Critical Pedagogy in the Context of Iran: Exploring English Teachers’ Perceptions

Document Type: Original Article

Authors

1 Professor, TEFL, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran

2 Ph.D. Candidate, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran

Abstract

Abstract:  Three  decades  ago,  the  theory  of  education  took  a  critical  turn.  From  this
perspective,  classroom  is  no  longer  a  public  sphere  of  cultural  assimilation  but  a  site  for
identity struggle. The basic argument underlying such an approach is that education cannot be
studied in isolation from an analysis of wider social and cultural influences. In such a context,
this  study  investigated  Iranian  EFL  teachers‟  perceptions  of  the  basic  tenets  of  critical
pedagogy.  To  this  end,  a  mixed  method  approach  was  adopted  and  the  data  were  gathered
through in–depth interviews and questionnaires developed by the researchers. The participants
of this study included 21 Iranian EFL teachers at the qualitative phase and 127 teachers at the
quantitative  phase.  Qualitative  data  analysis  included  in-depth  content  analysis  of  oral  data
obtained  from  semi-structured  interviews.  Quantitative  data  analysis  involved  descriptive
statistics and independent sample  t-tests. The  results indicated that  Iranian  EFL teachers  were
supportive  of  the  basic  tenets  of  critical  pedagogy  altogether.  Also,  mixed  findings  were
obtained  concerning  their  views  according  to  their  level  of  education  and  field  of  expertise.
Based  on  the  findings,  several  suggestions  are  made  for  classroom  management,  materials
development, and teacher training programs.
 
تعلیم و تربیت انتقادی در ایران: کاوش دیدگاه های  معلمان زبان انگلیسی
چکیده
سه دهه پیش، نظریه آموزشی نگرش انتقادی به خود گرفت. از این منظر، کلاس درس دیگر یک مکان عمومی تحصیل فرهنگ نیست بلکه میدانی است برای کشمکش میان هویت های مختلف . گفتمان اصلی ناظر بر چنین دیدگاهی بر این تفکر که  نمی توان تعلیم و تربیت را جدای از تجزیه و تحلیل أثرات اجتماعی و فرهنگی گسترده تر مطالعه کرد مبتنی است. در چنین شرایطی، این مطالعه به درک معلمان زبان انگلیسی ایرانی از اصول اساسی تعلیم و تربیت انتقادی پرداخت. برای این منظور، یک رویکرد روش ترکیبی اتخاذ و داده ها از طریق مصاحبه های عمیق و پرسشنامه های تدوین شده توسط نگارندگان جمع آوری شد. شرکت کنندگان در این مطالعه شامل 21 معلم زبان انگلیسی در مرحله کیفی و 127 معلم در مرحله کمی بودند. تجزیه و تحلیل داده های کیفی شامل تجزیه و تحلیل محتوای عمیق اطلاعات شفاهی به دست آمده از مصاحبه های نیمه ساختار یافته می باشد، و تجزیه و تحلیل داده های کمی نیز شامل آمار توصیفی و آزمون تی مستقل می باشد. نتایج نشان داد که آنها در کل از اصول اساسی آن حمایت می کنند. همچنین، یافته های ناهمگونی در ارتباط با دیدگاه های معلمان بر اساس سطح دانش و حوزه تخصص به دست آمد. براساس یافته های پژوهش،پیشنهاداتی در زمینه اداره کلاس درس، طراحی و تولید مواد درسی، و برنامه های آموزش معلمان ارائه شده است.
واژه های کلیدی: آموزش انتقادی، تعلیم و تربیت دموکراتیک، عدالت آموزشی، توانمندسازی آموزشی

Keywords

Main Subjects


1. Introduction
Over the past three decades, the traditional philosophy of education has witnessed a sweeping
change  toward  a  more  humanistic and  justice-oriented  approach  the  goals  of  which  are  not
derived from the cosmopolitan assumptions about the neutrality of knowledge and learning in

general. Working within a constructivist paradigm, this new tradition places social theory in
its  immediate  ecology  with  the  overall  objective  of  sensitizing  the  individual  to  covert
oppressive  practices  to  enable  him  to  identify  and  counteract  authoritarian  trends  (Bronner,
2001).  
Within  such  a  framework,  the  consensus  oriented  social  theories  all  break  down  in
favor  of  a  conflict  view  of  society  as  a  site  of  struggle  for  dominance  among  competing
ideologies. Therefore, an educational system, built under such circumstances, treats teaching
and  learning  and  the  curriculum  as  intellectual  commodities  having  nothing  to  do  with
individuals‟ emotions and identities.  
Within the reformist tradition of critical theory, however, the primary goal of education is
to  train  learners  as  social  activists.  In  other  words,  political  education  displays  how  innocent
minds  are  engineered  at  schools  to  live  with  systematic  inequality  and  thus  aims  at  arming  the
historically marginalized with analytic tools to identify the hidden meanings and assumptions that
underlie  institutional  experience  and  to  learn  how  this  inequality  is  reproduced  and  naturalized
through educational and linguistic practices (Bercaw & Stooksberry, 2004).
A  Critical  approach  to  education  starts  from  a  clearly  articulated  ideological  point  of
view  that  charts  the  politics  of  teaching  and  learning  beyond  the  civil  politics  of  classroom
(Freire,  2005).  In  applied  linguistics,  the  implication  is  that  language  is  an  intricate
ideological  system  and  the  use  of  language  is  thus  value  laden.  Any  time  one  makes  a
linguistic  choice,  she/he  is  in  fact  making  a  value  judgment,  in  other  words,  an  identity
statement. Even the acts of teaching the objective system of grammar and communication are
far  from  being  neutral,  but  indeed  they  should  be  redefined  in  the  context  of  ensuring  the
maintenance of the status quo and securing the interests of the ruling class. Pedagogic activity
in such a context is argued to be mediated by asymmetrical power relations and thus becomes
a  hegemonic  medium  that  promotes  values,  skills,  and  attitudes  necessary  to  reproduce  the
very same power relations obviating the need for coercive intervention.
Critical  pedagogy  applies  to  a  wide  range  of  critical  perspectives,  inter  alia,  critical
language  awareness,  critical  literacy,  feminism,  critical  race  theory,  and  transformative
education (Monchinski, 2008).  
These  perspectives  find  dissatisfaction  with  the  current  institutional  practices  of
education, and subsequently, offer proposals to transform  educational structures that sustain
inequality  and  support  the  status  quo  (Freire,  2005;  Kincheloe,  2008).  The  basic  argument
underlying  such  an  approach  is  that  education  should  not  be  studied  in  isolation  from  an

