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Critical Pedagogy Q and A

The following questions are a generic selection of questions, which I often receive on email. The responses are from graduate students/teachers in EDML 5400: Theory of Multilingual Education and from entry-level teacher credential candidates from EDMS 4100: Foundations of Education in a Diverse Society.

Greg Groll, a teacher in Denair, CA, was instrumental in organizing the following document. Enjoy.

You will note that the students provided the page numbers in some of their answers.

Spring Semester 2005

1) What changes and updates have you made in the 3/e of Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World?

The readers have changed.

New Sections: high stakes testing, teacher accountability, mandatory curriculum, and bilingual education. (Pre-face xiv)

New emphasis: What is it? How do you do it? (p. xiii-xiv)

Literacy: Jonathan to Wyatt.

The preface has been shortened, and the introduction has been removed (p. xiii). New activities have been added to the first half of chapter 6 (p. 131-139).

The conclusion has new artistic representation of critical pedagogy (p. 178-179).

The changes in the world, pedagogy, and language are all reflected in this edition.

2) Who has influenced Dr. Wink and why?

“The great students in EDML 5400 and EDMS 4100,” they responded with tongue firmly planted in their collective cheek.

Reality: Everyone from the current and past leading authors, but mostly, Dr. Wink has influenced herself.

Vygotsky, Freire, and family and friends.

3) What exactly is critical pedagogy?

Critical pedagogy can be individual, group, or self interactive cognitive processes that update pre-existing knowledge or add new information in a way that makes us all that much better.

Critical pedagogy is a way of thinking about, negotiating, and transforming the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the institutional structures of the school, and the social and material relationship of the wider community, society, and nation state (p. 26).

Critical pedagogy is “learning, relearning, and unlearning” (Wink, 2005, p. 67).

“Critical pedagogy is being able to see beyond and below our own ways of teaching and learning.

There were many different pages with different definitions in the reading I have done so far.

p.13 Finding your ‘home run’ book is different for everyone. No one is the same kind of reader. ) p.14 “The contradictions and the changes have made me stop and rethink what I used to know about teaching and learning.”

p.17 “Reading improves writing-choice matters-we get smarter when we write-we love it when someone responds to our writing-flexibility and a sense of humor help”

pp.18-19 “Learners choose what to learn…Learning can be very challenging, re-learning is more challenging… base our teaching on the needs of our students…learning and relearning never end…unlearning involves a shift in philosophy, beliefs, and assumptions. Unlearning is unpacking some old baggage.”

p.23 “Pedagogy is the meaningful interaction between teaching and learning. Critical pedagogy seeks to take action to improve teaching and learning in schools and in life.”

p.24 “There is no one critical pedagogy”

p.26 “Critical pedagogy is a way of thinking about, negotiating, and transforming the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the institutional structures of the school, and the social and material relationships of the wider community, society, and nation state (McLaren, 1998b, p.445).” “Critical pedagogy is a prism that reflects the complexities of the interactions between teaching and learning.”

Critical pedagogy is a way of thinking about, negotiation, and transforming the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the institutional structures of the school, and the social and material relationships of the wider community, society, and nation state (p. 26).

Critical pedagogy is a way of thinking about, negotiating, and transforming the relationship among classroom teaching, the production of knowledge, the institutional structures of the school, and the social and material relationships of the wider community, society, and nation state (p. 26).

Critical pedagogy is a prism that reflects the complexities of the interactions between teaching and learning. 26

Critical pedagogy means looking within and without the seeing more deeply the complexities of teaching and learning. (p. 25) Critical pedagogy is the interaction between teachings and learning (p. 25)

Critical pedagogy is a state of mind a place of reference. A framework from which to build. A questioning frame of mind (p. 26).

Critical pedagogy means that we see and articulate the entire critical context of teaching and learning (p. 67).

Critical pedagogy is the questioning of “legitimated” reality construction that is enforced within schools (p. 36).

It is reading the “word” and the “world” (p. 56-57) and it is examining the connections/relationships between the two.

It is understanding social construction of knowledge and meaning (p. 95).

On pages 3 and 22, critical pedagogy is defined as to name, to reflect, and to act. On page 67, critical pedagogy is described as learning, relearning, and unlearning. It involves revaluating your world and possibly coming to different conclusions.

4) How are language and social class influential variables in the educational process?

When a select social class mandates curriculum through its own use of language to any school, then that language will control the school. ‘He who controls our language controls our thoughts.” (Pearson pp. 2-3) Dr. Wink describes and then Pearson expands the idea.

