Why Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is just as relevant today as ever

Dr Sima Barmania

Pedagogy of the oppressed Why Paulo Freires Pedagogy of the Oppressed is just as relevant today as everFrantz Fanon, Iconic psychiatrist and author of books such as “Wretched of the Earth”, wrote that “literature increasingly involves itself in its only real task, which is to get society to reflect and mediate”.

Paulo Freire’s landmark book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is a prime example of literature that makes one reflect, cogitate and ponder all at once.

In addition, Freire’s “Pedagogy” is also the archetypal case in point of a book, which is just as relevant today as it was decades ago.

Freire was a Brazilian educator, who grew up during the poverty of the Great Depression in the 1930s and published one of his seminal works “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, in English in 1970. Freire’s book, rooted in his experience of liberation in Brazil is equally apt in the context of the Arab Spring, and particularly after the death of Gaddafi last week.
One of Freire’s central tenets was that “education is freedom” that leads toward true liberation and that the “banking” concept of education- where students are empty vessels to be filled, acts as an instrument of oppression. He called on the cultivation of a critical consciousness (conscientizacao), enabling those to reflect upon their own reality and thereby transform it.

“How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation” Freire asks?

It is this concept of the oppressed initiating and participating in their own liberation, as was the case in the Arab Spring, which was central to Freire’s writing.

Freire explains: “Revolution is born as a social entity within the oppressor society…Every entity develops (or is transformed within itself, through the interplay of its contradictions. External conditioners, while necessary, are effective only if they coincide with those potentialities”.

It is a sentiment shared by many involved in the Arab Revolution, including Ahmed Farid, an Egyptian lawyer and peace activist working in Alexandria, Egypt.

Speaking with Farid he speaks optimistically and passionately: “For centuries the Arab countries lived in an automatic and dictatorial regime. People were yearning for justice and equality for democracy and freedoms but with no effective result UNTIL the revolution came. It was not a revolution of the hungry or the miserable, though lots of people were in need, but it was a revolution for dignity and self respect”.

Farid continues: “from Tunisia when a police woman slapped Mohamed Bo Azizi when he asked for his rights and he decided to commit a suicide then all the Tunisians went out from their homes and demonstrated against the regime and they succeeded. Then it [the revolution] came to Egypt and the regime said Egypt is not like Tunisia but the Egyptians made it, they made it in a peaceful and modern way that attracted the attention of the whole world.

Freire also highlights the “culture of silence” and strategies that are enacted in order that oppression of the people is maintained. “Manipulation, sloganizing, depositing, regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are the components of the praxis of domination”

Freire’s work, often cited in peace education discourses, also highlights the real potentiality of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, which seems particularly timely given the discovery of 53 bodies of executed Gaddafi loyalists, reported by Kim Sengupta.

Freire’s words seem almost like a forewarning:
“[Dehumanization of the oppressed] …is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both”.

Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the oppressed” is timeless, as pertinent to the revolution in the Middle East now as to those in South America decades ago. Moreover, most importantly it makes one reflect and in Freire’s words it is this “reflection- true reflection which leads to action”

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  • Brian Stephenson

    I have no doubt whatever that Freire was a good man and had a great imagination. There must be a word for people who search for patterns in things, as if one could find the rules which govern the shape of clouds. People do things, they don’t always know why, they don’t always make sense, but there will always be someone who thinks he can see a pattern. When that young man burnt himself to death in Tunisia it was not his sacrifice which caused the revolution, that was down to some unknown person who happened to want to make a noise about it. I remember during the 1960’s Buddhist monks were always burning themselves to death for a great cause, but that unknown someone never chose to make a noise about it and so the Vietnam War dragged on. If there was a pattern then it could be used to predict a revolution or the shape of a cloud. But there isn’t one, though good people will always go on looking for it.

  • Guest

    I had come to similar conclusions, based on my own experiences. I had worked with a woman who was ultimately conformist. Even after we parted and I became a manager in a different company, she subverted my work and encouraged my assistant to be insubordinate and destructive just because I held views about our field that differed from hers. She clearly had the idea that because I held different views that I was a danger to her and that because she felt I was a danger to her, I had to be destroyed. Me, I was just trying to get on with things.

    So, yes, the oppressed become the oppressors because they think that anybody who doesn’t share their experience is ‘getting away with it’ at their expense.

  • YajChetty

    In spite of all his mortal weaknesses and shortcomings Ghandi was ahead of his time , a leader who walked the talk-who wanted to live simply so that others may simply live. In a world of increasing energy/resource scarcity (peak oil,water etc.) ,in the face of the rampant consumption by the growth monster of debt finance-we need to creat a new narrative of what the “good life ” means for the sake of posterity.    

  • Peter S Lopez

    Yes, the pedagogy of the oppressed will remain relevant for those seeking liberation from their oppression and all forms of self-repression. The repressed mind has a kind of split personality about seeking liberation: its fear, promise and responsibility. I was re-reading portion of Freire’s book this morning. Revolutionary synchronicity. @Peta_de_Aztlan:disqus

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