A Critical Pedagogy Reading List

As I work my way closer to my professional goal of becoming an instruction librarian, I have found myself digging deeper into the theory and practice of critical pedagogy. If this is a new term for you, in brief: critical pedagogy is a philosophy that challenges traditional educational models of the teacher as an unquestioned authority whose job is to fill students’ heads with knowledge. Instead, critical pedagogy favors a more democratic classroom, where students and teachers treat each other as co-learners, who each have things they can teach each other. I have collected a few of the books and articles that launched me into the field of critical pedagogy. There is so much more scholarship in the world of critical pedagogy out there, so consider this just a sampler to get you started.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

I read this book for a class last fall and honestly it blew my mind. One of our former Hackers talks about it in her post about her own theory behind librarianship (Check out some of the other great books on their list!), which sums up my own thoughts regarding it quite well. As one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy, it is an excellent place to start when exploring these theories.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks

Another foundational text in critical pedagogy, I picked this up after bell hooks’s passing late last year, and I am very glad I did. This book discusses education as the practice of freedom, and dealing with issues like racism and sexism in the classroom, and how to teach so that anyone can learn. It has helped me to start developing a mindset towards teaching where I want to be intentional about every student being heard and valued. 

Critical library instruction : theories and methods edited by Emily Drabinski, Alana Kumbier, and Maria Accardi

A collection of essays from a wide range of practicing librarians on critical pedagogy as it applies to library instruction specifically. This collection has both introduced me to different theorists (I particularly enjoyed the essay about Henry Giroux and Oscar Wilde’s teaching philosophies), and helped to build a bridge between these theories and actual practice. 


How Unconditional Positive Regard Can Help Students Feel Cared For by Alex Shevrin Venet

Unconditional positive regard is a term coined by psychologist Carl R. Rogers, meaning “there are no conditions of acceptance, no feeling of ‘I like you only if you are thus and so.’” When I think back on the instructors I remember most fondly throughout my own educational history, the ones who stand out are the ones who always made it clear that they cared, and that they wanted to meet me wherever I was in my learning process. This article helped to succinctly articulate what I want my mindset to be when I step into a classroom.

Critical Pedagogy, Critical Conversations: Expanding Dialogue About Critical Library Instruction Through the Lens of Composition and Rhetoric by Andrea Baer

This article encourages further conversations regarding critical pedagogy, and how we approach library instruction. It was one of the first things I read regarding this subject, and I still think it’s a great starting point for opening oneself up to these ideas and dialogues.

Michelle Caswell’s Critical LIS Praxis Reading List

Maybe it’s cheating to include a reading list as a reading, but there are so many good resources on this list I felt it was important to include it. The readings range from more general critical theory to more specific topics such as decolonization and queer theory. I am still working my way through the list, but what I’ve read so far has already given me so much to think about.

What are your favorite readings on critical pedagogy? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Robin Gee is the Community Manager of Hack Library School, and a student at University of Wisconsin Madison, focusing on instruction and reference in academic libraries. They currently hope to start a critical pedagogy reading group this summer, although first they need to get through grad school. You can find them on Twitter at @robinmgee 

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