Critical Pedagogy: Learning to think not memorize

Sit down and pay attention. I am going to tell you what you need to know to pass the upcoming test and then we can proceed to the next set of stuff for the next test. Does this sound familiar? If so, you more than likely attended an American public education institution. The current form of education is analogous to a cow’s processing of food. Cows eat grass, regurgitate it for some further processing, then expel it so new grass can be consumed. In education, students are fed, more likely force fed, information that is regurgitated for a test, maybe for some further processing in a test review then expelled so information for the next test can be administered. THIS IS NOT LEARNING!!!!!!!!!!!! This is memorization or a learn and dump system that could be better termed bovine educational systems. So we can safely say our current education system produces dung. Our current educational system creates a herd of sleeping cattle that thrill seeking teens could easily tip over. So how do we become “woke” from the mind numbing, use and dump form of education. Well Bell Hooks has a way to elevate learners and memorization systems to that of thinkers and question asking people. That is what allows a society to flourish. That will help any nation or community become great. Want to make America great again? Well create a system of thinking, not just learning.

Bell Hooks states that thinking is an action. Any drone worker can sit and listen for an hour but can they think for an hour? Currently, students sit in rows and columns for time blocks while the teacher disseminates information necessary for passing a test. They are not challenged to think and come to fear thinking. Early college students exhibit this characteristic very early. The look of panic mixed with dread and unadulterated fear is a discomforting sight to a college professor. This look is witnessed the first time you cold call a student and ask what they “think”. How do we get students to think and expand their practical understanding of a topic? The action of thinking is precipitated and perpetuated through systems of critical pedagogy. Get students to embrace thinking in class. Use current, practical examples in the classroom. Work with students to understand how the subject of discussion applies and all the different ways it could apply. As a professor of Foreign Policy and Diplomacy, I am provided with a wealth of practical examples for class discussion. It is not good enough to walk students through the discussion. We must walk with the students through the discussion. Don’t give the relevance, work with students to find the relevance. The “aha” moment is a very rewarding event. The rapture of an expanded mind is a powerful tool a student can utilize throughout their entire life. The bottom line is this, teachers should not teach specific details of test material, instead, they should teach how to think. To do this, one must not stand in front of the class and dictate the terms and items of learning. One must be with the class and be a part of the discussion. That is critical pedagogy that will make a difference.

7 thoughts on “Critical Pedagogy: Learning to think not memorize

  1. I know what you mean by cold calling a student and watching them sit there. I’m my classes this semester, we have been constantly fighting with trying to get student to think about the materials on tests. We have had to drastically change how we approach problems so that they can get enough practice to do it on the test without help.


  2. Your comment about working “with students to find the relevance” reminds me of active learning. “Active learning means shifting some of the leadership of the course to the students and creating a situation where they will be responsible, in a significant measure, for their own learning. It means rethinking the purpose of higher education not simply as the mastery of content and the attainment of a grade for a course, or even the awarding of a diploma, but as helping students prepare for all the rest of life — both in college and beyond” (Davidson, 2018). Thus, helping students find relevance has a lasting impact.
    Davidson, C.N. (2018, January 25). 10 Key Points About Active Learning. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from


  3. We could take this analogy even further and find the similarities between feedlots and concentrations of dung. Food in one end and waste out the other. The cow got fatter and is standing in shit. Sounds about right for the bovine system. It is easy and cost effective. The rancher barely has to think. We’re a bunch of different ranchers right? We want that highly efficient system where the waste is high quality because the feed was high quality. Isn’t it our jobs as the rancher in this system to ensure the quality of this feed/information? Digestion in cows does require chewing, regurgitating, chewing some, then more and more. In my mind it we can feed them information, but then help them spit it back up and chew on it some more. Keep moving them around in search of that green grass they are looking for. That was a fun metaphor to interact with.


  4. Great analogy there with the bovine educational system, I could totally relate. It’s like the goal of going to school is to just get the grade and move on, not caring whether or not the course changed you in some way. I have heard of some teachers who give their students multiple attempts at an exam (typically different versions of the same exam) to improve their grade. I think some might initially think this is unfair if their concept of education is to properly memorize the material and get it right the first time (after all, multiple attempts means you get a sneak peak at what you have to memorize!), but it is certainly fair if your concept of education is to help the students LEARN how to THINK about the material. If the goal is to change the student, then multiple attempts on an exam is a win-win.


  5. Awesome insight in your blog. It is almost like you did all the readings…… haha. bell hooks writing really comes out in this in terms of engagement with learning and teaching. Discussiion is key to being involved in such a process. Great stuff!


  6. Thanks for your post, I really liked it. I totally agree that we (as future teachers) need to encourage our students to “think”. We need to teach them how to critically think, instead of focusing on the materials to pass the exams. However, I think students also have an important role in this process. Teachers should create a comfortable atmosphere for everyone to participate and learn through thinking and discussion, however, it is students’ choice to utilize this opportunity or only care about their grades.


  7. Nicely stated! I especially like the phrase “bovine educational system.” You are absolutely right — most teachers just transfer facts to students who only memorize information to obtain good grades. And because we cannot possibly remember everything we “learn,” we regurgitate these facts to stuff others in. I guess, I should say that we do remember the things we actually learn (no quotations here) — the things we care about and take the time to think about, discuss, and truly understand are remembered. As I was reading this, I realized that of the countless classes I have taken, I am ALWAYS happiest in the ones that are all discussion-based. Why ~ because I feel like I get to be involved in my education and the direction the class takes. In return, these are the classes I gain the most out of!


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