Critical Theory and Pedagogy

Towards the Reconstruction of Education

by Douglas Kellner (Author)
©2023 Textbook X, 192 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 534


The decolonization of education necessarily involves a critique of dominant ideologies, pedagogies, and the current organization of education, to be replaced by what, in 1970, Paulo Freire called "the pedagogy of the oppressed." Critical Theory and Pedagogy presents a theory for decolonizing, democratizing, and reconstructing education in order to meet the challenges of a global and technological society. A democratic and intersectional reconstruction of education must build on and synthesize perspectives of classical philosophy of education, Deweyean radical pragmatism, Freirean critical pedagogy, poststructuralism, and critical theories of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, indigeneity, and more, while criticizing obsolete idealist, elitist, and antidemocratic aspects of traditional concepts of education.
Articulating a metatheory for the philosophy of education, while providing a historical genealogy and grounding of key themes, Critical Theory and Pedagogy argues for a democratic reconstruction of education that overcomes traditional, limiting, and oppressive aspects—what Marx and Engels saw as "the ruling ideas of the ruling class" and bell hooks reminds us includes the colonization of subjects into White, Patriarchal Capitalism—and embraces alternative pedagogies and principles suitable for the present age. This project includes developing multiple critical literacies as a response to digital technologies and developing critical pedagogies to meet the challenges of globalization, multiculturalism, and institutionalized racism, classism, and sexism, while promoting radical democratization to counter the trend toward the imposition of a neo-liberal business model of education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword (Steve Gennaro and Jeff Share)
  • Chapter One: Toward a Critical Theory of Education
  • Chapter Two: Marxian Perspectives on Educational Philosophy: From Classical Marxism to Critical Pedagogy
  • Chapter Three: Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative
  • Chapter Four: Critical Pedagogy, Cultural Studies, and Radical Democracy: Reflections on the Work of Henry Giroux
  • Chapter Five: Multimedia Pedagogy and Multicultural Education for the New Millennium (Rhonda Hammer and Douglas Kellner)
  • Chapter Six: Reading Images Critically: Toward a Postmodern Pedagogy
  • Chapter Seven: New Technologies/New Literacies: Reconstructing Education for Democracy and Social Justice
  • Chapter Eight: Digital Culture, Media, and the Challenges of Contemporary Cyborg Youth (Steve Gennaro and Doug Kellner)
  • Series Index

←vi | vii→


Steve Gennaro and Jeff Share

For more than half a century Douglas Kellner has helped shape the critical consciousness of academics, students, media critics, and activists. His writings have called for critical engagement with media, information, and technology, what he has termed “critical media literacy” (CML). He asserts the need to redesign public education to include CML with critical analysis and production, taught through dialogical Freirean pedagogy that engages students as co-constructors in the learning process. In the same way that Kellner himself once occupied John Dewey’s desk while a graduate student at Columbia University in New York in the 1960s, he has always believed in the Deweyian notion of the democratic potential of education and the responsibility of the education system to serve the people as centers for civic engagement and social justice, and not ideological indoctrination that perpetuates inequality, injustice, and oppression.

After earning his PhD at Columbia, Kellner spent several years studying in Europe with many of the academic giants of the time, from Ernest Bloch to Jacques Derrida. In 1969, he met Herbert Marcuse, a moment that changed his life, leading him to write numerous articles and books about Marcuse and upon his death, Kellner became the executor of Marcuse’s archives. In the early 1970s Kellner began teaching at the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) where he created one of the longest running public access TV shows called Alternative Views. With his co-host, Frank Morrow, they interviewed many of the leading ←vii | viii→intellectuals and progressives who were ignored by the commercial media. The popularity of this community television show made Kellner a celebrity of the left, as he was often recognized, even on the streets of New York.

During this period while teaching at UTA, Kellner received grants to travel throughout Texas and the Mississippi Delta giving workshops on critical media literacy to high school teachers. It was not enough to teach and produce media, Kellner has also been a prolific author writing almost fifty books and hundreds of articles. After twenty-five years in Texas, Kellner moved to California where he held the George F. Kneller Chair in the Philosophy of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) until his retirement in 2019.

At the time of the publishing of this book, many of the same concerns from Kellner’s time as a graduate student in Philosophy at Columbia remain. Capitalism reigns and the divide between the world’s richest 2 % and the remaining 98 % widens as digital media mammoths like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft have taken a stronghold on the digital commons and reap the massive economic benefits of globalization, digitization, and yes, even pandemics. According to separate reports by Oxfam and the Institute for Policy Studies, during the first year of COVID 19’s global pandemic, the number of people of living in poverty doubled to more than 500 million at the very same time as the world’s richest, a mere 2,365 billionaires, witnessed an increase of more than $4 trillion dollars to their wealth. Adding more than 50 % to their global monetary dominance. Of the ten wealthiest people in the world, more than half own media or technology empires: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle and more. Kellner has always recognized the significant power of media and of technology and has spent a lifetime encouraging others to speak to the truth, to challenge the ideology of capitalism and the inequity it produces, and to recognize the liberatory potential of democratic pedagogy.

