I’ve been reading ‘Can Education Change Society?’ by Michael W. Apple. If you don’t know, Michael W. Apple is one of the foremost critical pedagogues. He has worked closely with, amongst others, Paulo Freire in developing the various theories of critical pedagogy that are so often referred to in today’s educational arena. This volume, which is by no means a long one, is a summation of more than 40 years work by Apple in the domain of critical pedagogy, and links both his previous work with his ideas about the future of critical pedagogy, as well as highlighting some of the more serious issues with the field of critical pedagogy as of this time. For that reason, it’s a valuable contribution, especially for reasonably new critical pedagogues like myself. I’m going to summarise a few of what I think are the vital learnings from the text below, as well as adding a commentary of my own to them.
1) Firstly, I think that Apple is quite rightly scathingly critical of the modern academic interpretations of critical pedagogy. Apple argues that, in many cases, critical pedagogy theory has become divorced from critical pedagogy practice; that is to say, it has become an exercise that is solely related to theorizing about class, race and gender and there has not been enough input from those ‘in the trenches’ so to speak. The effect that this has is that critical pedagogy becomes something that is done to the oppressed, rather than, as Friere urged, something that should be done with them.
2) The second criticism is linked to that. Freire argues that critical pedagogy, in a similar way to terms like postcolonial and postmodernism have undergone a kind of conversion, where they are used by academics to suggest that they are up-to-date with modern theory – as a kind of password to access the restricted fields of academia, without any real understanding of what the terms actually mean, especially, as mentioned above, how they relate in practice.
3) Finally, Apple spends a great deal of time discussing Freire’s approach to disagreement and discussion, emphasising the man’s humility and willingness to engage in discussion, and identifying working, practical solutions to previously identified problems.