Social Justice Usage
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 90.
Instead of radical pedagogy, a term largely associated with the economic reductionism that he critiqued, Giroux sought to develop a critical pedagogy, an approach to education that, on the one hand, rooted itself in the critical Marxist tradition’s conception of the power of human agency and in its theoretical analysis of ideology and culture, and on the other hand, embraced, counter to the position of many in the Marxist tradition, the possibility of social reform and the realization of democratic socialism through complete engagement with the liberal public sphere and thus the institutions, including the modes of production, of the liberal nation-state. For Giroux, critical pedagogy was not a project committed to revolutionary Marxism, an intellectual and political tradition that deeply influenced Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; rather, critical pedagogy was a project committed to socialism through radical reform.
Source: Aronowitz & Giroux, 1985, p. 216, as quoted in: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, pp. 89–90.
A critical pedagogy, then, would focus on the study of curriculum not merely as a matter of self-cultivation or the mimicry of specific forms of language and knowledge. On the contrary, it would stress forms of learning and knowledge aimed at providing a critical understanding of how social reality works, it would focus on how certain dimensions of such a reality are sustained, it would focus on the nature of its formative processes, and it would also focus on how those aspects of it that are related to the logic of domination can be changed.
New Discourses Commentary
Critical pedagogy is the application of critical theory to and in education. To help unravel what’s contained in critical pedagogy—which is one of the most important concepts in Critical Social Justice—we should begin by noting that “pedagogy” means “theory of education.” Critical pedagogy therefore includes at least two related things at once: applying critical theory to the theory of education itself and making education be about teaching critical theory. In the shortest summary, critical pedagogy is a school of thought that is about making education be about instruction in critical theory in an attempt to make the goal of education be to awaken a critical consciousness in students and teachers (and, perhaps, also to achieve equity in education, i.e., radical equality of outcomes—see also, wokeness).
Though it’s best not to center the story of critical pedagogy on him, that story really begins with the Brazilian post-Marxist educator Paulo Freire, whose most famous book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is presently considered something like foundational canon in nearly every school of education and pre-service teacher-education program in North America (and well beyond). The goal of this book is to make clear that education should include raising a critical consciousness to the oppression faced by students, particularly in the legitimately oppressive context in which they lived and learned in Brazil in the 1970s and earlier.
Other foundational scholars include Michael Apple in the 1970s and, most notably, Henry Giroux, who found Freire’s work to justify his own approach to education while indicating to him just how profound the potential for radical, revolutionary, and liberatory change is within education. Giroux is widely credited with coining the term “critical pedagogy,” and despite the significance of Freire and the earlier work of Apple, he is considered the father of the school of thought. Giroux can also be credited with taking the post-Marxist thought found in Freire and weaving in various elements of continental philosophy, including neo-Marxist critical theory and postmodern/poststructuralist theory. This work was developed further by the late Joe Kincheloe, whose programs on critical pedagogy have more or less led directly and by design to the “decolonize” curricula movements currently sweeping Critical Social Justice educational movements.
Critical pedagogy seems to have been an instrumental part of how critical theory and, subsequently, (applied) postmodern Theory have managed to mainstream themselves. Colleges of education have been under the sway of this line of thought for some time, and more than a generation of students have now been raised and educated with critical pedagogy playing some, if not a significant, role in their education. Because of the desire, even need, to wed Theory to praxis within education, as education is simultaneously theoretical and applicable at once, critical pedagogy has been a very effective site for Theory to become more practical and applicable and for this point of view to be taught (as a truth) to students.
Critical pedagogy is, as one might expect, a very broad subject, not least in that it has been developing at least since the late 1970s and somewhat earlier and because it can apply to the teaching of anything. Theoretically now, it is very interested in a variety of topics, particularly what might be described as a “critical constructivist epistemology” (as Joe Kincheloe termed it) as well as means of overcoming resistance to a critical education. The first of these is interested in how systems of power influence how knowledge(s) are produced, legitimated, and understood (see also, hegemony), and the second is concerned with ways in which a critical consciousness can be taught, including by being forced upon people who aren’t interested in it and who reject it. In this regard, many of the more concerning elements coming out of critical whiteness studies owe a great deal to the effort to apply that set of ideas within education.
