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.


Jarrett said...

And how has it helped you figure out some of the problems (behavior, or learning) ou have had as the teacher in the student teacher relationship?

I haven't read his book in a long long time.

Time for a reread.

The questiion really, in whoo is the cennter of the classroom, the student or the teacher, seems to be how does the teacher transmit the information that he, and often the state/school district, feels is relevant? And then how does he assess whether the student has learned that information? Obviously in the States ed policy people feel like assessing student understanding is the same as figuring out is what is wrong with a computer, a car, or a piece of machinery. The students have become a means of production - they produce tests scores which are the diagnostics about whether or not the teachers are being effective.

You should also read some John (Taylor?) Gatto. He is the living teaching form of Friere.

Olman Feelyus said...

Seems like an excellent summary to me, though I haven't actually read the book. But your post and Jarrett's response have made me think of a bunch of things. Can we carry on a possibly longer discussion on the forum?

dsgran said...

Great book. A good follow-up is Peter McLaren's "Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution". He talks a good deal about the common ground between che's politics, Freire's pedagogy, and the necessary need for a democratized, even radical, classroom.

I'd also have to recommend Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals", which I read about the same time; its not so much a book on Pedagogy, but on the purpose and nature of revolution. However, once you've read Friere, the application of Alinsky's ideas are incredibly relevant.

Mustapha Mond said...

I'm totally ripping this off for my Harvard essay.