analysis  of  wider  social  and  cultural  influences.  It  is  argued  that  theory  should  not  be
distanced from social intervention (Bohman, 2003).  
Thus,  a  critical  approach  to  pedagogy  is  normatively  grounded  as  it  links  critique  to
action to create a more democratic and less alienated society (Brookfield, 2005). In principle,
from  a  critical  standpoint,  the  discreteness  of  learning  experience  accounted  for  by  the
insulated  cognitive  theories  of  education  and  sanitized  practices  restricted  to  the  academic
milieu  is  discredited  and  instead  the  historically  sanctioned  socio-political  explanations  are
invited  to the  forestage  of  educational  theory  and  practice.  Consequently,  in SLA  literature,
the artificial divide between the cognitive and the social is considered to be ideological (not
epistemological)  just  derived  from the two camps‟ morbid interest in mutual exclusion and
the  resultant  research  agendas  defined  in  either  camp  are,  therefore,  viewed  as  trivial,
myopic, and  practically abortive.
 
2. Critical Pedagogy and Language Learning  
Critical  theory  is  a  social  analytical  methodology  taking  root  in  the  intellectual  works  of
nonconformist  theorists  of  Frankfort  school  before  the  World  War  II,  who  argued  that  social
theories are best understood by the form of politics in which they are grounded and the way to a
more democratic society is through addressing inequality through the means of education.  
The prime objective of critical pedagogy according to Luke and Dooley (2011) is “to
analyse, critique, represent, and alter inequitable knowledge structures and social relations of
school and society” (p. 856). It assumes an explicit focus on critical analysis of the status quo
and  is  directed  at  normative  transformation  of  dominant  ideologies  and  material  conditions.
In the field of education, the foundations of critical pedagogy were first laid down in Freire‟s
seminal book, namely,  the pedagogy of the oppressed. The underlying themes that form the
essence  of  critical  pedagogy  include  normative  transformation,  critical  reflection,  praxis,
dialogism  to  combat  alienation  and  reification,  ethical  imperative,  aesthetic  enjoyment,
critical  class  consciousness,  democratic  teaching,  the  use  of  local  materials,  empowerment,
emancipation, voice, and agency.
In  EFL  context,  critical  pedagogy  steers  clear  of  the  orthodox  functional  views  of
language  as  a  means  of  communication  considering  teaching  and  learning  as  political
processes  of  constructing  new  ways  of  understanding  one‟s  identity,  the  socio-historical
milieu of the classroom, and the potential for transformation (Norton & Toohey, 2004). 

Luke  and  Dooley  (2011)  outlined  the  research  trends  in  TESOL  concerning  critical
pedagogy. Among other  things, they  referred to the research into linguistic imperialism and
the negative consequences of the spread of English as an international language, the work on
the language education, and the sociological analysis of educational inequalities. They view
critical approaches to TESOL as reactions to language ideology conflict - acknowledging the
right to access “dominant languages, texts and discourses, on the recognition of students‟
voices  and  identities,  first  and  vernacular  language  rights,  and  on  the  development  of  a
critical  stance  towards  linguistic  and  cultural  hegemony  in  all  of  its  historically  pernicious
forms” (p. 588). By the same token, Pennycook (1990) revisited the important SLE questions
along  the  critical  pedagogy  tradition  problematizing  the  positivist  view  of  culture  and  its
relegation  to  a  secondary  position  (the  concept  of  high  culture)  as an  array  of  events and
works of  art purported to supplement the language syllabus. From this standpoint, language
curriculum pursues the overall aim of socializing learners into their community of practice in
which knowledge is shaped by dominant discourses (Pennycook, 1990).
Recently, much more currency has been given to critical pedagogy by teachers working
in  a  postmethod  paradigm both  in  theory  and  in  practice  and  a  fresh  round  of  research  has
been  devoted  to  investigating  its  implications  for  and  the  capacity  to  bring  about  more
favourable learning conditions. Bercaw and Stooksberry (2004), acknowledging that teacher
education is  grounded in a  cultural value system, pointed to the ongoing  conflict between a
critical  pedagogy  approach  aimed  at  social  transformation  and  a  teaching  standards  policy
approach ensuring prospective teachers‟ entry into the community of practice.  
Equally, a good number of studies were conducted to examine teachers‟ conception of
the  principles  of  critical  pedagogy.  Yilmaz  (2009)  researched  the  attitudes  of  elementary
school  teachers  toward  the  principles  of  critical  pedagogy  to  determine  if  they  are  ready  to
implement  it  in  their  everyday  classroom  practice.  The  findings  of  his  study  suggested  that
the teachers included in the study moderately agreed with the principles of critical pedagogy.
He reported a significant difference between teachers‟ attitudes in terms of their educational
background,  professional  experience  and  the  place  they  teach  and  no  significant  difference
according  to  their  gender.  Likewise,  Derince  (2011)  showed  that  preparatory  courses  in
English-medium universities in Turkey did not result in the development of critical thinking
skills in Turkish students whereas a combination of critical pedagogy approach and students‟
linguistic resources and means of expression led to more meaningful learning experiences. 

