Critical Pedagogy

  • Critical Pedagogy workshop in Budapest
  • What is Critical Pedagogy?
  • The Critical Incident Technique
  • Theater of the Oppressed
  • Critical Pedagogy and Social Circus

Critical Pedagogy workshop in Budapest

In December we had a week to see, learn, experience, and try the method of critical pedagogy applied in social circus with minority groups.

Throughout the week, the participants had the opportunity to learn about the method each morning session, and visit a social circus group of youngsters each afternoon and see the work of the Hungarian Juggling Association. The target groups were mostly disadvantaged youngsters from poor neighborhood in the periphery of the city, mostly from Roma minority groups.

During the morning sessions from Monday to Wednesday, the focus was on transmitting the ideas of critical pedagogy, try together specific techniques to apply it, reflect on our work as trainers related to it, and discuss different points of view about the questions it raises.

On Thursday participants were leading a critical pedagogy session designed and executed by themselves in small groups, and the rest of the group was giving feedback about it. In this session we had experienced great results, and the participants learned how to apply the learned method. In the theoretical parts of the training, two trainers of the School of Public Life Association were co-leading the workshop with the Hungarian Juggling Association. The School of Public Life is has a wast experience in teaching critical pedagogy to professionals, they are the main source of this method in Hungary. On Friday the Roma social circus groups, that we had met already together during the week, has came to Inspiral Circus Space, the venue of the training, and we have led a social circus session together with the participants. It was an enriching, and interesting experience for both the youngsters and the international participants, full of joy.

But lets see the week a bit more in details:

What is Critical Pedagogy

Critical Pedagogy, or also called Pedagogy of the Oppressed or Pedagogy of Liberation is a pedagogical method, a vision about education, a social movement against social injustice and oppression. The movement started in Brazil in the 60’s with the fundamental ideas layed down by Paulo Freire‘s best-known 1968 work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

The main goal of critical pedagogy is to establish a learning process that fosters critical consciousness which leads to an emancipation from oppression. Then individuals and groups with critical consciousness will effect change in their world.  

Specific goals of the method are

  • Reinforce self-esteem – student usually feel themselves unable to learn, act, change. Teachers have to believe in them and in their capabilities. Also they have to transmit this belief, and showing them, proving them the potential in them. Oppression is many time internalized in the way of thinking of the oppressed. Critical Pedagogy aims to liberate these individuals and groups from the mentality of being justly inferior which legitimates their oppression.
  • Develop imagination – sometimes it is hard to imagine the world we would like to live in, but we have to develop this imagination to be able to act towards reaching it.  
  • Understand oppression /system – it is important to understand that belonging to minority groups, marginalized neighborhood and under-class families is not easy. Student from these conditions have to fight many times harder to reach a social status that is given to others by birth. Understanding our situation is a starting point to make a change.
  • Develop tools and skills for change – to be the leaders of our own lives and to make a change in our world requires different skills. These skills should be learned during an educational process rather than information.

Tools and characteristics of critical pedagogy to achieve these goals:

  • Critical dialogue – the relation between teacher and student should be horizontal, and should be based on dialogue.
  • Participatory learning – students should no be passive receivers of knowledge but the one who actively engage and realize their own learning process.
  • Teacher-student-teacher process – the teacher is not he one who merely teaches and the student who learns. They all engage together in a learning process, the one who teaches also learns him/herself.
  • Self improvement – the student should be the responsible for his/her own learning process. When consciousness is awake, curiosity and motivation to learn come naturally.
  • Doing-learning approach – the goal of learning should never be to own a merely theoretical knowledge. Learning should always encourage action.

The Critical Incident technique

To adjust our pedagogical practice to the vision of critical pedagogy a very useful technique of developing critical sensitivity and consciousness is Critical Incident.

The technique is developed by the french social worker Margalit Cohen Emerique for social workers facing intercultural situations. The technique can be used not only for conflicts between people of different cultures, but – related to this – of different social status, class, race, gender. In short words the technique helps analyzing these situations from both sides (the side of the teacher/social worker/the one who holds a higher social status/the one belong to the majority of the society– and the side of the student/client/lower social status holder/minority group-oppressed group member)

For more details about this technique check the “Heathy Diversity” Manual of Critical Incident which elaborates the technique through the topic of heath and disease and healing.

Theater of the Oppressed

During the training we had a session to learn about Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed technique as well. This is a powerful tool to work around the concept of oppression, and it’s practice is not far from our social circus techniques. The Theater of the oppressed is a big category – or tree – of different theater and drama techniques related to oppression and developing critical consciousness, encouraging action. From this tree we had worked mostly with the branch of image theater, as in social circus we also often use images in our workshops.

Illustration from

For more information on Theater of the Oppressed download the Fotel Handbook, a manual for teachers and trainers using Theater of the Oppressed.

Critical Pedagogy and Social Circus

Critical pedagogy can be applied in the practice of social circus in many ways. The impact of social circus was most accurately elaborated by Reg Bolton in his work: Why Circus Works. Bolton discusses 6 key components of reaching adulthood, where circus workshops can have a positive impact in youngsters. These component are very similar to what we have mentioned by the tools of critical pedagogy, Bolton just discusses them from a more psychological approach. So confronting it to the ideas of Freire can lead it to a broader understanding, having in mind the effects of the social and economic system we are living in and how it influences our youngsters.

Bolton’s 6 key factors – that has to be developed or experienced in a young age to became an adult – are where social circus can play an important role:

  • Self-Knowledge – self esteem, self improvement
  • Perseverance at work – action for change, doing-learning, participative learning
  • Risk – critical consciousness – Youngsters have a need to experience risk. Not just the physical (doing acrobatics for example), but also the intellectual and becoming conscious of oppression and the system.
  • Trust – dialogue-based communication of equals
  • Dream – developing imagination
  • + Fun – being the base of all the others.

So this is basically what we have been working on this week in Budapest in December. In our next training in June, participants will keep on exploring the paths of critical pedagogy applied in social circus.

For more photos visit our gallery.