The Art of Critical Pedagogy: The Possibilities of Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools to be published by Peter Lang in 2008!
My fourth book, co-authored with my lifelong comrade Jeff Duncan-Andrade was released in early 2008 by Peter Lang. The book has been published in the series Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education, edited by Shirley Steinberg and Joe Kincheloe. The book is available at amazon.com and Peter Lang. You can also find the book online through Barnes and Noble and many other booksellers!
The Art of Critical Pedagogy: The Possibilities of Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools
A Forthcoming Book Written by
Jeffrey M. Duncan-Andrade, Ph.D.
San Francisco State
Ernest Morrell, Ph.D.
There has been much discussion concerning critical pedagogy and its practical applications for urban contexts in the generation following the publication of such works as Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Henry Giroux’s (1983) and Peter McLaren’s Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy and the Foundations of Education (1989). This book addresses two looming, yet under-explored questions that have emerged with the ascendancy of critical pedagogy in the educational discourse:
What does critical pedagogy look like in work with urban youth? And;
How does critical work enacted in urban contexts simultaneously draw upon and push the core tenets of critical pedagogy?
The book reports from theoretically informed, inquiry-based practice that is a direct response to Freire’s (1997) call for critical and reflective journaling of the pedagogical process. As the authors have engaged in a thinking of their theoretically-inspired practice, they have developed a text that challenges and reconsiders critical theories of teaching in urban contexts through the examination of actual practices with urban youth. This book addresses several inherent tensions to enacting a critical practice in traditional institutionalized settings such as the tension between working to disrupt oppressive structures and working to successfully navigate oppressive structures. It also addresses tensions surrounding the role of the urban teacher in critical pedagogy and the tensions of enacting critical pedagogies within the current, standards-driven climate. The authors do not claim to resolve these tensions, yet, by naming and exploring them and, seek to generate authentic internal and external dialogues among educators who mine the educational discourse in search of texts that offer guidance for teaching for a more socially just world.
Critical pedagogists, drawing upon social and critical educational theory and cultural studies, examine schools both in their historical context and as part of the existing social and political fabric that characterizes the dominant society (Bartolome, 1994; McLaren, 1989). Critical pedagogists also draw inspiration from the work of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Although differences exist these pedagogists are united in their objectives to empower the marginalized and transform existing social inequalities and injustices. A major task of critical pedagogy has been to disclose and challenge the role schools play in political and cultural life. Especially within the last decade, critical pedagogists have come to view schooling as a resolutely political and cultural enterprise.
McLaren (1989) asserts that critical pedagogy is simultaneously concerned with the details of what students and others might do together and the cultural politics such practices support. Critical educational theorists, he claims, have responded to the New Right by arguing that the increasing adoption of management-type pedagogies and accountability schemes to meet the logic of market demands has resulted in policy proposals that actively promote the deskilling of teachers. Critical educational theorists stress that any genuine pedagogical practice demands a commitment to social transformation in solidarity with subordinated and marginalized groups. Critical pedagogies, then, challenge the assumption that schools function as major sites of social and economic mobility. Proponents of these pedagogies suggest that schooling must be analyzed as a cultural and historical process in which select groups are positioned within asymmetrical relations of power on the basis of specific race, class, and gender groupings.
Critical pedagogies can provide teachers and researchers with a better means of understanding the role that schools actually play within a race, class, and gender divided society. In this effort, theorists have generated categories or concepts for questioning student experiences, texts, teacher ideologies, and aspects of school policy that conservative and liberal analyses too often leave unexplored.
Further, critical pedagogists would like to pry theories away from the academics and incorporate them in educational practice. They set out to “relativize” schools as normalizing agencies, as agencies that essentially legitimate existing social relations and practices, rendering them normal and natural--by dismantling and rearranging the artificial rules and codes that make up classroom reality (McLaren, 1989).
An important mentor to McLaren and many of the critical pedagogists in the United States was the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Freire (1970) juxtaposes the banking metaphor for education against his recommended problem-posing education. Freire identifies several characteristics of banking education: the teacher teaches and the students are taught, the teacher knows everything and the student knows nothing, the teacher talks and the students listen (etc.). The interests of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them. For the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more they can be dominated. The solution is not to integrate them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become beings for themselves. In problem-posing education, through dialogue the teachers and students negotiate the process of learning in the classroom around solving problems that exist. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge becomes logos rather than doxa. Problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity—that is the cultural histories of the marginalized peoples—as a starting point.
Shor (1992) combines critical educational theorists such as Freire, Giroux, and Dewey with Piaget's theories of learning and development that advocate a reciprocal relationship between teacher and student (as opposed to teachers merely transferring knowledge to students via lecture) to analyze the impact of critical pedagogy and empowering education on classroom practices. Empowering education, as Shor defines it, is a critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change. It is a student-centered program for multicultural democracy in school and society. It approaches individual growth as an active, cooperative, and social process, because the self and society create each other. Teaching, according to Shor, is not a neutral act. A curriculum that avoids questioning school and society is not, as is commonly supposed, politically neutral. It cuts off the students' development as critical thinkers about their world. According to Shor, there are eight values of empowering education: participatory, affective, situated, problem-posing, multicultural, dialogic, desocializing, and democratic learning.
