July 01, 2005
Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of the most influential progressive education texts of the 20th century. A Brazilian activist and educator, Friere (1921-1997) spent almost sixteen years in political exile after a military coup in 1964. In 1980 he returned to Brazil and in 1988 became the Municipal Secretary of Education in Sao Paulo when the Workers' Party (PT) he'd help found came into power.
Pedagogy of Freedom is Friere's final work, written as the precursor to a seminar he planned to co-teach at Harvard in 1997.
Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom – Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage
Forward by Donaldo Macedo
The attempts of educators to adopt “hard science” modes of analysis as part of their research in social sciences have given rise to a form of “scientism” rather than science. By “scientism” I refer to the mechanization of the intellectual work cultivated by specialists, which often leads to the fragmentation of knowledge.
Paulo Freire was very concerned that institutions like the Harvard Graduate School of Education were preponderantly supportive of specialists of this sort who hide their ideology behind a facile call for “scientific rigor” and “absolute objectivity.”
As Freire would argue, these educators “might treat [the] society under study as though [they] are not participants in it. In [their] celebrated impartiality, [they] might approach this real world as if [they] were wearing ‘gloves and masks’ in order not to contaminate or be contaminated by it.”
p. xxiv – Citing Jonathan Kozol (resident named Maria)
If you weave enough bad things into the fivers of a person’s life – sickness and filth, old mattresses and other junk thrown in the streets and ugly ruined things, and ruined people, a prison here, sewage there, drug dealers here, the homeless people over there, then give us the very worst schools anyone could think of, hospitals that keep you waiting for ten hours, police that don’t show up when someone’s dying . . . you can guess that life will not be very nice and children will not have much sense of being glad of who they are. Sometimes it feels like we have been buried six feet under their perceptions. This is what I feel they have accomplished.
These questions make it clear how distorted empirical study results can be when they are disconnected from the socio-cultural reality that informs the study to begin with. In addition, such distortion feeds into the development of stereotypes that, on the one hand, blame the victims for their own social misery and, on the other hand, rationalize the genetic inferiority hypotheses that are advanced by such pseudo-scholars as Charles Murray and the former Harvard professor Richard J. Hernstein.
By negating history, particularly the history that engendered the “at risk” reality, many liberals are able to safely display their presumed benevolence toward a particular subordinate cultural group that they have labeled “at risk” without having to accept that, because of their privileged position, they are part of a social order that created the very reality of oppression they want to study.
The real issue is to understand one’s privileged position in the process of helping so as not to, on the one hand, turn help into a type of missionary paternalism and, on the other hand, limit the possibilities for the creation of structures that lead to real empowerment. The metaphor also points to white teachers’ responsibility to attack oppression at its very source, which is often white racist supremacy.
”I am tired of the oppressor always reminding the oppressed of their condition.”
This liberal colonialist contradiction is no different from that of many white liberal educators, particularly in “risk and prevention” programs, who proselytize about empowering minorities while refusing to divest from their class-and-whiteness privilege – a privilege that is often left unexamined and unproblematized and that is often accepted as a divine right.
Like the white liberal “at risk” educator, “the colonist likes neither theory nor theorists. He who knows that he is in a bad ideological or ethical position generally boasts of being a man of action, one who draws his lessons from experience.” By not theorizing their practice, white liberal educators shield themselves from the self-critical reflection that could interrogate, among other things, how the maintenance of their privilege invariably makes them complicit with the dominant ideology that creates the need for them to engage in various forms of practice in oppressed communities.
In Pedagogy of Freedom, [Freire] brilliantly reminds us about the social order that, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, “sanctions misery, chronic hunger, ignorance, or, in general, sub humanity.” In essence, educators who refuse to transform the ugliness of human misery, social injustices, and inequalities, invariably become educators for domestication who, as Sartre so poignantly suggested, “will change nothing and will serve no one, but will succeed only in finding moral comfort in malaise.”
Introduction by Stanley Aranowitz
p. 1 – Describing small, alternative schools within a school
These alternative schools benefit from public perception that many large, board-administered high schools have failed by almost any measure: academic performance, graduation rates, college admissions, and, of course, the volume of dropouts.
During the last decade, schools that insisted on their difference committed an unholy violation of the new common sense that the highest mission and overriding purpose of schooling was to prepare students, at different levels, to take their places in the corporate order. The banking or transmission theory of school knowledge, which Freire identified more than thirty years ago as the culprit standing in the way of critical consciousness, has returned with a vengeance.
Where once liberal, let alone radical, educators insisted that education be at the core an activity of self-exploration in which, through intellectual and affective encounters, the student attempts to discover her own subjectivity, now nearly all learning space is occupied by an elaborate testing apparatus that measures the students’ “progress” in ingesting externally imposed curricula and, more insidiously, provides a sorting device to reproduce the inequalities inherent in the capitalist market system . . . In turn, the teacher becomes the instrument of approved intellectual and moral culture, charged with the task of expunging destructive impulses and fueling the empty mental tank.
