The Thin Tweed Line
Navigation Bar Home Faculty Administration Students Trustees Government Tuition

Universities are curious things. They are different from almost every other environment people are ever exposed to. In many ways they preserve the culture of the place they are in while simultaneously having their own microculture. They shape students’ minds before sending them out into the world. They take a significant number of people to make them work. More than just people, universities also need an impressive collection of ideas to make them function. One of the most important concepts of a university is that it needs to be at least somewhat separate from the influence of other organizations and social phenomena to function properly. Achieving separateness is and has always been difficult and it requires contributing factors to make it happen. Pedagogy is one of the essential contributing factors in keeping the University as a separate entity from other social constructs such as politics and religion. It does this by making teaching objective of race and gender. Pedagogy also trains teachers to produce better more college-worthy students. Pedagogy encourages discourse and the acknowledgement that knowledge is not permanent or unchanging.

First some background. Pedagogy in and of itself is a curiosity within a curiosity. It is the art and science of understanding and practicing teaching. There is a fundamental link between pedagogy and scholarship (Stevens, 1). There are many different modes that people can use to teach and pedagogy makes an attempt to define these modes and sometimes, more often than not, create more. For example,, an open educational resource, stresses that pedagogy happens in two modes for them. The first mode is learning performance and the second is learning environment ( For the reasoning behind understanding teaching how to teach is that how people learn determines the society they will build ( Also in Europe it has been seen as a teacher’s “bread and butter” (Donahue 127). However, pedagogy has not been viewed by everyone everywhere as important to society or even to the university. In some instances of American higher education it has been thoroughly ignored, despite both its relevance and importance (Donahue, 127). Pedagogy is often simply called education (Donahue, 128). This is true in the case of normal schools and came about as a way to raise the prestige of teaching and studying pedagogy (Donahue, 127-128). Currently there is somewhat of a feeling among intellectuals that teaching and understanding how teaching works is almost non-intellectual, that it is alright, but really people need to get back to strict research (Roundtable). However, some professors felt and feel slighted by this. Tom Reynolds from the University of Minnesota pointed out that many professors were dissatisfied with how “received knowledge was transmitted not problematized” (roundtable). In short, while highly important, pedagogy has been viewed as secondary and trivial by many, though it has been seen as vital at different times in different places. It has come in and out of fashion as something to study or practice.

The first major reason pedagogy is so necessary in keeping the university separate from things like politics, government, and religion is because the practice of pedagogy tends to minimize the focus on race and gender in an educational setting. In Bell Hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy, the significance of this concept is thoroughly examined. The book examines how Bell Hooks scrutinizes and challenges the issue of “cultural reproduction of dominant and discriminatory elements in educational settings and society” (Florence, 75). In short, she is looking at how a lack of attention to how teachers teach results in the recreation of social flaws in an educational setting. As a previously marginalized student herself Hooks uses pedagogy to determine how to make learning more equal by removing the reflection of social prejudices. Hooks’ strategies of pedagogy presume a degree of commitment by both students and teachers to make the learning process interactive and relevant to students’ “lived realities” (Florence, 76). She basically expects both the teachers and the students to be keenly involved in the classroom for pedagogy to have its full and desired effect. Without attention to teaching methods students can become marginalized or even actively discouraged both by teachers and other students. Hooks has several theories concerning this, one of them being that engaged pedagogy seeks to counteract hierarchical relationships and bigoted ideas in the classroom (Florence, 76).

Hooks is opposed to hierarchy in education and the passive image of students as recipients of compartmentalized bits of knowledge, which limits student engagement in the learning process. She spends her book focusing on how to make learning most effective for everyone involved and that means eliminating hierarchy to an extent. While traditional hierarchy may be diluted, power is still present in learning environments of all varieties. Power in the classroom can be manifested in two ways, the transmission of knowledge and the conceptualization of knowledge (Florence, 95). While the transmission of knowledge is useful for set facts or specific skills it is not so useful when it comes to ideas that are malleable. On the other hand, the conceptualization of knowledge is better for discussion and pulls attention away from the students and teacher and refocuses it on the subject at hand, which in turn gives most of the power in the room to the subject matter. In the end, an engaged and critical pedagogical approach helps to remove power from the social hierarchy, putting it instead into the subject of study, and to make learning environments such as a university separate from social conditioning.