Visually put for me…page 84, fig.5.1 ‘Critical roots’ Freire

Language: two ideas are here. Language influences how we think, and language can be used as a weapon or a tool, depending on how it is wielded. Vygotsky tells us that language is meaningful if we connect the ideas together, which causes the ideas to build on each other, which enables us to connect more ideas together, [and on and on -awesome, huh?] (p.35) Especially, […] “our words matter. ”

Our words are not just neutral squiggles on paper. They are not just neutral symbols. Our language joins with our thoughts to generate meaning. As we increase our use of words, our thoughts deepen. The language we use matters. Sometimes language hurts one group of kids, and sometimes it helps another group” (p. 36).

Social class, even though not directly stated in all, is significant in many parts of Critical Pedagogy. Any time we use labels, we assign status such as in the discussion of the two levels of ESL and the discussion using “normal” or “regular” students (p. 51).

Marx (pp. 83-84), the Frankfurt School (pp. 85-86) and the A team/B team (pp. 89-93).

Language is an influential variable in the education process because, “When we don’t understand language, we are denied access to ideas, to concepts, to thoughts, to people. (p. 29)”

Gramsci’s recognition of hegemonic power structures in schools in which dominant groups enlist support from dominated groups, e.g. Prop 227 (p. 82).

Important questioning about ways of teaching and learning that enables the learners to take ownership of their knowledge and to effect change in their communities (pp. 29-30).

Social class is also an influential variable, the idea the “We’re all alike and all have equal access to opportunity in this great land” issue comes up (p. 95).”

Critical pedagogy is the questioning of “legitimated” reality construction that is enforced within schools (p. 36). Since we mutually create the world in which we live, there can be conflict between what is the correct interpretation, or who controls which view is “legitimated” and which is not? The legitimate construct may not be in the best interest of all.

It {critical pedagogy) is reading the “word” and the “world” (p. 56-57), and it is examining the connections/relationships between the two; this is important because we use the same thoughts (associations, skills, processes if you prefer though these terms are inaccurate) to create both the world of texts and the world of societies. What is crucial is the dialogue that takes place between the reader and what is being read, whether a book or another person.

It (critical pedagogy) is understanding social construction of knowledge and meaning (p. 95). Meaning-making is easier when it reflects our personal interests, identities, and more difficult if it has to conform to someone else’s interests or identity. But everyone has to compromise to some extent. The problem is compromises are not mutually arrived at.

I actually have come to prefer the term dialogic-critical pedagogy (Moraes) for questioning, reading, and understanding always involves an “other.”

5) How are caring, and feeling and experiencing part of the teaching process? How are caring, and feeling and experiencing part of the teaching process?

Students understand emotions and while they may be struggling with their own emotions, they can tell when and how their teachers care about them. And that has a major impact on how they perceive school. Conscientization.

Caring is paramount for teachers. All one has to do to understand the need for caring teachers is to visit with students of a teacher who does not care. My daughter has a teacher like that this year. This teacher often sets up students for failure. I wish that teacher would find a new profession. A teacher may know the subject matter, but if the teacher is not a caring person, the students will not learn as much as with the teacher who cares about the students. The caring teacher lowers inhibitions to learning (as in Krashen and the effective filter) Also, the caring teacher will allow students to see the importance of caring for others, and that caring teacher will examine her own words and actions to monitor herself (pp.168-169).

How are caring, and feeling and experiencing part of the teaching process? –p.120 “Critical pedagogy is not a method; it is a way of life”

My opinion. My soapbox? I feel that the person you become is based on how and what you learned from the people in your life. Your personal experiences helped you to learn as an individual, and you can only teach what you’ve learned and experienced. When you work with people (or teach) you are interacting in a social environment…it’s just automatic! You’re going to care and feel and experience.

“I suggest that all of us in education should place our entire discussion of teaching and learning into a larger framework of caring.” pg. 167

Caring and feeling are part of the teaching process because they work hand in hand together. “He put his hands on my shoulder that first day of class and it burned clear through to my heart” (167).

Pages 167-168 talks about the caring heart. One statement that is made regarding a caring heart stated, ” A caring heart can be demonstrated in innumerable ways in the classroom and community”. I believe what is trying to be said is that caring is a huge part of teaching is caring and can be demonstrated in appropriate ways that do not intrude on this centuries social norms. Caring about teaching, students, and truth leads to successful learning.

6) How has the current environment of No Child Left Behind influenced the way people teach?