In this age of the subsumption of the human spirit under the imperatives of alienated work without end, society has lost its tolerance for even kid pleasures, and school authorities have, sometimes enthusiastically, subordinated themselves to business by imaging schools in the modalities of the factory or the large corporate office.
Since the English translation thirty years ago of his widely read book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire’s work has suffered the misreadings of well-meaning educators who have interpreted his work as a “brilliant methodology,” a kind of manual for teachers who would bring out the best in their otherwise indifferent students.
Consistent with the Hegelianism inherent in his own practice, Freire wants to preserve as well as transform what the student knows, to make it available in the process of knowledge production. Reflection is an occasion for the student’s intervention in examining and changing life.
[Freire’s] is a humanist ethic insofar as class societies retard the development of the capacities of people to take control of their own destinies . . . Freire judges current social and political arrangements by the criterion of whether they have taken steps to amelioraiate, much less reverse, the long tradition of authoritarian societies to exclude substantial portions of their populations from participation in economi, social, and cultural life . . .
Teachers are chronically underpaid, subject to onerous working and living conditions, and, I would add, often poorly educated. Part of Freire’s ethical idea is the absolute necessity of teacher’s self-defense of their own dignity, a struggle that includes their “right” to academic freedom, to have autonomy in the construction of the curriculum and the pedagogic process. . . . Dedicated to the unity of theory and practice, teachers can hardly make credible the link between education and action if they themselves are not so engaged.
As good jobs disappear and are replaced by temporary, contingent, and part-time work, competition among prospective workers intensifies. The school responds by making testing the object of teaching and, in the bargain, robs teachers of their intellectual autonomy, not to say intellectual function. . . fearing marginalization some teachers may try to reconcile their views with those of neoliberalism by arguing that Freire’s “method” might produce more creative employees for entrepreneurial corporations or lift some poor and working class students from inexorable subordination to individual social mobility. After all, even the most conservative cultures require self-justification by picking out a few subalterns to promote as emblems of the system’s flexibility.
1: Introductory Reflections
Teacher preparation should never be reduced to a form of training. Rather, teacher preparation should go beyond the technical preparation of teachers and be rooted in the ethical formation both of selves and of history.
We can only consider ourselves to be the subjects of our decisions, our searching, our capacity to choose – that is, as historical subjects, as people capable of transforming our world – if we are grounded ethically . . . One of the biggest difficulties about this ethical grounding is that we have to do everything in our power to sustain a universal human ethic without at the same time falling into a hypocritical moralism.
There is a lot of fatalism around us. An immobilizing ideology of fatalism, with its flighty postmodern pragmatism, which insists that we can do nothing to change the march of social-historical and cultural reality because that is how the world is anyway. The most dominant contemporary version of such fatalism is neoliberalizm. With it, we are led to believe that mass unemployment on a global scale is an end-of-the-century inevitability. From the standpoint of such an ideology, only one road is open as far as educative practice is concerned: adapt the student to what is inevitable, to what cannot be changed. In this view, what is essential is technical training . . .
2: There is No Teaching Without Learning p. 30
. . . to teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge.
The more critically one excercises one’s capacity for learning, the greater is one’s capacity for constructing and eveloping what I call “epistemological curiosity,” without which it is not possible to obtain a complete grasp of the object of our knowledge.
What is essential is that learners, though subjected to the praxis of the “banking system,” maintain alive the flame of resistance that sharpens their curiosity and stimulates their capacity for risk, for adventure, so as to immunize themselves against the banking system.
The educator with a democratic vision or posture cannot avoid in his teaching praxis insisting on the critical capacity, curiosity, and autonomy of the learner.
Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end, slaves to the text, fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community.
There are times when I fear that someone reading this, even if not yet totally converted to neoliberal pragmatism but perhaps somewhat contaminated by it, may think that there is no more place among us for the dreamer and believer in utopia. Yet what I have been saying up to now is not the stuff of inconsequential dreamers. It has to do with the very nature of men and women as makers and dreamers of history and not simply as casualties of an a priori vision of the world.
One of the most important tasks of critical educational practice is to make possible the conditions in which the learners, in their interaction with one another and with their teachers, engage in the experience of assuming themselves as social, historical, thinking, communicating, transformative, creative persons; dreamers of possible utopias. . .
What is important in teaching is not the mechanical repition of this or that gesture but a comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desires. Of the insecurity that can only be overcome by inspiring confidence.
3: Teaching is Not Just Transferring Knowledge
. . . to know how to teach is to create possibilities for the construction and production of knowledge rather than to be engaged simply in a game of transferring knowledge.
