About this Guide

This guide gives an overview to critical pedagogy and its vitalness to teaching and education. It is not comprehensive, but is meant to give an introduction to the complex topic of critical pedagogy and impart an understanding of its deeper connection to critical theory and education.

What is Critical Pedagogy?

One working definition of critical pedagogy is that it “is an educational theory based on the idea that schools typically serve the interests of those who have power in a society by, usually unintentionally, perpetually unquestioned norms for relationships, expectations, and behaviors” (Billings, 2019). Based on critical theory, it was first theorized in the US in the 70s by the widely-known Brazilian educator Paolo Freire in his canonical book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2018), but has since taken on a life of its own in its application to all facets of teaching and learning. The "pedagogy of the oppressed," or what what we know today to be the basis of critical pedagogy, is described by Freire as:

"...a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for liberation. And in the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade...[It] sis an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization." (p. 48)

Perhaps a more straightforward definition of critical pedagogy is "a radical approach to education that seeks to transform oppressive structures in society using democratic and activist approaches to teaching and learn" (Braa & Callero, 2006).

There are many applications of theory-based pedagogy that privilege minoritarian thought such as antiracist pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, engaged pedagogy, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and social justice, to name a few.


Billings, S. (2019). Critical pedagogy. Salem press encyclopedia. New York: Salem Press.

Braa, D., & Callero, P. (2006, October). Critical pedagogy and classroom praxis. Teaching Sociology, 34, 357-369.

Freire, P. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Why is Critical Pedagogy important?

Critical Pedagogy is an important framework and tool for teaching and learning because it:

  • recognizes systems and patterns of oppression within society at-large and education more specifically, and in doing so, decreases oppression and increases freedom
  • empowers students through enabling them to recognize the ways in which "dominant power operates in numerous and often hidden ways
  • offers a critique of education that acknowledges its political nature while spotlighting the fact that it is not neutral
  • encourages students and instructors to challenge commonly accepted assumptions that reveal hidden power structures, inequities, and injustices


Kincheloe, J. L. (2004). Critical pedagogy primer. P. Lang.