Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Critical Theory Pedagogies Guide

Anti-Racism

Anti-racism includes the actions, policies, and theories that challenge and oppose discrimination, inequality, and prejudice based on race. (UNC Charlotte Anti-Oppression LibGuide)

Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Anti-racist pedagogy falls under the theoretical frame of critical theory.

Critical theory "provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 

According to Alda M. Blakeney, “Antiracist Pedagogy is a paradigm located within Critical Theory utilized to explain and counteract the persistence and impact of racism using praxis as its focus to promote social justice for the creation of a democratic society in every respect” (Blakeney, p.119).

Self-Reflection

Instructors strive to continually self-educate and reflect on their own privilege, position, and biases. Instructors can also work to help students uncover their implicit biases. 

Address Historical Issues

Instructors can work to be aware of and take steps to address historical issues that lead to inequality and perpetuate racism. 

Acknowledge Racial Trauma

Instructors can increase their awareness of and acknowledge racial trauma, as well as prepare for and deal with racial tensions and conflicts.

Transformation

Instructors work to challenge structural systems that lead to racism and inequality. In doing so, instructors seek to transform both themselves and others.

Confront Racism

Instructors can prepare to confront racism directly and become anti-racist. Incorporating anti-racism into all aspects of instruction is a key part of confronting racism within education.

Nine Elements of Anti-Racist Education

The National Museum of African American History and Culture identifies these nine elements of anti-racist education:

      1. Examining the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of racial prejudice and discrimination.

      2. Exploring the influence of race and culture on one’s own personal and professional attitudes and behavior.

      3. Identifying appropriate anti-racist resources to incorporate into the curriculum in different subject areas.

      4. Developing new approaches to teaching...using varying cognitive approaches to diverse learning styles.

      5. Identifying and counteracting bias and stereotyping in learning material.

      6. Dealing with racial tensions & conflicts.

      7. Identifying appropriate assessment and placement procedures and practices.

      8. Assessing the hidden curriculum and making it more inclusive and reflective of all students’ experiences.

      9. Ensuring the personnel policies and practices are consistent with equality goals and that they provide managers with the knowledge & skills to implement equality programs.

Putting it Into Practice

Self-Reflection and Self-Education

Instructors are at the core of implementing anti-racist pedagogy, and as such, instructors can engage in a continual process of self-reflection and education.

Educate Yourself: Engage in continual learning and re-learning.

  • Read and watch to educate yourself. Brown University provides a list of Resources for Anti-Racism including videos, articles, and information on historical and current contexts.

Join a Learning Community: “Instructors bring our best to teaching racial justice content when we are part of a learning community that offers ongoing support, challenge, and innovation.” (Vanderbilt)

  • Where possible, consider joining formalized networks in the campus community

  • If not available, you may self-organize “a reading/discussion group, skill-sharing workshops, or other convenings to discuss racial justice pedagogy and enhance their professional development.” (Vanderbilt)

Self-Educate and Acknowledge Racial Trauma:

  • Educators can learn about anti-racism and begin to self-reflect and continually learn about the topic.
  • Understand the racial trauma that students, especially students of color, may carry and bring into the classroom. 

  • Learn to think broadly about anti-racism; think of it as a cultural and societal necessity. (Columbia)

Self-Reflect on Your Positionality and (Un)conscious Biases (Columbia):

  • "What biases do you carry? What is your vision of the “ideal” student? What choices do you make, and how are those choices impacted by your perspective and position in society?" (Columbia).

  • Take an implicit bias test and reflect on the results.

  • Explore your social identities with a worksheet.

Addressing Conflict 

  • Normalizing Difficulty: Include syllabus statements “reminding students that while repetition is comforting, learning new things—especially things that challenge previously held beliefs, is not.” Instructors may also hold a conversation about “what constitutes a productive classroom conversation, and in so doing challenging the notions of safety, risk, and comfort.” (Vanderbilt)
  • Assigning Reflections: “Instructors can ask students to write down concerns they have about talking about race/racism in class (e.g. appearing racist, or being a target of other’s microaggressions), or their feelings about the topic. These reflections can be shared in pairs or triads and then discussed among the class as a whole as a way to acknowledge and normalize the concerns students bring to the prospect of talking about race.” (Vanderbilt)

  • Utilizing Critical Learning Journals: “Smele, Siew-Sarju, Chou, Breton & Bernhardt (2017) suggest the use of a “critical learning journal,” a place for ungraded reflections that are not shared with other students or the professor but which encourages self-reflection when hot moments arise in the course. Critical learning journals can be a useful tool for students as they process their learning, while also encouraging students to be responsible for understanding their own emotional responses to course content and interactions.” (Vanderbilt)

Instruction Design & Assessment

  • Learning Goals: Anti-racist statements will need to include “one or more objectives to foster equitable outcomes.” The learning goals can also be included by a diversity statement. (Brown University)

  • Diverse Content: Diverse content can be incorporated throughout instruction. 

    • Examples of diversified course content at Brown University.

    • Students can be involved in creating diverse instruction content through assignments in which students are asked to identify something that was missing from the instruction or underrepresented and propose why it should be included.

    • Include assignments in which students connect content to their own lives.

    • Discussions can be structured to minimize harm to minoritized students.

  • Utilize materials other than books or articles. Examples may include:

    • Analyzing (auto)biographical narratives/memoirs

    • Theatre, video, visual art, music, social media, games, spoken-word, and advertisements are other examples of texts that may be used “to learn about social constructions of race and systemic manifestations of racism" (Brown University).

  • Assessment: “Grading and feedback can be two of the most critical sites of inequities because they are so deeply linked to educational outcomes and students’ sense of self. They also can be deeply imbued with implicit bias" (Brown University). Employ anti-racist assessment strategies, such as:

    • “Feedback that emphasizes an instructor’s high standards, a student’s potential to reach them, and actionable feedback to improve” (Brown University)

    • Frequent assignments with less weight

    • Contract grading systems

    • Increase assignment transparency - make sure that it's clear what students will be learning from an assignment, as well as how students can best succeed at the assignments they are given. Provide clear steps for students to achieve the learning goal.

Student Empowerment & Reflection

  • Assign Autobiographical Journaling/Essays: “Providing assignments that require students to make connections between the course content and their lived experiences is another way to encourage reflexivity.” (Vanderbilt)

  • Opportunities for Peer-to-Peer Learning: “When designing small groups, it is critical to be mindful of who the conversation is “for.” In racial justice courses, too often the knowledge and experience of students of color is exploited to advance the learning of white students” (Vanderbilt). Strategies may include:

    1. Intragroup caucusing: Students who share a particular social identity (e.g. first generation students) talk about what shared experiences they have, share support, learn from and challenge each other's perspectives.

    2. Intergroup dialogue with groups that are intentionally diverse along a number of axes (e.g. gender, ethnicity, geography).

Beyond the Classroom

  • Instructors can equip students by connecting them to resources on campus or in the greater community. Instructors may also incorporate campus or community resources into course content in order to help students make connections with the material and their personal lives.

Key Figures & Theorists

  • Paulo Freire - Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a philosopher of education whose work became the foundation of critical pedagogy. Read more about Freire.

  • Henry Giroux - (1943-Present) A founding theorist in critical pedagogy, professor, and scholar.

  • bell hooks - (1952-Present) A scholar, feminist, and activist whose work focuses on intersectionality, feminism, and critical pedagogy.

  • Kimberlé Crenshaw (1959-Present) - Philosopher, activist, lawyer, and professor whose work focuses on critical race theory, feminism, and intersectionality.

Key Readings

Additional Resources