For more than half a century, Douglas Kellner has continued to write about the importance of political economy and remind us that as technology changes, the need to understand and question the means of production in media, and now digital media, remains of utmost importance. Kellner’s writings invite us to connect our understanding of current media and technology to a public pedagogy and civic engagement that at its core equals and underpins participatory democracy. Critical Media Literacy is social justice. It is pedagogy as lived out and experienced by many and not just by few. It is a necessity for understanding our past and a fundamental requirement to our democratic future. Critical Media Literacy and the reconstruction of Education are an important part of Douglas Kellner’s legacy, and this collection of essays stands as a reminder for us all—that our struggle is far ←viii | ix→from over and we have the tools at our disposal to name the word and the world that surrounds us.

Steve Gennaro is a Lecturer in the Department of Humanities, York University, Toronto. He is the co-editor of Selling Youth (2010) and co-editor of Youth and Social Media (2021). He regularly publishes in areas relating to the philosophy of technology and critical media studies of youth, identity and politics.

Jeff Share teaches in the School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-authored with Douglas Kellner (2019), The Critical Media Literacy Guide: Engaging Media and Transforming Education.

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Chapter One

Toward a Critical Theory of Education

It is surely not difficult to see that our time is a time of birth and transition to a new period. The spirit has broken with what was hitherto the world of its existence and imagination and is about to submerge all this in the past; it is at work giving itself a new form. To be sure, the spirit is never at rest but always engaged in ever progressing motion …. the spirit that educates itself matures slowly and quietly toward the new form, dissolving one particle of the edifice of its previous world after the other, …. This gradual crumbling … is interrupted by the break of day that, like lightning, all at once reveals the edifice of the new world. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, (1965 [1807])

As the second decade of the second millennium unfolds, against the backdrop of COVID-19, the human species is undergoing one of the most dramatic technological revolutions in history, one that is changing everything from the ways that people work to the ways that they communicate with each other and spend their leisure time. The technological revolution centers on a removal of time and space as the precedents for education and bears witness to online, blended, hybrid, virtual, AI, and even gamified synchronous and asynchronous options for teaching and learning no longer occupying the periphery of education, but instead now holding steady as normalized educational options. This Great Transformation poses tremendous challenges to educators to rethink their basic tenets, to deploy the emergent technologies in creative and productive ways, and to restructure education to ←1 | 2→respond constructively and progressively to the technological and social changes now encompassing the globe.1

At the same time technological revolution is underway, important demographic and socio-political changes are taking place throughout the world. COVID-19 has left no corner of the world untouched and has altered all forms of daily living on a global scale. The global explosion of COVID-19 provides a reminder of how earlier conceptualizations and critiques of globalization may not have gone far enough to note the true interconnectedness of all peoples on this globe. Early colonization by imperial European nations brought pandemic and death to large segments of the colonized world, as Europeans imported deadly diseases throughout the colonized world. Ironically, this time the pandemic came from a former colonized part of the globe, so that the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as revenge of the colonized world, just as the pandemic can be seen as the revenge of nature for slaughtering animals in monstrous conditions of mass production and mechanized killing to feed hungry humans.2

In this context, as Gennaro noted in 2010, our definition of globalization needs to be expanded to account for “the movement, interaction, sharing, co-option, and even imposition of economic goods and services, cultures, ideas, ideologies, people’s lives and lived experiences, food, plants, animals, labor, medicine, disease, learning, play, practices, and knowledge(s) across time and space(s) previously thought to be impossible or at the very least improbable.”3 Furthermore, the Black Lives Matter and other liberation movements brought into perspective the very real challenge of providing equitable access to people from diverse races, classes, and backgrounds to the tools and competencies to succeed and participate in an ever more complex and changing digital world despite institutions that have institutionalized and normalized their very oppression.4

In this chapter, I propose developing a critical theory of education for democratizing and reconstructing education to meet the challenges of a global and technological society. This involves articulating a metatheory for the philosophy of education and providing a historical genealogy and grounding of key themes of a democratic reconstruction of education which indicates what traditional aspects of education should be overcome and what alternative pedagogies and principles should reconstruct education in the present age. Education has always involved colonization of children, youth, the underclasses, immigrants, and members of the society at large into the values, behavior, labor skills, competitiveness, and submission to authority to serve the needs of white, patriarchal capitalism and to transmit the ideologies that Marx and Engels saw as the “ruling ideas of the ruling class” (1978), and which bell hooks (1994) reminds us also includes the ruling ideas of ←2 | 3→white men and colonization of the subjects of education into White, Patriarchal Capitalism.


X, 192
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
Critical Theory Critical Pedagogy Reconstruction of Education Marxian theory Digital and Media Literacy Cultural Studies Multicultural Education Postmodern Pedagogy New Technologies/New Literacies Democracy and Social Justice Digital Culture Cyborg Youth Critical Theory and Pedagogy Towards the Reconstruction of Education Douglas Kellner
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. X, 192 pp., 4 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Douglas Kellner (Author)

Douglas Kellner is Distinguished Research Professor of Education at UCLA and is author of many books on social theory, politics, history, philosophy, and culture, including Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism and six edited volumes of his collected papers. Kellner’s work in social theory and cultural studies includes Media Culture; Guys and Guns Amok; Media Spectacle; American Nightmare and the American Horror Show on the presidency of Donald Trump, followed by Technology and Democracy.


Title: Critical Theory and Pedagogy
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