Critical Theory

  • Concept Map--an alternate view (to come)
  • Resources, Links (to come)

Most Prominent Contributors

Hegel (Kant, Marx)

Frankfurt School

Theodor Adorno

Jurgen Habermas

Henry Giroux

Michael Apple

Peter McLaren

Paulo Freire

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Definition of Learning

  • Not overly concerned with the cognitive side how learning in the mind, but rather with the enabling and subduing factors that affect learning that are embedded in our teaching/learning environments (society, technologies, schools etc.)

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Description of Theory

  • Critical theory seeks to reveal contradictions, social inequalities and dominances.  It attempts to make problematic what is taken for granted in culture, so that a degree of social justice can be had by those who are oppressed.
  • It suggests that modern social crises in education and govt. are a result of overly rational and scientific philosophies, and that we have largely abandoned moral perspectives.  They seek not to rid the system of scientific philosophies, but just to restore them to balance with other aspects of life like moral and ethical perspectives.  Critical thinking is not just a cognitive exercise, but also a moral and political one.
  • Action research in educational technology is valued where the students and teachers (not technologists) should have the primary responsibility for the research reports and activities.
  • Not all technology is bad.  Technology can also be used in emancipating ways, and can free people from repressive economies. (Daley, 1983)  too often however, we spend too effort building a better mouse-trap instead of studying how technology can liberate perspectives.
  • Improvement in social status is believed to improve (be correlated to) achievement in schools
  • Critical feminists are not happy with simply granting women equal speech time in classrooms or encouraging marginal groups to be more participative—it doesn’t get at the underlying sources of the problem. (Luke, 1992)
  • Particularly non-print media as well as this age of instant information, global networking, and biogenetics all can serve to expose and collapse old cultural distinctions.
  • A sizeable amount of scientific research is an attempt to make and end-run around the constraints of time, space, nature, and human nature at whatever cost.  It is time to focus research priorities less on gadgets and more on what we need to know to live humanely, peacefully, and responsibly on the earth. (Orr, 1992)
  • This technical, rational ideology dominates over more democratic-communicative ideologies.
  • Critical theorists are criticized for not demonstrating in any concrete way the superiority of their views over others’.  Their enlightenment may actually be a form of dominance not liberation.

    Key terms

    • Lifeworld
    • Moral/ethical decision making
    • Social justice
    • Authority
    • Critical Pedagogy
    • Action research

    Relation to other theories

    • Shares many concepts with post-modernism, feminism, post structural and deconstructivist theories.
    • Unlike post-modernism, feminists, and deconstructivists, critical theorists claim a belief in universals (“truth”)
    • Shares the sociology of technology belief that technology has built-in political and social meanings (Winner, 1990)

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Initial (knee-jerk) Reactions

  • This camp has the tendency to view the world in a glass-half-empty way—angry, grouchy, dare I say even-bossy people!
  • They appear to believe in external truth, and recognize that critical activities are value-laden—unlike post-modernism.
  • I’m not too excited about the oppression and power structure aspects of this theory, but like the notion of being critical as a learning device set forth in critical pedagogy…and by extension critical andragogy.
  • I also like the view of being a critical consumer of mass (or any) media.
  • Early critical theory is very negative toward technology, but in my opinion, it is a reaction to the heavy industrial technologies and industrial capitalism of the day, and less with the information technologies of today.
  • Enough already with the minority complex! Easy for me to say cuz I’m a white, affluent(?), western society, Judeo-Christian, male …and yet, I can feel oppressed too if I want to…by American nationals (I’m not one), males who have more hair, better physique, by people who are younger, own a car, have real jobs, are smarter, have more toys, eat out--oppression is also a frame of mind--I know, “oh that more people has my problems!”.  I agree that they are not a big deal in comparison with some oppression.

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Relevance to Instructional Systems Design (ISD)

  • We should constantly try to understand/reevaluate why we use technology in education, and ask how technology contributes to the problems of education, communities, individuals and the ecology/environment.
  • Knowledge is relevant only when it begin with student experiences; is critical only when these experiences are shown to be possibly problematic; (racist, sexist); and is transformative only when they use the knowledge to help empower others.
  • Be aware of power structures in class (gender, native language, socio-economic)
  • ID’s should be wary of technologizing learning reducing student learning to the development of mechanistic, valueless cognitive styles.  Technology should not be used to do things for or to learners.
  • Teachers should help demythologize the infallibility of educational programmers and so-called experts.

    Five ID implications

    • Find ways to construct meanings in context
    • Learn to create/design non-coercive, meaning-making resources.
    • Give up designing teacher/user-proof (human-fumigated) instruction.
    • Give up seeing everything in terms of skills—instead, see learning in terms of judgments, collective deliberation, and collective meaning-making.
    • Participate directly in learning

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What I Don’t Know yet / Questions

  • How caught up are we really in the US with our technology? Is it a phenomenon unique to this society, or industrialized nations as a whole?  I suspect it’s not as bad in other nations and societies.
  • History has always had its techno geeks— DaVinci, Merlin, the guy/gal with the stronger-bred horse, the new cart wheel, the lighter sail, higher-yield tomato plants, the more cleverly designed siege fortress, bread oven, or spinning wheel.  Has the phenomenon just escalated in the last 2 decades with computer technology?
  • Can everyone be empowered?  How is one empowered without it being at the expense of another? Will power structures always re-surface and re-emerge in groups?  Is full equality and homogeneity a desirable and achievable goal?
  • Would critical theory allow for someone to choose “oppression”?

Source: R. Nichols, V. Allen-Brown (1996). Critcal Theory and Educational Technology,
ch. 9 in Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
. D.H. Jonassen (ed.) NY: Simon & Schuster

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