Similarly,  a  number  of  studies  touched  on  the  issue  of  redistribution  of  power  in  the
classroom  and  how  the  paradigm  shift  in  teacher-  student  role  relationship  can  benefit  the
otherwise deficit students. Shor (1980, as cited in Keesing - Styles, 2003), acknowledging the
potential  challenges,  argues  that  a  redistribution  of  power  among the  classroom  members
allows  for  more  flexibility  and  creativity  on  the  part  of  both  teachers  and  learners.  This  in
turn  leads  to  the  ownership  of  learning  as  classroom  decision  making  becomes  a  shared
process of exploration and review open to negotiation among the members. Reynolds (1990)
calls  on  teachers  to  re-conceptualize  the  concept  of  power  in  the  classroom  arguing  that  a
then limited force of domination is expanded to a new force of construction. To realize such
an  outlook,  the  educators  need  to  revise  the  traditional  notion  of  teacher  authority  which
treats  learners  as  passive  recipients  of  knowledge  transmitted  from  the  teacher  and  instead
encourage  the  learners  to  reclaim  their  voice  and  agency  along  critical  understandings  of
authority as shared responsibility and interdependent autonomy.
Akbari  (2008b),  Sadeghi  (2008),  along  with  Aliakbari  and  Allahmoradi  (2012)
documented research projects concerning the application of critical pedagogy in the context
of  Iran.  Akbari  (2008b)  decries  the  theory-starved  preoccupation  with  CP  and  calls  for
practice-informed  studies.  Sadeghi  (ibid)  adopted  critical  pedagogy  to  investigate  how  the
problem-  posing  learning  benefited  EFL  students  in  initiating  and  sustaining  discussion  and
dialogue  aimed  at  raising  critical  consciousness.  In  so  doing,  she  concluded  that  critical
consciousness  is  not  likely  to  develop  unless  in  the  direction  of  gaining  personal  voice  one
also develops a sense of caring for “others‟ voices, world views, and contradictory ideas in a
more complete and fair way” (p. 7). Aliakbari and Allahmoradi (2012) surveyed 200 Iranian
school  teachers‟  views  concerning  critical  pedagogy  at  elementary,  secondary,  and  high
school  levels  based  on  their  age,  gender,  and  the  level  they  teach.  The  findings  indicated  a
significant  difference  between  teachers  in  their  views  about  critical  pedagogy  according  to
their gender and no significant difference based on age and the level they teach.
As  seems,  critical  pedagogy  has  generated  controversial  discourse  regarding  its
potential  and  limitations.  Therefore,  its  capacity  to  bring  about  more  favourable  learning
conditions in various educational contexts given teachers and practitioners‟ long history of
experimenting  with  the  standard  curriculum  throughout  the  past  years  remains  to  be  further
investigated.  Along  the  current  thread  of  argument,  purely  quantitative  designs,  although
produce confirmatory evidence to the grand theories, lack local relevance as they strip critical
pedagogy of its burgeoning context and assume it to be a monolithic construct. Thus, having

adopted  a  mixed  method  approach,  the  present  study  intended  to  investigate  Iranian  EFL
teachers‟  conceptions  of  critical  pedagogy.  To  this  aim,  the  following  research  questions
were formulated:
1. What are the Iranian EFL teachers‟ perceptions of the premises of critical pedagogy?
2. Are Iranian EFL teachers supportive of the basic tenets of critical pedagogy ?
3.  Do  Iranian  EFL  teachers  differ  in  their  views  about  the  basic  tenets  of  critical
pedagogy according to their level of education and field of study?
 
3. Method
3.1. Design of the Study
As regards the design of the present study, a mixed method orientation was adopted and the
data  collection  occurred  in  two  distinct  but  interactive  phases  with  qualitative  data  derived
from one to one semi structured interviews being triangulated with quantitative data coming
from  survey  research  (Creswell  &  Clark,  2011).    More  specifically,  an  exploratory  design
best served the purpose of this study to make valid conclusions when little was known about
the social construct under investigation (Heigham & Croker, 2009).
First,  a  thorough  literature  review  was  conducted  to  identify  the  various  aspects  of
critical pedagogy which were used in the design of the interview protocol and the follow-up
survey. This resulted in major categories framing the basic components of critical pedagogy
from  the  perspectives  of  such  leading  figures  as  Freire  (2005),  Giroux  (1983),  Kincheloe
(2008), Mclean (2006), and Pennycook (1990).
Next, during the qualitative phase of the study in-depth semi-structured interviews were
conducted  to  21  Iranian  EFL  teachers  to  probe  into  their  notion  of  critical  pedagogy  through
initially providing a forum so that they can voice their comments and concerns. Because of the
dynamic and emergent nature of the interviews and given the number of questions, a flexible time
span was considered to be more appropriate. Therefore, each interview took 15 minutes at least
and  40  minutes  at  most.  With  an  a  priori  agreement,  the  interviews  were  audio-recorded.  The
audio-recorded  interviews  were  transcribed  partially  and  tape  analysis  was  conducted  through
going over the oral data and marking the parts necessary for “elaborate subsequent analysis”
(Dörnyei, 2007, p. 249) in order to identify the major themes capturing EFL teachers‟ notion of
critical pedagogy. Tape analysis allows for the data to be analyzed in the medium collected, thus
obviating the need for intensive transcription (Hutchinson, 2005).
Using  thematic  analysis  (Braun  &  Clarke,  2006),  the  qualitative  data  were  coded  into
reductionist themes and categories which constituted an informed basis to develop the survey

instrument  later  on.  To  ensure  the  credibility  of  the  findings,  the  emergent  themes  and
categories for a portion of the data were double-checked with an assistant professor of TEFL
who  had  been  teaching  English  for  more  than  15  years.  This  debriefing  led  to  the  use  of
abductive strategy along with inductive analysis (as the major analytic tool used throughout
the analysis) to identify latent themes as well.
In the next stage, as is the case with survey type studies, a questionnaire was developed.
Later  on,  a  tentative  version  of  the  instrument  was  piloted  to  make  quality  improvements,
obtain  reliability  estimates,  and  standardize  completion  procedures.  Item  analysis  was
conducted  to  identify  faulty  items  and  as  a  result  a  number  of  items  were  either  revised  or
removed altogether. For example, the item “standard educational practices alienate learners
from curriculum content” yielded poor item indexes, therefore, it was omitted from the final
version. Following this step, the questionnaire was administered to 127 Iranian EFL teachers.
The  participants  were  introduced  to  the  purpose  and  procedures  of  the  study  prior  to  the
completion  of  the  questionnaire  and  it  was  administered  to  them  directly.  The  respondents
were allowed to complete the questionnaire in 10 minutes.  
After  administrating  the  questionnaire,  data  analysis  was  embarked  upon  using  SPSS
software  version  16.  It  served  double  purposes:  to  survey  Iranian  EFL  teachers‟  overall
familiarity  and  perception  of  the  basic  principles  of  critical  pedagogy  and  to  explore  how
they  differed  in  terms  of  their  attitudes  based  on  their  level  of  education  and  field  of
expertise.  Descriptive  statistics  were  obtained  to  make  initial  comparisons  of  the  data
collected.  In  the  next  stage,  t-tests  were  run  to  further  compare  the  means  on  the  additional
variables of the study. To code the nominal data of the questionnaire, numerical values were
assigned to the scales of the questionnaire. This resulted in interval data ranging from 1 to 5.
The values obtained this way for each respondent were added and averaged to compute their
total score in general.
3.2. Participants
To  address  the  research  questions,  purposive  and  availability  sampling  procedures  were
adopted  for  sample  selection.  Along  the  prescriptions  of  the  empowering  vision  of  critical
pedagogy, census data were consulted to identify the potential impoverished communities in
Iran.  This  limited  the  spectrum  of  the  population  to  certain  provinces.  For  example,  in  the
qualitative phase, both for theoretical and practical reasons, the target population was limited
to English teachers in Zanjan, northwest Iran. Nationwide demographic studies, place Zanjan
among  the  less  privileged  provinces  along  such  indexes  as  human  development,  industrial

