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Making Sense of Critical Pedagogy in Adult Literacy Education

Volume 2: Chapter Two
Sophie C. Degener

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In Chapter Two, Sophie Degener discusses critical theory and its application to the pedagogy used in adult basic education programs. Degener first provides a history and definition of critical pedagogy, noting the contributions of critical theorists like Freire, Dewey and Horton. Among the elements of critical theory and its application to pedagogy, the author highlights the belief that education is political and can serve as the means for students to more critically understand their role in society and develop the capacity to transform their world. In addition, she notes theorists' position on the important role of language and its potential to empower or oppress students, an idea that has implications for the instruction of immigrant populations.  Degener then discusses the potential application of critical pedagogy to adult education programs, particularly with respect to six elements:  philosophy and goals, program structure, curriculum and materials, teacher development, teacher-student relationships, and evaluation. 

Degener argues that, given the constraints and limited resources common in ABE, adult education programs cannot be classified as strictly critical or non-critical;  instead, programs operate along a continuum between the two positions. The author uses the six elements noted above as a framework for analyzing programs and outlines characteristics of programs falling at different places along this continuum.  Degener concludes the chapter by noting the need for more research on classroom practice and pedagogy within ABE programs. As she notes, research is needed to better understand how critical pedagogy is implemented in programs and how such an approach can impact learner outcomes and perceptions of their experience.  Research aimed at answering such questions would help to inform practitioners who seek to develop a more critical pedagogy over time.  In addition, findings in these areas could potentially influence policy by providing examples of the utility of non-standardized measures of success, thereby taking into account the specific backgrounds, needs and interests of individual students and balancing current trends toward standards-based education and standardized assessments.


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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL