On Unlearning and Relearning History

Critical theory was born out of neo-Marxism and the Frankfurt School and is “a philosophical approach to culture… that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain [culture]” (Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press). At Because I Am Human© we take a critical approach to history. We believe it is vital to critically evaluate and even re-learn history, because mainstream historical narratives are often written by those in positions of power. Therefore, oppressed and disadvantage groups are usually erased and/or misrepresented in mainstream historical narratives. A good example of this are the inaccurate, severely limited, and blatantly discriminatory historical narratives of Indigenous people and cultures written by western colonists.

One of the core concepts of critical theory is that it should improve our understanding of society by “integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology” (Wikipedia, “Critical theory”). At Because I Am Human© we utilize critical theory to improve our understanding of history and gain a more equitable understanding of history. “Postmodern critical theory politicizes social problems by situating them in historical and cultural contexts…” and postmodern critical research is characterized by “the crisis of representation, which rejects the idea that a researcher’s work is an “objective depiction of a stable other”” (Wikipedia, “Critical theory”). In other words, postmodern critical theory allows us to critique the biased nature of mainstream historical narratives, as they are in favor of whoever wrote them (which is often politically and economically elite, western, cisgender, heterosexual men).

Critical pedagogy is the specific sub-set of critical theory that allows for unlearning mainstream, oppressive historical narratives and re-learning more equitable historical narratives. Critical pedagogy is a “philosophy of education… that combines education with critical theory” (Wikipedia, “Critical pedagogy”). It has been developed as an “educational movement… to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action” (Wikipedia, “Critical pedagogy”). Critical pedagogy thus “includes relationships between teaching and learning. Its proponents claim that it is a continuous process of what they call “unlearning”, “learning”, and “relearning”, “reflection”, “evaluation”, and the effect that these actions have on the students, in particular students whom they believe have been historically and continue to be disenfranchised by what they call “traditional schooling”” (Wikipedia, “Critical pedagogy”).

To learn more about Critical Theory click here.
To learn more about Critical Pedagogy click here.