development, etc. (Maleki & Sheikhi, 2010). To ward off cognitive and experiential limitations
teachers below 25 years old and 5 years of experience were excluded from the sample.  
The number of participants at the qualitative phase was decided upon in view of the basic
principle  of  grounded  theory,  that  is,  data  saturation  (Glaser  &  Strauss,  1967).  Therefore,  21
teachers  were  first  interviewed  to  probe  into  their  unstated  beliefs  about  critical  pedagogy.
Among  the  teachers,  8  were  female  and  13  male.  Four  teachers  were  Ph.D.  students  of  TEFL,
seven held their master‟s degree in TEFL, while the rest had a bachelor‟s degree. Eleven teachers
were  teaching  evening  courses  just  at  language  centers,  five  were  school  teachers  as  well,
whereas the rest would alternate between teachings at university or language centers.
Concerning the selection of the participants for the quantitative phase, availability sampling
was adopted thanks to the relatively large scale of the study at this phase. To meet the condition
of magnitude, data collection made a crossover into the neighboring provinces. Therefore, in the
survey study, 127 Iranian EFL teachers (51 females and 76 males) voluntarily completed a copy
of critical pedagogy questionnaire developed by the researchers. Their age ranged from 25 to 47.
Following  this  step,  for  the  purpose  of  the  study,  the  participants  were  categorized  into  two
groups according to their level of education, namely, those holding or completing a masters‟
degree and above and those holding a bachelor‟s degree.
Among  the  participants,  nine  were  Ph.D.  students  of  TEFL,  forty  eight  were  either
holding  or  doing  their  master‟s  degree,  while  others  held  a  bachelor‟s  degree.  A  further
categorization of the participants was carried out based on their field of study into two major
groups of TEFL and Non-TEFL. Of the total participants, almost fifty one were majoring in
TEFL. Thirty  eight were studying translation, twenty six held a degree in literature, and the
rest  were  students  or  graduates  of  linguistics.  About  twenty  seven  respondents  were  school
teachers  as  well,  eighteen  also  taught  English  at  university,  while  the  rest  were  teaching
English  at  language  centers  only.  Their  years  of  teaching  experience  ranged  from  5  to  21.
Except for the Ph.D. student teachers and almost one  fifth of the  rest, the other participants
declared no introduction to CP during their university education.
3.3. Instruments
To gain initial insights into the teachers‟ perception of critical pedagogy, first  in-depth  and
semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore Iranian EFL teachers‟ untapped beliefs
about critical pedagogy. All the interviews were conducted in Persian. Overall, the questions
were directed at the three important dimensions of critical pedagogy: context and interaction,
classroom practice, and textbooks.

To  make  safe  judgments,  a  questionnaire  was  developed  after  coding  the  interview
data.  To  minimize  the  induced  response  bias,  the  questionnaire  was  kept  rather  short  to
safeguard  against  fatigue  (Hinkin,  1995)  and  to  militate  against  induced  ambiguity  it  was
translated into Persian (refer to appendix A. for the English version).  
In general, it consisted of 33 items having three sub-scales of “empowering education”
with 12 items altogether, “the role of teachers and learners” with 11 items, and “the function
of textbooks”  with  10  items.  The  items  were  constructed on  a  Likert-type  scale  eliciting
teachers‟ attitudes based on five response anchors ranging from strongly  agree  to  strongly
disagree. Given the nature of the questions, some of the items  (e.g., items  No.1 and No.11)
were  in  a  reverse  order.  The  items  represent  the  key  tenets  of  critical  pedagogy  discussed
above. The beginning section of the questionnaire inquired about the teachers‟ demographic
information, which yielded useful data needed to make fine-tuning distinctions among them.  
Initially,  three  teachers  were  asked  to  evaluate  the  items  for  any  unnecessary  jargons
and their reactions to the content and the overall make-up of the questionnaire were elicited.
As  a  result,  five  items  were  either  removed  or  revised  as  they  appeared  to  be  confusing  for
the  teachers.  In  the  next  stage,  an  earlier  version  of  the  questionnaire  was  trialed  with  27
teachers  from  two  branches  of  one  language  center  run  by  the  same  guidelines.  This  was
informed by Creswell and Clark‟s (2011), Dörnyei and Taguchi‟s (2010) guidelines for the
construction  of  the  questionnaire.  Based  on  the  data  obtained,  some  modifications  were
made.  For  example,  items  with  too  many  missing  responses  were  excluded  from  the  final
version  and  the  variability  of  responses  was  ensured  by  excluding  the  items  that  were
responded similarly. An estimate of the reliability of the instrument was obtained in terms of
internal item consistency. A moderate mean internal consistency was obtained for the entire
scale, with alpha coefficient of 0.71.
 
4. Results
4.1. The First Research Question  
To examine the first research question, i.e., „what are the Iranian EFL teachers' perceptions of
CP?‟ qualitative  analysis  of  interview  data  resulted  in  four  major  reductionist  themes  with
their corresponding categories. These themes can be subsumed under two main categories of
teachers‟ overall perception of CP with three sub-dimensions and its overall outlook in Iran.
The following table presents the summary of the themes related to each dimension above. For
the  purpose  of  economy,  the  highlights  of  the  Non-TEFL  and  undergrads  have  been
subsumed  under  one  column  while  those  of  the  graduate  and  TEFL  teachers  have  been

summed up under the other column. Except for some cases, no claim is made to the similarity
of teachers‟ views under the same column as a result of the specific arrangement of the table.

