Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Part II

So I’ve found some time to finish reading Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I wrote about my initial reactions to chapters one and two in Part I.

These final two chapters of the book are less suited, perhaps, to a traditional educational setting–that is why it is so radical. These sections deal mostly with how to organize the oppressed in the pursuit of liberation. It takes on a more technical vocabulary, and it reads much more like a practical manifesto. In short, it is more about revolutionizing the world.

Chapter 3 concerns the topic of “dialogics”–that is, the practice of engaging in dialogue. Central this idea is the power of naming the world, the ability to act as an individual in changing the world: “To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it” (88). The oppressed have been made silent by being submerged in a reality that is mot their own, thus they are unable to describe and change their situation because they only know the words of the oppressors. Love, faith, humility, trust, hope, and critical thinking, according to Freire, are necessary for dialogue (89-92). All of these features combined lead to action. The rest of the chapter focuses on the importance, as suggested in chapter 2, that revolutionary leaders cannot simply “lead” the oppressed to liberation, people can only liberate themselves. The oppressed need to be made aware of their objective situation (their “limit-situations”), but their subjective experiences cannot be ignored in the long march to liberation. Freire has some interesting thoughts about the distinction between humans and animals (97-101), namely that animals are not able to separate themselves from the world; their existence is static, and their actions are merely reactionary and instinctual. Humans are “conscious beings” capable of re-creation and transformation, able to transcend the limits of perception, and have a sense of time. Marx filters in again in the discussion of “epochal units” and materialism of the human experience. The rest of the chapter discusses the methods of dialogics which leaders and educations need to undertake in order to carry out a real education of liberation for the oppressed. These are surely based on Freire’s experience in adult education and literacy campaigns, and they are very much informed of an anthropological methodology. Investigators should be “sympathetic observers” who seek understanding, must not impose their own “critical perception,” and become familiar with “the idiom of the people” (110-112). Only then can investigators come to identify the contradictions of their existence. For Freire, the anthropological concept of culture is paramount for critical analysis by the oppressed: “It clarifies the role of the people in the world and with the world as transforming rather than adaptive beings” (121) and “as they discuss the world of culture, they express their level of awareness of reality” (123). In the end, it is the oppressed who must come to their own conclusions about their existence.

Chapter 4, the lengthiest of the book, is essentially a how-to guide for those aspiring to revolutionary leadership. Perhaps “leadership” is not the right word, since traditionally it connotes top-down, non-democratic styles. Rather, revolutionary leaders must engage in dialogue and communion with the people: “they must ‘die,’ in order to be reborn through and with the oppressed” (133). From here, Freire describes various aspects of anti-dialogical and dialogical actions. Anti-dialogical actions (acts that destroy dialogue) are employed by oppressors to circumvent liberation, and these include: conquest (domination that creates a self-perpetuating system of paternalism), division (government bureaucracy, “forms of cultural action with which they manipulate the people by giving them the impression that they are being helped” (141), and instigating class divisions), manipulation (the myth of “the possibility of their own ascent”), and cultural invasion (the imposition of the oppressors world view upon the oppressed, aka violence). Dialogical actions (acts that facilitate dialogue and thus lead to liberation) include: cooperation (shared commitment achieved through communication), unity (communion of leaders with the oppressed), organization (“the educational process in which leaders and people together experience true authority and freedom (178)), and cultural synthesis (the unraveling of the contradiction between oppressor and oppressed into a state of becoming).

The overall thought of the book can be summarized as follows: the oppressed can only liberate themselves through dialogue and communion with leaders who seek to co-create a theory of action to undo the oppression of oppressors.

As I’ve sat with this work for a few weeks now, I cannot help but think that it is not possible for higher education to truly deploy a pedagogy of the oppressed. It is antithetical to the current state of the institution. The very concept of grades, a curriculum, tuition, etc. are incompatible with a pedagogy of the oppressed (unless, I suppose, there are a great deal of mental gymnastics to craft it in the right way). At the end of the book are various interviews of scholars who provide comment on the reception of Freire’s work. Several of them mention that the contemporary University has itself domesticated Freire’s ideas and that a “Freireian University” would be am “oxymoron” (212). While the professoriate may be slowly moving toward pedagogical practices which promote self-discovery, however, it seems that as a whole the system is not suited to enact a pedagogy of the oppressed. While the “banking method” is probably the most common pedagogical technique (especially in the sciences, as I’ve seen), one might say that modern humanities departments ‘teach people how to think,” but even this can flirt on a dangerous line that reiterates the world view of the oppressors.

One benefit to having a professoriate made aware of a pedagogy of the oppressed is that universities can then be a jumping-off point for students. There they can learn about the critical thinking Freire espouses, as well as learn how to engage in true dialogue, so that when they graduate or otherwise leave the university they can take these tactics into the so-called “real world.” Such a model, however, is not radical and is perhaps a reflection of my own bias. The question is to what extent were the revolutionary leaders of Freire actual classroom instructors? Do instructors and teachers have to experience the type of death mentioned by Freire (132-133) required to have solidarity with the oppressed? I must continue to interrogate my own privilege, as well as my aspirations for being a professor, before coming to a definitive answer. It’s all a part of the process of becoming, and I hope we can all engage in this important question.

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