Under the banner of the first of these objectives—critical constructivist epistemology—we have a strong adherence to social constructivism, which posits that the ways in which ideas and phenomena (especially knowledge, status as a knower, ways of knowing, etc.) are ultimately social constructions that need to be interrogated by means of the methods of critical theory. This strong adherence should not be mistaken for a recognition that there is relevance to understanding many phenomena in terms of how it can be regarded a social construction. It refers to something much stronger: that the most relevant feature of these phenomena is that they are socially constructed (which can be read as almost, but not quite, synonymous with “arbitrary,” thus, “capable of being made different”) and learned through socialization (see also, hegemony). A multitude of specialized concepts exists to Theorize these ideas, including epistemic injustice, testimonial injustice, hermeneutical injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence, to name a set of closely interrelated few.
This epistemological approach is then engaged in praxis through tools like “critical hope,” which is kind of the opposite of hope (as it is the “hope” that comes from engaging critically with the despair induced by systemic power), and, ominously, the “pedagogy of discomfort.” This latter idea posits that students must be made to feel discomfort and left to rest in that discomfort if they are to reckon with, confront, and eventually become genuinely critical of their privilege. This discomfort is, in fact, Theorized to be a necessary component in getting students to confront privilege, which is heavily Theorized as being naturally resistant to being confronted through critical methods (see also, internalized dominance, white comfort, white complicity, white equilibrium, white fragility, white innocence, white ignorance, white silence, white solidarity, white talk, white women’s tears, colortalk, racial contract, aversive racism, racial stress, racial humility, racial stamina, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, and privilege-preserving epistemic pushback). The goal of this sadistic approach to educating is to induce a perverted form of epistemic friction that is necessary to open up space for new learning. These are the tools relevant to the second of these banners—overcoming students’ resistance to a critical “education.”
Practically, critical pedagogy is concerned primarily with two interrelated facets relevant to praxis in education: culturally sensitive and/or responsive education models and educational equity. Both of these are offered as potential remedies to achievement gaps in educational outcomes (particularly racial ones). It is usually in this context that we hear about the now-ubiquitous trio of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
To briefly summarize, the first of these two objectives is to make education more “culturally relevant,” humble, inclusive, and accessible to students within a multicultural setting (see also, racial knowledge), often by attempting to incorporate cultural elements (like rap—see also, cultural appropriation, tokenize, and essentialism), changing educational standards (see also, linguistic justice and research justice), or changing disciplinary standards (e.g., reducing the number of school suspensions because black students are disproportionately suspended). All of these approaches rely upon the highly unlikely assumptions that (1) systemic racism (or other forms of systemic bigotry) is approximately defined by the existence of any achievement gaps in outcomes and (2) adjusting circumstances so these outcomes do not occur will remedy the underlying issues that might actually be causing them. That is, for (1) the existence of a gap is treated as proof-positive evidence of systemic racism in such close relationship that the existence of such gaps can often be taken as the functional definition of systemic racism (when not talking about cultural racism or “new racism”). Hopefully, the profoundly backwards reasoning in (2) is apparent without further elaboration.
The second of these objectives—equity in education—is similar. In fact, many of the points raised above are considered integral to achieving equity in education, although some critical pedagogists (e.g., Rochelle Gutierrez, speaking about mathematics education—see also, white mathematics) have remarked that perhaps equity isn’t enough and what is needed instead is a revolution in how we teach. Equity, very roughly, means “equality of outcomes” and more specifically means adjusting shares in a system so that its participants are made to be equal (see also, equality). This, too, will be determined by doing whatever it takes—at whatever cost in terms of genuine academic and learning attainment for any or all groups—to make sure that there are no achievement gaps in attainment.
One tool that is sometimes employed in service of “equitable” education initiatives is called the progressive stack. This was an activist approach originally employed during the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and it amounts to consulting the intersectional hierarchy of positionality (see also, Matrix of Domination) to determine people’s relative levels of privilege and then granting access to opportunities and resources in a way that attempts to make up for those disparities—rather like a golfing handicap. For example, under a progressive stack, those students deemed to be the most oppressed will be allowed to speak preferentially and given more of the teacher’s time, attention, and help, and those who are deemed to be the most privileged will have to wait until last, if they are welcome to any resources at all beyond being present (see also, shut up and listen).