Table1. Interview Results of the Iranian EFL Teachers‟ Perception of Critical Pedagogy

As can be seen, teachers‟ views differ along some of the categories above. As for the
teacher - student role relationship, undergrad and some of the Non - TEFL teachers in general
took the view of school life as naturally encouraging the  reproduction of power differentials
within  a  hierarchal  system  in  which  personal  achievement  is  the  main  source  of  motivation
for  the  individuals.  Quite  on  the  contrary,  their  counterparts  viewed  school  as  a  learning
community  and  the  mutual  interdependence  between  teachers  and  learners  as  a  necessary
ingredient  for  effective  classroom  interaction.  In  their  opinion,  teachers  and  learners  work
toward  the  same  goal  and  under  such  circumstances  teachers  are  equally  responsible  if  the
students fail or fare.  
Although  there  were  a  few  commonalities  between  teachers  in  each  group  regarding
their  notion  of  education  (e.g.,  as  a  source  of  discipline  or  a  reflection  of  state-individual
relation),  different  themes  were  observed  in  their  views  in  general.  These  themes  included
indoctrination versus ethical development, development of human capital versus participatory
education  with  some  themes  such  as  leveraging  change,  empowerment,  and  self-awareness
totally  missing  in  undergrad  and  Non-TEFL teacher‟s talks. Concerning  the  status  quo  and
overall outlook of CP in Iran, the analysis of the relevant data yielded the following themes:
difficulty  of  securing  text-context  correspondence,  teachers  as  slaves  of  the  curriculum,
inauthenticity  of  learning  experience,  rigidity  of  institutional  routines,  among  others.  In
general,  after  the  coded  interview  data  was  crosschecked  against  the  basic  principles  of  CP
the following patterns were observed.  
Emancipatory education. Almost 70% of teachers with a bachelors‟ degree agreed that
the  major  role  of  education  is  the  creation  of  functional  skills  in  individuals  to  serve  the
economic needs of the society. Some referred to the practical value of education and its role
in  fulfilling  the  immediate  material  needs  of  the  individuals  while  others  treated  it  more  as
training  finding  it  instrumental  to  personal  economic  gains.  They  viewed  people  as  cogs  in
the  wheel  that  keep  the  economic  system  operating  properly.  Likewise,  60%  of  Non-TEFL
teachers considered education as one of the key sources of socialization into the community
of practice through unquestioned assimilation of dominant practices. They treated knowledge
more as a commodity with economic value. However, a great majority of teachers holding a
masters‟  degree  and  above  (almost  80%)  and  those  majoring  in  TEFL  (60%)  viewed
awareness raising as the major role of education to create a participatory society. They had in
common the view that education should empower individuals to draw upon their own cultural
resources aimed at better human conditions. 

Knowledge reproduction and resistance. Almost 60% of Non-TEFL teachers and 60%
of teachers with a bachelors‟ degree found teacher input as the major source of knowledge for
the  students  who  hardly  doubt  or  challenge  the  validity  of  its  content.  They  argued  that
learners  hardly  trust  the  value  of  the  information  they  receive  from  their  peers  and  often
assimilate the values derived explicitly or implicitly from school practices.  They viewed the
behavioral  conditioning  of  students  as  a  result  of  their  schooling  mutually  beneficial.
However,  their  counterparts  held  that  teachers  are  mediators  of  large  scale  educational
policies and therefore are trained to impart values that maintain the status quo (60% of TEFL
holders  and  70%  of  teachers  with  a masters‟ degree and above). They further argued that
knowledge is socially constructed in such a way that wider social and cultural practices shape
what is valued as knowledge.  
Transformative education. Most of teachers with a bachelors‟ degree viewed education
as  the  primary  means  of  keeping  the  status  quo  (social  order,  70%)  while  others  attached  a
neutral role to education in terms of its capacity in bringing about social change (30%). Their
counterparts,  on  the  other  hand,  held  that  education  facilitates  evolutionary  rather  than
revolutionary  social  change  (change  from  within,  60%),  therefore,  calling  for  reforms  than
revolting the established system (40%).
Linguistic  imperialism  and  cultural  dominance.   Most  of  the  teachers  at  either  group
rejected the notion that textbooks proliferate the  values of  western culture at the cost of the
learners‟ own cultural values. Those with a masters‟ degree and above asserted the need for
inter and intracultural awareness on the part of the learners (70%). Teachers with a bachelor‟s
degree  agreed  that  unless  for  immigration  purposes,  culture  learning  is  instrumental  to
language  learning  and  therefore  is  not  an  end  in  itself  (50%).  Some  believed  that  teachers
must be selective in deciding what cultural points should be taught (40%). They also rejected
the idea that there is an intentional trend in textbooks in treating whiteness as an advantage,
for  example,  or  associated  negative  values  with  other  races  (80%).  Others  deemed  the
specification of culture learning goals separately for each lesson necessary (40% of teachers
holding a masters‟ degree or above.  
4.2. The Second and the Third Research Questions
To answer the second research question, that is, „are Iranian EFL teachers supportive of the
basic  tenets  of  critical  pedagogy?‟ the descriptive  statistics  was  obtained.  The  results  are
summarized  in  table  2.  As  indicated  in  Table  2,  teachers‟  responses  to  the  total  of  the

questionnaire cluster around the scale “I  agree” implying that they mainly agreed with the
principles of critical pedagogy in general.


Table 2. Descriptive Statistics of Teachers‟ Views about the Principles of Critical Pedagogy

The grand mean score of the total questionnaire is 4.02 and given the total of 33 items
the teachers‟ responses corresponds to the scale 4, that is, I agree.  
Along the same lines, there was no significant difference between teachers‟ views on
any component dimensions. The mean score corresponding to “empowering education” sub-dimension stood at 3.96 while the mean score for “the role of teachers and learners”  sub-dimension  was  3.97.  Given  the  total  of  twelve  and  eleven  items  for  the  sub-dimensions  of
“empowering education” and “the role of teachers and learners”, teachers‟ responses fall at
around the scale 4 for these sub-dimensions respectively, again corresponding to the scale of
“I agree”.  As can be inferred from the table, for “the role of textbooks” sub-dimension, the
mean score was 3.94 and considering the total of 10 items, the tendency is toward the fourth
scale as well.  
As  for  the  items  in  “empowering  education”  sub-dimension,  what teachers  mostly
agreed with were the items 19 and 22, namely “developing learners‟ awareness should be the
core  of  educational  programs”,  and  “the  goal  of  education  should  be  the  creation  of  a
democratic  society”. Item statistics  revealed  that  the  corresponding  mean  scores  for  these
items were 4.53 and 4.42, respectively. Among the items measuring the “role of teachers and
learners‟ sub-dimension, teachers highly rated the following items (coded in a reverse order):
“learners  are  receivers  of  knowledge  transmitted  from  teachers”, item  1  and “only  teachers
should determine what students learn and how they learn it”, item 11.  For these items, their
mean sores were 4.35 and 4.29, respectively.  
Among the items operationalizing “the role of textbooks” sub-dimension, the following
items  were  commonly  preferred  by  the  teachers:  “commercial  textbooks  almost  hardly
address learners‟ local needs” and “effective  learning  requires  situating  texts  in  their  social
contexts”. These were the  items 23  and  16.  Therefore,  the  first  null  hypothesis  regarding

