Critical pedagogy & library instruction
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Critical pedagogy is a theory of teaching (as well as a framework) that sees education as a catalyst for social change. Critical theory posits that knowledge conveys power (is power). It also takes the understanding that how someone is oppressed is also way to change (or challenge) oppressive forces. Modern use of the word critical derives from the Greek kritikos which means to apply judgment or discernment and, for learning theorists, has powerful implications in teaching. Critical theory /pedagogies involve the questioning of prevalent structures (i.e., patriarchal, dominant) and legacy systems and methods in education, particularly where they involve domination and oppression, especially where the scope of domination is reduced to empower and emancipate learners accordingly.
Academic librarians can, in all kinds of reflective ways, be critical about how they teach and how they view assumptions about teaching. For those interested in enriching their pedagogical practices in socially progressive and political ways, critical pedagogy can present a range of new possibilities. Its goal is to achieve "critical consciousness" around oppressive practices and to provide students (and teachers) with the intellectual tools to change their circumstances. (For a full exploration of critical practices, see Schroeder, 2014). Critical pedagogy has, in recent years, been brought into discussions of information literacy and library instruction. Instructional librarians can explore how progressive pedagogical practices will serve to teach students new information skills but also how to equip learners with an awareness of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression, and how as learners they can change a dominant culture that perpetuates oppression.
Two themes emerge from the writing in the educational literature in the past few decades around critical pedagogy and critical thinking. What does it mean to be critical? Do we have some implicit/explicit assumptions that we bring to our teaching that we need to (re)examine? What are they? Each pedagogical tradition has to some extent question other methods and critique those methods. Some critical perspectives, such as feminist and poststructural perspectives, should inform how librarians think about "criticality" given the specific social and cultural contexts of the students being taught.
Critical pedagogies are related to a number of important key figures and educators. Antonio Gramsci supplemented the works of thinkers in the Frankfurt School and especially those of Jürgen Habermas. Critical pedagogical approaches attained wider recognition in the writings and teachings of Brazilian radical educator and activist Paulo Freire (ie., Matthews, 2013). The writings of Ivan Illich and the plays of Augusto Boal were important elements in the development of critical pedagogy during the 1970s. The outline of critical pedagogy enunciated by Dardar, Baltodano and Torres (2003, pp.10-16) rests insufficiently on social emancipation: the liberation of humanity from capitalist society, indeed from capital’s social universe. The discussion about how education undermines ‘class interests of students most politically and economically vulnerable in society’ is a neo-Weberian notion of class-as-status; the class interests of these students, it seems to be argued, can be met in the existing form of neoliberal society: capitalism. Critical pedagogy for social emancipation should be the goal; emancipation from capitalist society with its value-form of labour and the rule of money.
Why critical theory?
What does it mean to make library instruction critical? Or, to apply the principles of critical theory?
The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is an important part of understanding the emergence of a critical educational philosophy. In a traditional teaching model, which sees an instructor shore up content in students, what Freire calls "banking education", teachers lay out the content of a class while students sit in rows and absorb information much like "deposits" to a bank. As opposed to banking ideas, critical perspectives move learners towards "critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher" (Freire, 2000, p. 81). Further, students and teachers take as their object of study "problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world" and therefore avoid the alienation of studying some object far removed from their lived experiences (Freire, 2000, p. 81).
In the digital age, academic librarians are encouraged to focus less on information transfer in their instructional activities, and more on developing critical consciousness in students (Elmborg, 2006). The teaching of information literacy skills should not therefore assume a neutral stance, according to Kapitzke; it should be viewed as a broader project than the imparting of skills alone.
In the nursing literature, Mikol (2013)'s interpretive analysis of teaching nursing to a diverse student body in an associate degree program is illustrative. The author and her colleagues facilitate small-group discussions, engaging students in communicative dialogue instead of lecturing to them. Their pedagogical method leads to flexibility and openness to student ideas as well as opportunities to share personal stories and dialogue with students. Consequently, students are helped to overcome misunderstanding, misconceptions, and misinterpretations of the nursing literature.
What is critical practice?
Critical practice is grounded in the concepts of critical theory. Critical pedagogies are also similarly grounded.
What is critical information literacy?
Critical information literacy is an approach to information literacy instruction which focuses on developing critical consciousness in learners. The approach supports the development of practical skills and techniques, ways of thinking critically and acknowledging the reasons behind the attitudes and opinions held. These abilities help people to understand the nature of the information to which they are exposed, assess its qualities and use the information to participate meaningfully in formal and informal political processes.
Critical pedagogical theory has not yet widely been applied to library and information science, but is recommended as an area for research (Kapitzke 2003; Doherty and Ketchner 2005; Elmborg 2006; Accardi et al 2010; Eryaman 2010; Whitworth 2011)
Incorporating critical pedagogies
Indigenous culture(s) in Canada
Indigenous pedagogy has become very important in Canada's educational system. Until recently, Canada’s educational institutions have ignored Indigenous knowledges and pedagogy. Indigenous perspectives and histories have been displaced, rejected or ignored in universities and schools (Battiste, Bell & Findlay, 2002). The exclusive use of Eurocentric knowledge systems in education has contributed to the lack of success for Indigenous students; perpetuating inequality for Indigenous peoples (Schissel & Wotherspoon, 2003). It is critical for all teachers (and librarians) to develop an understanding of Indigenous and cultural ways of knowing and teaching as they strive to meet cross-cultural learning needs in an increasingly diverse student population. Further, Indigenous educational approaches have the potential to offer important pedagogies for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike.
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