AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

9. Critical Theory and Educational Technology

9.1 Introduction
9.2 Foundations of Critical Theory
9.3 Habermas's Epistemology
9.4 Critical Theory and Technolgy
9.5 Critical Theory and Education
9.6 Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.7 Topics in Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.8 Problems with Critical Theories of Education
9.9 Problems with Critical Theories of Educational Technology
9.10 Summary
9.11 Being Critical Educational Technologists
9.12 Why Appropriate Critical Theory?
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Critical theories are not without their critics. Perhaps the major criticism of them is that they fail to provide rational standards by which they can justify themselves, by which they can show themselves to be "better" than other theories of knowledge, science, or practice. Their ongoing problem has been to present a normative base for rationality that is not distorted by particular social ideologies (Held, 1983). More bluntly, Gibson (1986) says that critical theories suffer from cliquishness, conformity, elitism, immodesty, anti-individualism, contradictoriness, uncriticalness, and naivety (p. 164). Perhaps this is the same sense that Hughes and Hughes (1990) have when they say of Habermas's theory of communicative action that it "says much about rational talkers talking, but very little about actors acting: Felt, perceptive, imaginative, bodily experience does not fit these theories" (p. 144).

Likewise, critical theories have been maligned for their dense language (Goodman, 1992). Philip Jackson's (1980) complaint still has appeal: "Terms like ... hermeneutics get tossed around as though everybody but a fool is intimately familiar with their meaning" (p. 379). Counter arguments to these issues of language include claims that a call for clearer and more accessible language is anti-intellectual, a new "language of possibility" is needed, and oppressed peoples can understand and contribute to new languages.

Some feminist criticisms of critical theories have been especially powerful. Critical theories can be as narrow and oppressive as the rationalization, bureaucratization, and cultures they seek to unmask and change. Remember that Weiler (1991) said of Freire that he has a privileged position and believes in universals (p. 469). In one of the best known analyses of critical pedagogists, Ellsworth (1989a) says they often are so tied to their vision of the truth that they fail to see themselves as one of many voices, and they fail to understand that their enlightening of the false consciousness of others may be a form of dominance, not liberation. Her comments and the vitriolic responses to them by McLaren and Giroux are given an enlightening reading in Lather's (199 1) Getting Smart.

Further, Bowers (1993 ) points out that leaders for the emancipatory tradition in liberal education--Paulo Freire, Ira Saber, Henry Giroux, Maxine Greene--are remiss because they:

always deal with social justice issues at an abstract level, and thus never engage the cultural complexity of specific political issues like how to deal with a group that may be the victims of racial prejudice and economic discrimination but who largely adopt the "right to life" stance on the abortion issue. . . . As slogans intended to provide a general focus of messianic energy, "resistance," "emancipatory power," "transformative intellectuals," and so forth, must remain ethereal and thus avoid the contradictions and splintering effects of the real world of politics (p. I 11).

Bowers (1993) thinks critical pedagogists are particularly at fault for ignoring the ways in which their liberalism contributes to a declining ecology:

[Their] vision and rhetoric promote those aspects of the Western mindset that is [sic] contributing to the degradation of the environment: the individual or group of individuals who would constitute the "state of collective autonomy" is still viewed as independent of the natural environment; critical reflection remains the only legitimate expression of intelligence, which excludes both traditional cultures and the complex of information exchanges that characterize an ecology; change is still understood in human and culturally specific terms that equate progress only with an expansion of the individual's sense of freedom. Understanding the interdependence of the human culture/natural habitat relationship in terms of what is sustainable over the long term ... is simply not part of the Enlightenment vision of emancipation uncritically accepted by the followers of Dewey and Freire (p. 115).

Updated August 3, 2001
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