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Critical Theory Pedagogies Guide

Feminist Pedagogy

Feminist pedagogy is grounded in feminist theory, and it stems from critical pedagogy.

Power & Empowerment

Feminist pedagogy is concerned with existing and historical power systems and relations while also incorporating the concept of intersectionality (Vanderbilt). Feminist pedagogy adopts a classroom model in which teachers become students and students become teachers. Power is shared within the classroom (Vanderbilt). Feminist pedagogy seeks to connect social justice with learning, and acknowledges a connection between power and knowledge in the learning environment (Vanderbilt).  

Knowledge is socially produced rather than individually produced. According to Freire, when knowledge is treated as individually produced, this leads to a view of knowledge as "a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing" (Freire, p.72). Freire terms this the "banking" model of education. In this view, students become repositories of information and are inactive, passive learners. 

  • Feminist pedagogues approach knowledge as being socially produced through "interaction, collaboration, and negotiation" (Vanderbilt).
  • Instructors on this view consider themselves as part of the learning community rather than being positioned above students. According to Vanderbilt, the ideal is that "students and teachers ideally learn with and from one another, co-constructing knowledge" (Vanderbilt).
  • The classroom is "a space historically rooted within systems of power" (Vanderbilt).
  • One aspect of feminist pedagogy involves ensuring that students can become aware of power through "empowering students to reflect upon their positions in the classroom, to consider themselves as holders of knowledge, and to consider their implicit authority" (Vanderbilt)

Identity & Intersectionality

Feminist pedagogy affirms that identity is intersectional.  Intersectionality is the concept that "different aspects of identity and systems of oppression" are interconnected and inextricable (Vanderbilt). Intersectionality is accounted for in feminist pedagogy. Because of this, the following are components of feminist pedagogy:

  • Instructors develop an understanding of identity that acknowledges difference.
  • The acknowledgement of difference allows for "equity-mindedness, a desire for justice and fairness that's attentive to the specific identities, histories, and needs of students within a specific context, rather than assuming that everyone in the classroom is the same" (Vanderbilt). 
  • Instructors also address "those identities and voices that are erased, silenced, absent, or otherwise excluded" (Vanderbilt).
  • By being aware of the multiple identities of both instructor, students, and texts, this can create "a deeper sense of community and solidarity" as well as allowing students to "achieve a better sense of the world around them and the contingent nature of its truths" (Vanderbilt). 

Knowledge & Personal Experience

Feminist pedagogy affirms that personal experience (including emotion) is a valid form of knowledge. 

  • Feminist pedagogy incorporates "the whole of one's identity - student and instructor - in learning" (Vanderbilt).
  • Feminist pedagogy moves away from the emphasis on rationalism that Freire acknowledged. Rather, feminist pedagogy acknowledges emotion as valid, particularly in response to the historical positioning of rationalism opposed to the "irrational Other," which included women and "other exotic Others" (Vanderbilt). 
  • Feminist pedagogy helps identify the "relationship between experience, emotion, and action" to "help students bridge the classroom and the 'real world,' the personal and the political, theory and practice" (Vanderbilt).
  • The incorporation of emotion into the classroom is about "analyzing how they inform perspectives and actions" (Vanderbilt). Therefore, emotion in the classroom is about allowing greater knowledge.

Community

Community is "the understanding that members of a group have of themselves as a collective and how they relate to each other based on that understanding" (Vanderbilt).

  • Feminist pedagogy addresses "notions of listening, speaking, risk-taking, respect, reconciliation, and mutuality" to address the historical oppressions brought about to influence community (Vanderbilt).
  • The classroom allows "interactions that can embody the values of solidarity and shared power, and facilitate the goals of unveiling and dismantling oppressive structures and organizing for action" (Vanderbilt).
  • Emphasis on community, therefore, is a way of rejecting the patriarchal oppressions that have led "women and other historically marginalized groups to fear one another, and to believe they are 'valueless and obtain value only by relating to or bonding with men' (hooks 34)" (Vanderbilt).

Feminist Pedagogy Influences

Because feminist pedagogy stems from critical pedagogy, a key figure in feminist pedagogy is Paulo Freire, whose work Pedagogies of the Oppressed heavily influenced critical pedagogy. Another major figure in feminist pedagogy is bell hooks, whose work Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center was highly influential. 

A major figure in feminist pedagogy is bell hooks, whose work Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center was highly influential. 

Putting it into Practice

Empowering Students:

  • Empower students through activities that allow each student and instructor to share power or control over the course.

  • Additionally, empowerment of students in the classroom prepares them to take that empowerment and leadership to situations outside of the classroom.
    • Assign students activities that allow for students to take turns leading the class and invite collaboration. An example of this would be to have a student present on a topic, then lead a discussion in which a variety of perspectives are desired. These perspectives may be heard in silence while the student takes notes on their answers and considers their own initial reactions to their peers’ answers. (Chick)

    • Facilitate a discussion in which students get into small groups to develop 1-2 of their own goals for the course. As groups report back, students see how the goals relate to one another and collectively incorporate them into the syllabus. (Chick)

    • Consciousness raising - group activities which emphasize dialogue and allow for students to share their experiences around a topic and locate shared experiences.

    • Connect students' classroom experiences with the "real world," allowing them to find practical applications of instruction they can apply elsewhere.

Community-Building:

  • Discussion-based learning
  • Collaborative assignments
  • Consciousness-raising activities
  • Activities and resources that connect the classroom to activism in the community

Instruction Design:

  • Backward design model - Design an assignment or lesson starting with the lesson goal (i.e. what the students will be learning), rather than the activities or assessment methods (i.e. how they will learn it). Once the learning goals have been established, then move on to designing the activities and ways of assessing student understanding and learning.

Classroom Environment:

  • Create a classroom where conversation across difference and disagreement is possible.
    • This may include setting expectations for discussions and preparing to handle conflicts and disagreements.
  • Create a classroom where students and instructors and utilize silence and self-reflection as ways of active learning.
  • Classroom environments also emphasize community and allow for personal experience and emotion to be expressed, with each student's experiences viewed as valid forms of knowing and learning about the world. 

Key Theorists

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

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

  • Peter McLaren - A leading scholar in critical pedagogy whose work relates to Marxist theory, critical literacy, and cultural studies. Read more about McLaren at his Chapman University faculty profile.
  • Patricia Lather  - A scholar and educator whose work focuses on feminist methodology and gender and education. Read more about Lather at her faculty page at Ohio State University. 
  • Kimberlé Crenshaw - Philosopher, scholar, and lawyer, Crenshaw's work focuses on critical race theory, intersectionality, and feminism. Read more about Crenshaw.
  • Ileana Jiminez - A feminist and social justice scholar and educator. Learn more about Jiminez. 
  • Audre Lorde - Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992) was a civil rights activist, writer, and feminist. 

Key Readings

Additional Readings & Resources