4. Pedagogy of the Oppressed

by Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire was a radical theorist and educator of poor, oppressed populations in Brazil. That is until he was exiled.

I won't go about explaining all of Freire's contributions to radical and progressive education. Instead I'll just go on a riff about how this book has helped me figure out a few of my own teacher/student problems.

For instance, Friere's ideas have helped to explain the causes of student resistance. Many students who resist are doing so because their (our) natural and constant drive to "become fully human" in classrooms that more often than not frustrate their persuits. More specifically, they are being frustrated in the teacher-centered classroom, where they are required to be spectators instead of active seekers and learners. Too often, school is made up of teachers acting as if they are merely one-way transmitters and filters of compartmentalized bits of information. In what Freire calls a "banking approach" to teaching (one that assumes students come to the classroom empty of knowledge, needing the deposits made by a teacher in order to grow), students are fed information and are required to store it in memory despite the fact that the information is not made relevant. Having not experienced the information in any real sense, having little other reason to memorize the information, students often find themselves just doing what they are told. If you do it well, you are an "achiever." One affect of this kind of education is the production of an obedient population who do what they're told (whether it's intentional on the teacher's part or not). But this is incompatible with students' natural drive to experience things and to create meaning themselves. As Freire argues, people should be seen as "re-creators" of knowledge that they are, not spectators watching someone else talk about it.

Freire's definition of "dialogue" holds the key to fostering the kind of exploration and learning we've been talking and reading about. To Freire, dialogue is not simply the Q & A type conversation (that inevitabley leads to the teacher's ideas) we've all experienced as students. Nor is dialogue merely a conversation between teacher and students. Rather it is open-ended exploratoration created and driven by the students and teacher in a given moment. What inevitably will be discovered cannot be planned by the teacher ahead of time. Such dialogue will take on character of it's own, which will be born of the contributions of students and teacher equally in a given time and place. True dialogue cannot happen in a vaccum, as we imagine when we write lesson plans ruled by method, content or authoritative teacher expectations.

In short, Freire is talking about democratizing the classroom. But this little blurb is selfish and hasn't done much to explain Freire's larger goal, which is to liberate the oppressed by means of an education that provides a practice ground for inquiry, critical thinking, and action. I suppose, though, I have highlighted some of his ideas.

A Wendell Berry poem

This poem was published this answer to war in The Progressive in 2005.

Look Out

Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man's life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning's breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.

Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.

Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.

Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.

3. Spit in the Ocean, vol #1, "Old In The Streets"

edited by Ken Kesey.

This is the very first volume in Kesey's (and friends) 7 volume literary journal. This one, volume 1, came out in the winter of 1974. As I mentioned last year in a short review of volume 2, my significant other, Sandy, called the Kesey farm and asked how she could find these rare documents for me. Zane Kesey (son) took the phone from his mom and said, "I think I've got them laying around." Low and behold, I've got them all!

These are extremely rare and have never been reproduced, which is a shame because there is some great art in these pages.

Of course, Kesey contributes a 20 pager called "Tranny Man," that captures his love for the folks, the voices, along the way, whichever way that is. Other contributors are Nella Novak, Margo St. James, Ray Andrews, Wendell Berry, Laurance Gonzales, Ken Babbs, Henry Crow Dog, Paul Sawyer, Paul Krassner, and others.

All of them turning life's stuff upside down to see what's under there.

2. Interview with the Vampire

by Anne Rice

This is not what I typically reach for in a novel, but it was somewhat interesting. The novel has flashes of brilliance-- discourse on the morality of the necessity and pleasure of feeding on humans-- but also tends to resemble the quality of a romance novel in parts. And although Interview with the Vampire was written in the late 70s, before the days of Grisham and King, whose books eventually stunk like screenplays, it begs for a movie to be made. And one was.

But back to the questions of morality. According to Rice, when one is transformed into a vampire, one is no longer human. Vampires are immortal but must feed on the blood of living animals. Is this immoral? Is it immoral if a vampire chooses to feed on a human as opposed to farm animals when humans are far more "nutritious"? Are vampires, in fact, evil? Why is it that we humans eat any species we like (except perhaps for those on the endangered species list and our pets), and it's seen as "natural," but our potential predators are viewed and evil or unnatural beings?

Another interesting aspect to the novel is the psychological transition the characters go through during their transformation from human to vampire. They become instantly immortal, but must reconcile with a mortal's memory, ethics, morality, sexuality, etc. It takes the main character over 100 years to come to terms with his vampire-ness, and he's still a psychological mess. But he's got time.

Oh, and there's quite a bit of rampant vampire homosexuality just for fun.

Overall, the novel reads fairly well. I was not blown away. The only crowd I'd heartily recommend it to is the teen goth crowd looking for style and the proper gait for their life of darkness and gloom. Or if, for whatever reason, you are looking for coffin design ideas.

Rumi said something

Out there
Beyond all ideas
Of right and wrong
There is a field.
I'll meet you there.

Ken Babbs, bless his soul

This is Ken Babbs, a principal Merry Prankster, on something he recalled Ken Kesey telling him.

"When he was working at the VA nuthouse in Menlo Park California and working on the novel he would sit at the window looking out over the sprawling lawn and on a particularly lovely sunny day the doors would open and out came the nuts each one pushing an old reel type manual lawnmower and they would take off in all directions, crisscrossing each other's paths, following one another, going in circles and hours later the doors would open again and they would go tearing inside with the mowers and, Kesey said, it was a glorious thing, to look out there and see every blade of grass had been mown."

I don't know. Sometimes crazy ain't so crazy.

1. The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

[This one squeezed in before Interview with the Vampire because I am teaching it]

This book is a series of 35, or so, vignettes richly describing and young woman's struggle for self-knowledge and the power to realize her own identity. Initially, what is contructed through the vignettes is the identity of her neighborhood, family, and what those aspects of her life are not. But, despite there being virtually no plot, what slowly emerges, one vignette into another, is the identity of a young woman who is shedding the roles assigned to her and wrestling for the power to define her own damned self, thank you very much.

I am not a fan of vignettes, but Cisneros has shown me their power in numbers. Actually, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has got some very potent vignettes. Maybe I am a fan.

I recommend it to anyone seeking a way to develop character without a plot. It's also good for anyone interested in adolescent identity development, emergence of self, individuation, self-actualization, etc. Whatever you like to call it.

I especially like the below vignette, so I pecked it out for you:

Bums in the Attic

I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works. We go on Sundays, Papa's day off. I used to go. I don't anymore. You don't like to go out with us, Pap says. Getting too old? Getting too stuck-up, says Nenny. I don't tell them I am ashamed--all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can't have. When we win the lottery... Mama begins, and then I stop listening.

People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they foget those of us who live too much on earth. They don't look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week's garbage or fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.

One day I'll own my own house, but I won't foget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, becasue I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.

Rats? they'll ask.

Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy.


Well, I didn't quite get to 50 books in 2005. Who cares, though. It's all in the past.

Out with the old. In with the new.

My first book, which I will finish within a day or two, is Interview with the Vampire. Stay tuned.