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Democracy and Critical Pedagogy: Seeking social justice and transformation. Dr. Paul R. Carr Dr. Gina Thésée Lakehead University (Orillia) Université du Québec à Montréal. Part 1 of 4 lectures.

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democracy and critical pedagogy seeking social justice and transformation

Democracy and Critical Pedagogy:Seeking social justice and transformation

Dr. Paul R. Carr Dr. Gina Thésée

Lakehead University (Orillia) Université du Québec à Montréal

part 1 of 4 lectures
Part 1 of 4 lectures
  • Week 1 – Democracy and Critical Pedagogy: Seeking social justice and transformation in education
  • Week 2 – Education for democracy: Digging deeper beyond neoliberalism
  • Week 3 – Democracy, the environment and educational practices: Connecting disparate and fundamental realities
  • Week 4 – De-colonizing hegemonic democracy and Whiteness: Education and people in societies
  • The lectures progressively build on concepts and theoretical frameworks but it is not necessary to follow them sequentially
  • We hope to tape them to be able to share them with the academic community, and also to further the research we’re involved in
  • Thanks to Dr. David Zyngier and Monash University for inviting us to Australia
  • Starting-points: Who are we???
  • What is democracy?
  • What is democracy in/for/about education?
  • Critical pedagogy and democracy
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Discussion
1 starting points before we say anything
1. Starting-points: Before we say anything…
  • Is it important to know who we are? Or anyone for that matter?
  • How does identity factor into what we know?
  • Experience?
  • Epistemology?
  • And… education
  • Do we evolve, and, if so, how?
  • Can we discuss democracy without first discussing who we are?
  • A few thoughts on where we’re located and why

2. DemocracyDemocracy can be messy. It is not static. It is complex. It involves diverse interests, concerns, interventions. It relates to power, and far surpasses the existence of elections. It is a process. We should be comfortable and open in accepting that our knowledge is limited. Critically-engaged education is fundamental to creating the conditions for democracy.

can democracy exist without education
Can democracy exist without education?
  • (NOTE: defining both democracy and education is critical)
  • Cook and Westheimer (2006): “If people are not born democrats, then education surely has a significant role to play in ensuring that democrats are made” (p. 348).
  • “Democratic habits and values must be taught and communicated through life of our society, our legal institutions, our press, our religious life, our private associations, and the many other agencies that allow citizens to interact with each other and to have a sense of efficiency. The best protection for a democratic society is well-educated citizens.” (Ravitch & Viteritti, 2001, p. 28)
but what is democracy
But what is democracy?
  • Is it a type of government, a philosophy, en electoral system, a mode of operation/functioning, a conceptual framework, a series of rights and freedoms, a set of laws, a life-style, a slogan…?
  • Proposition: Democracy requires some level of a literate populace able to understand, engage with, and influence decisions, factors and outcomes which most concern it.
  • Therefore, education must be considered a fundamental feature to democracy.

Context for a re-thinking of democracy… and critical pedagogy

  • Academic outcomes based on established standards/indicators/benchmarks may not be compatible with critical engagement and political literacy
  • Deficits are often characterized by insufficient engagement in relation to citizenship and democracy, weak connection to social justice, and absence of a more holistic approach to building a society through a critical democratic education
  • Traditional educational approach of encouraging voting and understanding the formal political structures of government, often isolated to a single class, as a method of teaching about and for democracy, is problematic, and weakens thick democracy
  • Theoretical framework: Dewey (progressive education), Freire (conscientization), Kincheloe (critical multiculturalism), Giroux (critical pedagogy), Dei (indigenous knowledge), Shields (transformative leadership), Darder (critical pedagogy), Mclaren (class analysis), Apple (thick democracy), Thésée (critical epistemology), Westheimer (democratic education), Sleeter (social justice), Carr (political literacy) and others
  • This research seeks to broadly address important, systemic issues/concerns in an interdisciplinary way, favouring a thicker interpretation of democratic thinking/perceptions/experiences within education, including political and media literacy, critical engagement and emancipation

Principles from Democracy and diversity: Checklist for teaching for, and about, democracy (Banks et al., 2005)

  • Are students taught about the complex relationships between unity and diversity in their local communities, the nation, and the world?
  • Do students learn about the ways in which people in their community, nation, and region are increasingly interdependent with other people around the world and are connected to the economic, political, cultural, environmental, and technological changes taking place across the planet?
  • Does the teaching of human rights underpin citizenship education courses and programs?
  • Are students taught knowledge about democracy and democratic institutions and provided opportunities to practice democracy?

