Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire

Title:  Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Author:  Paulo Freire
Pages:  183
Genre:  Nonfiction
Source:  Amazon
Why I picked it up:  Required reading for my current grad class.
What you'll love:  Interesting concepts.
What will bug you:  Not a light read.

I've been up to my eyeballs in reading for this class I'm taking... I can't be finished with it soon enough!  It's usually 300+ pages in a book or books, along with a crapload of journal articles.  In 8 days.  While working full time and teaching private lessons and finishing up trimester #1 otherwise known as exhaustion-I-didn't-think-was-possible.  

So it's been textbooks for me lately.  In all honesty I didn't really like this book that much.  It presents some interesting ideas (especially the concept of "banking" in education), but it was dense and definitely not a bedside read.  Not the kind of thing I'd ever pick up on my own.  I figured I'd share with you my journal entry I posted for class.  The language can be informal - my actual papers are more professional!

If I were to sum up the main message behind Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", it would be that historically (and currently) there are dominant groups that oppress others. In this process, the oppressed become dehumanized. In order for them to gain their humanity back, they must rise against their oppressors without turning into oppressors themselves. In a sense, they must restore humanity not only to themselves, but to their oppressors as well.

Historically this phenomena can be seen everywhere, from the civil rights movement to workers fighting for safer work conditions in the industrial revolution. This is such a global concept, and at first I had a difficult time putting it into terms that applied to my job as an orchestra director. Although it's a bit of a stretch because a classroom atmosphere pales in comparison to the movements mentioned above, it is possible to equate the role of teacher and student to what Freire is saying. In many ways a school is its own isolated society. There are social "rules" about what to say and what to wear, and there are things deemed important in this school society that do not transfer in importance when brought out into a broader society (for example, how the boys basketball team did against the school "rivals", or who was voted class president). I'm sure many students would listen to what Freire had to say and make the connection that in school there are oppressors who are in control (teachers), and the oppressed who are being controlled (students).

This has caused me to look at the atmosphere in my orchestra room in a different way. I like to think I give my students equal say in what we do as a group, and that they are comfortable making their voices heard. I have been a member of orchestras where there is a very clear distinction between the members of the ensemble and the director who is calling all the shots. I like to think that I am not that kind of director, although there are decisions that I make where I do not give my students any say at all (for example, choosing repertoire for MICCA, a festival/assessment we participate in every spring). I suppose there is a fine line that must be walked as an educator in order to ensure that students are active members and participants in their own education, yet maintain control of the ensemble in order to stay on track and produce the needed results.

A concept of Freire's that I found fascinating was "banking" in education. Essentially, the student is an empty receptacle that the teacher will fill with knowledge. I think that there are many "decision makers" (who have never taught) who see this as an accurate description of what education is. I think that part of the problem is that education used resemble this more closely, and there are many who remember school as being something like this. I am lucky enough that my 90-year-old grandmother is not only still with us, but living 15 minutes from my husband and I. She and I are very close and in the summer I often take her to school with me while I get a little work done, or get things ready in my classroom. She speaks of her school days (elementary school in particular) and I am astounded she and her classmates were able to learn! A lesson would be copying a word or sentence 20 times. Students were called upon to recite lessons to their teacher. There was no active participation, no discussion. In my classroom and in the classrooms of the educators around me I see lots of open discussion happening between teacher and student, and student and student. On page 80 of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" Freire says that "(T)he teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow." I could not agree with this more, and once again, I like to think that I employ this in my classroom.

In Freire's last chapter he talks about theories of cultural action. Of these theories, I found "manipulation" to be the most interesting.

"The presence of the people in the historical process, no longer as mere spectators, but with the first signs of aggressivity, is sufficiently disquieting to frighten the dominant elites into doubling the tactics of manipulation." (Freire, 148) This sentence struck home with me, and I couldn't help but think of the election of Obama and the response by the Right (and the coverage on FOX News). As will probably become apparent in my thoughts on "Official Knowledge" by Apple, my political leanings are heavily to the Left. Like many others, I was angry and fed-up with the Bush administration. I followed and participated in the 2008 election closely. I was astounded to see how quickly and savagely the Right got personal (and downright ridiculous) when it became apparent that Obama was picking up momentum. There are plenty of actual ideological differences between Democrat and Republican that can be argued, yet as the Right began to loose its foothold we were suddenly talking about secret terrorism, birth certificates, and other things intended to scare the average person (who may not have a wide range of places from where they receive their information). Of course once Obama was elected these tactics became even worse.

How does this transfer into education? I've never witnessed this firsthand, however I imagine there are schools where students are not active members of their education, and where power from the administration is strongly executed. In cases like these students may try and have more say, only to be manipulated by threat of consequences (detention or loss of school-wide privileges). 

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