Praxis and critical pedagogy

*needs editing

The conscious and critical application of theory. This is a concept found throughout the writing of Authentic Education proponents such as John Dewey and Socially Critical theorists such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks (Davis et al. 2015).

Paulo Freire often refers to the term praxis in his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1990). Praxis is about putting theory into action, not just performing dialogue but actually transforming an environment through active participation.

Class discussion/questioning

Through class discussion and collaborative group assessment students are participating in what bell hooks describes as ‘transformative pedagogy’. By implementing praxis (the conscious and critical application of theory) and by granting all participants an equal voice and equal opportunity to listen, a climate of openness and empowerment is created (hooks, 1994).

Freire’s theory of praxis is where reflection and action are applied to develop critical awareness. Application of this theory will help to construct environments that bell hooks refers to as transformative; spaces that foster the ‘sense that there is shared commitment and a common good that binds us’ (hooks, 1994).

Art therapy & praxis

This summation borrows from Paulo Freire’s educational theory of praxis. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) Freire describes praxis as ‘reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed’. In the case of art therapy the structures to be transformed are both the student’s internal mechanisms and the structures of the community that they exist within. Students are able to create an artwork, reflect on the creation and then repeat. Through this process they alter the structures both within them and around them.

Critical pedagogy

Freire’s concept of critical pedagogy will also be of interest when considering the impact of neoliberalism on the curriculum. Critical pedagogies aim to contextualise content based on the learners’ cultural and personal experiences. This provides learners with the critical skills required to liberate themselves from the conditions that oppress them (Freire, 1970).

‘Freire’s pedagogy is to enable the oppressed to understand that oppressive forces are not part of the natural order of things, but rather the result of historical and socially constructed human forces that can be changed by humans’ (Adams, 2007).

Critical pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is a way of teaching that focuses on planning and practicing for diversity and inclusivity. It can be thought of as ‘empowering education’ (Paterson & Wink, 2005) or ‘social justice education’ (Adams, Bell & Griffin, 2007).

Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

‘Freire’s pedagogy is to enable the oppressed to understand that oppressive forces are not part of the natural order of things, but rather the result of historical and socially constructed human forces that can be changed by humans’ (Adams, 2007).

Adams (p. 15, 2007) suggests that the inequalities and prejudices towards oppressed groups can be addressed not only by changing what we teach, but also by changing how we teach.

Adams suggests some practical frameworks for addressing the how of teaching. These include:

  • Incorporating experiential learning and reflection as suggested by the work of John Dewey
  • Referencing Freire’s pedagogy by acknowledging the teacher’s role as a facilitator of questions that encourage students to ask questions of themselves and of others
  • Plan for group problem solving, allowing individuals to draw on personal experiences. This encourages social connectedness and mutual responsibility
  • Provide feedback that enables students to understand the impact of what they say or do. Reward changes in awareness, personal growth, and efforts to work towards change, understood as outcomes of the learning process
  • Create a learning environment that fosters trust and non-defensiveness
  • Provide maps for students to record and organise the experiences they have had in group activities
  • Allow for opportunities where students can practice new patterns of thought and behaviour
  • Pay attention to social behaviours within the classroom
  • Plan for interrogation, inquiry and action (Adams, 2007)

Critical pedagogy is a model that provides strategies for celebrating diversity and encouraging inclusivity in the classroom. The goal being to address structural inequalities created by the systems of belief or ‘collective coherences’ created by the communities within which a school exists (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2015).

I am also interested in the social justice argument where reason and education are ‘deemed to be of crucial importance in the betterment of an individual’s life, and the betterment of society as a whole’ (Wadham, 2007).


Freire, P. (2014[1970]). Pedagogy Of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition. New York, London, New Delhi & Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic

Adams, M. (2007). Pedagogical Frameworks For Social Justice Education From Teaching For Diversity & Social Justice. New York & London: Routledge Publishing

Adams, M., Bell, L.A. & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching For Diversity & Social Justice. New York & London : Routledge Publishing