Writing and Identity

“Pedagogy Of The Oppressed” by Paula Freire was very dense. I read it about three times, and I still feel like I haven’t grasped the concept entirely. Freire begins by revealing humankind’s central problem, which he says is humanization. Concern for humanization leads to the topic of dehumanization, which is always interconnected.

Freire states that humanization and dehumanization are both possible for humans. Though most of us strive to be humanized, it is challenging because of our unjust, oppressed, and exploited society. People are continually trying to fight oppression, in turn, dehumanizing the oppressed people. The oppressed begin to act like the oppressors themselves because that is their model of humanity. This then becomes the most significant task of all to liberate themselves and their oppressors.

The oppressed have to lead their own journey to become unoppressed. Often though, it is the fear of freedom that gets in the way. The oppressors have long influenced the oppressed, making them adopt to their behaviors. True freedom then requires them to replace this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. To overcome this situation, people must recognize the causes so they can transform the situation and create a new reality. However, they continuously fail because of their fear of the greater repression. Conformity then becomes a haven. This is the tragic reality of the oppressed, but Freire says we must take into account their education.

That’s when the term pedagogy of the oppressed takes to play. Questioning how the oppressed can participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for the critical discovery of oppression, to help the people change the course. In order for the oppressed to become liberated, they must not look at the world as a place for no freedom, but as a limiting situation where change is possible. They need to realize that the oppressor does not exist without them. And that an oppressor is also just a person who has to been oppressed at some point. Real solidarity is found through this act of love. One of the most significant obstacles in achieving liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and sinks human beings’ consciousness.

The change can only take place then, utilizing praxis, reflection, and action. These elements all depend on each other and must be done as a whole to achieve freedom. The more people unveil this situation, the more critically they enter this realm of change. The pedagogy of oppressed then is to restore humanity. There are two stages, the first stage deals with the problem of the consciousness of the oppressed and the oppressor. The oppressors exploit violence by doing the oppressing and also not recognizing that they are creating this violence. The act of love can be found through this violence; because the oppressors are trying to restore all humanity.

Oppressors care about power, and they do not have it without the oppressed. They want more at the cost of others having nothing, and they possess humanity as a property. The peasant beings to gain the courage to overcome his dependence when he realized he is dependent. They have to stop thinking they are powerless to the oppressor who makes all the rules; they must stop depending on him. To achieve liberation, people must trust others who are in the same situation. They must recognize the dependence and transform it into independence. They must work with the people, with their knowledge and experience of oppression, to achieve true liberation.


Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue” begins with short anecdotes from Black and Native American educators who feel they are expected to teach minority students using methods and styles which are not effective. These teachers of color feel unheard and silenced. Likewise, the White educators also wish to express their opinion on the topic but feel left out. Delpit calls this issue the “culture of power” that exists in education today.

First, Delpit notes that teachers, curriculum developers, state mandates have power over students. Second, she said there are codes for participating in power, including ways of talking, writing, dressing, and interacting. Thrid, she mentions that children from middle and upper-class families do better in school because the culture of the school is based on those in power. Fourth, she says power is acquirable if told the rules of the culture explicitly. Fifth, most importantly, she discusses that people in power are less likely to acknowledge it vs. the people with no control are possible to recognize it.

Delpit’s article is jarring. It is new; it’s an aspect of education I have never fought. I might have subliminally gave it a smidge of thought but nothing more. Children who already participants in the culture of power will succeed, but it is the lack of attention to other communities, in this instance, the black community. Parents of non-white communities transmit another culture that children must learn at home to survive in their communities. As one parent demanded, “my kids know how to be Black- you call to teach them how to be successful in the White man’s world. This quote reminds me of an instant in my teaching career when I was teaching in a Black community with most children coming from the projects. One day a girl came in and held a knife to another child’s neck. She demanded him to give up the white-colored laptop because that’s the one she wanted. I was appalled by such behavior, but I did not want to report her, I tried to protect her because I knew how she grew up, and this was normal for her. However, after much contemplation, I did report it. The child was taken to the police station, where the mother admitted she gave her the knife herself to protect herself. This little anecdote goes hand in hand with the statement made earlier, where parents are preparing their children to survive in their own communities.

