Document Type : Research Article
1 Professor, TEFL, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran
2 Ph.D. Candidate, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran
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
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
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,
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
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?
3.1. 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.
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.
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.
4.1. 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
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
Table 4. The Results of t-test for TEFL and Non-TEFL Teachers‟ Views on the Principles of
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.