Empowering Education provides an explicit critique of what Shor terms traditional education: It suppresses instead of develops skills and intellectual interests; it relegates students to positions of powerlessness setting them up to accept powerlessness as adults; it fails to acknowledge the strengths and cultures and prior knowledge of the students; and it gives teachers the ultimate authority. It encourages disconnect and alienation from the curriculum and schooling. It promotes failure for a large segment of the population, facilitates cultural and social reproduction, and doesn't accurately measure cognitive skills. Shor's work also points to the difficulties that emergent critical educators may face, provides strategies for dealing with these challenges, and advocates for empowering educators to become classroom researchers as well.
It is important to acknowledge that critical pedagogy has at least as many critics as proponents in the educational community. From the conservative right to self proclaimed radicals, critical pedagogists have been derided for being overly idealistic and theoretical (Ravitch, 2000) or for promoting pedagogy that de-emphasized the role of the educator in imparting important skills that the poor and students of color must learn if they are to be successful in K-12 and postsecondary education. Delpit (1987, 1988, 1995) claims that it is racist to not teach students of color the skills that they need to get into and succeed in college. She critiques “open and progressive” education that does not teach students how to write a sentence. Delpit recalls her early years as a teacher in Philadelphia during the early 1970s. Her attempts to employ a student-empowering pedagogy only allowed her students to continually lag behind their white and wealthy counterparts attending school in the suburbs. Her students did not improve until she decided to explicitly teach them the skills that they needed to access and navigate the culture of power. From her research, Delpit has surmised that many white progressive educators think that they are freeing students of color from a racist educational system by allowing them to express themselves without learning to read, write, or speak Standard English. Delpit argues that these students will not be able to enter the mainstream of society without these skills.
Delpit’s comments must be taken seriously by any educators who plan to use critical theory to engage urban youth. We must resist the urge to only focus on the emergence of critical consciousness without finding ways to link this consciousness to the development of academic skills. For this reason, this study has simultaneously focused on academic and critical literacies in an attempt to link critical consciousness with academic skill development.
It is also important, however, to be critical of stances that are themselves somewhat uncritical of the existence of schools as mechanisms of social reproduction. Teaching poor urban students of color to think and act, and speak like wealthy, suburban, and white students is not going to ensure success for those students. Also, an uncritical approach could be dangerous to students’ sense of self to the extent that it is uncritical of the status quo in education and fails to make explicit the dominant hegemony of schooling. Such critical discourse, however, should seek to transform identities and empower previously oppressed students as it seeks to promote critical reading and writing skills. Further, critical educators should work to create curricula that illuminate the culture of power while also honoring the tradition of cultural studies, which seeks to represent those cultures that have been marginalized by the culture of power.
Both Duncan-Andrade and Morrell have worked for over a decade with urban teens where they have attempted to incorporate their understanding of critical pedagogy in classroom and non-school settings with this group. These attempts have included: a high school English classroom that included elements of popular culture to develop social critique; a women’s varsity basketball program that used sports to develop literacy, self-esteem, and a commitment to social action; a summer research seminar that taught urban teens to conduct critical research projects on issues of importance to urban schools and communities, and a college access program for students of color who were alienated and left out at a bimodal high school.
The primary method of investigation for this book is a comparative ethnographic approach. Duncan-Andrade and Morrell combine data from four major ethnographic studies conducted over a ten-year period working with teens in urban contexts where each of the authors worked as participant observers. The minimum involvement with any of these projects is two years. With several of these projects, Duncan-Andrade and Morrell were able to work collaboratively over a number of years. These data sets include:
A six-year data set of English teaching at an urban high school in Northern California. Both Duncan-Andrade and Morrell were teachers at the high school during this period. The period covered by this data set includes 1994 to 1999. Data include: videotaped classroom sessions, field notes, lesson plans, interviews with students, and multiple samples of student work including notes, essays, poems, and presentations.
A six-year data set from a varsity women’s basketball program run at an urban high school in Northern California. Morrell was involved with this program for three years and Duncan-Andrade for all six. The data set covers the period from 1996 to 2001 and includes field notes, interviews, student work, and achievement and college-going data for the participants.
A four-year data set that covers a summer research seminar working with urban teens in the greater Los Angeles area. The seminar brought together urban teachers, students and parents to participate in critical research projects related to issues of concern to urban schools and communities. The period covered by this data set includes the summers from 1999-2002. Morrell co-directed the program for all four years. Duncan-Andrade worked in this program for one of the summers. Data for this set include: videotaped classroom sessions, videotapes of students involved in critical research projects, field notes, interviews with students, teachers, parents and researchers, and collections of student work including: research projects, notebooks, journals, and final essays.
A two-year data set from a college access project working with urban students of color attending a diverse bi-modal high school where they had been historically alienated and disenfranchised. Morrell worked with this program from the spring of 1999 until the spring of 2001 when the focal participants graduated from the high school.
Ernest Morrell, Ph.D.
1015 Gayley Ave. Suite #1115
Los Angeles, CA 90024 firstname.lastname@example.org