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Pedagogy of the Oppressed???

July 14, 2009

So, I just finished reading the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and it made my head hurt.  Maybe it was the heavy handed writing style, maybe it was the repetition or maybe it was just the ideas he presented, but I was  mentally drained when I was finished.  The thing is, even though this book was written over thirty years ago, I can still see places where his ideas can find a fresh audience (it found me, at least).

Now I know that I am WAY oversimplifying his ideas, but this is what I’ve come away with:

  1. The oppressed cannot be educated/liberated by the oppressors as their liberation must come from themselves and cannot be a gift given to them by their oppressors.   “Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors ( an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression.  It is an instrument of dehumanization.”
  2. The oppressed must become conscious of the vulnerability of their oppressors and in their own abilities.  In order for the oppressed to become liberated or “more fully human”, they must first recognize their oppression and commit themselves to transformation.   They must also be wary in their liberation not to take on the role of oppressors themselves.
  3. All people are liberated both the oppressed and the oppressors when people become more fully responsible for their own liberation or in this case their own education.
  4. The current system of education is a banking system in which teachers are the depositors and students the receptacles.  The outcome of this method of pedagogy is that students are adapted and managed to “fit” into the status quo and are not encouraged in authentic inquiry and invention.  Thus, students lose their creativity and their humanity.
  5. A meaningful education occurs through dialogue and interaction.  “Education which is able to resolve the contradiction between teacher and student takes place in a situation in which both address their act of cognition to the object by which they are mediated.”  (As I read this, he is suggesting that both teacher and student should join in the act of investigating a particular subject and that both voices must be valued.)

The first three of these ideas might clearly bring to mind Iran and other developing regions of the world, but the last two strike very close to home.  I know that I’ve been guilty of the banking system of teaching in my own classrooms while I try to “get through” the material. Does that make me one of the oppressors?

As an AP Chemistry teacher, these ideas are particularly timely in that the College Board is planning a revision in the AP test that will mark a distinct difference in the way we teach chemistry.  The POGIL project (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) seems to be a one of the guiding forces in this change (although I can’t really say who is guiding whom).  POGIL is built around the idea that students should be given a model or body of information to explore and that they can discover, through guided inquiry, the concepts of chemistry.

This is exactly what Freire talks about in his book – his ‘problem-posing’ education.  Hmmm…  This same model will be driving change in both the Biology and Physics curriculum and will soon be applied to the algebra curriculum as well.   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used the POGIL approach in a number of activities and I really like them.  The students also comment on their improved understanding as a result.    I wonder, though,  what caused this philisophical shift now?  Are we recognizing that students moving into the sciences have a deficit when it comes to creative problem-solving?   Yeah, this sound like a good topic for my another post.

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