Critical Theory: Overview & Practical Teaching Examples

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  • 0:01 Critical Theory
  • 1:19 Technology
  • 3:59 Minorities
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Just because things have always been viewed a certain way, doesn't mean that way is correct. In this lesson, we'll explore critical theory and how teachers can open their classrooms up to offer everyone a chance at success.

Critical Theory

Gina is in the sixth grade, and she's very excited to move to middle school. She wants to learn more about science and math, and maybe invent some cool technology when she's a grown-up. But there's an issue: Gina isn't from the best neighborhood. She's a person of color. And she's a woman. All three of those things can impact her education and, as an extension, her future.

Critical theory is a philosophy that involves being critical of the prevailing view of society. In many cases, that means looking closer at beliefs that might favor privileged people, like rich, white men, over other people, like Gina.

Critical theory in education is about questioning how our educational system can best offer education to all people. It offers opportunities and understanding of the different perspective of disadvantaged members of society. For example, poor children, like Gina, often go to more poorly funded schools than their middle- and upper-class counterparts. And less funding can mean issues like availability of technology or good teachers.

Let's look at how critical theory plays out in education and what schools and teachers can do to be inclusive of all types of students.


In today's world, technology is a major part of everyday life. From smartphones (or even plain old cell phones) to computers to tablets, everyone seems to have lots of interaction with technology.

Except Gina, that is. She's in the sixth grade, and her parents can't afford a computer, so she doesn't have one at home. They also can't afford to buy her a cell phone. Tablet? She's seen them advertised on the television but never seen one in person.

Technology is not only a major part of life for most people, it is a big part of success in the business world. Most jobs require computer literacy, and many of them require a basic understanding of smartphones and tablets, too. As an extension of that, most schools have technology as part of their everyday activities. Whether it's typing an English paper on the computer or using a tablet to work on a math app, technology seems ubiquitous in schools.

But there are problems with access to technology. Poorer schools can have a harder time getting technology in the hands of their students. Remember that critical theory in education is about making sure that every student gets a good education, so lack of technology in poorer schools can be a problem that keeps everyone from getting a good education.

Unfortunately, it's not just about whether or not schools have computers. Critical theory also recognizes that people come into school with different advantages and disadvantages and focuses on how to help every student achieve their potential.

Take Gina, for example. She hasn't had access to technology outside school, like many other students have. Her teachers don't understand why she has trouble operating the computer or why she's so slow when she's typing. They sometimes get impatient, and even the ones who aren't rude about it still don't give her enough time to do her work on the computer.

Like Gina, many poor students in America have lower technological fluency than middle- and upper-class students. This springs from the fact that poorer students might not be exposed to technology until much later than more well-off kids. While some children might play with computers or smartphones when they are still potty training, others don't get to work on a computer until they are in school. That puts them way behind their classmates!

What should Gina's teachers do? Giving students time to explore technology and learn how to use it is an important step that teachers can take to be inclusive of all students. With a little extra time, Gina can become familiar with laptops and really be able to use them to her advantage.

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