The Critical Pedagogy Reader
reviewed by Adrienne D. Dixson - 2004
Title: The Critical Pedagogy Reader
Author(s): Antonia Darder, Rodolfo D. Torres & Marta Baltodano (Editors)
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415922615 , Pages: 304, Year: 2002
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Many a thoughtful and committed educator has sought ways to address persistent societal inequity that is quite often insidiously reproduced in schools. The Critical Pedagogy Reader, edited by Antonia Darder, Maria Baltodano and Rodolfo D. Torres, represents the significant scholarship that has helped to shape and define what has been offered as a way to imagine and enact transformational strategies that resist the inequity reproduced through schooling practices and policies.
The editors provide an informative and thorough introduction that traces the origins of critical pedagogy, including the influence of Gramsci, Foucault, and Freire as well as an insightful discussion on the philosophical principles that undergird critical pedagogy. To conclude the introduction, and in keeping with the philosophical principles of critical pedagogy, the editors acknowledge its limitations that span gender and feminism, language and access, and race and ethnicity. Readers who are novices to critical theory and/or are unfamiliar with foundational principles of critical pedagogy, but who have no doubt been exposed to the influential scholarship of many of its proponents, will find the introduction invaluable.
The book is organized into seven sections that address key themes in critical pedagogy. Among these themes are: schooling, class and the economy; race, racism and education; gender, sexuality and schooling; language, literacy and pedagogy; and, teaching and social transformation. Preceding each section is a brief introduction that situates both the article and the author in terms of their contribution and significance to the development of critical pedagogy. Each section concludes with a list of suggested readings that are related to its theme. A representative list of scholars whose work appears in this volume are: bell hooks, Lisa Delpit, Michael Apple, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, Paulo Freire, Maxine Greene, Michelle Fine and Ira Shor. The articles that represent each scholar’s work appear to have been selected for both historical reasons, i.e., key concepts were introduced in the work, and posterity with an eye to the future, i.e., the scholars were anticipating or considering the next “frontier” for critical pedagogy.
The strength of the text lies first in the editors’ introduction. For those unfamiliar with both critical theory and critical pedagogy, identifying and describing the theoretical underpinnings as well as the significant scholars in each, helps frame the fields and make further research and reading easier to undertake. In addition, the selection of articles, particularly for the first section, Foundations of Critical Pedagogy, helps the reader understand how particular concepts and vocabulary entered the lexicon of critical pedagogy. Concepts and terms like hegemony, social reproduction, resistance, transformation, “the banking method of education,” conscienzation, praxis, etc., are introduced in both sections, and the editors scaffold readers who are new to the field. Although the text, all 524 pages of it, is quite informative, there are some omissions, albeit not likely purposeful, that warrant some attention.
One abiding critique that the editors acknowledge in their introduction is the absence of a critique of the history of race, racism, and racialization process in US society. Moreover, analyses of educational inequity have failed to explain adequately how race is deployed to perpetuate this inequality or the notion of social reproduction that is largely a bi-product of the confluence race and educational inequality. The work by scholars such as Carter G. Woodson (1933), W.E.B. DuBois (1903) and Anna Julia Cooper (1892/1988) and Septima Clark (Clark and Brown, 1990) are not only missing in the first section of the text on the foundations of critical theory, they are not even acknowledged as being early critical pedagogues who embodied this notion of praxis with the myriad projects they spearheaded and worked tirelessly on both nationally and internationally. Carter G. Woodson is credited with establishing what we now recognize as Black History Month. While in today’s climate, the “celebration” of Black History Month is certainly contested on both the Left and the Right, given the openly hostile environment—physically, psychologically, and intellectually-- in which Woodson lived, advocating for what was then called, “Negro History Week,” is a brave and heroic act. In addition, through his organization, The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), Woodson both wrote and disseminated–free of charge to schools and teachers–the Negro History Bulletin, and Black history textbooks (Gordon, 1995).