Iranian EFL teachers‟ lack of familiarity with the principles of critical pedagogy is rejected.
In  other  words,  it  can  be  concluded  that  Iranian  school  teachers  are  supportive  of  critical
pedagogy principles.
The  present  study  also  investigated  any  possible  differences  between  teachers‟
perceptions  of  critical  pedagogy  according  to  their  level  of  education.  To  this  end,
independent sample t-test and descriptive statistics were  employed. As presented in Table 3
below, no significant difference was observed in graduate and undergraduate teachers‟ views
on all the sub-dimensions and total of critical pedagogy scale. As is clearly shown, the grand
mean scores for graduate and undergraduate teachers were 4.10 and 3.95 respectively. Also,
the mean values for the “empowering education” sub-dimension, for the two groups stood at
4.18 and 3.99 respectively. Likewise, for the “role of teachers and learners” sub-dimension,
the mean values were 4.11 and 3.96 for the two groups respectively. Finally, for the “role of
textbooks” sub-dimension, the associated mean values stood at 4.13 and 3.97 for the graduate
and undergraduate teachers, respectively.

As can be seen, the observed t value (t = 2.27) is not significant at p < .068. Therefore,
there are not enough grounds to reject the related null hypothesis and to conclude that there is
a significant difference between teachers‟ attitudes about the principles of critical pedagogy
in relation to their level of education. Following this step, the significance of the observed “t”
values  in  each  sub-dimension  was  also  examined.  The  obtained  t  value  (t  =  2.07)  in
“empowering education” sub-dimension did not appear significant at p < .068. This suggests

that  there  is  not  a  significant  difference  among  graduate  and  undergraduate  teachers‟ views
on this sub-dimension. Similarly, the observed t value (t = 1.73) in “the role of teachers and
learners”  sub-dimension  was  not  significant  (p  <  .056),  indicating  that  the  graduate  and
undergraduate teachers did not differ significantly in their views on this sub-dimension. As is
observed  in  the  table  above,  the t  value  (t  =  1.92)  for  the  sub-dimension  “the  role  of
textbooks” is not also significant (p < .061).  
There  was  another  dimension  to  the  third  research  question  of  the  study,  that
is,  the  possible  differences  between  teachers‟  views  on  the  principles  of  critical
pedagogy  according  to  their  field  of  study.  To  answer  this  question, t-test  was  used
as  the  participants  of  the  study  were  categorized  into two  groups  of  TEFL  (teaching
English  as  a  foreign  language)  and  Non-TEFL  (including  literature,  linguistics,
translation,  and  others)  according  to  their  majors.  The  results  are  presented  in  Table
4  below.  It  can  be  seen  that  there  are  not  significant  differences  between  their  views
on  the  principles  of  critical  pedagogy  in  general  and  on  its  component  dimensions  in
particular.


Table 4. The Results of t-test for TEFL and Non-TEFL Teachers‟ Views on the Principles of
Critical Pedagogy

As  Table  4  illustrates,  the  observed  t  value  t  =  2.21  at  p  <  .070  is  not  significant
implying  that  the  related  null  hypothesis  that  “there  is  a  significant  difference  between
teachers‟ attitudes about the principles of critical pedagogy based on their level of education”
is not rejected. The significance of the “t” values observed in each sub-dimension  was  also

examined.  The  obtained  t  value  (t  = 2.37) in “empowering education” sub-dimension  is  not
equally  significant  at  p  <  .073.  Similarly,  the  observed  t  values  (t  =  2.43,  t  = 1.90) for “the
role of teachers and learners” and “the role of textbooks” sub-dimensions were not significant
(p < .057 and p < .066 respectively) indicating that the graduate and undergraduate teachers
did not significantly differ in their views on these sub-dimensions as well.
 
5. Discussion
The  first  two  research  questions  addressed  in  the  present  study  concerned  Iranian  EFL
teachers‟ notion of critical pedagogy in general and their degree of familiarity with its basic
principles. Overall, the incongruity between the qualitative data derived from interviews and
the quantitative data coming from the questionnaires was the least expected.  
A possible justification might be the (un)systematic variance regarding the participants‟
characteristics  at  two  phases  of  the  study.  There  might  have  been  unpredictable  differences
between  the  participants  at  two  phases  in  their  demographic  nuances,  for  example,  in  such
factors  associated  with  their  socio-economic  status  and  type  of  language  center,  school
location,  etc.  It  is  quite  likely  as  a  good  portion  of  the  data  for  the  quantitative  phase  was
gathered  from  teachers  at  neighboring  provinces.  Or,  experience-related  factors  might  have
bridged  the  gap  in  undergrad  or  non-TEFL teachers‟ academic deficiency.  This  is  also  an
option as the teachers‟ age and teaching experience ranged substantially.  
A  second  possible  explanation  might  originate  from  the  nature  of  the  instruments  at
either  phase.  The  similarity  of  questionnaire  response  patterns  can  be  associated  with
respondents‟  intention  to  avoid  extreme responses,  thus  increasing  the  chances  of  central
tendency  bias.  Or,  equally,  the  availability  of  the  researcher  and  the  dynamics  of  each
interview  can  be  possible  sources  of  fine-tuned  distinctions  between teachers‟ views at the
qualitative  phase  or  the  clarity  of  the  questionnaire  items  might  have  elicited  more  valid
responses during the quantitative phase.  On the other hand, the availability of the researcher
might  be  considered  a  source  of  bias.  However,  this  possibility  is  ruled  out  as  the  data
collection procedures were standardized before the interviews started.  
Considered  independently,  the  quantitative  findings  of  the  study  provided  enough
evidence to reject the related null hypothesis that  Iranian EFL teachers are not familiar with
the basic tenets of critical pedagogy. Overall, teachers‟ responses  indicated  that  they  are  in
agreement with critical pedagogy principles

