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12/18/2010 Elaine Culbertson Paulo Freire: Voice of the Oppressed
For educators in an urban environment, theorist Paolo Freire is one of the most relevant sources of questioning when it comes to putting under the lens this problem: how exactly do institutions of learning benefit or detract from the success of their students by following a system created by the privileged majority? An educator himself, Freire experienced a life startlingly similar to those that disadvantaged students in America might also experience, dealing with issues of low income and lost opportunity, and the struggles involved therein. Perhaps that shared background is the reason why his pedagogical theories resonate so deeply with many urban educators. A strong proponent of education that recognizes and actively subverts oppressive influences by introducing curriculum which is nontraditional and exists beyond the sphere of culture that the oppressor has instilled as the norm, Freire’s theories propose ways of changing the status quo that so often holds back true progress in disadvantaged schools. Through a careful examination of Freire’s overarching pedagogical views and his practices, a critique of the current state of urban education emerges, accompanied by suggestions for transformation. In order to understand the basis with which Freire’s theories were created, it is important to first know the personal, educational, and professional background of the theorist. Born in Recife, Brazil to parents who saw their middle-class lifestyle upended by the Great Depression, Freire experienced poverty at a young age. Forced to move to a more financially viable city, Freire grew up in Jaboatoa dos Guararapas, where he encountered the poorer children of the neighborhood, a connection that is likely the beginning basis of his foray into exploring the lives
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a text that essentially boils down Freire’s viewpoint on education: that learning should be a means of liberation and freedom rather than a way to inculcate the masses into an intellectually-similar. he went so hungry that often he could not focus in school.paulofreireinstitute. it was because his own social condition did not allow him to have an adequate education.of the poor and oppressed.uiowa. that it his childhood.3 To be sure. even going so far as being temporarily exiled from the country when a military coup brought a change in leadership of the country and his “subversive” attempts to bring progressive education to the poor was decried. however.infoscience. mainstreamed society.org/PF-life_and_work_by_Peter. (2002).org/PF-life_and_work_by_Peter.htm .1 According to Freire. from http://mingo.htm 2http://www. and especially the one most well-applied in urban settings. Freire talks about the concept of banking in education.html 4Stevens.4 Perhaps the most famous of Freire’s work. however. where a teacher “deposits” information into the 1http://mingo. 2008. He fell further behind in school but his lag academically was not because he was unintelligent.info-science. He spelled rat with two “r’s” until he was seventeen. In the text. as he carefully watched the ways in which education was used both as a tool of liberation and also as a tool of subjugation. rather. He went on to morph from a law student to an educator and then a salient figure in Brazilian politics. It is important to note.paulofreireinstitute. where he was so intimately acquainted with social and economic disadvantage and so cognizant of its obvious relation to the acquisition of knowledge. he was accepted into a private high school as a scholarship student.edu/~stevens/critped/page1.uiowa.html 3http://www. Critical Pedagogy on the Web.2 Eventually.edu/~stevens/critped/freire. C. despite his humble beginnings. Retrieved July 18. Freire’s theories were most fully formed in his later life. that provided the building block upon which his later life and work was founded.
Freire has many theories relating to how this transformation can take place.htm#dialogical . Freire claims. where all parties learn from one another rather than one party dictate and the other party assimilate. The teacher thus becomes an oppressive. In this case. theory of learning. each of which positions the student as an object rather than an active subject. because it directly sits in opposition to the urban education system. that Pedagogy of the Oppressed is so resonant in an urban setting. and theory of transmission are three core mindsets that unfold into a guide of how to create inclusive and potentially liberating educational institutions. then.info-science.5 This relationship sets up many troubling dynamics in the teacher-student relationship.6 It is little wonder. a few of which are particularly pertinent to the urban education system and are outlined as follows.uiowa. inherently dialogical--that is. education is an exchange. 5http://mingo.htm#banking 6http://mingo. As evident in his body of work. Freire’s theory of value. where the curriculum reflects a society that a) sets standards meant to be met only by those affluent enough to have the cultural capital to do so and b) outwardly expects its teachers to raise up students who do not meet those standards and who do not ever fully reap the benefits of doing so. authoritative force that acts as an extension of the oppressive decisionmakers of society rather than a conduit of knowledge meant to help students process the world around them and make their own choices.edu/~stevens/critped/terms. At its core.info-science. engaging with the learning process. based on a system of open communication between teacher and students. that means rigid constructions of oppression can be broken if the oppressed are equipped with the voice and awareness to make change and tip the balance from a relationship of superior and inferior to true equals.uiowa.student’s brain and the student then uses this information as the currency needed to succeed in the world. Freire sees education as a transformational tool.edu/~stevens/critped/terms.