It is important to note, however, that the editors list DuBois’, The Souls of Black Folks (1903), in the “Suggested Readings for Future Study” section at the end of Part 3: Race, Racism and Education. Despite the mention of DuBois’ work (and other scholars of color), that Woodson, DuBois and Cooper’s scholarship is not mentioned and that they contributed significantly to a form of critical pedagogy that often goes unnoticed, is curious indeed. James Anderson documents in his text, The History of Education of Blacks in the South: 1860-1935 (1988), African Americans’ educational experiences, and demonstrates that there was (and many argue it continues on today) a decidedly oppositional and political mission to schools and classrooms that African Americans ran for themselves. These schools were more than places where students learned rudimentary basics like reading, writing, and arithmetic, for the very acts of learning literacy and numeracy skills were political acts in and of themselves. Furthermore, a number of scholars have documented the pedagogical philosophies and practices of African American teachers who had as their mission to not only teach their students these literacy and numeracy skills, but to also instill a sense of cultural pride that would inspire them to work toward the political and material liberation of African Americans writ large.
These omissions notwithstanding, the text offers a thought-provoking examination of race and racism in Darder and Torres’ chapter, “Shattering the ‘Race’ Lens: Toward a Critical Theory of Racism.” In this chapter, the authors problematize what they describe as “fixation” on race by social scientists and progressive scholars who call for a critical theory on race. Furthermore, they suggest that a “critical language and conceptual apparatus that makes racism the central category of analysis in our understanding of racialized inequality while simultaneously encompassing the multiple social expressions of racism” is more useful than a focus solely on race (p. 260). One limitation of their chapter is that it reduces discussions and examinations of “race” to analyses that attribute racialized inequality to only skin-color or phenotype differences. In doing so it misses the important work of scholars in the law who use Critical Race Theory (CRT) and of those in education who employ CRT to examine the ways in which the social construction of race is deployed in racist policies and practices. Furthermore, a central tenet of CRT is an examination of the ways in which whiteness as property as an ideological and oppressive construct perpetuates inequality through racist policies and practices. In this sense, a CRT examination of “race” goes well-beyond race and racism as a product of skin-color and phenotype to provide a powerful analysis of how ways of being, knowledge construction, power, and opportunity are constructed along and conflated with “race.”
This text will be useful in both undergraduate and graduate foundations of education courses. Supplementation that addresses some of the foundational concerns noted earlier with respect to examining critical pedagogy beyond just the more “popular” and iconic scholars like Freire, Gramsci, Giroux, McLaren, et. al., to include the scholarship by Woodson, DuBois, and Cooper will help to broaden readers’ conceptions of critical pedagogy.
Anderson, J.A. (1988). The History of Education of Blacks in the South: 1860-1935.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Bell, D. (1993). Faces at the Bottom of the Well. New York: Basic Books.
Clark, S.P. & Brown, C.S. (1990). Ready From Within: A First Person Narrative. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
Cooper, A.J. (1892/1988). A Voice from the South. New York: Oxford University Press.
Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., and Thomas, K. (1996). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Shaped the Movement. New York: New Press.
DuBois, W.E.B.(1903). The Souls of Black Folks. Chicago: A.C. McClurg.
Gordon, B.M. (1995). Knowledge Construction, Competing Critical Theories, and Education. In Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. Banks, J.A. & Banks, C.A.(Eds). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Harris, C.I. (1993). “Whiteness as Property” in Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Shaped the Movement. Crenshaw, K. et.al (Eds). Pp. 276-290. New York: New Press.
Perkins, L.M. (1982). The Impact of the "Cult of True Womanhood" on the Education of Black Women. Journal of Social Issuesv39 n3 p17-28.
Perkins, L.M. (1983). Heed Life's Demands: The Educational Philosophy of Fanny Jackson Coppin. Journal of Negro Educationv51 n3 p181-90.
Walker, V.S. (1996). Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Woodson, C.G. (1933/1990). The Mis-Education of the Negro. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.