Agitating for Authenticity: Writing and Identity

Agitation is Required for Authenticity (Something Beautiful) to Emerge

The natural creation of a pearl requires agitation. This image came to mind while reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire suggests that authentic identity, with all of its nuances, cannot be achieved until oppressors and the oppressed first understand their roles and then work together towards agitating true freedom. That is, the oppressor and oppressed must break out of their stereotypically embodied selves and work towards equality. There can be no shortcuts and no doubt the waters will churn with agitation.

Freire’s exposition reminded me of Karl Marx and I wholeheartedly disagree with Marxism as a viable, sustainable philosophy for change. However, this did not make Freire’s work any less powerful or meaningful to me. Achieving humanization, in its truest authentic form, is essential. It is the historical task of the oppressed to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well (1). It is from them that the germ of agitation must stem.

Freire makes an apt point that “during the initial stage of the struggle, instead of striving for liberation, [the oppressed] tend to become oppressors or sub-oppressors” (2). This is because they see themselves in purely individualistic terms and do not have proper consciousness as belonging to an oppressed class. The Darwinian model of survival of the fittest frames such individuals’ roles, rather than the goal of broader humanization.

Freire’s take on freedom is pivotal:

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. Rather it is the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion

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Freire compares the process of liberation to painful childbirth (4). Moreover, a new paradigm must be established, one that shatters the mold of the colonized and colonizer (12). Activism and “armchair revolution” are unacceptable (14). Freire asserts:

The correct method for a revolutionary leadership..lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscientizacao.

15 (conscientizacao is awarenesses in Portuguese)

Awareness is a necessary step for humanization to occur. Freire also explains that “teachers and students (leadership and people)” must be intent on this goal (16-17). Ultimately, it is the oppressed who must break apart the framework of control and lead the oppressors to higher planes of consciousness. Only when former selves are sloughed off can new growth and understanding prevail.

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Power is there even if you can’t immediately see it in the Room

Freire’s article dovetails with Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” because the idea of the silent majority is implicit in the culture of oppression. This carries over into the classroom because cultural and racial identities are not checked at the threshold, nor should they be. It is necessary for teachers to confront this reality and understand that agitating for authenticity in unique student voices is an important end goal.

However, before end goals can be met, initial steps must be taken. It is imperative that teachers not cheat their students by failing to acknowledge that racial bias persists in our culture, no matter how uncomfortable a fact that is. There are implicit and explicit hidden powers at play and all students must be made aware of this.

Delpit indicates that unique voices must be acknowledged and celebrated. This is intuitive. However, when confronted with the example of “village English” being taught by an Alaskan teacher, I was honestly uncomfortable. I questioned whether the teacher’s methods were really preparing students to live in a competitive world where standard written English (SWE) is the norm. The teacher did have days where formal English was taught as a means of dress up. Individual voice should be acknowledged and promoted; however, will these students be ready for the professional world? Shouldn’t they be made aware that SWE is crucial? One has to know the basics that are at play before experimentation with voice is carried out. It is a thorny issue for me.

I agree with Delpit’s point that teachers must know their students and ensure that there are appropriate learning strategies for everyone. It is inherently racist/ classist to think that just because a student is a person of color or a member of a poorer class (i.e. a person outside the culture of power) that he or she should be taught in accordance with a “basic skills approach” (286). That is blatantly offensive.

Race is part and parcel of our culture. Delpit rightfully suggests that teachers open their eyes, ears and hearts so that they may be made aware of and sensitive to students’ backgrounds. The author’s inclusion of student commentaries to teaching styles is unique to me and important.