PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED: BOOK REVIEW
Reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire at a time of mass police brutality is nothing if not a series of eye-opening realizations. Freire’s insights about oppression, tactics of the oppressors, and what true liberation looks like remain immensely relevant. Below are three of the most obvious connections between the discussion around police brutality in the US today and concepts from Freire’s book. Obviously, they are paraphrased—any mistakes in the interpretation of the text are attributed to the author of this blog post.
The oppressed cannot instigate violence
Revolution must occur with the oppressed; it cannot be done for them or by the oppressors
Oppressive action can be characterized by its reliance on conquest, dividing to rule, manipulation, and cultural invasion
It’s a good book. You should read it.
On a more generalizable level, the book massively critiques how the education system is run. Instead of a banking model, where students are vessels to be filled by the teacher and thereby in a position of inferiority, Freire espouses teaching with people, not teaching to them. What this looks like in practice is using the world around us as a guide to content, as opposed to standardized curricula. A prime, although small example is his phenomenal success in helping Brazilian peasants learn how to read—part of why he was so successful is because the sentences he used related to the everyday life of those he taught. There is no point in someone who will likely live their entire life in Brazil learning the sentence “the snow on the mountaintop is perfect for skiing” before they are able to describe the environment around them.
This leads into a key idea of how naming holds deep power. When we name the world around us, we see it from our perspective and therefore empower our view on life. Rather than view the world around us through the lens of propaganda given to us by the oppressors, we take it apart, piece by piece, and reclaim our own voices.
I wish I had read this book during high school. In typical angsty teenager fashion, I spent hours upon hours trying to determine what the purpose of life was. Freire answers this clearly, and early on: our “ontological vocation” is “to be a Subject who acts upon and transforms his world, and in doing so moves toward ever new possibilities of fuller and richer life individually and collectively.” By viewing the world around us in a dialectic manner and knowing that we have the power to name it and improve it, we give ourselves purpose.