02 March 2010

Book Review - Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970).

Freire's work is truly a revolutionary pedagogy both in the sense that it is a landmark book cited by most of the pedagagocial literature that I am currently reading as well as in the sense that it is about empowering, and educating the oppressed in their struggle for liberation and freedom - or as Freire puts it - in their struggle to become authentically human. It is in the context of oppression that his work is addressed. The challenge, for Freire, is that the oppressed have "internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his [sic] guidelines" (31); the oppressed become "hosts" of the oppressor. Since, for the oppressed, the oppressor is the only model of humanity available, freedom from oppression means becoming like the oppressor.
The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be "hosts" of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery for their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization (33 italics original).
Both oppressed an oppressor are in bondage. It is the burden of this book then is to discover how both may be liberated from their cycle of fear and become truly human. In the three subsequent chapters he proposes a liberating educational method, discusses reflective action, and finally concludes by discussing revolutionary leadership.

In his second chapter, Freire contrasts two educational methods. The traditional model calls "banking" eduction, and his liberating model which he labels "problem-posing". In the traditional banking model, the students are objects and receive education from the teachers. In this model eduction "becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories, and the teacher is the depositor" (58). By treating the pupils as passive recipients of knowledge, this method affirms the subjugation of the oppressed, and in the extreme it contributes to their domination by their oppressors. Fundamental for Freire is that liberation can only authentically happen through the active involvement of the oppressed. This active involvement will eventually lead to action, but must start with the educational method. So in problem-posing eduction. "students are no longer 'docile listeners' but are 'now critical co-investigators' in dialog with the teacher" (71). The teachers pose questions which help the students think critically about the causes of their their concrete historical situation. For Freire, as for Banks in Reenvisioning Theological Education (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), eduction should be directly related to the concrete situation - liberation for Freire, ministry for Banks. Freire concludes: "In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take man's historicity as their staring point" (71).

Freire's third chapter is devoted to reflective action. This concept which he calls "praxis" avoids two extremes. "Verbalism", on one side, is theoretical reflection which does not lead to concrete action. "Activism", the opposite extreme, is concrete action without any critical reflection. In contrast "praxis" is action based on critical, dialogical reflection. Freire sees reflection - and thus education - and action as inseparable. Action must be based on reflection and "the starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people" (85).

In his final chapter Freire turns his attention to revolutionary leadership. His core concern is that revolutionary leaders do not just become yet another oppressor, but instead genuinely foster liberation. Revolutionary leaders must engage in praxis (action together with critical reflection) with and not just for the people. Leadership must act together with the people never simply on behalf of those to be liberated. Real liberation, for Freire, is community action.
We can legitimately say that in the process of oppression someone oppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that men in communion liberate each other. (128)
Acting with the oppressed, means that leaders must act dialogically - in constant interactive communication. Dialogical leadership "does not impose, does not manipulate, does not domesticate, does not 'sloganize'"(168).
Revolutionary leaders who do not act dialogically in their relations with the people either have retained characteristics of the denominator and are not truly revolutionary; or they are totally misguided in their conception of their role, and, prisoners of their own sectarianism, are equally non-revolutionary. (119)
Antidialogical leadership or action, as far as Freire is concerned, is simply conquest where the conqueror objectifies the conquered subject. In contrast dialogical leadership never manipulates or objectifies. It is a communal action where "Subjects meet in cooperation in order to transform the world" (167).

I found this book very stimulating though it would be difficult to directly apply to my role teaching introductory Bible in a small liberal arts college. This is partly due to the extreme difference in teaching context. Friere is directly addressing the liberation of the the oppressed. It is not clear what he would say about education in general. He would certainly advocate a much higher correlation between the course content and the student's life situations. This may invlove much more discussion and interaction with the class to learn how to shape the presentation of the material in a way that is more directly connected with their life.

In Freire's chapter on problem posing verses banking education is probably the most interesting and proactive in my current context even when allowances are made for the difference with his context. Teaching for him would mean starting with a series of critical question and working together with the class to answer them.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I am in the process of reading and developing a review on this book as well. I hope to have it posted soon. Thank you for your contribution within the field...