The idea of pedagogy removing the university from excessive influence from social prejudices is a regular theme when one looks for it. Part of this removal is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Learning environments should be places that teach the acceptance of differences and the integration of differences as knowledge into the normal process of teaching (Florence, 84). For example, instead of teaching from a strictly “White” perspective, critical pedagogy should encompass multiple perspectives “to ways of being, feeling and knowing (Florence, 86). This means that culturally speaking, everyone should be able to learn because pedagogy helps to provide multiple angles to approach a topic for understanding and evaluation. Without active pedagogy a whole group of students can be left out due to application of social norms in the educational setting. For a long time in the U.S. women and people of color were unable to receive any education at all, let alone one that was equal to what was received by white males. With this in mind, it is impossible not to acknowledge the necessity of keeping the university separate through the use of pedagogy.

Pedagogy also helps teachers to train more college-ready students. This means that they produce students who are critical thinkers and who are dynamically oriented and driven. Critical thinking in this case is the ability to understand that sometimes there is no right answer, but that there may be a best answer. It is the ability to see things from multiple angles. To produce such a student, several factions of education must work together, the schools, the universities, and the arts and sciences departments within the universities. However, once the system gets going it is its own little happy cycle; the arts and sciences research pedagogy, then share their findings with the university, which in turn sends them on to the schools, who then uses them to train students to go to the universities and some of those students will end up working in the arts and sciences. One example of this is Montclair State University in New Jersey. The main idea behind the center for pedagogy at Montclair was to promote critical thinking in students. The mission statement itself says, “The mission of the Center of Pedagogy is the continuing development of educators who promote students’ critical thinking and learning” (Patterson, 92). This statement proves that the end result of so much effort and cooperation is the creation of a student with the ability to actually think and function independently. Montclair is not the only example. Bringham Young University in Utah and the University of Texas at El Paso both have parallel pedagogy programs to Montclair though they do differ slightly.

The students who are produced by pedagogically trained teachers tend to be dynamic learners as well as critical thinkers. This is partially because pedagogy itself is a dynamic area of study and practice. Pedagogy requires teachers who practice it to discover new and more effective ways of transferring knowledge to students. For example, part of studying pedagogy means using experimental research based curriculums. Also, the students who are taught pedagogically tend to be better educated, meaning they incorporate the knowledge they have acquired into their everyday lives (Gregory, 70). This at the very least gives the students the tools to be dynamic because it allows them to apply knowledge to different circumstances, which in turn provides an opportunity for research.

Pedagogy helps to keep the university separate from the surrounding social spheres by encouraging student-teacher discourse. Moving back to power allocation in the classroom, when students and teachers are a minor part of the proceedings power and focus ends up on the content of the class. Hooks advocates relating theory to practice to make education more meaningful, encouragement of teachers’ pedagogical emphasis on learner participation and engagement (Florence, 78). This discussion is important because it forces students and teachers both to acknowledge that information is not permanent and that it can be debated. This fact ties back to understanding that information is not always what it seems and helps to keep social atrocities from being ignored by the educational system in general and the universities specifically. One example of this is Nazi Germany in WWII. “Things were covered up” (Macrine, 137). Without an unattached education system where things could be discussed and debated the holocaust went unchecked and unchallenged. “There was an absence of outrage” (Macrine, 137). However, in places where education is open and where an approach based on pedagogy promotes discussion, it becomes considerably less likely for genocide to occur.

It is possible to say that a system without pedagogy would have universities just as effective as a system with pedagogy. After all, even today pedagogy is not always treated with a great deal of respect and universities without it tend to function decently well. However, the effect of not having an active pedagogical approach is less blatant than one would expect. It is not that the negative consequences are not present it is that they are not immediately recognizable. A lack of pedagogy has an insidious long-term effect generally speaking. It starts with the teachers who are dissatisfied with their work, such as “Interdisciplining Pedagogy: a roundtable”, where teachers from the University of Minnesota discuss pedagogy and its effects at length. From the teachers it balloons to students who are then not taught in a way that encourages critical thinking and dynamic learning, or worse, are kept in the dark about political and social issues because the school or university is unable to achieve separateness because it does not actively research its own methods. In places where a lack of pedagogy is blatantly apparent, it is often manifested an unattractive manner. People are killed and tortured.

