As a neophyte in the rather intimidating world of theory and critical pedagogy, I am both delighted and impressed by the ability Paulo Freire had to effectively communicate in a manner that was powerful yet unpretentious. His seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is indeed a wake-up call to educators everywhere and should therefore be required reading for anyone who ever has, or ever will, set foot in the classroom. Freire's simple message is this: True education is a dialogical process in which teachers become students and students become teachers, all in the name of liberation for everyone involved.
The first chapter - while admittedly depressing - introduces ideas and terms that are necessary for the comprehension of the latter three. The basic plot of domination is thus summarized: Through violence and exploitation, an oppressor class "dehumanizes" an oppressed group that ultimately becomes incapable of recognizing its own oppressive situation. Therefore, in order to overcome this oppressive state of affairs, intervention is not only desirable but necessary. The oppressed must experience an awakening period in which they open their own eyes (rather than have their eyes opened for them) to the true status of their situation. However, Freire contends that in order to achieve true liberation, the oppressors and the oppressed must join together in communion towards a common altruistic goal: humanity.
This is the cornerstone of Freire's argument. I have to admit, as an enthusiastic rookie to critical pedagogy, I have little to disagree with or respond to after reading this epic expression of love. Nonetheless, my major critique is that the idea of liberation for all is a bit idealistic given the current state of the American education system. In a culture of high-stakes testing, it is difficult - if not impossible - to envision such a radical shift in paradigm ever coming to pass.
So why invest so much time and effort in studying and lauding Freire? I believe that to simply disregard Freire's fundamental argument because its ultimate goal is currently infeasible on a large scale in America would be tragically fallacious. His banking concept of education is a call for all educators to think critically about what they do and say (and, just as importantly, what their students do and say) in the classroom. To ignore this is to ignore our vocation.
The second half of Freire's work shares an implementation plan for liberation praxis and concludes with a discussion of the (fine) line between antidialogical and dialogical action. This is important substance, as many teachers - I include myself in this - fall into the traps Freire cautions against, even when they are acting in what they believe to be the students' best interest. Every student is a person. The idea sounds simple enough, but it gets complicated when teachers are more preoccupied with test scores and teaching standards than the people themselves. So, in the name of "leaving no child behind," the people are soon forgotten.
Who knew that a humble priest from Brazil would have such an impact on American critical teaching theory? The mission now - as Freire's secular disciples - is to spread his word. Freire's message of hope still lives on, but will die out if we allow our voices to be silenced.