Wednesday, April 15, 2009

pedagogy of the oppressed

Finals approaches...which is not why I haven't been posting lately--I've just been lazy. I've thought about writing blog entries, but haven't gotten around to it. So I thought I'd just post some short little snippets in the coming days regarding things I'm working on.

Today I started reading "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire, first published in 1970. He's a Brazilian writer, theologian and educator. This is a great book so far! His basic point is that if we're serious about anything to do with helping the oppressed, we need to allow ourselves (meaning those of us in power, therefore those of us participating in the group of "oppressors," whether we like it or not) to be taught by the oppressed. This does not mean a simple role reversal--this would just continue oppression. What it means is listening to the oppressed, being willing to let go of the things about being oppressors that we benefit from, and actually work on changing the structure of things. The oppressors can't do this. It has to come from "below."

Here's a great quote from his introduction: "From these pages I hope at least ht following will endure: my trust in the people, and my faith in men and women, and in the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love" (1999 edition, p. 22).

This is the kind of book I could just sit and read and meditate on. I find myself reading a sentence, thinking about it, reading it again, and allowing it to open and unlock doors in my mind and heart. I don't want to be an oppressor, but here I find myself in this country, living a "normal" life--a good life--in the richest nation in the world (well, maybe not richest, but the one with most resources and power, at least for now). I can't escape the fact that I'm part of the problem. And so this book is challenging and powerful, and I hope I can rise to its challenge.

One more important thing: he talks about how both the oppressed and oppressors suffer under a fear of freedom, because it would mean a change in the status quo. For the oppressor this is obvious: we have a stake in the status quo, because it benefits us. But the oppressed live under this same fear for a couple of reasons. First, because if they don't live under the status quo, it could get worse. Second, because they themselves have learned the domination system, so what they often want more than a change in the status quo is a change in their status quo, to become rich and powerful--to oppress others. So true liberation is not only a change of perspective for the oppressors, but also for the oppressed: to see the another option.

In my opinion, although Freire hasn't said it (yet), this option is what many people call Jesus' "third way." Not the way of violence and revenge; not the way of passivity and cowardice--but the way of courage and freedom that lifts up the humanity of all.

OK, just one more thing. He also talks about "false charity," which is when we give hand-outs, when we give stuff to people that makes us look generous but keeps them in a position where they must "extend their trembling hands." Instead, "true generosity lies in striving so that these hands...need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world" (p. 27). How do we get at the root of problems, so that rather than keeping people in subjection so that we can look good through our "generosity," we actually help people live decent lives?


Babette said...

Thanks for this post - which is just what I needed to hear - on this day.
well done

elizabeth roebling
asheville friends meeting
santo domingo dominican republic

cherice said...

Hi Babette,

Thanks for your comment! I'm interested to hear why you say "on this day"--is there something I'm missing that I should be aware of? All I know of "on this day" is tax day (and my sister's birthday!). Or do you just mean that it was good for you to hear on this particular day because of your own personal state? Enlighten me!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cherice,

Good job, good questions. I haven't read "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," but it seems really helpful, and written by someone from a developing country--and in the 1970's! I need to put it on what is becoming a long list of books to read this summer. Tell us more as you read more of Freire's book.

Gr. Ralph

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