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A Re-Thinking of Critical Pedagogy: A Review of Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy Today: Toward a New Critical Language in Education.

A Re-Thinking of Critical Pedagogy: A Review of Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy Today: Toward a New Critical Language in Education

Edited by Ilan Gur-Ze'ev Haifa, Israel: University of Haifa Press, 2005

As the wheels of change are moving in so many aspects of life it seems that Critical Pedagogy needs to review, or even transform, itself towards the future. The book Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy Today: Toward a New Critical Language in Education tries to respond to the challenges of the changing times in three ways: (1) It presents some of the central views of Critical Pedagogy today; (2) It presents a critical view on Critical Pedagogy's current situation; and (3) It presents different attempts to re-think the future possibilities of Critical Pedagogy. As the book includes 19 articles, this review will not be able to encompass all of them, but will give a snapshot of some of the ideas presented therein.

Although, as mentioned, the editor tried to give an arena to the different voices in Critical Pedagogy, I see the main importance of the book not in the good collection of a variety of thinkers, but in the attempt to look at Critical Pedagogy via critical eyes and in the effort that is done by some of these thinkers to re-think Critical Pedagogy. As Gur-Ze'ev indicates in his introduction: "Regardless to the degree of identification with Critical Pedagogy, it seems to me that many Critical Pedagogues are today ready for or actually searching for a new critical language in education that will go beyond the achievements and limitations of Critical Pedagogy." (1)

Why does Critical Pedagogy need a new critical language? Because, as Gur-Ze'ev claims, "so much of Critical pedagogy has become dogmatic, and sometimes anti-intellectual, while on the other hand losing its relevance for the people it conceived as victims to be emancipated." (3) Other writers in the book also criticize Critical Pedagogy's current state, each from their different way of approach. McLaren, who represents a neoMarxistic Critical Pedagogy, claims that "the educational left is finding itself without a revolutionary agenda for challenging in the classrooms of the nation the effects and consequences of the new capitalism." (3) Anat Rimon-Or, on the other hand, criticizes Critical Pedagogy's revolutionary agenda. She brings forward the Platonic understanding that critical thinking involves the commitment for the search for Truth and the Good. Therefore, Critical Pedagogy's over materialistic view on social needs contradicts its critical agenda:
 This educational act (critical education) is revolutionary in
 itself; although it doesn't cultivate revolutionists in the Marxist
 sense, but vice versa: it betrays the antagonistic relation between
 critical thinking and essential social needs. Critical education
 stems from critical thinking; hence, it must postpone social needs,
 including those of the revolution. (4)

Nigel Tubbs argues that the source of the crisis is the failure of Critical Pedagogy to pursue a philosophical critique of itself and its misinterpretation of the Critical Theory. (5) This critical view highlights that by the estrangement of Critical Pedagogy from Critical Theory and it's over emphasizing of political struggle, Critical Pedagogy became violent and departed from the love of life, which is so essential in Critical Theory. (6)

Another angle from which to look at Critical Pedagogy with critical eyes is offered by Gert Biestra. He points to the utopian nature that Critical Pedagogy embraced. A utopian view that causes it to become oppressive rather than liberating:
 Critical Pedagogy as a positive educational programme, as something
 that only needs to be implemented, is problematic. This is first of
 all because such a programme can only be successful if it would be
 able to control the use of what it aims to achieve. But wanting to
 control how people use, interpret and respond to what Critical
 Pedagogy has to offer, ultimately leads to a form of
 totalitarianism that is foreign to what Critical Pedagogy stands
 for. (7)

So how will Critical Pedagogy search for a new language in education? As it is impossible to include all 19 articles in this short review, I will present in brief two attempts which, although they are very different, they both try to transform Critical Pedagogy and take it beyond its philosophical borders. Both try to integrate Critical Theory with ancient philosophy, or even theology. One is Eduardo Duarte's attempt to integrate Critical Theory with Taoism and the second is Ilan Gur-Ze'ev who integrates it with Judaism.

