Critical pedagogy is conceived in the contemporary educational era as a means to help improve learning skills and abilities and thus, the scholastic achievements of students from disadvantaged groups. Yet, we know very little about the ways in which critical pedagogy is interpreted and understood in disadvantaged schools. This study seeks to examine the implementation of critical pedagogy in a secular Jewish high school in an impoverished neighborhood in Israel. The high school strives to attain scholastic achievement by instilling critical consciousness.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over a two-year period, I analyzed the interpretations of critical pedagogy by teachers and parents during the process of preparing students for matriculation exams. This period was chosen due to the fact that these final exams were posited as the apex of the school’s aims and learning process. With regard to critical pedagogy, the findings reveal that two distinct discourses—achievement-ism and critique—played out in the school. These discourses were not conceived as complementary but rather as two contradicting positions that diverged along socio-economic lines – that of the teachers and the parents. Therefore, whereas most of the teachers regarded critical pedagogy as a radical alternative to the exam system, most of the parents regarded critical pedagogy as a non-normative radical option that threatened the exam system. The differential ways in which critical pedagogy was interpreted by teachers and parents begs us to continue calling it into question and to articulate new models for a critical pedagogy that sees oppression for the multilayered complex arena that it is.