Concepts from Democracy and diversity: Checklist for teaching for, and about, democracy (Banks et al., 2005)


Parker (2003): conceptualization of democratic education

First, democratic education is not a neutral project, but one that tries to predispose citizens to principled reasoning and just ways of being with one another.

Second, educators need simultaneously to engage in multicultural education and citizenship education….

Third, the diversity that schools contain makes extraordinarily fertile soil for democratic education….

Fourth, this dialogue plays an essential and vital role in democratic education, moral development, and public policy….

Fifth, the access/inclusion problem that we (still) face today is one of extending democratic education to students who are not typically afforded it. (pp. xvi–xvii)


Progressive (thick) vs minimalist (thin) interpretations of democracy

(Portelli and Solomon, 2001)

“common elements such as critical thinking, dialogue and discussion, tolerance, free and reasoned choices, and public participation … which are associated with equity, community, creativity, and taking difference seriously … [a] conception [that] is contrasted with the notion of democracy that is minimalist, protectionist, and marginalist and hence promotes a narrow notion of individualism and spectacular citizenship.” (p. 17)


Framing a critical pedagogy of democracy

  • Democracy is important, it should be studied, and, for it to be meaningful and tangible, it must be fully cultivated throughout the educational experience (KurthSchai & Green, 2006; Westheimer & Kahne, 2002, 2003, 2004);
  • Elections are but a very small part of democracy, they are highly exaggerated, can lead to disenfranchisement, and can smother the universal quest for a more humane and decent existence (Carr & Porfilio, 2009; Palast, 2004; Putnam, 2001);
  • Democracy is not, nor should it be, dissociable from social justice, and if the two are not connected the relevance of democracy should be questioned and reevaluated (Nieto, 1999; Portelli & Solomon, 2001; Sleeter, 2007; Spring, 2004);
  • The media does not play a passive, objective, neutral role in sustaining democracy, and the impact of misrepresentation, omission and corporate control of information can have a deleterious effect on public debate (Bagdikian, 2004; Chomsky, 2008b; Herman & Chomsky, 2002; McChesney, 1998a, 1999b, 2008);
  • When formal democracy blends into the neutralization of marginalized groups from power and decision-making processes and centers, this can enshrine a stealth-like contamination and disenfranchisement of the masses (Kincheloe, 2008a; Lintner, 2007; Macrine, 2009; McLaren, 2007);
  • Doing democracy requires embarking on a process of critical interrogation, engagement and action, cognizant of our limitations in terms of knowledge, experience and philosophy, and open to constructive new and alternative paths to hegemonic interpretations of power (Kincheloe, 2008b; McLaren & Kincheloe, 2007; Parker, 2002, 2003, 2006).

Denzin (2009) and a “critical democratic pedagogy”

It is not enough to understand any given reality.... (p. 381)

Pedagogical practices are always moral and practical.... (p. 381)

...critical pedagogy disrupts those hegemonic cultural and education practices that reproduce the logics of neoliberal conservatism. (p. 381)

...critical pedagogy encourages resistance to the “discourses of privatization, consumerism, the methodologies of standardization and accountability, and the new disciplinary techniques of surveillance” (Giroux & Giroux, 2005, p. 3). Critical pedagogy provides the tools for understanding how cultural and educational practices contribute to the construction of neoliberal conceptions of identity, citizenship, and agency. (p. 381)

Critical pedagogy offers transformative intellectuals a method, a theory, and a set of practices for putting the critical sociological imagination to work. This project involves constructing and enacting pedagogies of hope and freedom, ways of keeping the idea of a radical democracy alive (p. 393).


Joe Kincheloe (2008a): Critical pedagogy is the study of oppression

  • The development of a social individual imagination.
  • The reconstitution of the individual outside the boundaries of abstract individualism.
  • The understanding of power and the ability to interpret its effects on the social and the individual.
  • The provision of alternatives to the alienation of the individual.
  • The cultivation of a critical consciousness that is aware of the social construction of subjectivity.
  • The construction of democratic community-building relationships between individuals.
  • The reconceptualization of reason-understanding that relational existence applies not only to human beings but concepts as well.
  • The production of social skills necessary to activate participation in the transformed, inclusive democratic community.