One of our elementary schools in our district (the one that the board member’s and mayor’s kids went to) always scored high on the AYP. Now, because they “failed” to progress they’ve got their teachers all wound up taking special teacher development with “Math coaches” to “solve” this “apparent” problem. Give me a break. I truly wonder what the mayor and the board members feel about that considering their kids go and/or went there. It’s mathematically impossible to progress to 100% because it fights all nature. “Nature is chaotic” “people are chaotic” Anyone here of “Chaos Theory”? My opinion? My soapbox? This law is teaching everyone to be mediocre. If that school had not been so high in the first place they would have been able to slowly “creep-up” like the rest of our schools. Instead, they get blasted for not being high enough. They’re still higher than the rest of our district! They’re getting reprimanded…we’re not. Oh! by the way… the junior high I’m at technically does not receive Title 1 funds, so we’re somewhat “exempt” from these drastic AYP requirements that are scrutinized with NCLB

Now the No Child Left Behind law is mandating that we transmit knowledge again.” pg. 165

How has the current environment of NCLB influenced the way we teach? NCLB dumped unrealistic levels of achievement on the shoulders of the students and placed the burden of responsibility in the lap of the teachers. Consequently, or metaphorically speaking, one shoots oneself in the foot for trying.

NCLB has forced teachers to focus on meeting the demands of standardized tests rather than student interests and critical pedagogy. I recently observed with a teacher (right before the week of STAR testing) who informed me that while she still makes time for science and history in her class, many of the teachers at this school only teach language arts and math. Their strategy is working; this school is the top school in the district and is a blue ribbon school. Unfortunately, these children are being cheated because their teachers are trying so hard to meet the demands of NCLB that they are not giving their students the knowledge the other subjects provide. This teacher’s students were completely thrown off the week before when she replaced their science time with math review. At the same time, however, there are teachers who are adapting this pressure to meet the standards to their way of teaching. On p. 143 in CP there is the story of the high school teacher who raised the reading scores of his students, who had been labeled “at-risk”, by providing a variety of reading material that met their interests. Out of 125 students, 89 raised their reading scores. The stressful teaching environment that NCLB has created has challenged teachers to think of better ways to implement the ideas of NCLB, it simply comes down to whether or not they will challenge the law themselves and tell the politicians they should leave teaching to the professionals.

7) How do politics influence the way we teach on a daily basis?

Basically, that’s my soapbox that I wrote under Question 6. Are we going to just progress “moderately” and try not to go “gang busters” every year just to avoid scoring too high?

Politics have a great influence on the way we teach. “Historically, our schools are based on the needs of an agrarian society in which knowledge was controlled and transmitted by the schools; not the No Child Left Behind Law is mandating that we transmit knowledge again.” (p. 165).

We cannot be politically neutral and teach. In Critical Pedagogy, we learn, “every time we choose curriculum, we are making a political decision” (p. 77). So I examine my choices in course work, reading material and support. I have to ask myself, “What values am I extolling by my choices”?

How do politics influence the way we tech on a daily basis? For starters every time student mandated tests are scheduled, its drop everything and test, test, test. Politics also dictate the kind of results your students better achieve. It must read as part of the instructional packet that programs and jobs are at the mercy of your students and Uncle Sam will decide if you as the teacher have performed the job adequately to Q7 retain the position for another year. That’s the noticeable politics. Mandated by state legislature and funded by the local taxpayer are the everyday realities of political influence.

8) How have the unions failed to help teachers and students? My district just voted pay increase. Downside is that Arnold has tremendous clout.

We just got a pay raise retro to the beginning of this school year. I can’t be more happy. I think are union is pretty good. There is a lot of sharing about the current California government and the struggle our union is having up there in Sacramento.


The following questions are from Martha Jo Bolduc of SUNY Oswego and her colleagues in the class of Dr, Tania Ramalho’s class on Critical Pedagogy. My responses follow.

1. What message about critical pedagogy would you like for me to pass on to my classmates who haven’t read your book?

Joan responds: “Education is radically about love,” by favorite quote from Freire. I do believe that somewhere/somehow we are all striving to create a critical loving pedagogy, and it is darned tricky. Each of us responds well to love, care, and meaningful answers. In addition, we like to generate our answers in a loving context.

2. How did you get your start in education?

Joan responds: I started teaching in Malvern, PA in 1966. I came to the concept of critical pedagogy at TX A&M in 1988.

3. Why are you so passionate about it?

Joan responds: Because I lived it many years with students, before I even knew the word.

4. What was your driving force?

Joan responds: Love and curiosity.

5. What obstacles have you faced?

Joan responds: Two come to mind: (a) I was raised in a violent home, and I vowed to myself as a little girl that it would end with me; (b) the lawsuit on gender equity against the CSU system. Please note that both of the obstacles became very positive influences in my life.

6. What is your biggest reward?

Joan responds: My family: husband, kids, and grandkids.

7. What else, if anything, would you like for me to share with my classmates?

Joan responds: Find yourself and be an authentic teacher/learner.