1619 Project; Active ignorance; Applied postmodernism; Aversive racism; Colortalk; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical hope; Critical Theory; Cultural appropriation; Cultural humility; Cultural responsiveness; Cultural sensitivity; Decolonize; Diversity; Domination; Epistemic friction; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equality; Equity; Essentialism; Hegemony; Hermeneutical injustice; Inclusion; Internalized dominance; Intersectionality; Knower; Knowledge(s); Legitimate; Liberationism; Linguistic justice; Matrix of Domination; Multiculturalism; Neo-Marxism; Oppression; Pedagogy of discomfort; Pernicious ignorance; Positionality; Post-Marxism; Postmodern; Poststructuralism; Praxis; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Progressive stack; Race; Racial contract; Racial humility; Racial knowledge; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Radical; Research justice; Resistance; Revolution; Shut up and listen; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Socialization; Testimonial injustice; Theory; Tokenize; Truth; Ways of knowing; White comfort; White complicity; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White silence; White solidarity; White talk; White women’s tears; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Wokeness
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, pp. 13–14.
Following this tradition, Freire’s conceptualization of what it means to be critical emerged out of the ontological position that there is an objective reality that is created and can thus be transformed by humans: Dehumanization is not a historical fact. “Just as objective social reality exists not by chance, but as a product of human action,” wrote Freire, “so it is not transformed by chance. If humankind produce social reality (which in the ‘inversion of the praxis’ turns back upon them and conditions them) then transforming that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity” (Freire, 1970e, p. 36). Once objective reality is acknowledged, dehumanization can be recognized or unveiled, reflected upon, and acted against. This is reflected in Freire’s oft cited definition of “praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 36).
For Freire, praxis, which he often referred to as a “critical intervention,” must take place between the oppressed and those in solidarity with the oppressed. This is because those of the oppressor class who are in solidarity with the oppressed are uniquely in a position to help the oppressed recognize the objective reality of dehumanization. Thus, although only the oppressed can most fully understand their oppression and, therefore, must be the historical force of their own liberation, dehumanization is so internalized among the oppressed through oppression that it is difficult for the oppressed to recognize that dehumanization is not an historical and unchangeable fact.
The pedagogy of the oppressed is thus a dialogue between the oppressed and those in solidarity with the oppressed meant to help “the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation” (p. 40). For Freire, this “co-intentional” “educational project”—both “teachers and students (leadership and people)” as subjects working to transform the world through “common reflection and action” (pp. 53, 56) in a setting distinct from “systemic education” (p. 40)—was essential for organizing the oppressed and creating a revolutionary theory of liberation, which must always retain an “eminently pedagogical character” (pp. 53–54). As he wrote in the conclusion to his second HER article “Cultural Action and Conscientization”: “To be authentic, revolution must be a continuous event, otherwise it will cease to be a revolution, and will become sclerotic bureaucracy” (Freire, 1970a, p. 51).
For Freire, being critical thus meant recognizing oppression, acting against it, doing so in solidarity with others who seek revolutionary change, and doing so continuously. It is this critical educational process that Pedagogy of the Oppressed articulates as the most important feature of constructing movements for radical social change.
Source: Bailey, Alison. “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes.” Hypatia, 32(4), 2017: 876–892, pp. 881–882.
Philosophers of education have long made the distinction between critical thinking and critical pedagogy. Both literatures appeal to the value of being “critical” in the sense that instructors should cultivate in students a more cautious approach to accepting common beliefs at face value. Both traditions share the concern that learners generally lack the ability to spot inaccurate, misleading, incomplete, or blatantly false claims. They also share a sense that learning a particular set of critical skills has a corrective, humanizing, and liberatory effect. The traditions, however, part ways over their definition of “critical.” Nicholas C. Burbules and Rupert Berk’s comparison of the traditions provides a useful background for my discussion in the next section. The critical-thinking tradition is concerned primarily with epistemic adequacy. To be critical is to show good judgment in recognizing when arguments are faulty, assertions lack evidence, truth claims appeal to unreliable sources, or concepts are sloppily crafted and applied. For critical thinkers, the problem is that people fail to “examine the assumptions, commitments, and logic of daily life… the basic problem is irrational, illogical, and unexamined living” (Burbules and Berk 1999, 46). In this tradition sloppy claims can be identified and fixed by learning to apply the tools of formal and informal logic correctly.
Critical pedagogy begins from a different set of assumptions rooted in the neo-Marxian literature on critical theory commonly associated with the Frankfurt School. Here, the critical learner is someone who is empowered and motivated to seek justice and emancipation. Critical pedagogy regards the claims that students make in response to social-justice issues not as propositions to be assessed for their truth value, but as expressions of power that function to re-inscribe and perpetuate social inequalities. Its mission is to teach students ways of identifying and mapping how power shapes our understandings of the world. This is the first step toward resisting and transforming social injustices. By interrogating the politics of knowledge-production, this tradition also calls into question the uses of the accepted critical-thinking toolkit to determine epistemic adequacy. To extend Audre Lorde’s classic metaphor, the tools of the critical-thinking tradition (for example, validity, soundness, conceptual clarity) cannot dismantle the master’s house: they can temporarily beat the master at his own game, but they can never bring about any enduring structural change (Lorde 1984, 112). They fail because the critical thinker’s toolkit is commonly invoked in particular settings, at particular times to reassert power: those adept with the tools often use them to restore an order that assures their comfort. They can be habitually invoked to defend our epistemic home terrains.
The line between these traditions is not hard and fast, and I concede that there are times when these traditions can work well together to navigate difficult questions. But I’m adamant that philosophical engagements on issues of social justice must simultaneously track the production of knowledge and ignorance. Teaching social-justice issues requires an attentiveness not only to the ways students take up course content, but also to the strategies they use to resist it. I neither want to encourage nor silence student resistance. I want to make its operations visible by tracking the movements on the unlevel knowing field.
Source: hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994, pp. 41–42.
Just as it may be difficult for professors to shift their paradigms, it is equally difficult for students. I have always believed that students should enjoy learning. Yet I found that there was much more tension in the diverse classroom setting where the philosophy of teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy and (in my case) in feminist critical pedagogy. The presence of tension—and at times even conflict—often meant that students did not enjoy my classes or love me, their professor, as I secretly wanted them to do. Teaching in a traditional discipline from the perspective of critical pedagogy means that I often encounter students who make complaints like, “I thought this was supposed to be an English class, why are we talking so much about feminism?” (Or, they might add, race or class.) In the transformed classroom there is often a much greater need to explain philosophy, strategy, intent than in the “norm” setting. I have found through the years that many of my students who bitch endlessly while they are taking my classes contact me at a later date to talk about how much that experience meant to them, how much they learned. In my professorial role I had to surrender my need for immediate affirmation of successful teaching (even though some reward is immediate) and accept that students may not appreciate the value of a certain standpoint or process straightaway. The exciting aspect of creating a classroom community where there is respect for individual voices is that there is infinitely more feedback because students do feel free to talk—and talk back. And, yes, often this feedback is critical. Moving away from the need for immediate affirmation was crucial to my growth as a teacher. I learned to respect that shifting paradigms or sharing knowledge in new ways challenges; it takes time for students to experience that challenge as positive.
Source: hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994, p. 152.
Absolutely. That’s a point I keep making in my pedagogy essays over and over again. In much feminist scholarship criticizing critical pedagogy, there is an attack on the notion of the classroom as a space where students are empowered. Yet the classroom should be a space where we’re all in power in different ways. That means we professors should be empowered by our interactions with students. In my books I try to show how much my work is influenced by what students say in the classroom, what they do, what they express to me. Along with them I grow intellectually, developing sharper understandings of how to share knowledge and what to do in my participatory role with students. This is one of the primary differences between education as a practice of freedom and the conservative banking system which encourages professors to believe deep down in the core of their being that they have nothing to learn from their students.
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 6.
In Chapter 4, I argue that critical pedagogy emerged as a specific post-Marxist project in the work of Henry Giroux in the late 1970s and 1980s. This argument counters the dominant narrative, also discussed in Chapter 1, which centers Paulo Freire in the emergence of critical pedagogy. In recognition of the specificity of Giroux’s project, I argue that critical scholars should proceed carefully and judiciously in using the term ‘critical pedagogy’ as a descriptor of their work.
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, pp. 75–76.
In Giroux’s eyes, Freire is the primary influence on both his thinking and the development of critical educational studies. Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, goes the common narrative, and critical pedagogy was born. The narrative is powerful, as is Freire’s work, and it is also grounded in much truth. But the narrative is also overly simplistic and not altogether accurate.