Elaboration of critical pedagogy by Joe Kincheloe

• Grounded on a social and educational vision of justice and equality

• Constructed on the belief that education is inherently political

• Dedicated to the alleviation of human suffering

• Concerned that schools don’t hurt students; good schools don’t blame students for their failures or strip students of the knowledge’s they bring to the classroom

• Enacted through the use of generative themes involve the educational use of issues that are central to students’ lives as a grounding for the curriculum

• Centered on the notion that teachers should be researchers: here teachers learn to produce and teach students to produce their own knowledges

• Grounded on the notion that teachers become researchers of their students: as researchers, teachers study their students, their backgrounds, & the forces that shape them


Elaboration of critical pedagogy by Joe Kincheloe

• Interested in maintaining a delicate balance between social change and cultivating the intellect: this requires a rigorous pedagogy that accomplishes both goals

• Concerned with” the margins” of society, the experiences and needs of individuals faced with oppression and subjugation

• Constructed on the awareness that science can be used as a force to regulate and control

• Dedicated to understanding the context in which educational activity takes place

• Committed to resistant the harmful effects of dominant power

• Attuned to the importance of complexity--understands complexity theory--in constructing a rigorous and transformative education

• Focused on understanding the profound impact of neo-colonial structures in shaping education and knowledge

essential knowledge according to socrates rousseau
Essential knowledgeaccording to Socrates & Rousseau
  • 1) The Self
  • 2) The Other
  • 3) The World
knowledge construction in relation to education
Knowledge construction in relation to education










my o wn relation to self
My Own Relation to Self
  • 1) Being a black child from Haïti, and growing up in Montreal
  • 2) Being concerned very early about women’srights: life conditions, health, victims of all kinds of violence, education, emancipation, liberation
  • 3) Understanding the notion of socioeconomic class particularly with the second wave of massive Haitian migration in Montreal
  • 4) Participating in the debate around the choice of language (“Creole or French”) in Haitian adult literacy to struggle against illiteracy
  • 5) Trying to find my real cultural roots as a young immigrant in the diverse cultures of Haiti, Quebec, Canada, France, United States and, of course, somewhere in Africa
  • 6) Discovering the potential and actual toxicity of knowledge while studying natural sciences (sociobiology)
  • 7) Sympathising with the cause of Quebec People in their quest for cultural, linguistic, economic and politic sovereignty from Canada
social aspects which strongly influence my knowledge construction about education
Social aspects which strongly influence my knowledge construction about education
  • 1) Race and ethnicity
  • 2) Gender
  • 3) Class
  • 4) Language
  • 5) Culture
  • 6) Schooling
  • 7) Political context
…Brought me to the notions ofOppression, Alienation, Colonization andConscientisation, Emancipation, Liberation

The determinant point was the reading of Paulo Freire’s book: “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, the foundation book of Critical Pedagogy

“How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be “hosts” of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. …The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization. Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. (2003, p. 48)

“To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is naïve and simplistic” (2003, p. 50)







Education for democracy

  • Oppression
  • Alienation
  • Colonization
  • Hegemonic democracy
un learn toxic knowledge
Un/Learn Toxic Knowledge
  • Questioning the cornerstone criteria of the dominant colonial epistemology:
    • Objectivity
    • Neutrality
    • Universality
    • Truth

Reclaiming the diverse perspectives of other epistemologies through Critical Pedagogy

  • By whose standards? For whom?
  • Intensity in relation to academic standards?
  • Is there a framework?
  • Democracy, citizenship and social justice as integrated or segregated parts of the curriculum?
  • If the resources and expertise are available, can we access them?
  • Understanding power, and being able to problematize it; Who has the power?
  • What are our objectives, and why?
  • What are our resources?
  • Who is involved, and how?
  • What is the content of what we are developing?
  • How is this content understood, measured and rendered relevant?
  • How do we know that we have the right process and outcomes?
  • in addition to content, what are the principles and predispositions we have identified to cultivate democracy for a diverse population through education?

Teacher-education students







Teacher-educators /

Faculties of education


-Political positions

-Labour relations

-Professional development

-Policy posture

-Policy input



-Relation to political ed., social justice, etc.


-Institutional culture

-Macro context (i.e., accreditation)

Teachers’ federations

-Political engagement

-Policy framework & process


-Leadership & accountability


-Policy analysis


-Institutional culture

-Regulatory/legal framework

-Pedagogical & curricular approach

-Relations with community, faculties of ed., & government


Ministries/Departments of Education

School boards / Schools

Factors influencing potential for thicker, more critical and engaged democracy in education



  • Individual, family, community
  • School
  • Locality, city, region
  • Nation
  • World
  • Ideological
  • Theoretical
  • Philosophical
  • Political policy
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Educational
  • Students, parents, communities
  • Academic sector
  • Governments
  • Labour market
  • Civil society
  • Pedagogy
  • Curriculum
  • Institutional culture
  • Educational policy
  • Knowledge (epistemology)
  • Critical content – Knowledge
  • Critical reflection – Dispositions
  • Critical action – Transformation
  • Critical engagement – Re-conceptualization
  • Experience
  • Culture
  • Encounters
  • Education
  • Varia
deliberative democracy
Deliberative democracy
  • A few images, and then let’s talk…