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If you are like me, the weeks since the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States have been filled with shock, horror, disbelief, sadness and fear. These feelings come not only from the executive orders and policies that have been emerging from the White House but even more ...
Critical Approaches to the Study of Higher Education: A Practical Introduction
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2016
The goal of the contributors to Critical Approaches to the Study of Higher Education is to apply critical theories to the study of higher education which, they insist, “has only begun to develop research using such essential approaches as critical feminist theories, critical race theories, critical discourse analysis, state theoretical approaches, or theories of power and marginalization.” Added to this genuine concern is the scarcity of published material “addressing key topics in higher education that are central to critical work elsewhere in the social sciences” (5). To meet this need, they marshal “critical theories, models, and research tools with a critical vision of the central challenges facing postsecondary researchers” hoping to shape future “scholars and scholarship in higher education” (5). They are convinced that these critical tools will “provide policymakers, the public, and institutional actors clear, reasonable, and authoritative information about higher education as it is experienced in a democracy” (1). The result is a fine compilation of well-written essays for teachers and researchers to adopt and exercise their critical edge with a view to innovating their teaching pedagogies and research.
The vision Mertínez-Ahlemán, Pusser, and Bensimon have is to ensure a sustained exercise of critical theory in the service of humanity, namely “for understanding politics and policy making in higher education” (5). They carry their readers through fifteen intriguing arguments critically testing theory against lived experiences filled with autobiographical elements that share the same thread – an abiding concern and determination to ensure that justice and equity are exercised in higher education. After all, critical theory came into being for this purpose as exemplified in feminist criticism, critical race theory, and other critical studies dealing with various dimensions of human life such as marginalization, economic disparity, and power differential. Simply stated, things are not the way they seem and something must be done even if it might be subversive.
This volume is, indeed, “long overdue” (5) as it provides salient insights on how to critically navigate the host of complex and challenging issues facing higher education. These dynamic tensions inherent in higher education include: areas of scholarship and lived experience, power differential, critical historiography, the making of globalization, policymaking, race, equity, opportunities, and institutional change, and so on. Quite frankly, this book is a gem with a delicate vision to motivate scholars and teachers alike to engage in the noble – yet difficult – task of effecting change, especially the kind of transformation that advocates justice and nurtures equity in higher education. Educators and researchers may strive to embody and diligently exercise its content in their classrooms or writing projects because of its timely and urgent call for action. In other words, justice and equity matter (311).
Acts of Knowing: Critical Pedagogy in, Against and Beyond the University
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
Readers who believe there ought to be profound differences between universities and businesses will rejoice in reading these probing and rousing responses to the commodification of education, theorized here as one result of “the global dominance of neoliberalism”(5). The voices in this collection, primarily scholars in the United Kingdom, turn to critical pedagogy, broadly defined, as the best resource for unmasking and dethroning the dehumanization of this ethos. While Paolo Freire’s thought undergirds the collection, these scholars draw on a wide array of critical theorists to address many intertwined issues regarding the inherently political nature of education and its transformative and justice building potential.
After a short introduction which traces the broad outlines of its critical approach, the collection divides into two parts. Part One, “Perspectives on the Crisis in Education,” includes four essays by U.K. scholars and Part Two, “Dialogues on Critical Pedagogy and Popular Education,” consists of edited transcripts of six interviews, originally podcasts funded by the U.K. Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology, and Politics. Each interview, conducted by one of the editors of the volume, is with an educator who has been shaped by and employs critical pedagogy.
The outstanding first two essays, co-authored by the editors, explore issues of student debt and consumerist pedagogies. Each of these essays offer careful, convincing, and devastating analysis of ways by which what is “sold” as beneficial to students (for example, student loans, use of student evaluations) often works against their best interests.
The third essay draws cogent connections between critical pedagogy and radical democracy, concluding with an emphasis that, while critique is necessary, it is limited by remaining within the frame of the oppressive structures it opposes. Insights of critique must be used to build new structures, new ways of relating and forging solidarities for change. In the fourth essay, the author reflects on student response to her critical pedagogy in a Master’s level class.
In Part Two, the six interviews are conducted with professors of social work, sociology, community education, information management, education, and aboriginal studies. As editor Singh explains, the decision to include interviews is intended to present critical dialogue as process. In addition, after each interview there are helpful lists of references and suggested readings.
In one interview, Freire’s Catholic heritage is acknowledged and the interviewer refers to his own unspecified “tradition” (presumably Sikh), but without the development which would have been fascinating to read. Religious studies teachers may be disappointed that, aside from this glancing reference and aspects of the interview on indigenous knowing, there are no attempts to integrate religious or spiritual concerns with the ethical contours of critical pedagogy. Unfortunately, numerous typographical errors also are evident throughout the book, including occasional omission of an important word (such as “not”). But for those committed to higher education as a social good, this collection will be provocative and inspiring.