This chapter challenges the common narrative of Freire as the originator of critical pedagogy. Instead, the chapter charts how critical pedagogy gradually emerged as a specific educational project in Giroux’s work in the 1970s and 1980s. A term that Giroux popularized, if not coined, critical pedagogy was distinct from Freire’s critical educational project in two significant ways. First, as noted in Chapter 1, Freire’s approach focused on the role of education in building social movements in post-colonial contexts. Giroux, however, attempted to theorize the relationship between schools and society and the possibilities of schools as sites of radical democratic social reform in Western nation-states. Second, as also noted in Chapter 1, Freire was politically grounded in Marxist revolutionary thought. Giroux, however, adopted a distinctly post-Marxist political position; he was deeply influenced by the radical scholarship of the 1970s and 1980s that, though retaining Marxist language (e.g., ideology and hegemony), embraced liberal conceptions of the public sphere, citizenship, and the nation-state.
Locating the emergence of critical pedagogy in Giroux’s scholarship has significant implications for how we understand both the history of critical educational scholarship and our contemporary critical work. Giroux’s post-Marxist position became the norm for critical scholars in the United States. Though Marxist in intellectual orientation because of the continued grounding in critical Marxist thought, in the 1980s and 1990s, the politics of critical pedagogy moved away from the call for radical reconstruction, if not revolution, that permeated Marxist thought in the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, during the 1980s and 1990s the social analysis of critical pedagogy moved away from an engagement with political economy and toward cultural critique and post-structuralist conversations about power that centered more on discursive deconstructions than structural interrogations. Acknowledging this historical shift in educational theory and radical thought more generally is an important step in clarifying our own political positions and our understandings of how context pushes and pulls our thinking about possible and desirable political action. It is also a necessary theoretical move because it forces us to reflect on the intellectual and political traditions, and thus core commitments and ideas, that underpin our critical analytical tools. Marxist thought may be an intellectual and political foundation for critical pedagogy, but it is by no means the only one, and, for work labeled critical pedagogy from the late 1980s to the present, it may not even be the most significant.
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 71.
While perhaps not Apple’s only intellectual shift, his turn to Gramsci and the NSE, both of which helped him articulate the concrete, paved the way for his future work, and also made a notable impact on the field writ large. It helped carve a path for the emergence of critical educational scholarship by offering critical educational studies a language (e.g., hegemony and the word ‘ideology’ itself), providing it with one of its most revered theoretical guides (Gramsci), and helping it develop a sharp tone of political engagement. As Jean Anyon (2011) noted about Ideology, “Apple strongly urged us to challenge curricular and organizational forms in education that legitimate and reproduce hegemony. His challenge was an important step in the development of critical pedagogy by U.S. scholars working in a neo-Marxist tradition” (pp. 34–35).
Now in its third edition, which includes two new chapters, Ideology continues to make a mark on the field (Apple, 2004). It is still read in courses on curriculum theory and social theories of education, and it remains frequently cited in educational scholarship. Examining the intellectual history of Ideology is thus important. Not only does it offer insight into the contexts and traditions that underpin many of the ideas our current critical scholarship both embraces and struggles with, it offers us a reflective window into our own theoretical work. For instance, what might we see if we read Williams alongside Ideology’s introduction or if we read Gramsci alongside both? What if we read Gouldner alongside the reframed version of “The Hidden Curriculum” or Schroyer alongside the reframed “The Adequacy”? This type of engagement with ideas— one that looks at “origins and iterations,” to borrow a phrase from Ken McGrew (2011, p. 257)—might illuminate what we continue to find powerful about Ideology. And more importantly, this type of reading might also help us develop rigorous theory and nuanced analytical tools that enable us to critically examine the social order and push toward radical social change.
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 120.
Within multicultural education there was a move toward what became known as “critical multicultural education.” This work, whose most prominent advocate was Christine Sleeter, sought to foster, as the title of her 1996 book suggested, Multicultural Education as Social Activism. Although critical multicultural education focused on a range of identity-based oppressions and the structures and social forces that maintained and fostered them, including gender, class, and disability, the analysis remained anchored in a conversation about race. As Sleeter noted in the introduction to her book: “I argue that multicultural education can be understood as a form of resistance to dominant modes of schooling, and particularly white supremacy” (p. 2). Critical multicultural education also became the home for scholars engaged in critical pedagogy, such as Peter McLaren (e.g., Kanapol & McLaren, 1995; Sleeter & McLaren, 1995), who at this time began to focus more closely on race. In fact, the language of resistance, opposition, and critical consciousness that underpinned scholarship in critical pedagogy became so central to the critical multicultural education project that many in the critical multicultural education community alternatively also identified as critical pedagogy scholars (though the case was much less so the other way around).
Revision date: 7/8/20