Critical didactics, or critical pedagogy , is a philosophy and a social movement that applies concepts of critical theory to the teaching-learning process. Being a philosophy, it offers a series of theoretical perspectives that problematize both the contents and the purposes of pedagogy. Likewise, being a social movement, it problematizes the very act of educating and is promoted as an inherently political perspective.

In this article we will see what critical didactics is and how it has transformed educational models and practices.

Critical Didactics: from education to awareness

Critical pedagogy is a theoretical-practical proposal that has been developed to reformulate traditional notions and practices of education. Among other things, it proposes that the teaching-learning process is a tool that can foster critical consciousness , and with this, the emancipation of oppressed people.

Critical pedagogy is the theoretical basis of educational practice; and didactics, on the other hand, is the discipline in which this basis is made concrete. In other words, didactics becomes directly visible in the classroom and in the contents taught , while pedagogy works as the ideological support (Ramírez, 2008). Both processes, theoretical and practical, are understood from this perspective as the same process, so their characteristics are usually included in the same way under the terms of critical didactics or critical pedagogy.

Its theoretical basis

At an epistemological level, critical didactics starts from considering that all knowledge is mediated by the categories of understanding (Red, ), with which it is neither neutral nor immediate; its production is included in the context and not on the margin of it. While the educational act is fundamentally an act of knowledge, critical didactics takes into consideration its consequences and political elements .

This last one also requires to think that the school of modernity is not a creation that transcends history, but that it is linked to the origins and development of a type of society and of State in particular (Cuesta, Mainer, Mateos, et al, 2005); with which, it fulfills functions that it is important to make visible and to problematize.

This includes both school content and emphasis on the subjects they teach, as well as teaching strategies and the relationships established between teachers and students. It specifically promotes a dialogical relationship, where it is established in an egalitarian dialogue strongly focused on the needs of the students and not only of the teacher.

It also considers the effects that teaching practices can have on students, especially those who have historically been outside of traditional education.

Paulo Freire: precursor of critical pedagogy

At the end of the 20th century, the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire developed a pedagogical philosophy in which he defended that education is a tool that should be used to free people from oppression . Through it, it is possible to create critical awareness in people and generate emancipatory practices that are fundamentally communitarian.

Freire sought to empower students in the ability to think critically about their own situation as learners; as well as contextualizing that situation in a particular society . What he was looking for was to establish connections between individual experiences and the social contexts in which they were generated. Both his theory of the pedagogy of the oppressed and his model of community education represent a large part of the bases of critical didactics.

6 theoretical assumptions of critical pedagogy and didactics

According to Ramírez (2008) there are six assumptions that need to be considered in order to describe and understand critical pedagogy. The same author explains that the following assumptions refer to both the theoretical underpinnings of critical didactics and the educational activities that are generated from them.

1. Promoting social participation

Following the model of community education , critical didactics promotes social participation, beyond the context of the school. It includes the strengthening of democratic thinking that allows for the recognition of problems and alternative solutions as a whole.

2. Horizontal communication

It is a matter of promoting equality of conditions between the will of the different subjects involved in the teaching-learning process. The hierarchical relationship is thus dissolved and a process of “unlearning”, “learning” and “re-learning” is established, which is also influenced by subsequent “reflection” and “evaluation”.

One of the examples of didactic strategies in particular, and within the context of the classrooms, are the debates and consensus that are applied both to think about specific social problems, and in the structuring of the curricula.

3. Historical reconstruction

Historical reconstruction is a practice that allows us to understand the process through which pedagogy has been established as such, and to consider its scope and the limitations of the educational process itself , in relation to political and communicative changes.

4. Humanizing educational processes

It refers to the stimulation of intellectual abilities, but at the same time it refers to the sharpening of the sensory apparatus. It is about creating the necessary conditions to generate self-government and collective actions; as well as a critical awareness of the institutions or structures that generate oppression.

It recognizes the need to place the subject in the framework of social circumstances, where education is not only a synonym of “instruction”; but a powerful mechanism of analysis, reflection and discernment, both of one’s own attitudes and behaviour, and of politics, ideology and society.

5. Contextualizing the educational process

It is based on the principle of education for community life, looking for signs of collective identity that question cultural crises and values based on segregation and exclusion. In this way, the school is recognized as a scenario of criticism and questioning of hegemonic models.

6. Transforming social reality

All of the above has consequences at the micro-political level, not just within the classroom. The school is understood as a space and a dynamic that brings together social problems, which makes it possible to propose concrete paths to seek solutions.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rojas, A. (2009). Critical Didactics, Critical Banking Education. Integrativa Educativa, 4(2): 93-108.
  • Ramírez, R. (2008). Critical Pedagogy. An ethical way to generate educational processes. Folios (28): 108-119.
  • Cuesta, R., Mainer, J., Mateos, J. et al. (2005) Didáctica crítica. Where need and desire meet. Social Con-science. 17-54.