengaged spectators” (p13) as they come to understand their multiple and diverse relationships with the social world. Critical pedagogy emphasises “critical analysis, moral judgements, and social responsibility”, going “to the very heart of what it means to address real inequalities of power at the social level and to conceive of education as a project for freedom” (p158). Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy is highly recommended for all pedagogues who are keen to counter the negativities of neoliberal ideologies in educational sites and practices by guiding their students towards criticality and alterative futures.
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Sadia Habib is a Phd candidate in Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.