In his article "Learning as Freedom," Duarte tries to integrate Eastern philosophy and its understanding of being, learning, dialogue and freedom. Duarte speaks against the modern subject as a lonely, isolated violent being:
 the willing subject who seeks to dominate, control, and render all
 beings instruments of his endeavors....From this perspective the
 overbearing subject stands apart, alone and isolated from all
 beings who are rendered "objects" up and against his
 "subjectivity." (8)

He offers a new perception of learning that integrates the subject with the Being and offers a possibility of transformation. The learning, according to his perception is the appearance of the "not yet," and therefore is not arrested by what has been, i.e., tradition. Learning is a creative act that allows an arena of expression to that which didn't appear yet. (9) Learning as an appearance of the "not yet" is the art of listening and invoking the "nothing." Therefore learning is about relationship, the person's relationship with the Being. (10) Real learning is always a dialogue, as it expresses learning as a relationship and movement, with others and the Being, towards the "not yet":
 In dialogue we wander, our talking in a walking, a movement, a
 seeking together.... And this is why we say our relationship with
 Being is Learning, for Learning is another way of describing our
 attunement or awareness of our being--with--Being, of being reposed
 in Being's processural unfolding. (11)

This dialogue with others, with the Being and the Nothing is the promise of freedom. We free ourselves from "self--certain subject" from "self-certainty" and turn away from habitual life into the unstable and unpredictable ground. (12) When we face the nothing we have only questions, and therefore become the question. The search is both our existence and our freedom:
 the Sage draws the apprentice into the open region of questioning
 where Ek-sistent reposing occurs. If Ek-sistence is "rooted in
 truth as freedom," then freedom designates the truth which is
 disclosed in a through philosophical wandering. The essence of
 Learning is Freedom. (13)

One of my teachers used to say "Answers are an appearance of the past and its recycling in the present, whilst Questions can invite future perceptions." (14) It seems that Duarte's article represents an interesting attempt to start a search for a new philosophical language for a several reasons: First, it doesn't arrest the future. It does so by the art of questioning and the art of listening. Second, it gives human life a communion and universal meaning. This allows us to escape the boundaries of the local, and changes the perspective about the meaning of human life. And third, it offers the possibility of transformation. When our attention is focused on listening to the future and our identity is free from the domesticated and temporary, we can have a better chance to overcome the faults of the past and become lighter in our journey toward the possible.

The second attempt, done by Gur-Ze'ev, tries to update the philosophical language of Critical Pedagogy by offering a perception of Diasporic Education:
 Diasporic philosophy, which is true to itself, cannot become
 relevant to counter education by mere intellectual act or as an act
 of pure will to power. The becoming or the becoming-emancipated in
 face of the utopian "not-yet" and the nearness to the truth of
 Being met in the Diasporic philosophy....It becomes present as that
 which is referred to by drives, shortage, suffering and absence--but
 also by non-mechanistic creation, happiness and love that knows how
 to give birth. (15)

The Diasporic philosophy presents Horkheimer's perception of Judaism as a negative utopia which rejects the concept of God as a positive absolute. (16) Yet Gur-Ze'ev is aware to the ethnocentric inclination of Judaism and claims that as a Jewish philosophy Diasporic education should transcend Judaism to become universalistic in its existentialistic, esthetic, moral and intellectual dimensions. (17) Gur-Ze'ev is even trying to do the next step and starts to draw the picture of the Diasporic education. In my view this attempt is too bonded to Critical Theory as well as to its limits.

Both philosophical attempts, the one presented by Duarte and the one that was presented by Gur-Ze'ev, share the universalistic and transformative approach to life--a freedom of homelessness that seeks to free oneself from the holding of the past and listen to the future. The book presents varied attempts to seek for the future portrait of Critical Pedagogy; varied also by their courage to leave behind the certainties of the past and put themselves in question. My belief is that Critical Pedagogy should fulfill the promise that it started with, i.e., leave behind the naive attitude of being "the beacon of truth and justice" and offer a genuine search for the possibility of liberation and transformation of human life.

Tova Ya'akovy

University of Haifa


(1) Gur-Ze'ev, Ilan (Ed.). (2005). Critical theory and critical pedagogy today, Toward a new critical language in education. Haifa, Israel: University of Haifa Press, p. 10.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Peter Mclaren, Critical pedagogy in the age of terror, p.74.

(5) Anat Rimon-Or, Power relations and liberation, p. 334.

(6) Nigel Tubbs, The philosophy of critical pedagogy, p. 229.

(7) Ilan Gur-Ze'ev, Introduction, p. 24.

(8) Gert Beista, What can critical pedagogy learn from postmodernism? p.152.

(9) Eduardo, M, Duarte, Learning as freedom: the letting be of learning together, p. 317.

(10) Ibid, p. 320.

(11) Ibid, p. 321.

(12) Ibid, p. 325.

(13) Ibid, p. 327.

(14) Ibid, p. 328.

(15) Erez Grinboim, a co-founder of the "Plazma Group--models for generating new intelligences."

(16) Ilan Gur-Ze'ev, Beyond postmodern feminist critical pedagogy: Toward a diasporic philosophy of counter-education, p. 190.

(17) Ibid, p. 190.

(18) Ibid, p. 191.
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Author:Ya'akovy, Tova
Publication:Journal of Thought
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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