Brookfield, Stephen. The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Since beginning his teaching career in 1970, Stephen Brookfield has worked in England, Canada, Australia, and the United States, teaching in a variety of college settings. He has written fifteen books on adult learning, teaching, critical thinking, discussion methods and critical theory, six of which have won the Cyril O. Houle World Award for Literature in Adult Education (in 1986, 1989, 1996, 2005, 2011 and 2012). He also won the 1986 Imogene Okes Award for Outstanding Research in Adult Education. His work has been translated into German, Korean, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, and Polish. In 1991, he was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from the University System of New Hampshire for his contributions to understanding adult learning. In 2001, he received the Leadership Award from the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE) for “extraordinary contributions to the general field of continuing education on a national and international level.” In 2008 he was awarded the Morris T. Keeton Award of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning for “significant contributions to the field of adult and experiential learning.”
He currently serves on the editorial boards of educational journals in Britain, Canada and Australia, as well as in the United States. During 2002, he was a Visiting Professor at Harvard University. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Concordia University (St. Paul). After 10 years as a Professor of Higher and Adult Education at Columbia University in New York, he now holds the title of Distinguished University Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota where he recently won the university’s Diversity Leadership Teaching & Research Award and also the John Ireland Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Teacher/Scholar. In 2008 he also received the Morris T. Keeton Award of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning for his outstanding contributions to adult and experiential learning. In 2009 he was inducted into the international Adult Education Hall of Fame and in 2010 he received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Muhlenberg College.1
Brookfield wrote this book to to “fill in some of the theoretical background to [his] earlier work by outlining one of the chief theoretical traditions informing the ideas of critical thinking and critical reflection.”2 His methodology is rooted in Critical Social Theory that is, in itself, rooted in Marxist thought. Critical Social theory has a core assumption that the dominant society—particularly capitalistic society—exists for the perpetuation of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and marginalized. This societal norm is enforced through hegemony and is pervasive throughout United States culture. “Critical theory views a critical adult as one who takes action to create more democratic, collectivist economic and social forms.”3 The primary purpose of adult education—according to Brookfield—is to empower adults to think critically about the dominant ideology and explore more liberative and democratic ways of society that seek the good of all people.
Four Traditions of Critical Theory
- ideology critique. The Frankfurt School–the work of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse. Critical thinking is really the ability of individuals to disengage themselves from the tacit assumptions of discursive practices and power relations in order to exert more conscious control over their everyday lives.” (12) An important idea in this tradition is that of hegemony. Antonio Gramsci speaks against hegemony–the way in which people are convinced to embrace dominant ideologies as always being in their own best interest–and calls for educational processes that promise social transformation.
- psychoanalytical and psychotherapeutic. “emphasizes criticality in adulthood as the identification and reappraisal of inhibitions acquired in childhood as a result of various traumas.” (13) Mezirow’s transformative learning is heavily influenced by critical thinking.
- analytic philosophy and logic. recognizing different forms of logical fallacies and becoming skilled at using different forms of reasoning. Wittgenstein’s word games.
