Elizabeth Ellsworth finds that critical pedagogy, as represented in her review of the literature,has developed along a highly abstract and Utopian line which does not necessarily sustain the daily workings of the education its supporters advocate. The author maintains that the discourse of critical pedagogy is based on rationalist assumptions that give rise to repressive myths. Ellsworth argues that if these assumptions, goals, implicit power dynamics,and issues of who produces valid knowledge remain untheorized and untouched, critical pedagogues will continue to perpetuate relations of domination in their classrooms.
The author paints a complex portrait of the practice of teaching for liberation. She reflects on her own role as a White middle-class woman and professor engaged with a diverse group of students developing an antiracist course. Grounded in a clearly articulated political agenda and her experience as a feminist teacher, Ellsworth provides a critique of "empowerment,""student voice," "dialogue," and "critical reflection" and raises provocative issues about the nature of action for social change and knowledge.