The teacher and student must both be in power for ultimate success. For the Black community, power is looked at differently. They give into authority when it is acquired; this does not mean because someone has an authoritative role, they possess it. Delpit acknowledges that there is a culture of power, and everyone should learn the codes but in a diversity of style.

Expert at what you know best…

I’d like to practice a little self-awareness this week. I imagine that in the schema of these readings, that I am not one of the “oppressed”. I’m a white guy, and I grew up and live in an affluent town (some parts more than others admittedly). But as a person I have always tried to keep an open mind toward things and, above all, acknowledge that a life led by anyone other than myself is not a life that I can summarily judge or claim to truly know; to be allowing of others’ experiences and hope they are allowing of mine. That all being said, with some exceptions of interesting points and details, I did struggle with these readings. I am not an educator in a traditional sense and so stand somewhat outside of readings to do with the practice of pedagogy, but I try to absorb what I can.

With regards to Freire, one can at least attribute a strong purpose to his writing. I had not read him before but his is writing without fear. One sentiment of his here that I did completely appreciate was his joining of objectivity and subjectivity. It has also always been my belief, or at least for some years now in my adulthood, that the two things are not mutually exclusive. Like last week’s reading which spoke of the mutual inclusivity of textual autonomy and authorial voice when reading, so to here is there a seemingly contrary coexistence of two (on the surface) dissimilar things. But in accepting that the wholesale acceptance of one or the other, let alone one over the other, would lead to extremity of approach and methodology, one is only left with acceptance of both together. Either can be reconciled in the face of the other, and simultaneously there can be a building up of one with the other.

Further into the chapter he cited a term which I enjoyed, that being “necrophilic behavior”. I’ll admit that the term is almost a little shocking, as one would not think to attribute such macabre wording to what can be a discussion of teaching, but as we have learned, words are powerful. We’ve spoken at some length now about the dangers of the Teacher-Student paradigm as it currently exists, and this term speaks to that. The idea that the dependence, say, of the student on the teacher by dint of the latter’s being the “authority” causing the former to despair. The power that the teacher has over the student, in many cases the “red pen of death”, can be both a difficulty but also in some strange way, a comfort. If the system is all you know, its sudden absence could create a vacuum. I understand that Freire’s point about necrophilic behavior was not in regards to this exactly, but a self-destructive tendency in the face of oppression can reach down to the more typical Teacher-Student relationship. If the expectations and modes of assessment are outside of the self, we have seen examples of how the student can shut down.

Speaking of power… the Delpit article! There was a certain bitter reality I found in this one, especially with something like when she said “In this country, students will be judged on their product regardless of the process they utilized to achieve it.” For all we have been discussing in what ways we should teach in order to do best by our students, cold and simple efficiency is ultimately what is judged, and that is difficult to cope with. In my own life, I felt unfairly judged by institutions and people before I came to Kean because of things in my life which caused me to have difficulties academically. For me, no matter how many times I argued my case or what I said to that point, the simple statistic of my academic outcome from undergrad was all that mattered. I could not change what had happened or who I was in coming from that place, and so I could only look to change “from above”.

Further in, the notion which I chose to title this blog after is introduced. “Both student and teacher are expert at what they know best.” There is a kind of empathy in that. Instead of changing the individual, why not adjust the system? Why force the individual to fit instead of adjusting the system to mold itself around the culture? I was actually very interested in the dichotomy between “unstated set(s) of rules” between Black families and White families as described in this article. I hadn’t really considered from the child’s point of view how difficult it could be to have a teacher instruct in a way completely foreign to them relative to how they are instructed at home. Active versus passive depictions of power in commanding children to do things – I will myself become more in tune with it.

