Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator and philosopher who famously wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed. For Freire, education is never a neutral proces, it is a political process. This political act can never be divorced from pedagogy. Education is specifically designed and taught to serve a political agenda. These ideas comprise tenets of critical pedagogy. Freire's work inspires me to demand more of myself as an educator. Here are eight quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed I find especially enlightening.
1) "Many of these leaders, however (perhaps due to the natural and understandable biases against pedagogy) have ended up using the 'educational' methods employed by the oppressor. They deny pedagogical action in the liberation process, but they use propaganda to convince" (68).
Teachers often teach how they were taught. I certainly did at first. Rows, lecture, and unflinching obedience were my models. My job was to keep kids quiet. My job was to talk and command control. Their job was to sit quietly and listen. This is what I thought education was. These methods must be broken, but one of the most difficult steps in a teacher's journey is overcoming the way they were taught.
2) "Worse yet, it [banking model] turns them [students] into 'containers' to be 'filled' by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are" (72)
Traditionally, the best teachers were the ones who had the most control. A master teacher was one who could keep his students absolutely silent. Why don't you reread that? To this day, teachers feel uncomfortable with a classroom full of dialogue and debate. This past weekend I talked to a marvelous teacher piloting an inquiry based approach to standards. She gushed about student projects and their creative collaboration. She discussed how her students worked with each other to create photography exhibits and videos. Yet she said, "even with the success of my students it just feels wrong. Students shouldn't have the choice to work on the floor or a couch."
3) "And since people 'receive' the world as passive entities, education should make them more passive still, and adapt them to the world. The educated individual is the adapted person, because he or she is better 'fit' for the world" (76)
A passive education create passive people. In some sense, this is exactly the point. Past economic models needed obedient workers ready to do the beck and call of the boss. If people do not believe they have the ability to think, to question, to differ, to change, they will move through life unflinching. They will do exactly what others tell them to do. They will be totally reliant to those with power. Many adults are skeptical of massive pedagogical change in education. After all, very few people have control over their lives. How could it be possible for schools to empower all students to be innovators, leaders, and change agents when they were told to sit down and be quite?
4) "Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem posing education makes them critical thinkers" (83).
There are pedagogical approaches that empower rather than devalue. Allowing students time and autonomy to develop and share passions may sound radical, but really it is simply humane. Inviting students to identify problems and create solutions may be hard to fit into a schedule, but is surely more relevant than scripted textbooks. Constructing knowledge with students may lead to uncomfortable conversations, but also reinforces the value of their experience. While no pedagogical practice is a silver bullet, approaches like problem based learning, inquiry learning, and genius hour value the child as more than an object.
5) "Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in the power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is a privileged of an elite, but the birthright of all)" (88).
What does a pedagogy of love and trust look like? What does it look like if we give students more freedom and control because we believe in their potential and promise? What if we planned for the best instead of expecting the worst? What if we cherished each individual, each culture, and truly believed that no one was better than the rest? What is we asked, what is the best thing that could happen? What if we taught kids, not subjects?
6) "People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor" (145).
I was once on a call with an education organization that shall remain nameless. I asked them about providing creative learning opportunities and open-ended projects to students in low income, urban schools. The response was shocking. It angered me. The representative of the organization claimed that students in low income schools could not enjoy projects and opportunities of the sort. They were too far behind. They needed to catch up and could not focus time on non-academic activities. What type of message does this reinforce? Only a certain class is qualified enough to create, engage, and question.
7) "Manipulation, sloganizing, "depositing," regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are component of the praxis of domination" (126).
Reward. Punish. Reward. Punish. Reward. Punish. How can we find new ways to motivate (control) students? There is a whole niche of education technology devoted to this behaviorist outlook on the world. How many sports teams reward students with tickets or prizes if they read a certain number of pages? How many schools hold elaborate ceremonies for those who perform the best on quizzes and tests? Schools are masters of manipulation. They create program after program to design students exactly how those in power want.
8) "The atmosphere of the home is prolonged in the school, where the students soon discover that (as in the home) in order to achieve some satisfaction they must adapt to the precepts which have been set from above. One of these precepts is not to think" (155).
School is competition. Inherent to the structure is the idea that some should fail. The system incentivizes destructive behavior. I should do whatever possible to get a leg up on my peers. I am disincentivized from supporting my classmates because they are my competitors. Parents get trapped into a mindset of awards and certificates without thinking of the implications. Every honors bumper sticker explicitly reinforces the notion that we don't mind seeing some students held down as long as others are held up. Therefore, I must play the game of school. My parents encourage me to do so. I must do exactly what teachers tell me to do. I must blindly accept every word, idea, and thought. If schools ordain those who succeed and those who will fail, I must play their game. The rules of the game are set from above, yet it does not matter.