Critical education requires a reflective learning culture within which critical intelligence can develop. The ideas of Freire form the theoretical back bone to this educational strategy (Freire, 1972). Freire helps us see that (formal) education is one of the major channels through which dominant groups maintain inequalities, but education also has the potential of facilitating the promotion of critical intelligence for social transformation:
The next questions learners are asked to address include: why are these things happening? Who controls the political, economic and social systems that impact our lives? For whose benefit do oppressive systems exist and at whose cost are benefits derived? Questions such as these help learners see the influences of power in their daily lives and to question purpose in a way in which they may not have done before. In doing so they are encouraged to situate themselves within the political framework. This analytical framework is taken on board throughout the course although there is variation in the way it is introduced in terms of educational methods.
While ontology and epistemology are essential elements in critical education, so too is methodology. The methodological aim of critical education is to transform learner/educator relationships from conventional hierarchical ones to those which enable learners and educators to become critical co-investigators of knowledge, through the process of dialogue. A more critical understanding of knowledge emerges from dialogue in which all sources of knowledge (formal and informal) are opened to challenge and critique. This helps learners see that critical learning need not be confined to the duration of the course, but can become a life long process.
The dialogical learning relationship between learner and educator is not easily forged, both student and teacher can be resistant to it. The learner may feel confused and insecure as the relationship may not meet with expectations and past experiences of education. The educator in turn may feel threatened when the power base of the relationship is questioned. The process of building the relationship will vary with those involved. In cases where it does develop, this is likely to be gradual, as the relationship is tested out.
Some course participants only gradually integrate a critical perspective, while others remain resistant throughout the course. Most of us will accept a particular explanation of the world only when we are ready to do so. Weiler (1991) draws attention to the confusion that questioning issues of power can give rise to, particularly among women learners she has known. Conditioned within patriarchal cultures they have been led to perceive themselves as passive, not expected to "question the ways things are, to consider how things could be different … such thinking involves an active not a passive, relationship to the world' (Weiler, 1991: p. 462). Perhaps inevitably, many obstacles stand in the way of pursuing this approach to learning within the context of a formal course in higher education, yet progress can be made.
Allman, P. and Wallis, J. (1996) 'Challenging the postmodern condition: Radical adult education for critical intelligence' in M. Mayo & J. Thompson (eds.) Adult learning, critical intelligence and social change. Leicester: National Organization for Adult Learning.
Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Weiler, K. (1991) "A feminist pedagogy of difference', Harvard Educational Review, 61 (4), 449-474.