Ths Urgent Moment Needs Critical Pedagogy & Culturally Responsive Teaching

“We need a generation of young people who believe in the transformative power of advocating for others and uses its voice to resolve inequities that constrain human potential.”

The following is from a discussion on voices in critical pedagogy from a class on Culturally Responsive Instruction.  I was asked to identify which voices speak to me and have helped shape my educational philosophy.


“We need a generation of young people who believe in the transformative power of advocating for others and uses its voice to resolve inequities that constrain human potential.”  (Smith et al., 2017)

Critical pedagogues Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux speak to me and to the urgency of this moment.  Giroux is one of many critical pedagogues that are carrying Freire’s legacy into the future. This talk (and the essay) helped me understand how Giroux sees critical pedagogy as an answer to this dangerous time and as a guiding light for a hopeful future. Giroux says, “Education in the final analysis is about the production of agency.  What kind of agents are we going to produce?…All education is an introduction in some way to the future. It’s a struggle over what kinds of future you want for young people.”  (França, 2019)

“Paulo (Freire) understood keenly that democracy is threatened by a powerful military-industrial complex, the rise of extremist groups, and the increased power of the warfare state. He also recognized the pedagogical force of a corporate and militarized culture that erodes the moral and civic capacities of citizens to think beyond the common sense of official power. But he strongly believed that educational sites represent the most important venues in which to affirm public values, support a critical citizenry, and resist those who would deny the empowering functions of teaching and learning.”  (Giroux, 2020)

Freire and culturally responsive instruction go hand in hand. Freire believed that personal experience becomes the foundation of inquiry for students, the beginning of the opportunity to relate their narratives, their history and culture to the classroom curriculum.  Freire calls educators to break away from the bureaucracy and put students at the center and respect traditions and different ways of seeing the world. 


Freire and Giroux Call Me to Action 

We can’t have a functioning democracy without an informed and engaged citizenry. Freire and Giroux urge educators to actively address social issues and allow students the opportunity to develop a consciousness of freedom – not self-indulgence or the freedom from social responsibility.  Students need to understand power structures and how to take constructive action. (Giroux, 2020) Freire and Giroux place educators and students as co-equal defenders of democracy and a just future.  Giroux (2020): “Ignorance now rules America. Not the simple, if somewhat innocent ignorance that comes from an absence of knowledge, but a malicious ignorance forged in the arrogance of refusing to think hard about an issue, to engage language in the pursuit of justice.” 

I entered the teaching profession with the democratic view that all have the ability to create and enjoy music and that everyone is simply owed an opportunity.  Paulo Freire speaks to me because he reminds me of the ideals  I carry within me that unfortunately I have sometimes allowed to be snuffed out as a music teacher in the school system.  I’ve lived a cognitive dissonance as an educator for some time – especially in recent years – knowing that what is right for kids is not what I see myself or others doing much of the time.  I can only speak to what I see going on at the elementary level, but I am concerned that schools are not meeting the moment and preparing this generation of youth to tackle gargantuan problems such climate change, social injustice, or the growing forces of authoritarianism in the U.S. and across the globe.  For example, why are so many of my colleagues being asked to be silent on the racist, white-supremacist, anti-democratic insurrection on  January 6th, 2021? That is a failure in my view. 

Yes, I’ve been a bureaucrat.  I been pressured by the lack of time, by the structure of my teaching assignment, the busy-ness, work overload, the isolation – at times I’ve been the anti-Freire.  I’ve also bucked the system – surreptitiously, behind the scenes, afraid to call attention to my acts of resistance.  After learning about Freire and Giroux, I realize that I need to come out of the shadows and show myself so my Freirean colleagues and I can join together! 



França, J. (July 2019). Henry Giroux: “Those arguing that education should be neutral are really arguing for a version of education in which nobody is accountable”. CCCBLab. Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.  Retrieved from


Giroux, H. (October 2010). Lessons from Paulo Freire. Chronicle of High Education. Retrieved from


Giroux, H. (October 2020).  Fascist Culture, Critical Pedagogy, and Resistance in Dark Times. CounterPunch. Retrieved from


Smith, D., Frey, N., Pumpian, I., & Fisher, D. (2017). Building equity: Policies and practices to empower all learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.