Few educational thinkers have been more widely influential than Paulo Freire. His classic text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has been studied by numerous Left intellectuals, political activists, radical educationists and liberation theologians for almost four decades. Freire’s ideas and theories have been applied by academics, school teachers, adult literacy coordinators, church leaders, counselors, psychologists, social workers, health professionals, language learning specialists, and prison rehabilitation workers, among others.
In addition, Freire has inspired (directly or indirectly) thousands of books, articles, interviews, theses, videos, and even theater productions over the years.
When he died on 2 May 1997 Freire left an extensive body of written work and a legacy of memorable educational and political achievements. In this light, this paper reviews and critiques Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how this book relates to my work as an elementary teacher. Overview of the Book
Drawing on his experiences with rural peasant communities and the urban poor in Brazil and Chile, Freire theorized an intimate connection between education and the process of becoming more fully human.
Chapters 1 and 3 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed set out Freire’s ontological and ethical ideas in comprehensive and lucid detail, and Chapter 4 provides an extensive consideration of the politics of domination at a macro level. The discussion of education is primarily located in Chapter 2, and literacy does not figure as prominently as it does in a number of Freire’s other texts.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed develops the distinction between banking education and problem-posing education. Freire rejects a banking model of the teaching process in favor of a problem-posing approach, and encourages students to adopt a curious, questioning, probing stance in exploring educational issues. Freirean education demands a deep commitment to the goal of building a better social world, and necessitates active resistance against oppressive structures, ideas, and practices (Roberts, 2000).
Some of the theoretical areas explored in Pedagogy of the Oppressed include questions about structure and rigor in liberating education, the nature of critical reading and writing, legitimate and oppressive uses of authority in the classroom, and the process of study. Freire also explores the role of intellectuals in resisting dominant ideas and practices, dialectical thinking and education, the dynamics of dialogue, the distinction between facilitating and teaching, and the bearing language difficulties have on education.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes that most of Latin Americans living in economic and politically dependent part-societies feel powerless and have internalized the ruling group’s view of them as unalterably stupid. Before participating in the culture groups, words and other codifications in movies and television are seen by them as tools that can be wielded by the rich and powerful only, while they are fated to be objects of culture. This attitude changes as they become conscious of their feelings and social position.
Then they begin to see that their condition worsens if they submit to the seductions of the modern consumer culture, spending what little money they have for packaged entertainment and manufactured goods. They discover they are giving up their birthright as creators of culture, turning against their own art and artisan work to gain the illusion of participation in the modern society. They are further motivated as they discover that only they can codify their unique experience.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire reports that after analyzing the unreal and sometimes contemptuous messages in many standard texts available to them, they want to create their own texts. Critique Freire views man’s nature which is humanistic and optimistic. For Freire, education is humanizing when it is critical, dialogical, and praxical (Roberts, 2000). Man is unique among animals in his ability to shape himself and his environment. While all things change, only man is a purposive agent in change. Man’s nature is to continually create himself through an interactive process of purposive reflection and action in life situations.
Wherever these two aspects of human behavior are divorced, men are victims of a social system which encourages them to see themselves as acted upon, passive things, rather than subjects who act upon the world. Conforming, apathetic behavior is the evidence of repressive relationships. Welfare programs which rob men of their initiative amount to false generosity. For Freire, education should increase political consciousness. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he argues that the oppression of peasants is partly maintained by their acceptance of their situation as an unalterable fact of existence.
Freire feels that this fatalism reflects an internalization of the oppressor; thus, the oppressed is not for himself, but is ambivalent or even hostile to the idea of liberating himself. For this reason, liberation cannot be given to the oppressed; rather, the oppressed as an organized collective must take an active part in liberating themselves (Pitts, 1972). According to Torres (1993): “Freire’s global purpose transcends a criticism of the current educative forms, and goes on to virtually become a criticism of culture and the construction of knowledge.
In short, the basic assumptions of Freire’s works lie in a dialectical epistemology for interpreting the development of human consciousness in its relationships with reality. ” (p. 125) For Freire, the primary problems and issues of education are not pedagogical issues. Instead, they are political issues. The schooling system does not change society; instead, society can change the schooling system. However, the educational system may play a vital role in a cultural revolution, which implies the conscious participation of the masses.