As  most  of  the  participants  in  the  present  study  declared  little,  if  any,  introduction  to
CP during their education, this finding provides further evidence to the highly fuzzy and less
clinical nature of teacher cognition. EFL teachers are likely to join forces from a wide range
of sources outside the mom field of teacher education.  
This  also  shows  that,  in  social  sciences,  the  world  of  practice  is  one  step  ahead  of
theory  and  that  is  why  most  of  the  theories  remain  to  be  descriptive.  At  times,  theories  are
just naming systems that systematically put into words constructs already in practice. Iranian
EFL  teacher  practitioners  are  no  exception  as  they  theorize  their  practice  well  beyond  the
prescriptions of their academic education as teacher students. This justifies the inconsistency
of  the  qualitative  and  quantitative  findings  in  the  context  of  teachers‟  declarative  and
procedural  knowledge  types.  As  regards  the  fine-grained  interview  results,  the  interviewed
Non-TEFL  and  undergrad  teachers  are  likely  to  lack  in  their  mental  lexicons  enough
armistice to express their notion of criticality effectively.  
Another testimony to the advantaged performance of the TEFL and graduate groups is
the lack of CP in university curricula for language education in Iran, even in teacher training
courses until at higher levels of education, that is, at master‟s level or above.
To  illuminate  the  current  situation,  it  is  best  to  put  the  findings  in  the  context  of
Huxley‟s (1975) notion of conditioning. Iranian EFL teachers find themselves mercenaries of
a version of classical humanistic approach to education dictated top-down. It emphasizes the
importance of subject matter and discipline in producing formal knowledge at the expense of
benefiting from teachers and learners‟ direct experience of the world around.  
Such an ideology promotes traditional academic standards. In an educational system as
such,  innovation  and  adaptability  are  sacrificed  leaving  virtually  no  room  for  individual
development and almost ignoring the needs and interests of learners (Atai & Mazlum, 2012;
Bartlett  &  Burton,  2007).  By  the  same  token,  Dahmardeh  (2006)  argues  that  the  excessive
emphasis  on  obtaining  achievement  standards  and  the  pressure  on  teachers  to  prepare  their
pupils  to  take  language  exams  as  fast  as  possible  leads  to  what  Lissovy  (2008,  as  cited  in
Derince,  2011)  calls „reductionist obsession with scores‟ thus homogenizing the students in
tandem  with  the  dominant  educational  philosophy  alienating  and  isolating  curriculum  in
which  higher  order  analytical  thinking  and  the  possibility  of  a  justice  oriented  education  go
out of the window.  
As  for  the  quantitative  results,  the  fact  that  teachers  mostly  agreed  with  the  item  on
“empowering sub-dimension” that educational programs should aim at developing learners‟

awareness  indicates  that  through  years  of  experience  with  traditional  educational  programs,
they came to realize that critical thinking and reflection are totally lacking in such programs.
Becoming  fully  developed  grownups,  however,  as  Noddings  (1998)  argues,  “involves
conscious awareness of our human condition- of our freedom and responsibility for the kind
of person we become” (p. 44). This implies that teachers have faith in the role of education in
improving  student  conditions  in  such  a  way  that  they  all  live  with  greater  awareness.  It  is
through awareness that some philosophers argue teaching brings about learning.  
Equally important, most of the teachers declared support for the item on the same sub-dimension  that  proposed  orienting  educational  programs  toward  creating  a  more  justice-oriented  democratic  society.  This  is  rooted  in  the  ideology  that  standard  education  leaves  a
great majority of students disadvantaged as it simply paves their ways toward their future as
industrious and obedient workforce. Traditional system of education does nothing more than
socializing working class children into accepting their subordinate status to the upper classes.
The finding that teachers didn‟t agree with learners‟ roles as receivers of knowledge
transmitted  from  teachers  is  also  warranted.  Indeed,  the  current  educational  philosophy,
taking  advantage  of  the  experiential  knowledge  of  the  students,  rejects  the  notion  of
education  as  the  reproduction  of  knowledge  in  which  the  process  of  schooling  conditions
students  mentally  and  behaviourally  to  serve  the  interests  of  dominant  societal  institutions
(Canagarjah, 1999).  
Along the same lines, teachers who participated in this study negatively rated the item
that  authorized  teachers  as  the  ones  who  determine  what  students  learn.  This  is  congruent
with  the  reinterpretation  of  the  concept  of  authority  according  to  the  principles  of  critical
pedagogy.  Authority,  from  the  vantage  point  of  critical  pedagogy,  is  open  to  negotiation  in
the classroom where power is equally distributed among teacher and the students. “Critical
pedagogy  requires a classroom environment that is democratic, where students‟ viewpoints
are highlighted through discussion and debate and there is shared power and dialogue among
teachers and students” (Aliakbari & Allahmoradi, 2012, p. 156).  
It was also no surprise to find that most of the teachers expressed doubts over the value
of  commercial  textbooks  as  a  catalyst  to  transformative  education.  Commercial  teaching
materials  fail  to  address  learners‟  local  needs  as  they  take  a  view  of  learning  as  rather
universally  determined  and not locally-situated.  Atai and Mazlum (2012) cast serious doubt
on such a centralized approach to materials development arguing that it leaves teachers with
their intuitive assumptions as to what learners‟ needs are in the first place. In such materials

“the learner is uncritically exposed to ideas imposed from above, from the dominant culture”
(Sadeghi, 2008, p. 278). The conception of curriculum on which such commercial stuff draw
is  that  curriculum  is  treated  as  if  it  existed  as  an  object  in  a  world  located  outside  our
emotions or feelings. The observation that teachers found  effective learning as a function of
situating  texts  in  their  sociocultural  contexts  is  also  justified  in  the  light  of  the  fact  that
effective instruction links subject matter with local sociocultural and political problems.
 
