Overview of Critical Theory

A third alternative to behaviorism is based on one of the most widely adopted forms of modern Marxism. Critical theory, also known as the Frankfurt School or neo-Marxism, has been used by a number of scholars to analyze the way information technology is used in education. Critical theory focuses on political, cultural, economic, and social relationships within a culture, particularly as they are related to what groups have power and which do not. A critical theorist, for example, might do an analysis of the ways schools are funded and point out that children from poor families tend to go to schools that are poorly funded while children of well-to-do parents go to schools with better funding. Critical theory also argues that information technology, or technology in general, is not value free. Critical theorists view IT as another means of production and as such it has to be viewed in the context of the political, ideological and cultural assumptions of the society that has given rise to it. Critical theorists are critical of behavioral models of instruction because they are based on capitalist "efficiency" models of factory work that demean the laborer (the student) and produce undesirable outcomes. Critical theorists also criticize educational software that portrays boys and men as the "movers and shakes" while portraying girls and women as "second class" participants. Similarly, critical theorists have looked at the way minorities have been portrayed in educational software.

General Implications of Critical Theory

The critical theorists have been much more active as critics of what has been done than they have been as creators and developers of models of what can be. Papers by Scott, Cole, and Engle (1992), Streibel (1991), and Apple (1991) are good examples. However, critical theorists do make some important points, particularly concerning equity issues such as equal access to technology resources in rich and poor schools and in regard to cultural and gender biases in some educational software.

Types of Instruction of Critical Theory

While critical theorists have not been very active in developing instructional approaches that include technology, they often recommend approaches developed by cognitive and social constructivists and they urge all teachers to be aware of issues such as gender and cultural biases.

Examples of Critical Theory Perspectives

Teacher Talk, Volume 2, Issue 2

This issue of the Teacher Talk (http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/tthmpg.html)  electronic journal focuses on cultural diversity in classroom. Its article titles include: URL: http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/v2i2/table.html

Developing an Awareness of Gender Bias in Art Interpretation

The objective of this on-line lesson plan from the Teacher Talk (http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/tthmpg.html) electronic journal is for the student to be able to discuss and write about ways gender bias may influence the ways in which they interpret pieces of art. It is suitable for middle grades art classes. Its activities and strategies include:
The teacher shows the students a series of slides of artists' works. After each slide, the teacher asks: "Simply from looking at the slide, can you predict if this is the work of a male artist, a female artist, or is this an impossible task?" The students write their responses and write a brief explanation regarding their decision. Often, the students will predict the gender of the artist. The teacher then encourages the students to identify what element(s) of the work influenced their decision. The teacher can relate this discussion to common stereotypes relating to gender roles (i.e. only females paint with pink, only males draw dark or ominous scenes).
The teacher encourages students to identify their own biases regarding gender role expectations as they relate to artistic expression.

To take full advantage of  technology into this lesson, instead of using a series of slides, teachers may create or ask students to create a multimedia presentation integrating graphics, sound, and text  to bring this lesson to life. The teacher may also expand from art to different types of artistic expression such as music or expand from gender bias to different kinds of bias existing in the society to encourage the student to go beyond the limits set by either their own or society's gender-role expectations.

URL: http://www.clearinghouse.net/cgi-bin/chadmin/viewframe/Education/teaching_and_pedagogy/lesson_plans?1010

"They are not like us!": Teaching about Biases Against Immigration

The objective of this on-line lesson plan from the Teacher Talk (http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/tthmpg.html) electronic journal is for the student to be able to analyze and make inferences about the meaning of a speech. It is suitable for grade levels 9-12 in subject areas such as English or social studies. Its activities and strategies include: Students read an updated excerpt from a speech written by a famous American (in this case, Benjamin Franklin) without identifying the author. Students are asked to determine who is speaking, when the speech was made, and what group of people is being described. The teacher then leads a discussion, eliciting responses from all students.

This exercise helps students understand that our culture has survived and been enriched by each new wave of immigrants. Students should be aware that biases against immigrants have been expressed in each generation.

