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The Art of Critical Pedagogy

Possibilities for Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools


Jeffrey M.R. Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell

This book furthers the discussion concerning critical pedagogy and its practical applications for urban contexts. It addresses two looming, yet under-explored questions that have emerged with the ascendancy of critical pedagogy in the educational discourse: (1) What does critical pedagogy look like in work with urban youth? and (2) How can a systematic investigation of critical work enacted in urban contexts simultaneously draw upon and push the core tenets of critical pedagogy? Addressing the tensions inherent in enacting critical pedagogy – between working to disrupt and to successfully navigate oppressive institutionalized structures, and between the practice of critical pedagogy and the current standards-driven climate – The Art of Critical Pedagogy seeks to generate authentic internal and external dialogues among educators in search of texts that offer guidance for teaching for a more socially just world.
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1 The Challenges and Opportunities of Urban Education



The Challenges and Opportunities of Urban Education

We begin this chapter by articulating some key ideological and structural dilemmas in urban education that result in a lack of funding, high dropout rates, excessive teacher attrition, and low standardized test scores. Rather than taking a defeatist tone, we address these dilemmas in order to situate critical pedagogy as a viable force for confronting them. We conclude the chapter with an outline of the remaining chapters in the book.

Let us begin by rethinking the position that urban schools are failing. Given the overwhelming body of evidence that reveals decades of funding and structural inequalities between schools in high- and low-income communities (Akom, 2003; Anyon, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Kozol, 1991, 2005; Noguera, 2003; Oakes, 1985), it is illogical to compare schools across these communities and then decry urban schools as failures. When one set of schools is given the resources necessary to succeed and another group of schools is not, we have predetermined winners and losers. In this scenario, failure is not actually the result of failing. This is the paradox facing urban school reformers. On the one hand, urban schools are producing academic failure at alarming rates; at the same time, they are doing this inside a systematic structural design that essentially predetermines their failure. This is where the urban school reform rhetoric has missed the mark. It has presumed that urban schools are broken. Urban schools are not broken; they are doing exactly...

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