Critical Pedagogy


In technical paradigms of education—which critical pedagogues label “banking” models of education—the teacher is a director and the student actors follow the directives of the teacher in an attempt to create a final product.  Technical paradigms are product-driven and the teacher plots the path that will lead the students to a desired outcome. Critical pedagogy challenges more technical paradigms of teaching and learning.

Critical pedagogy, rooted in critical theory, is an education framework that approaches learning with an overt recognition of systemic societal hegemonies. Within critical pedagogy, the oppressed/oppressor dialectic is unveiled and students and teachers engage in dialogue and experiences with the intention of lifting the binary of “us/them” thinking and towards critical consciousness. Both critical consciousness and critical pedagogy are rooted in the work of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and have been developed in the context of our web-based guidebook to address the ethical issues surrounding service-learning work:

By critical self-reflection, we do not mean a singular focus on the self, but a stepping back to understand one’s own assumptions, biases, and values, and a shifting of one’s gaze from self to others and conditions of injustice in the world. This process, coupled with the resultant action, is at the core of the idea of critical consciousness (Kumagai and Lypson, 2009).

To mitigate potential for harm, we focus first on building critical consciousness to ensure that students and faculty can build their own definition of ethical behaviour and navigate complex situations with greater ease and confidence.  In Friere’s own words, critical consciousness is the “process in which [humans], not as recipients but as knowing subjects, achieve a deepening awareness both of the sociocultural reality that shapes their lives and of their capacity to transform that reality” (Freire, 1985, p. 93).