To take full advantage of technology into this lesson, teachers may help students create a multimedia presentation on the topic that integrates graphics, sound, and text to bring this lesson to life.

URL: http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/v2i2/they.html

EDEQUITY (Educational Equity Discussion List)

Moderated by the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEC) Resource Center, EDEQUITY is an electronic discussion list on issues of educational equity in a multicultural context in schools, colleges and other education sites. The subscribers discuss how to attain equity for males and females, and how gender equity can be a helpful construct for improving education for all. EDEQUITY also features a series of online bi-monthly discussion panels. The participation of both women and men is welcomed. You can participate through EQUITY ONLINE (http://www.edc.org/hypermail/edequity/) web site or subscribe to the list by email (http://www.edc.org/CEEC/WEEA/edequity/index.html).

URL: http://www.edc.org/hypermail/edequity/

Manifest Destiny: Understanding Through Simulation

The objective of this on-line lesson plan from the Teacher Talk (http://education.indiana.edu/cas/tt/tthmpg.html) electronic journal is for the student to be able to actively participate in a simulation to show the conflict involved in territorial disputes. It is suitable for grade levels 7-9 and can be used in English and social studies classes. Its activities and strategies include:
Many groups of people throughout U.S. History (Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mormons, and others) have lost their homelands due to the encroachment of others. This simulation is based on how the concept of Manifest Destiny affected the conflict between Mexican Americans and European Americans living in Texas in the 1820s and 1830s. It involves two classes: a visiting class and a host class. Each class begins in its own classroom.
URL: http://www.clearinghouse.net/cgi-bin/chadmin/viewframe/Education/teaching_and_pedagogy/lesson_plans?1010

Building Their Future: Girls and Technology Education in Connecticut

This on-line article reports on the findings of a two-year research project looking at girls' participation in technology education in Connecticut schools. The authors also attempt to identify viable strategies to change enrollments and attitudes toward the success of girls and women in technology education.
URL: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/jte-v7n2/silverman.jte-v7n2.html

EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) Homepage

Sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation, EASI has the following mission and activities: EASI homepage also has several online workshops that focus on adaptive computing technology, creating accessible web pages, learning disabilities and access to the disciplines of science, engineering, and math. All of these courses are provided over the Internet using e-mail.

URL: http://www.rit.edu/~easi/index.html

Toward a Sociology of Educational Technology

This is a chapter for the Handbook of Research on Educational Technology. The author indicates that technology not only changes the ways in which information is shared within a school, it may also change the distribution of power in that school, and thereby alter fundamentally how the school does its work. And finally, technology may change the relationships between schools and communities, bringing them closer together.

These changing processes have already started. It seems clear that the social impacts of both device and process technologies are in many cases more important than the purely technical problems that technologies are ostensibly developed to solve. The author therefore proposes for "a new, critical sociology of educational technology , one that considers how technology affects the organization of schools, classrooms, and districts, how it provides opportunities for social groups to change their status, and how it interacts with other social and political movements that also focus on t he schools."
URL: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~stkerr/ethb94.htm

Challenges and Strategies in Using Technology to Promote Education Reform

Technology and Education Reform (http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/welcome.shtml)  is a research project sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement U.S. Department of Education. The "approaches" section of this homepage titled "Challenges and Strategies in Using Technology to Promote Education Reform" (http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/approaches.html) proposes the vision for technology-supported reform-oriented classrooms as follows: The "approaches" section then discuss the following topics:  URL: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~stkerr/ethb94.htm

Critical and Vygotskian Theories of Education: a Comparison

This on-line article highlights the differences in the approaches of critical theory and Vygotskian theory (social constructivism). The paper is divided into three sections:

1. Education and politics.
2. Critical theory and Radical Pedagogy.
3. Conclusions for Vygotskian theories of education.
URL: http://www.glasnet.ru/~vega/vygodsky/wardekkr.html

 Return to Homepage