Critical Pedagogy Sans People

I had stopped trying to keep up with Giroux’s work some time ago.  I read him diligently as a new scholar, but for me, he was always one of those authors that made me question whether I’d make it in academia.  Early in my career, I couldn’t as readily distinguish between complex ideas and convoluted writing.

I don’t assign him in my classes any more because I’ve witnessed students wondering if they’re “smart” enough to read texts like these (even while he’s addressing them — at least in the 3rd person [more about that later] — as educators)*.  Writing past those you intend to change goes  against my work with students to nudge them to “go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities”.

I believe strongly that academic work should invite students — especially those new to the culture of universities — to enter new intellectual worlds, not dare them to prove that they belong there.

I stopped assigning Giroux long ago, even as I teach ideas that he shares, particularly that

Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and in which they actually live out their lives and everyday existence.

Maha Bali  shares my concern about the abstractness of Giroux’s writing, and on this read, I shared her impatience with him revealing so little about his own work to enact these ideas.  With hooks, I believe so strongly that critical pedagogy is not only about book learning always about about who we are in the world.


On this read, I found myself  underlining the many times he uses the language of:

Educators must

Critical pedagogy must

Academics must

Educators need to

Educators will have to

I confess to skimming some of the paragraph-long sentences, but looking over my “notebook” on my Kindle app, I see Giroux employing this “educators must” sort of language at least a dozen times in this chapter.  It started to feel as if I am being scolded, and by someone whose moral authority to do so is not at all clear.

Noticing this language today as I’m reading him again within these weeks of rich  #moocmooc  dialogue around critical pedagogy,  I have new ways to think about writing that is intended to further the work of critical pedagogy, but that addresses in the 3rd person the educators that the author wants to change.

It can feel as if students (and even I, as a life-long student of education) are relegated to eavesdropping on a relatively small, closed circle of intellectual peers.   In “banking” education, teachers at least speak directly to students.

I notice also that the only actual people in this chapter are the other cited scholars.   I sat up  a bit when I saw him begin to talk about critical pedagogy being “relational” , since so many feminist scholars use this very term to write about how in the end, our teaching is first and foremost about the relationships that we develop that provide the the community within which students can grow.

But no, I instead read:

By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life.


There is almost nothing I disagree with in this chapter.

But I have a hard time reconciling being told what I must do while I’m working to develop course experiences that “emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and in which they actually live out their lives and everyday existence”.

I mean nothing about this to be ad hominem critique.  I do mean for it to be about doing the hard work of trying to figure out critical pedagogies that don’t bypass the actual lives of students on the way to the revolution.

And I welcome conversation about where my grumpy reading missed the mark.

*how’s that for convoluted writing!
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6 Responses to Critical Pedagogy Sans People

  1. Maha Bali says:

    Ur so cool, Jane! Too sleepy to say anything more convoluted than that. Thx for writing this


  2. Thanks for this Jane. I had already abandoned Chap 4 – some other time perhaps!


  3. sensor63 says:

    Hi thanks for this.

    “I stopped assigning Giroux long ago”

    It is an interesting question.

    Would Giroux consider it as part of ‘critical pedagogy’ to assign his own reading.

    No doubt his sales figures would go down.

    I am choosing to read it. I am certain that NONE of my students would choose to do the same…


  4. professorjvg says:

    Thanks for the comments and for reading, all. I work in the field of education and for all the years I’ve been reading him and others who have indeed generated healthy sales figures because they’re now “the field” that must be acknowledged, we’ve lost so much ground against the very things he talks about, and it feels very wrong to me that this literature still admonishes K-12 teachers to simply organize and cast off all that is crushing their souls. There is clearly a much broader political agenda needed, and writing like this will never, ever spark political action among those who believe (because they’ve been told over and over in much more accessible media) that if teachers just cared more and worked harder, we wouldn’t have so many poor children in the U.S.

    The current politics of education certainly aren’t his fault, but neither am I clear that he has much more to say about how we’ll create change.


  5. tsheko says:

    I’m definitely going to be more conscious of the tone of my own writing with intent of seeking out the ‘must’ and ‘have to’ which alienate readers. Thanks for this, and it makes me feel better to read your honest reflection. Sometimes I feel that it’s my duty to slog through texts even though they don’t speak to me. So nice to run to bell hooks and similar writers who are far from abstract.


  6. professorjvg says:

    tsheko: A belated thanks for reading and commenting. I do use complex texts in class, and we work through them together. I just wish from writers like Giroux that there’d be more a sense of those in the privileged position of academic sharing the load of the work in places where there is much less autonomy and much harder work to be done around social change. The abstractness comes in large measure from knowing little about him as a person, rather than as someone who has been writing similar things for decades now.


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