Correcting students need not amount to the banking method of education. Rather, teachers should call on students to contribute their experiences so that teachers can critically engage with students’ ideas. In turn, teachers should invite students to critically engage with the ideas presented to them so that students can incorporate what they are being taught into their understanding of the world. This conversation also raises questions about how different teachers understand knowledge as compared to my understanding of knowledge and the understanding of knowledge in critical pedagogy. The gap here is that critical pedagogy considers students’ experiences a valuable form of knowledge whereas the teacher sees them as subjective opinions. Critical pedagogy does not dispute the subjective dimension but argues that such experiences (or knowledge) must be engaged for students to learn in a meaningful way.

Challenge Yourself

If you are not thinking critically and challenging social structures, you cannot expect the students to do it! Educate yourself using materials that question the common social narrative. Critical theory is all about challenging the dominant social structures and the narratives that society has made the most familiar. The more you learn, the better equipped you will be to help enlighten your students. Here are some good resources to get you started.

Change the Classroom Dynamics

Critical pedagogy is all about challenging power structures, but one of the most common power dynamics in a student’s life is that of the teacher-student relationship. One concrete way to do this is by changing your classroom layout. Rather than having students sit in rows facing you, set up the desks so that they are facing each other in a semicircle or circle. This allows for better conversation in the classroom. You can also try sitting while leading discussions instead of standing. This posture puts you in the same position as the students and levels the student-teacher power dynamic. It is also a good idea, in general, to move from a lecture-based class where an all-wise teacher generously gives knowledge to humble students to a discussion-based class that allows students to think critically and draw their conclusions.

Present Alternative Views

In step 1, you, the teacher had to encounter views that were contrary to the dominant narrative. Now, present these views to your class alongside the traditional ones. Have them discuss both and encourage them to draw their conclusions. If a student presents a viewpoint, encourage him or her to dig further. Asking questions like “why do you believe that?” or “why is that a good thing” will encourage students to challenge their own beliefs, break free of damaging social narratives, and think independently.

Change Your Assessments

Traditional assessment structures, like traditional power structures, can be confining. You don’t have to use them! Make sure that your assessments are not about finding the right answer, but are instead about critical thinking skills. Make sure students are not just doing what they think they need to do to get a particular grade. You can do this by encouraging students to discuss and write and by focusing on the ideas presented above presentation style.

Encourage Activism

There is a somewhat cyclic nature to critical pedagogy. After educating yourself, you encourage students to think critically, and they, in turn, take their newfound enlightenment into their families and communities. You can do this by telling your students about opportunities in their community where they can combat oppression, like marches, demonstrations, and organizations. You can help students to start clubs that focus on bringing a voice to the marginalized. You can even encourage students to talk about patterns of power and oppression with their family and peers.

Most critical pedagogy applies the theory to students in marginalized positions, such as immigrants and those from low socio-economic backgrounds, rather than to students in the oppressor group. The widespread study of critical pedagogy among marginalized students is unsurprising considering that underprivileged students suffer more from the oppression that critical pedagogy seeks to address. The teacher in asserting himself as the sole authority in the classroom ignores that students’ understanding is a significant source of knowledge. Not all student ideas should be affirmed, some must be challenged, but excluding students from the process of knowledge creation in the classroom undermines their ability to learn. It is worth highlighting the distinction between challenging and excluding students’ ideas: challenging students’ ideas means engaging and working with them, whereas exclusion does not invite students to become personally involved in the learning process. Excluding students’ knowledge from classroom learning restricts the possibility of a fuller, more profound education for both students and teacher.

While critical pedagogues emphasize students’ knowledge based on their lived experiences, teachers often raise the point that students lack knowledge in the areas prescribed by the curriculum. And the teachers are right in many cases. But, there is nevertheless room for students to contribute to classroom learning in every discipline if teachers invite students to ask questions and if teachers are willing to let these questions have power in guiding classroom discussions. It is also found that students are better able to contribute to humanities courses as the skills students have in language are higher order than their skills in science courses. This is because students have seen a lot of movies read a lot of books, and this input is different from their daily experience with science and math. The subject areas dominated by facts that are produced at a distance from students’ lived experiences are often less accessible to students. He has found, however, that a lack of knowledge and skills in an area does not exclude the possibility of meaningful student engagement.

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δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring to various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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