What is radical pedagogy?

Posted by in Academix, Pedagogy

I don’t usually post other articles or essays in their entirety, but this one is a solid introductory effort seeking to answer the above question, and it’s very concise. I’ve been interested in radical pedagogy off and on, throughout my scholarly meanderings and find this particular text useful. I’ve lifted it from the ICAAP Radical Pedagogy site. Pictured above is one of the “founding figures” of radical pedagogy, Paulo Freire.

What is Radical Pedagogy

Timothy McGettigan

The concept, “radical pedagogy,” has many different meanings. For some, a discussion of radical pedagogy implies an analysis of the deeply politicized aspects of educational institutions, policies and practices—and, further, that education can and must be oriented towards radical social change (Freire, 1970, 1997; Giroux, 1997; McLaren, 1998; Shor, 1992). For others, radical pedagogy refers to cutting edge developments in the field of education: the latest theories, methods and practices that promise to reinvent fundamentally the processes of teaching and learning. Different as these perspectives may appear to be, they are, nevertheless, linked quite closely. Radical pedagogy is all about knowledge and education, and how they can (or should) change to best serve the purposes of both educators and the educated. Since the one constant in the universe is change and because education has come to be among the most important social institutions in the world, then it is very important to consider as broadly as possible the nature of education as it exists today—as well as how it might change as we move into the future. That will be the task of this journal. Radical Pedagogy will be a forum for the discussion of education and change.

Important as the institution of education happens to be, it is far from perfect. There are many who do not have adequate access to education, there are places where educational opportunities exist, but they are woefully inadequate (Kozol, 1991), and there are those who are ill-served by being a part of educational institutions (Eisenstein, 1996; Ladsen-Bilings, 1997; Murrel, 1997; Willis, 1977). For these and a myriad of other reasons education will change. No institution that has so many vocal critics can ignore the call for change. There are millions, or, more likely, billions of people who have opinions about what is wrong with education and why it must change “for the better.” But, what is “better education” and how can the enormous institutions that serve the goal of education be changed for the better?

One very popular argument at the moment in the United States is that education suffers because it is public institution that is governed by an inflexible bureaucracy. Therefore, adherents to this viewpoint often conclude that the way to improve education would be to privatize education: according to this argument, when education becomes subject to the forces of the market, as with any industry, it will begin to manufacture a “better product.” On the other hand, some would argue that educational standards have been set too low and that education, in the United States and elsewhere, can only be improved by raising the bar and requiring stringent conformity to the highest of educational standards (e.g., lifting the American educational up to the standard of the contemporary Japanese system). At the same time, there are many who would argue that it is precisely because such rigid standards have been implemented that we have so many problems in educational systems as they have been traditionally conceived (Freire, 1970, 1997; McLaren, 1998). Still others have begun to argue that the traditional classroom has become outmoded. Thus, the best way to improve education in an information society might be to integrate technology increasingly into the classroom—perhaps even to the point that education might become a largely cyber, or virtual experience.

Are any of these valid ways to analyze education and its standards of quality—or lack thereof? Are there different ways to approach the analysis of education that are better suited to changing or improving the state of contemporary teaching and learning? These are the questions that I would like to confront in Radical Pedagogy. Where do we go from here, and why? No matter what your orientation to the contemporary debate over education happens to be, I invite you to read and take part in these discussions. The ways that we should teach and learn, the ways that we will improve education “for the good of all” in the global society are being decided right now. I invite you to be part of that discussion through reading and contributing to the dialogue in Radical Pedagogy.


Eisenstein, Zillah, 1996. “Legal Pedagogy as Authorized Silence(s).” Pp. 263-279 in Feminisms and Pedagogies of Everyday Life, (Carmen Luke, ed.), Albany: State University of New York Press.

Freire, Paulo, 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, Paulo (Ed.), 1997. Mentoring the Mentor: A Critical Dialogue with Paulo Freire. New York: Peter Lang.

Giroux, Henry A., 1997. Pedagogy and the Politics of Hope: Theory, Culture and Schooling. Boulder: Westview Press.

Kozol, Jonathan, 1991. Savage Inequalities. New York: Crown.

Ladsen-Billings, Gloria, 1997. “I Know Why This Doesn’t Feel Empowering: A Critical Race Analysis of Critical Pedagogy.” Pp. 127-141 in Mentoring the Mentor: A Critical Dialogue with Paulo Freire, (Paulo Freire, ed.), New York: Peter Lang.

McLaren, Peter, 1998. Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. 3rd Edition. New York: Longman.

Murrel, Jr., Peter C., 1997. “Digging Again the Family Wells: A Freirian Literacy Framework as Emancipatory Pedagogy for African American Children.” Pp. 19-58 in Mentoring the Mentor: A Critical Dialogue with Paulo Freire, (Paulo Freire, ed.), New York: Peter Lang.

Shor, Ira, 1992. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Willis, Paul, 1977. Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get working Class Jobs. Westmead, England: Saxon House.