. . . we recall that our awareness of our unfinishedness makes us responsible beings, hence the notion of our rpesence in the world as ethical. We recall also that it is only because we are ethical that we can also be unethical. The world of culture, which is also the world of history, is the world where freedom, choice, decision, and possibility are only possible because they can also be denied, despised, or refused. For this reason, the education of women and men can never be purely insturmental. It must also necessarily be ethical.
Women and men are capable of being educated only to the extent that they are capable of recognizing themselves as unfinished.
The teacher who does not respect the student's curiosity in its diverse aesthetic, linguistic, and syntactical expressions; who uses riony to put down legitimate questioning (recognizing of course that freedom is not absolute, that it requires of its nature certain limits); who is not repectfully present in the educational experience of the student, transgresses fundamental ethical principles of the human condition. It is in this sense that both tha authoritarian teacher who suffocates the natural curiosity and freedom of the student as well as the teacher who imposes not standards at all are equally disrespectful . . .
It's impossible to talk of repsect for students for the dignity that is in the process of coming to be, for the identities that are in the process of construction, without taking into consideration the conditions in which they are living and the importance of the knowledge drived from life experience, which they bring with them to school.
. . .respect fo educators and for education itself includes the struggle for salaries that are worthy of the status of the teaching profession.
The world is not finished. It is always in the process of becoming.
In the context of history, culture, and politics, I register events not so as to adapt myself to them but so as to change them, in the physical world itself. . . No one can be in the world, with the world, and with others and maintain a posture of nuetrality. I cannot be in the world decontextualized, simply observing life.
It's important always to bear in mind that the role of the dominant ideology is to inculcate in the oprressed a sense of blame and culpability about their situation of oppression. And this sense of blame and culpability becomes transparent at certain times.
4: Teaching Is a Human Act p. 86
. . . professional incompetence destroys the legitimate authority of the teacher.
Cohenrently democatic authority carries the conviction that true discipline does not exist in the muteness of those who have been silenced but in the stirrings of those who have been challenged, in the doubt of thos who have been prodded, and in the hopes of those who have been awakened.
Another type of knowledge that I ought to possess and that has to do with almost all the others that I have so far spoken of is the understanding that the exercise of my teaching activity does not leave me untouched. No more than I could be out in the rain with no protection and expect not to get wet. We must understand the meaning of the moment of silence, of a smile, or even of an instance in which someone needs to leave the room.
It is my belief that today the progressive kind of teacher needs to watch out as never before for the clever uses of the dominant ideology of our time, especially its insidious capacity for spreading the idea that it is possible for education to be nuetral. This is an extremely reactionary philosophy, which uses the classroom to inculcate in the students political attitudes and practices, as if it were possible to exist as a human being in the world and at the same time by neutral. My very presence in the school as a teacher is intrinsically a political presence . . .
Education never was is not, and never can be neutral or indifferent in regard to the reproduction of the dominant ideology or the interrogation of it.
The advance of science or technology cannot legitimate "class" and call it "order" so that a minority who holds power may use and squander the fruits of the earth while the vast majority are hard pressed even to survive. . . The fatalistic philosophy of neoliberal politics. . .is a case in point of how human interests are abandoned whenever they threaten the values of the market.
The great fchallenge for the democratic-minded educator is how to transmit a sense of limit that can be ethically integrated by freedom itself. The more consciously freedom assumes its necessary imits, the more authority it has, ethically speaking, to continue to struggle in its own name.
It's in making decisions that we learn to decided...Consequences are what make decision making a responsible process.
. . . a pedagogy of autonomy should be centered on experiences that stimulate decision making and responsibility, in other words, on experiences that respect freedom.
It is rare...that we preceive the agressive incoherence that exists between our progressive statements and our disastrously elitist style of being intellectuals.
We can see that respecting differences and, obviously, those who are different from us always requires of us a large dose of humility that would alert us to the risks of overvaluing our identity, which could, on the one hand, turn into a form of arrogance and, on the other, promote the devaluation of other human beings.
If education cannot do everything, there is something fundamental that it can do. In other words, if education is not the key to social transformation, neither is it simply meant to reproduce the dominant ideology.
The capacity to tame, inherent in ideology, makes us at times docilely accept that the globalization of the economy is its own invention, a kind of inevitable destiny, an almost metaphysical entity rather than a moment of economic development, subject to a given political orientation dictated by the interests of those who hold power, as is the whole of capitalist economic production.
If globalization means the abolition of the frontiers and the opening without restriction to free enterprise, those who cannot compete simply disappear.
And it does not matter with what age group the teacher is working. Our work is with people, whether they be simple, youthful, or adult. People who are on the troad of permanent search. people in formation, changing, growing, redirecting their lives, becoming better, and, because the are human, capable of negating fundamental values, of distorting life, of falling back, of transgressing.