Henry Giroux is a sociologist of education that writes mainly about what he (and others) call “critical pedagogy.” For him, schools are not just neutral deliverers of information to students—they are sites where the cultural values of society are implied and enforced, where students and teachers resist and conform, and where the greatest potential exists to make humanistic reforms for society. And that’s where critical pedagogy comes in: by examining the structures of society (including schools) and tendencies of cultures, educators can teach in a powerfully emancipatory way.
He has written prolifically, and it’s not like I’ve read a whole lot of his work, but recommend two articles.
The first, Theories of Reproduction and Resistance in the New Sociology of Education: A Critical Analysis, is a tour of contemporary sociology of education from the perspective of class, race and gender. It reviews and explains what some of the most important educational critics are saying about how schools reproduce the status quo and how students and teachers can break out of that mold. Written in 1983, the authors he reviews are a who’s who of the canon of sociology of education and cultural studies: Apple, Bordieu, Gramsci, Althusser, and many more. While much of Giroux’s work is nearly impenetrable due to vocabulary and a sense of hurry, this essay is measured and accessible, if long. He explains the theories so well, I dare say you don’t even need to bother reading the original work (GASP, I take it back, we should all read everything by everyone).
Touching on topics like the hidden curriculum, symbolic violence, ideology, hegemony, in the framework of reproduction and resistance, Giroux lays out strengths and weaknesses of each theory, and in the end presents an alternative theory that relies on the agency of individuals. While it was abstract in 1983, he went on to describe his theory and what it would look like in practice in many of his other articles. In Doing Cultural Studies: Youth and the Challenge of Pedagogy, he offers a model for teachers on how they might teach in the way he described in the 1983 article. He describes the importance of teachers and suggests they take on the role of public intellectuals. The model describes how teachers can use popular movies in their classrooms to challenge the messages and stories presented by dominant media. This is critical pedagogy in action.
So read some Henry Giroux! He presents a real challenge to teachers in today’s schools to be transformative educators.