—Jane L. Thompson
The highly influential and intellectually gifted Brazilian philosopher Paulo Frerie’s wrote a book entitled “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, which should have been recognized worldwide for its considerable, profound and critical impacts and undeniable contributions on educational thoughts/philosophy and practices in the retransformation of universal education.
And concretely, as to its context, this book which consists of four chapters centrally evolves much on liberating the existing dehumanizing process of literacy education of the society. This is of special concern not only to the idea of reading the word, but more so on understanding the world as it is, and as it should be; focuses on the development of critical consciousness of each and every actor in the world and culture of educational arena.
In its first chapter, outlines oppression as a system in which both oppressors and oppressed are held captive and victims by the forces of oppression. Freire emphasizes the significance of the fact that oppressed peoples cannot simply reverse the roles of oppression in order to achieve full humanity and Freire calls it human completion.
Freire suggests that there is a natural phenomenon for the oppressed, after revolution, to take on the role of oppressor, because their entire framework of being exists within the frameworks of oppression. This is perhaps the most frightening moment in any revolution, thus, because in the moment in which the oppressed are no longer the oppressed, the moment that the power shifts into their hands, they must either simply reverse the balances of power and maintain the same system of oppression that enslaved them (and will continue to do so even if they take on the role of oppressor) or they must not recognize the entire system of oppression entirely and join with their oppressors. Freire writes, If the goal of the oppressed is to become fully human, they will not achieve their goal by merely reversing the terms of the contradiction, by simply changing poles (56).
Freire also emphasizes the oppressors cannot simply engage in “false charity” in which they use the economic influence to further oppress. He suggests instead that “true charity” involves “fighting the causes which nourish false charity” (45). In order for the oppressors to break free from their own bonds, they must fight alongside the oppressed; Freire states that “solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is solidary”(49). Breaking free from the chains of oppression is in many ways as difficult a struggle for the oppressors as for the oppressed; in both, people must throw off long-established ideologies of seeing people as things and not fully human entities. Solidarity requires the oppressed and the oppressors to merge into one force: “no pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates…” (54). And therefore in this chapter, Frerie explains that in order to humanize the oppressor, especially oppressed, he suggests that both themselves have tasks of liberating themselves. And to be able to realize this, they must understand, the oppressed, that they are valuable as the oppressors; they have to value humane relations. In other words, the recognition of humanity should be the central focus of their existence.
Moreover, an important part of critical literacy is applying our readings to the world around us and considering current world events, the most striking example in the world today of this type of transition of power is happening in most middle-east countries, like Bahrain. In Bahrain today, for example, we see a system in which the oppressed have become the oppressors. Those anti-government protesters politically oppressed by the ill-rulings of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa over the years and his people have no reversed the power structure in that country so that they now have become the oppressors. It frightens me, makes me wonder what is to come next. Has the point already passed in which it was possible for Bahrain to overthrow its own system of oppression. How many times must the cycles of revenge and hatred repeat themselves before humankind can see its own senselessness?
Another important issue that comes up for me in this early stage of my reading of Freire involves how this work is to be used by us as teachers. How is this book a work about teaching at this point? I make the connection myself because of my reading and re-reading, but I am not sure that it would be entirely clear to a student coming to this book for the first time. I think, though, there are a couple of points in the chapter that begin to mention to the importance of this book for teachers – the most important one being its concluding paragraph:
A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.
In the second chapter, however, Frerie criticizes the banking concept of education, as a venue of discriminately educational practices of the society. Such concept is considered by him as an instrument of oppression; therefore be liberated by the problem-posing concept of education as an instrument for genuine liberation. In other words, in application to the world of teaching and learning process, especially in most educational practices, teachers are not the ones as mere individuals who impose on the students what they should learn; students should also be the ones to be considered as active and critical learners, who are aware of their own learning through their experiences.
In the third chapter, Frerie puts emphasis on the essence of Dialogics and dialogue, as the practice of freedom in education. He explains that it is the presence of dialogue to renew and reevaluate humanity and the world as a whole. And in the fourth and last chapter, however, Frerie discusses many cultural trends wherein this chapter examines the broader cultural context in which the educational programmes described in the previous chapter take place. In the same way that banking education is contrasted with problem-posing education so 'antidialogical action' is contrasted with 'dialogical action' in social relations and cultural communication. This is how this chapter gives emphasis to revolutionary way of liberating educational practices.
Sitting back, in the comfort of our faculty room, in the leisure time of my last minute morning reading session, I could not help but feel more an oppressor as I read this book than a member of the oppressed. Certainly, in many ways, I fit into the category of the oppressed, but in many more ways, I tend to feel as though it is me who must continue to change, to constantly renew my own involvement in the struggle for liberation. Thinking about the role I play in society with my profession, I have the amazing opportunity to get involved through teaching, through reaching out not only to the many students I have, but also indirectly through my contact with other teachers and future teachers. I have the opportunity, thus, as do all teachers, to make a huge and committed change in the world, first by being that type of a force in my own world, by being involved, but even more so by bringing to the attention of my students their own need to become this changing force in the world.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a book about teaching, a book for teachers, and even though it may not always feel that way while reading this book, I feel reassured in knowing that it directed towards teachers, from Freire, a teacher himself, because teachers, above all others, have the opportunity to get involved and make a huge difference in the world all around them for affecting social change. And as to what Frerie puts it in his book, knowledge about humanizing process of the society is totally relevant to:
And to those who suffer with them
And fight at their side…
Frerie, Paulo.1998. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 20th aAnniversary Edtion. N.Y.: The Continuum Publishing Group Company.