Inclusive Teaching

Ignatian Pedagogy as Critical Pedagogy

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education and social movement that combines education with critical theory. First described by Paulo Freire, it has since been developed by others as an approach to inclusive teaching practices. Critical pedagogue Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as:

“Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.” (129)

With this definition in mind, I would like to highlight a brief exploration into the ways in which Jesuit education through Ignatian pedagogy can be seen as critical pedagogy, in the same ways that feminist, queer, postcolonial, and anti-racist theories have, too, given birth to their own strands of critical pedagogy. The excerpt below traces Ignatian pedagogical principles as parallel with and influential to, Freirean pedagogy (the “godfather,” so to speak, of critical pedagogies).

From, “Paulo Friere and the Jesuit Tradition: Jesuit Rhetoric and Freirean Pedagogy”:

Much like the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm, the problem-posing method and all of Freirean pedagogy moves through a learning cycle that sets as an ideal the process of moving through that cycle: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. These terms are used with specific intention by Ignatian pedagogues, as each term encompasses many layers of meaning. […] Working not only as a means for judgment of the type, quantity, and quality of student learning by the teacher, evaluation also, perhaps more importantly, is a time for self-assessment by both student and teacher about the learning of the class in order to reenter the cycle at a deeper level of awareness. All of these specific terms, with their multifaceted meanings, must work in concert with each other within the complex web of the paradigm. When analyzed carefully, it can be seen that the learning cycle Freire sets up in his theories includes similar complex elements, beginning with a sharp and intentional awareness of context and moving to the core of his theories, praxis (action + reflection), and ending with a transformational experience that interpolates us to continue the cycle, going ever deeper into knowledge and naming (word) of the world.

We can continue noting the additional parallels in these two pedagogical approaches by reaching deeper into the rhetorical tradition of eloquentia perfecta and comparing it with Freire’s pedagogy of the wordEloquentia perfecta goes beyond just perfect eloquence in words. It calls us to use speech or communication that focuses on truth, accuracy, and comprehensiveness as a path into the world, especially used in order to stand for the silenced, excluded, or impoverished. We cannot forget Ignatius’s and the Jesuits’ preferential option for the poor. At the same time, as mentioned above, Freire’s concept of the word is action + reflection, or praxis. He states that to speak a true word is to transform the world (88). The idea that speaking (not to be confused with chatter) is the right of all, and that speaking evokes dialogue that has the capacity to change the world, which is to be transformed and humanized, especially for and from those whom have been silenced, excluded, or impoverished, parallels what the Jesuit rhetorical tradition has been advocating for centuries.

Thus, the Jesuit rhetorical tradition of eloquentia perfecta is “education as the practice of freedom.” It works together with cura personalis “as [opposition] to education as an act of domination—denies that a person is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people” (Freire, 81). Cura personalis, the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm, and eloquentia perfecta now carry the Jesuit rhetorical tradition, and with them the Ignatian educator, toward collaboration, in this case as teachers and students, in order to address the world through real education and real understanding of all of the world, including and especially those parts beyond the ivory tower. As educators who see the parallel approaches of the Ignatian and Freirean models, we are called to be and to teach our students to be what Superior General Hans Peter Kolvenbach has called “whole persons in solidarity for the real world,” beginning with how and what we teach in our classrooms and programs. With Kolvenbach’s statement, we must acknowledge that what we see as parallel pedagogical theories are actually intertwined theories in our contemporary educational reality. (244-45)

Through this lens, we can see the ways in which Ignatian pedagogy acts as another example of critical pedagogy, which places the multilayered tenants: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation, as well as the ideals of eloquentia perfecta and cura personalis, at the center of inclusive teaching practices meant to challenge students’ understanding of how and why they create the knowledge and skills they are called upon to do through their educational journeys.

Works Cited:

Pace, Thomas and Gina M. Merys. “Paulo Friere and the Jesuit Tradition: Jesuit Rhetoric and
Freirean Pedagogy.” Traditions of Eloquence. New York: Fordham, 2016. 244-45.

Shor, Ira. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1992. 129.

This blog post is part of the Reinert Center’s 2016-2017 focus on Inclusive Teaching. To learn more about the year’s theme, and about programs and resources associated with it, see our webpage on Inclusive Teaching [LINK]. To talk with someone about how you can design and teach courses in more inclusive ways, contact the Reinert Center at