By Means of Critical Theory: Informed Emancipatory Education – An Essay on Realities and Possibilities

By Means of Critical Theory: Informed Emancipatory Education – An Essay on Realities and Possibilities

Gabriele Strohschen (DePaul University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4141-8.ch016
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So-termed non-traditional adult students have become a key target for marketing efforts in higher education, and non-conventional, accelerated paths to university-issued degrees are the lure du jour in the business of selling education programs. A key ethical challenge in our profession remains how we align the education of adults according to the higher education institutions' mission statements to the education adults seek and actually receive.  This chapter calls for considering the realities and possibilities of socially responsible educating when institutions are accountable to myriad stakeholders to peer at this issue through the lens of emancipatory education informed by tenets of critical theory. The argument hopes to engage the readers in problem-posing so that cross-sector, collaboratively designed education options can be considered that are contextual rather than prescriptive in nature and which align to the indigenous needs of teachers, learners, institutions, and communities.
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“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”

― Albert Einstein

Toward Problem-Posing

What is the purpose of education for adults? This simple question elicits diverse answers. Consider for a moment the variety of underlying assumptions and the concomitant considerations that are at the root of pondering the question when we ask different stakeholders about the purpose of educating adults. Drilling deeper, we may further ask: Toward what end do adult educators facilitate learning? Who determines the kind of transformation education programs are to achieve for adult learners? Whose reality are we reproducing with adult education programs? Whose reality are we affecting and how? The issue at hand in our field is that the power over the why, what, and the how of teaching is unilaterally maintained by those institutions, who sell their education products; namely education programs for which they award a coupon that declares one an educated adult. How did we arrive at this?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interdependence: Interdependence in this chapter is presented as a construct for describing human relations (i.e., equality between the individual and the collective and equity in values and contributions). It provides a platform for individuals to closely observe, identify, and analyze values and needs to understand contextual realities. Seeking to break patterns in thinking and behaviors, valuing interdependence can make us aware of possibilities for building win-win relationships in order to achieve innovations in mutually beneficial education programs.

Critical Theory: The broad framework for confronting social, historical, and ideological forces that reproduce ‘status quo’ of values, which maintains the power and positionality of stakeholders. Core principles of CT are extracted in this chapter to encourage critical reflection and analysis on expressed realities of stakeholders engaged in the education field. Its principles support how to challenge power structures to envision possibilities for novel education program design and delivery through cross-sector collaboration.

Collaboration: As considered here, cross-sector collaboration is loosely connected to key principles of grounded theory, promoting the kind of behavior of engaged stakeholders that clearly identifies contributions to a project by each partner and values task achievement over power or winning by any one partner only, thus building group cohesion to reach agreed upon goals.

Emancipatory Education: Emancipatory education, credited to Paulo Freire, promotes the critical examination of positionality, values, and power of self and of groups with which one affiliates. It provides an approach to knowledge production and disseminations in education offerings that makes space for freeing one’s self from doctrinaire legal, social, or political restrictions and mindsets.

Metagogy: Metagogy scaffolds our discourse about ideologies, values, and missions of Adult Education to arrive at meaningfully examined and contextually relevant education program design and delivery. The term was originally given by Strohschen and Elazier to describe an inclusive approach to instruction by, with, and for student and teacher that iteratively moves on a spectrum of dependent/more directive to interdependent/less directive instructional approaches and relationships. Metagogy concept originated in the early 2000’s with several international action research projects that sought to identify process, content, and criteria for blending principles of the ~gogies in Adult Education into a theorem to guide our praxis. The resultant Metagogy Theorem provides a framework for selecting contextually appropriate teaching practices. It offers up a both-and process for developing and implementing methods, strategies, and techniques for educating adults. It acknowledges contextuality and intersectionality of geopolitical, cultural, national, psychological, and other boundaries to reduce barriers to teaching and learning, created by our sparring ways about whose ideology ought to prevail in Adult Education. Sources:

Paradigmatic Assumptions: According to Brookfield, “Paradigmatic assumptions are the hardest of all assumptions to uncover. They are the structuring assumptions we use to order the world into fundamental categories. Usually we don't even recognize them as assumptions, even after they've been pointed out to us. Instead we insist that they're objectively valid renderings of reality, the facts as we know them to be true. Some paradigmatic assumptions I have held at different stages of my life as a teacher are that adults are self-directed learners, that critical thinking is an intellectual function characteristic of adult life, that good adult educational processes are inherently democratic, and that education always has a political dimension. Paradigmatic assumptions are examined critically only after a great deal of resistance to doing this, and it takes a considerable amount of contrary evidence and disconfirming experiences to change them. But when they are challenged and changed, the consequences for our lives are explosive.” Source : Open Educational Resources of UCD Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin

Problem-Posing: A well-known term coined by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. It describes a method of teaching that focuses on critical thinking. This method further emphasizes the thorough critical analysis of diverse vantage points of participants in education for the purpose of developing education programs that promote the liberation of individuals. Freire used the principles of problem-posing as an alternative to the ‘banking model’ of education. In this chapter, the concept is applied to identifying any need or issue within adult education program design and delivery to uncover the possibilities when a diversity of stakeholders collaboratively engages in clearly and openly posing their diverse views on needs or issues to examine disparate perspectives.

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