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Critical Pedagogy: An Exploration of Contemporary Themes and Issues

reviewed by Katherine Barko-Alva & Lisa Porter - February 21, 2022

coverTitle: Critical Pedagogy: An Exploration of Contemporary Themes and Issues
Author(s): Tomas Boronski
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 1138105422, Pages: 164, Year: 2021
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Boronski (2022) elaborates on the dire need to expand our understanding of critical pedagogy and embrace a language of possibilities (Giroux, 2011) centering the narratives of historically excluded populations in order to dismantle hegemonic ideas. This book allows readers to deeply reflect on how abstract notions of democracy, justice, and equality could become tangible through an intentional development of consciousness. This book is timely when examining the current debate on the teaching of history and Critical Race Theory (CRT) (Crenshaw et al., 1996; Delgado, 2012; Yosso, 2005) as well as the increasing debates surrounding access to higher education and its purpose in todays society. This book situates education within the context of neoliberalism and how public education (PK-16) reifies inequalities seen across systems, particularly within the present era of hyper-capitalism. Citing the works of Thomas Piketty (2020), Boronski argues that an extreme form of capitalism, or hyper-capitalism, has spread in speed and intensity. It has usurped the political consciousness with a commitment to social democracy that followed World War II. Instead, corporate interests have set up specific agendas and dominate the discourse around public access to common goods. Thus, the humanity of the individual seems to have been forgotten.

The author provides a contemporary take on the seminal works of Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy, particularly drawing attention to conscientizacao, or critical consciousness: a dialectical reflection among groups of individuals which ignites intentional transformation by calling out how historically excluded populations often succumb to a sense of false hope driven by success through achievement while being taught using a framework that centers a colonized curricula invalidating Black, Indigenous, and POC communities and/or alternative ways of reading the world (Freire, 1985). Boronski claims that a Freirian outlook combines the recognition of a critical consciousness with a need for concrete action, or praxis.  

Using education as a tangible context, the author cautions that the educational system, like other systems, has been bombarded by oppressive welfare policies and performance driven regimes (p. 43) which have hindered the academic and socio-emotional wellbeing of students and the families it was intended to serve. Reimagining education and embracing a language of possibilities (Giroux, 2011) would promote and foster the humanization of students and create environments where they can become critical thinkers.

In his critique of the current state of affairs, the author brings to light the often-avoided element surrounding inequality, the exceptionalism of the elite or the negation of the wealthys culpability in the telling of history and the examination of current global crises. He draws upon socio-political and literary references of utopia when exploring possibilities for change, stating that the desire for a better world is the link for action but cautions against a systematic blueprint created by the state for such betterment. For the author, it is crucial to understand how systemic and racist factors contributing to a state of poverty are shaped by top-down government policies reliant upon expiration dates and rigid expectations that in turn espouse a discourse of the poor is a problem to be fixed. Boronski (2022) refers instead to a new utopia spirit and supports a processual approach (p. 25) to utopia committed to addressing social injustices and reliant upon critical reflection. The power of concentrating on the process rather than the end goal allows for in-depth reflection on the actions taken to address these major issues.

Throughout the book, the author encourages alternative ways of envisioning humanity and the way we teach and learn referencing critical pedagogy as the conduit of collective action and social justice. Specifically, he advocates for a decentered curriculum that avoids prioritizing colonizers narratives as well as the restructuring of educational institutions in order to increase access to education and offer a more pluralistic approach to learning. He cautions against these reforms without simultaneously addressing systemic inequalities beyond the educational system, implying that systems are intertwined and reinforce one another. Boronski (2022) pays special tribute to youth taking a stand and how youth activism and global movements that extend beyond one given nation-state are beginning to pull apart the tightly woven story that upholds neoliberalism and excludes the majority of the globes population.

This book is an excellent choice when exploring connections to many of todays global issues. It is rooted in the theoretical, and provides points for reflection and consideration at the end of each chapter for discussion. Additionally, it has numerous case studies embedded throughout the book which focus on education, the environment, and the economy, creating spaces for reflective discussions as well as providing key resources that allow the reader to seek further lines of inquiry. This work is not ideal for practitioners looking for hands-on application techniques to adapt their curriculum to reflect critical pedagogy principles. Instead, it is a wonderful way to examine the interstices of the global economy with current structures and social issues as they pertain to education. It would serve well as a text that enhances knowledge and creates spaces for reflective discussion, which will in turn lead to praxis. 


Giroux, H. A. (2011). On critical pedagogy. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Freire, P. (1985). Reading the world and reading the word: An interview with Paulo Freire. Language Arts, 62(1), 1521. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41405241

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 21, 2022
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23990, Date Accessed: 2/23/2022 12:35:38 PM

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About the Author
  • Katherine Barko-Alva
    The College of William & Mary
    E-mail Author
    KATHERINE BARKO-ALVA, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and director of the ESL/Bilingual Education program at William & Mary, School of Education, in Williamsburg, Virginia.
  • Lisa Porter
    James Madison University
    E-mail Author
    LISA PORTER, Ph.D., is an associate professor of sociology at James Madison University where she teaches courses on the sociology of education and nonprofit organization.
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