As a cultural praxis, critical pedagogy contributes to lifting the ideological veil in people’s consciousness. In addition, revolution itself is a meaningful pedagogy for the masses – Freire has spoken of revolutions as a continuing political workshop. Freire’s proposal is an anti-authoritarian though directivist pedagogy, where teachers and students are teaching and learning together. Since education is the act of knowing, teacher-student and student-teacher should engage in a permanent dialogue characterized by its horizontal relationship, which does not preclude power imbalances or different everyday living experiences and knowledge.
This is a process taking place not in a classroom, but in a cultural circle. “There is not a ‘discursive’ knowledge but a knowledge starting from the living everyday and contradictory experience of teachers-students/students-teachers. Certainly this set of notions dismantles the most important framework of authoritarian pedagogy and, to this extent, appears as a ‘counter-hegemony’ practice and ideology within teacher training institutions. ” (Torres, 1993, p. 126) One thing I like about Pedagogy of the Oppressed is that the oppressed are not seen as a passive force.
In the book, Freire states that oppression must cease and it can; but the oppressed must liberate themselves. How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in the pedagogy of their liberation? According to Freire, for them to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, peasants and urban poor must perceive the reality of their oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit but as a limiting situation which they can transform.
The problem that arises from banking education is that the ruling classes are not merely contented with the defense of their material privileges; they also insist on the preservation of their cultural hegemony. The culture that co-exists with their economic dominance is one that demands silence, fatalism, superstition, self-contempt, subservience and all forms of false consciousness on the part of the masses. Education provided by these dominant classes must therefore be authoritarian and banking education. How then is one to carry out Freire’s program under the existing social order?
Freire is aware of the problem and the further one reads, the more one senses that the Pedagogy of the Oppressed is really written for subversive elements already in action (Mkandawire, 1975). Freire’s egalitarian methodology for education as espoused in Pedagogy of the Oppressed is intended to be politically subversive of oppressive regimes. It seems likely, however, that it could serve to legitimate opposition to any routinized form of delegated authority. For Freire, development is nonmaterial, and the unit of development is not the nation but the individual.
For these reasons, it is unlikely that any government will attempt to follow Freire’s methodology to its most radical implications (Pitts, 1972). The Pedagogy of the Oppressed has attracted many criticisms over the years. Those who consider education as a technical or neutral process have complained that Freire’s approaches politicize teaching and learning. Freire’s refusal to provide “packages” has irritated those who seek clear-cut methodological solutions to educational problems (Roberts, 2000). The use of the male pronoun in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and other early writings has been particularly attacked.
Also, the idea of promoting a critical mode of consciousness has been questioned. Furthermore, Freire’s focus on social class (at the expense of gender and ethnicity) in his early analyses of oppression has been rendered problematic by a number of contemporary educational theorists. Others suggest that Freire should have devoted more space in his books to class theory. Some critics have argued that the pedagogy proposed by Freire, contrary to its professed aims, constitutes a form of cultural invasion.
Finally, as post-modern ideas have gained increasing currency in recent times, universalist assumptions in Freire’s ethic, epistemology, and pedagogy have come under fire. Despite these criticisms, it is undoubted that Pedagogy of the Oppressed has left an important legacy to education. Application Freire knew the world and problems of teachers regarding pedagogy. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed answers my questions on how to move my students to become self-motivating learners. I learned that I could not move them. Following Freire’s pedagogy, teachers could only help their students learn to move themselves.
The thoughts conveyed in the book are indeed seditious but they did not transform me overnight. However, Freire’s theories have planted on me seeds of a new way of thinking. Upon reading the book, I realized that the learners and their mindset is more fundamental than the curriculum – not more important, it is just more fundamental. In addition, I learned that one’s view of the world determines what can be learned. According to the book, learning is dependent on environment and emotion as well as on presentation, materials, and text.
Importantly, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed suggests the danger to learning of oppression in the classroom environment. Thus, there should be no hierarchy in the classroom as the teachers and the students are both learners in this environment. Accordingly, instructions and curriculums should be oriented towards the learners creating and solving their own problems. In other words, knowledge construction and collaborative learning are encouraged. Conclusion This paper has reviewed Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how this book relates to my work as an elementary teacher.
This discussion of Freire’s ideas on formal education has been brief and selective. In so being, it does not communicate the immense richness of his thoughts on such matters as the universal nature of man’s humanity Freire’s rejection of and banking model of the teaching process in favor of a problem-posing approach. However, if the readers have gained from this review some appreciation of how Freire’s thoughts are applied in the classroom environment, the review will have served its purpose.