Pedagogy and Power

Pedagogy of the Oppressed/Power and Pedagogy In Educating Other People’s Children

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire describes the symbiotic relationship between the oppressed and their oppressors. Interestingly, one cannot exist without the other, but while the oppressors appear to be the more dominant group, it is actually the oppressed who have the power to liberate themselves and their oppressors, thereby restoring humanity to both. 

The relationship between the two is a complex one. The oppressors who “love only themselves” are the ones who initiate violence against those they don’t even recognize as  people, referring to them as “blind and envious masses, savages, natives, subversives,” “things” that need to be brought under control. These excuses are among many that colonizers have used for centuries to subjugate weaker countries, and the moment the inhabitants of these lands fight back against their oppressors, they are labeled “violent, barbaric, wicked, or ferocious,” the perfect excuse for taming them.

But while the role of the oppressor is quite clear, the role of the oppressed is a peculiar one. Freire says, “The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.” In addition, the “oppressed find in the oppressor their model of manhood.” Their perception of themselves or what they aspire to become is always seen in relation to their oppressor. Their identification with and “adhesion” to the oppressor prevents them from having consciousness of themselves as members of an oppressed group. While they may not be happy with this situation, they are reluctant and scared to separate from their oppressors. 

You can’t really blame them though because freedom is risky. When the oppressed discover a longing to be free, they fight with their own conscience. They know they can’t do it alone, but are afraid to convince others to go along with them, preferring to stay safe as a prisoner than face the uncertainty of freedom. But at some point, they will want to break free from their “stifled humanity.”

How do the oppressed separate from their oppressors and gain “fuller humanity?” It’s not easy. They have to watch out for “false charity,” where intentions are not sincere and simply used to encourage people to come back for more, whereas “true generosity” helps people to liberate themselves from the bonds of oppression. Freire says the first step to liberation is to critically recognize its causes. He poses the question, “How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?” He explains that it’s not about escaping oppression, but transforming it through reflection and action (praxis). The revolutionary leadership must establish a “permanent relationship of dialogue” with the oppressed in order to bring about real change. 

So how does this translate to the classroom? Freire believes in education as a practice of freedom and that teachers are the revolutionary leaders who are supposed to liberate students. Teachers know and understand the plight of the oppressed student because they were once students themselves.  Through a “permanent relationship of dialogue,” teachers are supposed to help students recognize and reflect on their oppression and then lead them to some form of action to liberate themselves from the dominant establishment. I’m sure Freire outlines how this is supposed to happen in subsequent chapters.  

Delpit’s examination of the “culture of power” makes me acutely aware of just how difficult it is for teachers to educate minority children. Freire says that in the classroom teachers are the revolutionary leaders responsible for the liberation of the oppressed(students), but according to Delpit, this is not happening. The people who are supposed to be designing curriculum are not aware of the circumstances and life experiences of many black children. Even though they may be well-intentioned, their methods are still not effective. In the interest of “being nice,” many white teachers simply give up on trying to teach black children because they don’t want to appear unfriendly or unconcerned. This false generosity does not help students (or teachers) in the long run. By being passed from teacher to teacher unwilling to address underlying problems, students fall through the cracks and end up graduating with inadequate writing skills. 

Both Delpit and Freire agree that reform will be the result of true dialogue, but I agree with Delpit in that it should be a top-down approach, where the people in power should “push and agitate” to create societal change. It makes perfect sense that in order to educate black students black educators should have the loudest voice in designing curriculum or developing strategies to help students learn to write. This goes for every culture. When I was a young student growing up in mid-town Manhattan, most of the principals, superintendents, and teachers were white. The student body was mostly black and Hispanic, and these were the poorest performers. This article helps explain why. Teachers are in a great position to create awareness that not all students learn the same way. Listening and really hearing what they have to say and allowing them to have a voice in their own education is the best use of power for everyone involved.