Epistemological, Ontological and Axiological Dimensions of "Critical Imagination" Vis-à-Vis Currere

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Objectives/Purpose: Imagination is central to envisioning the world otherwise, and thereby essential to critical consciousness. Yet, too often in U.S. public schools it is shunted to “specials” like music and art, “exiled” to out of school time or cut altogether (Hawkins, 2012), or simply given lip service as a slogan in a de jure reform movement (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Consequently, reclaiming “imagination” is imperative for critical educators. This presentation provides a conceptual backdrop for the symposium by engaging “critical imagination” as an essential force in critical pedagogy. We will: 1) examine the epistemological, ontological and axiological dimensions of “critical imagination” (i.e., imagination for social change), and 2) demonstrate how imagination contributes to students’ and teachers’ personal agency in the teaching-learning process by analyzing classroom artifacts from the authors’ teaching practice.

By uniting Paulo Freire’s and Maxine Greene’s philosophy, we conceptualize critical imagination as a “means to create personal agency and political awareness […] by enabling the imaginer to resist the present order and see beyond obstacles” (Author, 2013, p. 2) and decontextualized, impersonal meaning. This is akin to what Greene (1995) calls envisioning the “not yet” and Freire’s “impatient curiosity [that brings into view a] world we did not make to add to it something of our own making” (1998, p. 38).

Methods and Data Sources: Combining Pinar and Grumet’s (1976) “currere” and Freire’s critical consciousness, we analyze examples of student-created currere from an undergraduate teacher education course and a doctoral level organization theory course, paying specific attention to how students identify their values (axiology), ways of knowing (epistemology), and ways of being (ontology). We examine how these ideas are intertwined and recursively connected to each other and to critical imagination and critical consciousness.

Critical imagination vis-a-vis currere allows students to oscillate between past, present and future. Students call into question how commonsense assumptions emerge from their personal histories (e.g., with family, church, nationality, or learning styles) and shape their present. This opens up dialogical teaching-learning spaces as teachers-learners are afforded windows into each others’ lived realities. Critical imagination catalyzes new ways of knowing, being and feeling; it is both personal and political, as teachers and learners “sense gaps” (Henle, 1986) in their worldviews and begin to imagine the world otherwise in relation to each other.

Scientific or Scholarly Significance of the Study or Work: Imagination has been under-theorized in the critical pedagogy literature (for exceptions, see Rautins & Ibrahim, 2011 and Cartwright & Noone 2006), yet it is essential to transformative teaching and learning. This research engages with the notion of “critical imagination” to extend Freire’s (1998) notion of “curiosity,” which he describes in Pedagogy of Freedom as “restless questioning, as movement toward the revelation of something hidden, as a question verbalized or not, as search for clarity, as a moment of attention, suggestion, and vigilance” (p. 38). Moreover, this research provides examples of imagination in the practice of critical pedagogy through the use of student-created artifacts, thereby bridging the theory-practice divide.


American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA)


Philadelphia, PA