Critical Education: Where Were We?


(Bautista, Personal Photograph taken on a flight to Orlando Florida, In the air, February 1992)

Cultures are extraordinarily complex…How does one go about learning the underlying structure of culture? …Culture is humanity’s medium; there is not one aspect of human life that is not touched and altered by culture. This means personality, how people express themselves (including shows of emotion)…as well as how economic and government systems are put together and function. It [culture] is frequently the most obvious and taken for granted and therefore the least studied aspects of culture that influence behaviour in the deepest and most subtle ways. (Hall, 1977,106)

I am teaching this summer both live in-class and online for two separate institutions but my online classes have really been affecting my researcher self lately as the students are passionately exploring their understandings of critical education.  I am learning from their work and couldn’t ask for a  more engaging discussion.

As I reflect on their work, I am taken back to a time not too long ago, when I was immersed in deep thoughts in terms of culture, critical pedagogy and critical theory. Over the course of the last 20 years exploring these issues, I have come to see them take on new forms and perhaps even new terms.  I am currently exploring neoliberalism in education and what Giroux deems the corporatization of American education.  There is much to learn in the modern realm of critical education because the core issues of “power” and “politics” persist and whatever the language or the political guises used, teachers must confront a stark reality – teaching nowadays means providing and serving clients.  We operate in metrics driven systems of education.  Competitive, results-based, evaluated – the new “school as market” terms are endless.  What are the new divisions that teachers have to navigate in their milieu?  And what of critical education and diversity for all?

Diversity policy is what sets Canada apart from most countries – we haven’t perfected it but on the grand scheme of things, we are truly active in our pursuits compared to other nations. And yet, here we are, still negotiating what it means for the citizenry of our country. As I’ve learned from authors like Carole Conle (2003) – multiculturalism doesn’t travel well from place to place. Conle (2003) offers, “in multicultural settings, everyone defines situations within his or her own lifeworld. Yet all also find themselves in these situations not alone, but in common with others. In such shared situations, for the sake of proceeding together, definitions have to be relatively similar. Yet such similarity is likely not easy to obtain” (p.337).  I think what it comes down to is what are the motivations behind “inclusive” or “diversity” or “multicultural” practices?  Who gains? Who loses? Who owns the classroom experience?  Where are we?

I’ve found a response paper I wrote in 1999 in response to Giroux’s Chapter 3 from his text Living Dangerously. As I look at the excerpts I chose to reflect on, I believe it has resonance to many of my current thoughts.

Giroux (1993) states:

 …differences in power and privilege mediate who speaks, under what conditions and for whom.…multiculturalism raises the question of whether people are speaking within or outside a privileged space, and whether such spaces provide the conditions for different groups to listen to each other differently in order to address how the racial economies of privilege and power work in this society…a critical approach to cultural difference must shift attention away from an exclusive focus on subordinate groups….cultural difference means more than simply acknowledging “others” and analyzing stereotypes, more fundamentally it means understanding, engaging, and transforming the diverse institutions that produce racism and other forms of discrimation. (60-61)

Whether past or present, the dialectics of diversity must continually be discussed. The issues and conflicts may take on new forms but the core concerns remain the same – we engage in dialogue for the sake of our teacher selves and for our students, both present and future.

I fear though that when we speak of a culture and diversity, we tend to speak as a spectator, as if removed ourselves because we cannot relate. When you speak as an expert about culture, when you assume you know the truth, when you use the words “They” or “Those people” then you are no longer learning about others, you are awakening and aligning your perceptions or prejudices.

There is much to keep in mind and struggle to understand as I deliberate the textures of diversity for our current classrooms.

And I wholeheartedly welcome the challenge.



Conle, C. (2003). Multicultural Life and Ways of Telling. Curriculum Inquiry. 33(4),335-39.

Giroux, H. A. (1993). Living Dangerously: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Difference. New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Hall, E. T. (1977). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor press/ Doubleday.