Friday, October 19, 2012

Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Opressed

This book is not a clever product from thought and study alone. It is from continued observation of and dialogue with laborers (peasant or urban) and middle-class persons in the real world. (p. 37)

This is not a dogmatic declaration by the self-righteous left, either. It is indeed a product of a radical mind, but the mind is never confined in the cognitive structure which he imposes upon himself and the rest of the human being. If you believe, as I used to, that this is another self-alleged critical work, which actually lacks in self-criticism, you're entirely wrong. Throw away your prejudice and please read this book if you're ever interested in education. This IS a classical work of pedagogy.

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a 'circle of certainty' within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side. (p. 39, emphasis added)

In order to enter into a dialogue with people to change the world for the better together, we need to be both objective and subjective. Juxtaposition of "objective" and "subjective" would be odd for the predicate of a person if you take the view of objectivism or of subjectivism, the former being the complete denial of subjectivity in our conception and action, and the latter being the denial of objectivity; objectivism and subjectivism are the two sides of the same coin, for they separate objectivity and subjectivity in our experience of the world we live in. Because "it is a concrete situation that the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is established, the resolution of this contradiction must be objectively verifiable" (p. 50). But at the same time, we need to realize that "one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity" (p. 50). As Freire says, "Neither objectivism nor subjectivism, nor yet psychologism is propounded here, but rather subjectivity and objectivity in constant dialectical relationship" (p. 50).

One way of achieving a dialectical relationship between subjectivity and objectivity is by praxis which Freire defines as "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it" (p. 51). To bring about praxis, you must stop oppressing other people and yourself, trust them for their ability to reason for their own words and deeds.

To achieve this praxis, however, it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection, and communication, and will fall into using slogans, communiqués, monologues, and instructions. Superficial conversions to the cause of liberation carry this danger. (p. 66)

So in order not to repeat the mistake of self-claimed liberators who first freed nobody but themselves and eventually self-destroyed themselves, we need praxis and communication.

Then, what blocks praxis and communication? A major one in the modern society is what Freire termed as the "banking concept of education" (p. 72). In that concept and in classes conducted in the concept, students are only the object for containing the knowledge which their teacher store for his convenience. Students are only expected to receive and accumulate the knowledge in order to adapt to the world that the haves (the teacher included) want to maintain. Knowledge is not to change the world but to keep it as it is. Banking style education is oppressors' sophisticated way of controlling the oppressed.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the "banking" concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filling, and storing the deposits. ...

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as process of inquiry. (p. 72)

When students regard themselves as nothing but a container as a bank of somebody else's knowledge (and they can only use the interest of the knowledge as money), they are alienated from and by the knowledge and the world where the knowledge is from. Dichotomy between human beings and the world becomes a reality in the banking concept of education.

Implicitly in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is spectator, not re-creator. In this view, the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente); he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty "mind" passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside. (p. 75)

In order to bring back students to the world and the relationship with others they belong to and live in, teachers need to abandon the banking concept of education, and start communication with them (not information transmission in disguise). And communication is admitting and encouraging the autonomy of the interlocutors, students in this case.

Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning. The teacher's thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students' thinking. The teacher cannot think for her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication. If it is true that thought has meaning only when generated by action upon the world, the subordination of students to teachers become impossible. (p. 77)

Teachers are to stop viewing students as ignorant vessels into which teachers of a 'good-will' should pour their knowledge, and to atart recognizing students as human beings, conscious beings that are conscious of themselves interacting in the world. (Here, consciousness is to be taken more as either extended consciousness or higher-order consciousness, than as core consciousness or primary consciousness; See the neuroscientific arguments by Damasio or by Edelman). This style of education, entirely free from the banking concept, is problem-posing education, according to Freire.

Those truly committed to the cause of liberation can accept neither the mechanistic concept of consciousness as an empty vessel to be filled, nor the use of banknig methods of domination (propaganda, slogans -- deposits) in the name of liberation.

Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world. "Problem-posing" education, responding to the essence of consciousness --intentionality--rejects communiqués and embodies communication. It epitomizes the special characteristic of consciousness: being conscious of, not only as intent on objects but as turned in upon itself in a Jasperian "split" --consciousness as consciousness of consciousness. (p. 79

In the problem-posing education, students restore their sense of subjectivity; they become an agent in their world in which they live together with others. The world and knowledge of the world are not separated from their being. The problem-posing education is a process of humanization, learning to be human, or more human, in this world. Freire says:

Education is thus constantly remade in the praxis. In order to be, it must become. (p. 84)

Students in the problem-posing education are no longer ignorant people, but our fellow citizens, younger as they may be, who are challenged by the problems we face in this world.

Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context, not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed. (p. 81)

Students, then, learn to see themselves and the world in transformation, to which they are committed.

In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation. (p. 83)

As students face challenges with us, teachers and other citizens, they enter into a dialogical relationship with us. The relationship is not, however, mere exchange or consumption of information (something you often see in boring language lessons). Words in our dialogue are based upon the world, and by naming the world (i.e., using language), we become committed to the world. Dialogue is no empty talk for its own sake.

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. (p. 88)

As we are embedded in the world, we are limited by it, but at the same time, we project ourselves in it: we are "conscious beings" that "exist in a dialectical relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom." (p. 99)

the people --aware of their activity and the world in which they are situated, acting in function of the objectives which they propose, having the seat of their decisions located in themselves and in their relations with the world and with others, infusing the world with their creative presence by means of the transformation they effect upon it --unlike animals, not only live but exist; and their existence is historical. (p. 98)

In order to live better in this world, we need praxis and dialogue. Teachers have to turn a critical eye on themselves, for they are often thoughtless speakers and bad listeners (They often believe that "the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects" (p. 73)). Teachers are to be careful not to be oppressors themselves. (Beware of the dark side, Anakin!)

Each time they say their word without hearing the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding. They can no longer live without having someone to give orders to. Under these circumstances, dialogue is impossible. (p. 134)
In a dialogical relationship, I meet you, as you meet me. I cannot be a human alone. If education is about humanization, learning to be a human, dialogue is essential.

The antidiagogical, dominating I transforms the dominated, conquered thou into a mere it. The dialogical I, however, knows that it is precisely the thou ("not-I") which has called forth his or her own existence. He also knows that the thou which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an I which has in his I its thou. The I and the thou thus become, in the dialectic of these relationships, two thous which become two I's. (p. 167)

I now regret that I haven't read this book so far because of the prejudice I have about the dogmatic Marxists. More true to the spirit of Marx than the traditional Marxism (p. 37), this book has probably become all the more important after the collapse of the Soviet Union (and the Utopian idea of the traditional Marxists). As far as I can see, this book is free from the dogmas of the totalitarian Marxists and sets you and your students free. With the feeling of the shame of not having read this classic, I highly recommend this work of pedagogy for every teacher.

Amazon: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

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