It is also possible to say that universities do not really need to be separate from other social manifestations. However, when they are not the learning in such universities tends to be skewed and unreliable. This is true for example, in early religious schools such as Paris. In Paris what was teachable and what was not came into hot debate. People were not allowed to apply logic to the Holy Trinity for instance. In contrast places like Oxford and Cambridge produced people who could criticize religion and study new things. Also the German model of schools was extremely dynamic and each school was separate from local influence. To use a more modern example, in the Soviet Union schools were focused on conformity and submission to a dictatorship. Later, after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, education turned to individualism, differentiation, democratization, and human rights, “the antithesis of what had come before” (Alexander, 75). Thus a pattern arises. Schools that are tied to a specific influence, be it culture, religion, or government, reflect the influence exerted upon them. Students produced by such a system have a more narrow view of things and are not able to branch out and be dynamic in new areas like they are in a system separate from the aforementioned social constructs.

In short, it is vitally important for students and the educational world for universities to be separate and pedagogy is essential in keeping the universities detached from other social and political entities that have a negative effect on the production of truly educated students. Pedagogy helps to destabilize social norms in a classroom setting so students from all walks of life may receive an adequate education. It helps students to become pragmatic research driven thinkers. Finally, it pushes discourse on content, something that helps keep corruption out of the educational system. Universities are unique for many reasons. One reason is there standing as something almost outside the “real world”. Without pedagogy this standing would quite probably be lost.





Pedagogy and The University


Page Author: Elise Holbrook-Bruns

Saturday, 17-March-2012 04:33



Stevens, Scott, “The Better Part of Pedagogy,” Pedagogy 1 no. 2 (spring 2001), Under “Duke University Press,” (accessed March 10, 2012).

Edited by Dr. Farideh Mashayekh (Bazargan) & Prof. Abbas Bazargan, “How We Learn Determines the Kind of Society We Build,” (accessed March 7, 2012).

Donahue, Patricia, “Pedagogy Lost and Regained,” Pedagogy 3, no. 1 (winter 2003). Under “Duke University Press,” (accessed March 8, 2012).

Barajas, Heidi “Interdisciplining Pedagogy: A Roundtable,” symploke 10, no.1-2 (2002), (accessed March 9, 2012).

Florence, Namulundah. Bell Hooks’ Engaged Pedagogy: A Transgressive Education for Critical Consciousness. Edited by Henry A Giroux. Westport: Bergin and Garvey, 1998.

Patterson, Robert S. Nicholas M. Michelli and Arturo Pacheco. Centers of Pedagogy: New Structures for Educational Renewal. Vol. 2. San Francisco: Jossy-Bass Publishers, 1999.

Gregory, Marshal W. “Curriculum Pedagogy and Teacherly Ethos.” Pedagogy 1, no. 2 (Winter 2001), Under “Duke University Press,” (accessed March 9, 2012).

Critical Pedagogy in Uncertain Times: Hope and Possibilities. Edited by Sheila L. Macrine. New York: Palgrace MacMillan, 2009.

Huey, Edmund Burke. The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading. Cambridge, M.I.T. Press, 1968.

Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities; Stadium Generale and the Origins of University Education in Europe. Translated by Richard North. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Alexander, Robin. Culture and Pedagogy: International Comparisons in Primary Education. Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000.


Editorial Policy

Correspondence to the student authors of this website may be sent to this e-mail address. Make sure your subject includes the name of the author and the article you are referring to along with it's URL. Article copyright is held by their author.

Submissions of original new materials may be made electronically by PDF as long as significant authorship is by undergraduates enrolled in a non-profit educational institution. All materials are peer reviewed by a group of undergraduates.

Editorial articles, lecture presentations, and basic FAQs are marked as such on this website. These articles generally have open copyright and may be used in academic, non-profit settings as long as the author is given full attribution.

The Thin Tweed Line, ©2012 by Steve N. Jackson