Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Title: Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Size: 176 pages (Duodecimo)
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; 2nd edition (1996)
ISBN: (10) 014025403X, (13) 978-0140254037
At a Glance
A foundational texts of critical pedagogy, published in Portuguese (Pedagogia do Oprimido) in 1968. The book was very well recieved and sold 750,000 copies worldwide.
Paulo Freire, (1921 — 1997 São Paulo) was a world's leading educationalists, whose thought and work has had a fundamental impact in the field of education and on the overall struggle for national development in Third World countries.
"Pedagogy of the Oppressed meets the single criterion of a 'classic': it has outlived his own time and its author's. For any teacher who links education to social change, this is required reading. Freire remains the most important writer on popular education and surely the virtual founder of the perspective known as Critical Pedagogy." Stanley Aronowitz
This is truly revolutionary pedagogy." Ivan Illich
What i think of the book
Perhaps the most significant contribution of this book is the detailed view of Freire’s Critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is an educational school of thought with social elements that tend to view education as a liberating practice. Aimed at helping student perceive and attain their freedom (from the social restraints).
When reading his critical pedagogy I couldn’t but compare Freire to Marx, in the notion of struggle (oppression vs. class struggle) and liberation. But it’s more than this, they both view the whole world with their respective goggles (economic, pedagogic) and employ the theory that explain human existence to achieve the optimum liberated selves. They are both pessimists (every human must struggle to liberate himself for we are all born into slavery as well as they fact that the liberating begins when the struggle reaches an unbearable point) and at the same time optimists (liberation will come eventually, which constitutes a truth beyond any doubt for both of them, the question is not will it happen? but when will it happen?).
The banking System
I really enjoyed the ideas Freire presented in chapter 2, which discusses what Freire calls the Banking System. The Banking System is a term used to describe classical pedagogy as it looks at students as banks for the knowledge of the teacher. Mere vessels to save what the teacher want to pour into them.
He talks in detail about the teacher-student relationship during the education process. This (mechanical) relationship reveals a fundamentally narrative character. The narrating subject who is the teacher and the patent who is listening passively or the student. The content in this analogy are lifeless and rigid. As long as the teacher dictates, the student repeats mindlessly and the content is passed from one generation to another there should be no realizing of any true meaning of the truths and no significance of the knowledge.
Applying the banking system will eventually causes the following interrelated symptoms (p. 54):
The teacher teaches and the students are taught
The teacher knows and the students don’t know
The teacher talks and the students listen
The teacher thinks and the student are thought about
The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined
The teacher chooses and decides and the students have no say
When knowledge is confused with authority (by both the teacher and the students)
The teacher is the subject of the learning process and the students ate mere objects
The quicker the student adopt this scheme the more rewarded they are, so they become good examples to others. These will go on and become teachers themselves and enforcers of the system. This is why the banking scheme is a system of self-preservation.
When reading Freire I found myself questioning many of his assumptions that he makes with no justification (this seems to be a distinctive characteristic or a motif of his writing) regardless of the captivating and almost poetic language that he uses (even when the text is translated into English, one can still notice the poetic symmetry in sentence composition). For example, right from the beginning, in the preface, Freire claims that (Page 19):
“Sectarianism, fed by fanaticism, is always castrating.
Radicalization, nourished by critical spirit, is always creative.
Sectarianism mythicizes the thereby alienates;
Radicalization criticises the thereby liberates.”
For him, sectarianism is inherently bad and radicalization inherently is good, at essence. That seems premature to me. Because ideology (no matter how alienating or radical) is not good or bad, it is how this ideology is practiced. More importantly, if we accepted that sectarianism alienates (which is not completely true unless this sectarianism doesn’t allow dialogue) then the other end of the spectrum is definitely not radicalization. The castrating ability in the alienating sectarianism lies within the intolerance. Radicalization can be just as much intolerant as sectarianism. Perhaps the key word in Freire’s quote is the “critical spirit” which is not discussed enough.
Is it Recommended
Parts of it are an absolute must read for any Critical theorist, educator in an underprivileged environment and anyone interested in the role of education in social class and mobility. However, there are parts of it that seem to go on and on without providing really tangible or practical advice! Personally, I'd rather skim those parts and arrive at the really rewarding stuff. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book is rewarding for the patient.