Only through discussion. continually critically thinking about and questioning their place and the things which they learn. anything and indeed. Once the value of skills and knowledge sets are determined. the final product is a result of all the vast influences put into the work by the writer as well as all the vast influences put into processing the work by the reader.newfoundations. like that of a bank note. 7http://www. he says.newfoundations. students should be subjects rather than objects-active participants in their own lives. everything can and should be spoken of or examined.html 8http://www. readers “rewrite” the text not by regurgitating someone else’s words but by appropriating it as the reader’s own and reproducing it with the reader and the writer’s intentions working in conjunction. Instead. education is not a singular and separate arena of knowledge and skills. it becomes necessary to ascertain how those skills and knowledge sets are learned. and why. because once the learner’s life conditions are known. of a certain list of information being deemed the requisite standard.7 This holds true because. that learning is not a means of mechanical or rote transference. According to Freire. again. It is an individual’s testimony that lends weight to the educational exchange. value should be placed on everything and anything that teachers and students can bring to the table of questioning and critically evaluating. essentially. reflection.com/GALLERY/Freire.The theory of value examines what knowledge and skills are given importance in the world.html . then. and reprocessing through one’s own lens of experience can a text or object truly be understood.8 In the end. the ways in which their learning is affected and shaped is also known. knowledge is a malleable thing that is added onto and shaped through the learner’s own experiences and prior knowledge. the educator is better equipped to enter in an exchange that will yield truly authentic results. Freire’s theory of learning proposes. Instead.com/GALLERY/Freire. In that way. instead.
9 Freire says. both parties endeavor to understand one another from equal footing. it is logical to begin with the concept of education as a simultaneously oppressive and liberating force. because without understanding intimately each other’s motives and backgrounds. then it stands to reason that the theory of transmission would propose that learning be a democratic process wherein no party is viewed as an endlessly authoritative source and instead.and a new product is unearthed.newfoundations. “The democratic school that we need is not one in which only the teacher teaches.” but offers instead the theory that all actors involved must teach and learn from one another. If one is to apply all of this understanding of Freire’s theories to the current context of urban education. and thus most closely relates to the politics of learning. Learning. in which only the student learns. the process of teaching becomes meaningless to one or all involved. One method proposes that the teacher is the superior.html . and learning happens as a process of exchange between both the teacher and student.com/GALLERY/Freire. After the theories of value and learning comes the theory of transmission: who is doing the teaching and by what methods. authoritative force and the student is the inferior. The theory of transmission directly examines the role of oppressors and the oppressed in the learning process. Freire’s theory of transmission is so important and integral to his existing theories (and overall pedagogical theory) because it examines the politics of education. subjugated receptacle of information waiting to 9http://www. If an individual is to value everything and anything as “worth” learning. then. happens when one combines his or her own experiences and prior knowledge with the existing experience and knowledge inherent in the text for the purpose of informing understanding. and in which the principal is the all-powerful commander. Education as a banking concept and dialogical theory are set up to oppose one another directly.
the Philadelphia School District.be filled. perhaps due to the scrutiny that No Child Left Behind (legislation crafted and implemented by the privileged but for the under-privileged) has placed it under. and teachers also have no investment in the material because it is just as sterile to them. then. There is an urgent sense of . to many students. but a simple information dump. which first of all outlines a series of information that has been decided by the privileged. without any thought to how the material reflects or even alters the mindsets and viewpoints of the people teaching or being taught. one might label it as a classic exemplar of “banking theory. but also perhaps because for too long. is education for the sake of education--not even education at all. These books are full of stories that have no cultural significance in many of the under-privileged schools where they are taught. educated elite as “standard. are not worth learning because they have little bearing in the student’s everyday vocabulary. for example.” Many teachers are given scripted curriculum. equal dynamic. in essence. is material being simply transferred from teacher to student because of a decree from on high. each meaning to impart and glean knowledge from one another in an ever-shifting. what they really do is help students recognize sight words--sight words that. the other method proposes that teachers and students are part of the same process.” and then the teachers are expected to market such curriculum to students as the necessary information worth knowing. which one assumes is the sake of education--to build future leaders who can think critically and go on to improve their communities--there needs to be continual change and building upon prior knowledge. If one had to choose a label to describe the current state of prescribed education in. That. For true transformational learning. Transformational learning is not occurring currently in Philadelphia district schools. What occurs. education has been unimaginative in disadvantaged districts. Though many scripted programs claim to help reading.
Conversely. the world from which the children at Lower Merion are born is already the world into which they will go--their curriculum incorporates the experiences of their lives. . In this environment of mistrust and no easy communication. to push as much of the same information that their peers in Lower Merion know into the heads of the kids in North Philadelphia.needing to “catch up” to suburban counterparts. the district of Philadelphia and districts similar must adopt more of Freire’s theories. the expectations to which they will be held. and so their curriculum does not reflect anything that they know. Because of this. they also feel that what they bring to the table already is devalued. the culture of their immediate environment. how can understanding be forged? Freire posits that it cannot. for transformational change. the world from which the children in urban environments are born is not the world into which they are expected to aspire to go. thus. But there are marked distinctions.
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