- pragmatist constructivism. emphasizes the way people learn how to construct and deconstruct their own experiences and meanings.4
Brookfield’s Version of Criticality
“My own understanding of criticality draws on all these traditions, but the first of these–ideology critique–is the undoubtedly the most prominent. However, i also believe that it is possible to argue a concept of criticality that blends elements of pragmatism into the critical theory traditions. This stance, which might be called critical pragmatism, is on e that accepts the essential accuracy and usefulness of the reading of society embedded within ideology critique. it also allies itself with the struggle to create a world in which one’s race, class, and gender do not frame the limits within which one can experience life. However, it is also skeptical of any claims to foundationalism or essentialism, that is, to the belief that there is one, and only one, way to conceive of and create such a society. Ths fusion of critical theory and pragmatism in not to everyone’s taste….taking a pragmatic slant on critical theory argues for a defensible flexibility regarding ways these values might be realized and encourages a self-critical, self-referential stance (claimed by some as integral to the critical tradition). It also reaffirms the creation of democratic forms of life as the central project of theory. The concern to democratize production to serve the whole community and the desire to reconfigure the workplace as a site for the exercise of human creativity are the meeting points for critical theory and pragmatism. The contemporary critical theorist Jürgen Habermas himself acknowledged this, arguing that his work could be interpreted as building on American pragmatism.5
Annotated Outline of Book
1. Exploring the Meaning of Critical Theory for Adult Learning
2. The Learning Tasks of Critical Theory
3. Challenging Ideology
“doing ideology critique involves adults in becoming aware of how ideology lives within the outside world that work against them. What strikes us as the normal order of things is suddenly revealed through ideology critique as a constructed reality that protects the interests of the powerful.”6
4. Contesting Hegemony
Gramsci is most associated with this concept. “it describes the qay that people learn to accept as natural and in their own best intersst and unjust social order.”7
5. Unmasking Power
The work of Michel Foucault. Power is a flowing dynamic that moves throughout society, not just from the top down. People are constantly monitoring each other and exerting power over each other.
6. Overcoming Alienation
Erich Fromm. Freedom is the opposite of alienation. This is central to Marxist thought.
7. Learning Liberation
Herbert Murcuse. He said that the adult learner must make the effort to break free of the group and contemplate art and beauty. This will form true liberation and allow the adult to engage properly with society.
8. Reclaiming Reason
Jürgen Habermas. Communicative Reason. This is the core of Critical Social Theory in that it seeks to produce liberative, democratic society through constructive speech-acts.
9. Learning Democracy
Lindeman and Habermas. True democracy is different than that currently experienced in American society.
10. Racializing Criticality
Unmasking the inherent white, anglo-centrism in Critical Social Theory
11. Gendering Criticality
Unmasking the inherent masculinist perspective in Critical Social Theory
12. Teaching Criticality
Adult students in the United States will often react with resistance to Critical theory for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that it is rooted in Marxism. It is important to note that the dominant Marxophopia in the United States stems from an unfair fusion of Marxism with Stalinism and Sovietism. Marx’s theory, in its pure form, is actually a liberating theory that leads to true democracy. His aversion to commodification is a necessary corrective to our current capitalistic hegemony.
“Critical teaching begins with developing students’ powers of critical thinking so that they can critique the interlocking systems of oppression embedded in contemporary society. Informed by a critical theory perspective, students learn to see that capitalism, bureaucratic rationality, disciplinary power, automaton conformity, one-dimensional thought, and repressive tolerance all combine to exert a powerful ideological sway aimed to ensure the current system stays intact. Critical thinking in this vein is the educational implementation of ideology critique, the deliberate attempt to penetrate the ideological obfuscation that ensures that massive social inequality is accepted by the majority as the natural state of affairs. Adults who learn to conduct this kind of critique are exercising true reason, that is, reason applied to asking universal questions about how we should live. Two of these questions might be: What kind of societal organization will help people treat each other fairly and compassionately? How can we redesign work so that it encourages the expression of human creativity?”8
- Teaching a structuralized worldview. The worldview always analyzes private problems and personal dilemmas as structurally produced.
- Explore the need for abstract, conceptual reasoning–reasoning that can be applied to considering broad questions such as how to organize society fairly or what it means to treat each other ethically.
- The need for adults to become “uncoupled from the stream of cultural givens. This momentary separation from the demands and patterns of everyday life allows them to view society in a newly critical way.
- Dialogic discussion. Fully participatory, inclusive conversation is the cornerstone of democracy, and adult education teaches adults the disposition necessary to reach this.9
- http://www.stephenbrookfield.com/Dr._Stephen_D._Brookfield/Home.html (accessed July 26, 2013) [↩]
- Stephen Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), ix. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid., 15. [↩]
- Ibid., 16-17. [↩]
- Ibid., 42. [↩]
- Ibid., 43. [↩]
- Ibid., 350. [↩]
- ibid., 352-355 [↩]