6. Conclusion  
The present study intended to shed light on the Iranian EFL teachers‟ conception of critical
pedagogy.  The  findings  of  the  study  provided  evidence  that  Iranian  EFL  teachers  are
supportive  of  the  basic  tenets  of  critical  pedagogy  altogether.  Regarding  the  possible
differences  between  the  TEFL  and  Non-TEFL  as  well  as  the  graduate  and  undergraduate
teachers‟ views concerning the details of their familiarity with critical pedagogy principles,
the  findings  are  mixed.  Surprisingly  enough,  triangulation  of  the  qualitative  findings  with
quantitative data produced inconsistent results in teachers‟ attitudes toward CP according to
their  level  of  education  and  field  of  study.  Although  the  survey  study  presented  statistical
generalizations about EFL teachers‟ degree of familiarity with CP principles, the qualitative
study  revealed  the  myths  they  held  about  the  pedagogic  activity.  It  follows  that  before
jumping to hasty conclusions as a result of unidimensional measures, one should get a sense
of the complexity of the real situation using informed triangulated designs.  
The  findings  of  the  present  study  also  complemented  those  of  Aliakbari  and
Allahmoradi  (2012)  conducted  in  the  context  of  Iran.  However,  the  present  study  was  an
improvement  in  that  it  explored  other  dimensions  of  critical  pedagogy  not  examined  in  the
previous studies. That is, the instrument developed in this study estimated teachers‟ attitudes
toward  the  role  of  current  commercial  stuff  in  empowering  learners  in  general  and  in  their
extent  of  catering  to  the  learners‟  local  needs.  Another  dimension  of  the  instrument
concerned the role of teachers as agents of change and those of learners in a brave new world
to  become  the  authors  of  their  own  worlds.  Following  this  line  of  argument,  most  EFL
teachers  rejected  the  empowering  capacity  of  the  current  textbooks  and  found  the  current
educational  practices  in  Iran  far  from  being  emancipatory.  Gray  (2001,  as  cited  in  Akbari,
2008a)  captures  this  latter  point  as  depoliticization  of  commercial  materials  to  further  their
market prospect.

7. Implications
This  study  has  some  implications  for  classroom  management,  materials  development,  and
teacher training. A critical understanding of authority implies essential changes in the role of
the  teacher.  In  a  democratic  classroom,  the  teacher  is  no  longer  the  sole  decision  maker
regarding the learning content and methodology. Therefore, there is a dire need to recognize
the  agency  of  the  students  for  their  learning  decisions  and  subjecting  the  instructional
practices to constant negotiation and consensus among curriculum participants.
As  regards  ELT  textbooks,  the  centralized  approach  to  ELT  materials  development  in
which  the  native  speakers,  as  gate  keepers,  provide  the  growing  EFL  community  with
linguistic  resources  does  not  receive  support  from  a  critical  perspective.  Critical  applied
linguists  hold  that  such  an  acquired  monopoly  in  textbook  development  might  subject  ELT
materials to abuse as a hegemonic tool and thus reduce their humanizing capacity.  
As  for  the  teacher  training  course  development,  the  findings  indicated  the  importance
of  introducing  critical  pedagogy  in  undergraduate  programs  of  teacher  education  in  Iran
which  is  treated  randomly  along  with  many  other  hot  topics.  This  seems  to  have  been  the
missing link as the centralized teacher education program lacks an overall consensus among
the stakeholders as to its content (Atai, Babaii, & Mazlum, 2012).
Although no one can deny  the value of  a life-long learning from one‟s own practice as a
teacher,  a  fair  and  square  educational  system  should  not  leave  things  to  teachers‟  intuitive
wisdom  alone.  During  their  training,  teachers  should  be  helped  to  develop  a  balanced  view  of
discipline-oriented and justice-centered approaches to education. This, for sure, ascertains that the
instructional  content they receive does service to the  creation of informed decision makers in  a
democratic  society  who  can  help  resolve  the  historical  dilemma  of  teaching  standards  and
emancipator education. However, as was mentioned above, it seems that teachers mostly rely on
their  intuition  in  managing  their  work  and  do  not  bother  to  wait  for  the  curriculum  policies  or
theoretical mandates that prescribe the details of pedagogic activity.  
To  clarify,  throughout  this  article,  the  impression  might  have  been  given  that  critical
pedagogy  aims  to  revolt  the  established  system  or  it  encourages  a  chaotic  and  anarchic
situation  where  no  social  order  exists.  However,  implied  in  the  basic  tenets  of  critical
pedagogy  is  the  admittance  that  society  operates  on  a  hierarchical  structure.  Therefore,  the
rights and interests of the less powerful groups  might go unnoticed if their awareness is not
raised.  It  should  also  be  mentioned  that  critical  pedagogy  does  not  offer  a  wholesale
substitute for language methodologies. In the context of principled teaching, it can ensure that

the three telos of Postmethod pedagogy are well taken care of. In the meanwhile, something
must be said about the context in which critical pedagogy is implemented since educational
innovations need to be congruent with local culture and value system.
Finally, future studies can look into the potential misconceptions of teachers regarding
pedagogic innovations including critical pedagogy. The existing body of research on critical
pedagogy  documents  studies  that  have  mostly  adopted  confirmatory  designs  that  furnished
evidence  in  support  of  its  principles  and  thus  have  ignored  the  myths  teachers  might  have
about  it.  Also,  given  the  sensitive  nature  of  critical  pedagogy,  educational  policies  lack  a
critical  dimension.  Therefore,  to  expedite  the  historical  transition  from  the  standard
curriculum to a critical one, it is necessary to investigate the policy maker‟s notion of critical
pedagogy in the first place.  
 
8. Limitations
This study was limited to the investigation of teachers‟ beliefs derived from their academic
experience  throughout  their  formative  years.  Therefore,  no  attempt  was  made  to  distinguish
between  teachers  in  terms  of  their  teaching  experience,  maturity,  and  their  area  of  service
(e.g., school, university, or language center) as this would digress the focus of the study. Note
that EFL teachers in Iran come from a variety of academic backgrounds besides TEFL such
as  English  literature,  linguistics,  translation,  etc.  It  was  hypothesized  that  TEFL  and  Non-TEFL  teachers  of  English  are  likely  to  have  different  attitudes  toward  their  profession
because  of  their  academic  background  on  the  grounds  that  exposure  to  various  teaching
methods  and  theories  of  language  learning  is  an  essential  ingredient  of  teacher  training
programs;  so  Non-TEFL  teachers,  no  matter  their  teaching  experience,  do  not  start  from  an
equal  footing.  The  effect  of  degree  was  also  considered  important  as  the  niceties  of  TEFL
such as introduction to general theories of education  is kept until graduate programs, which
implies  that  graduate  and  undergraduate  teachers  are  less  likely  to  have  the  same  views
concerning what constitutes their job.

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