“Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one.”
-Paolo Freire, 1968
Although Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire was written in 1968, his critical theory allows us to examine the socio-economic and political struggles of the 21st century, as exemplified by the #MeToo Movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and the Same-Sex Marriage through the paradigm of oppressed vs. oppressor.
Freire asserts that within humanity, there are “two real alternatives: humanization versus dehumanization.” Humanization, according to Freire, is every person’s “vocation” or natural inclination; yet, humanization is both “negated by injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence,” and “affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice.” So, in other words, people intrinsically want freedom and justice; however, dehumanization occurs when people’s humanity is stolen from them. Interestingly, dehumanization occurs when oppressors are stealing the oppressed’s humanity because “it is a distortion of the oppressor’s vocation of being a full person” — that is, an oppressor oppresses an oppressed because he does not see the other person as a human. The oppressor loses his humanity, his sense of compassion and empathy. He is no longer a full person. To illustrate, women in the #MeToo Movement want to regain their sense of human dignity by suing rich, powerful white men for sexual harassment; African-Americans fight for their fundamental right to live by exposing police brutality and use of excessive and lethal force; and the LGBT community fight for their right to get married. It is “not in the three groups’ destiny to be dehumanized,” but instead, it is an “unjust order” that engenders dehumanization.
Interestingly, according to Freire, it is the oppressed — not the oppressor — who must “restored humanity in both the oppressed and the oppressor” because the oppressor does not have the “strength” to liberate both himself and the oppressed. Why would Harvey Weinstein or Daniel Pantaleo admit to any wrongdoing? Freire argues that the “power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed would be sufficient t free both of them.” Furthermore, the power of collective voices can also be powerful enough to “restore humanity” in both the oppressed and the oppressor. Does Harvey Weinstein appear remorseful? Somewhat. Is Daniel Pantaleo upset that he is no longer a police officer? Perhaps.
In order to liberate themselves and the oppressors, the oppressed may garner solidarity from supporters but Freire makes a distinction between “true generosity” and “false charity” in that false charity is a ‘hand-out’ to the “rejects of life” which further make them dependent; whereas, true generosity is a ‘hand-up’ where the oppressed is provided with the necessary skills to uplift and to liberate them. Think of a teacher. An empathetic teacher who acts in “true generosity” would have high expectations for her students, even students who look different than her and her children. She equips her students with the necessary skills to be successful in life, while the sympathetic teacher who doles out “false charity” would have lower expectations for her students because she feels sorry for them. She does not adequately equip them with the skills necessary to be successful in life.
Why would the oppressor (e.g., the teacher or the boss) relinquish his power? No, the oppressed must fight for her freedom. In the fight for freedom, Freire cautions the oppressed by saying that they may become the oppressor themselves; this idea evokes the image of the pigs at the end of Animal Farm, where it was difficult to discern the difference between the pigs and men. Freire warns that the oppressed may suffer from a “duality” where they fear “authentic existence, but at the same time, fear it.” For example, some slaveowners have argued that they provide for their slaves, and therefore, there is no need for freedom. Once they are freed, they will need to think for themselves and fend for themselves. Are the oppressed equip with the necessary skills to take care of themselves. So, Freire ends with a central problem of “How can the oppressed as undivided, unauthentic beings participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?”
The first step in creating a pedagogy of liberation is to create a democratic, student-centered classroom where the teacher is more of a facilitator of learning rather than the ‘sage on the stage.’ At this juncture, I will focus my discussion on Lisa Delpit’s “Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.”
Although it was written in 1988, Lisa Delpit’s issue of voice, power, and authority is still very relevant in classrooms and boardrooms. Delpit starts her essay with vignettes of minority faculty or students (or to use Freire’s term, the oppressed) members in English departments who have been silence and sidelined by their majority white peers or colleagues. To quote one black Principal, she says, “It becomes futile because they think they know everything about everybody. They don’t want to hear what you have to say. They only want to go research what other White people have written.” Here frustration reverberates in the hallway of academia as reported in the news recently that the students at Williams College are boycotting the English Department because of “history racism, sexism, transphobia, and other violences” (https://reason.com/2019/11/11/williams-college-english-boycott-racist-violence/). The oppressed faculty member is revolting against their oppressors, demanding to be treated with dignity and to be promoted equitably. They refuse to remain silent.
In terms of writing pedagogy, and in turn, liberation pedagogy, in the classroom, Delpit argues for process writing rather than skills-oriented writing. She further examines power in the classroom by making the following assertions:
1.) Issues of power are enacted in the classroom.
2.) There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.”
3.) The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the classroom of the rules of the culture of those who have power.
4.) If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.
5.) Those with power are frequently least aware of — or at least willing to acknowledge –its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.
For a critical teacher, she must have high expectations. She must believe that her students are capable of higher-order thinking and reasoning. Students, regardless of levels, must be challenged. She also argues that it is not the school’s job to change the homes of poor, nonwhite children to match the dominant culture of power since she maintains that “each child’s culture and heritage is unique; however, there is a mainstream culture and mainstream language (Standard Written English) that they all must learn.” Delpit ends her essay with a powerful call to action: When educating other people’s children, we must include the parents and educators who look like them in the conversation. White teachers and white administrators cannot make all the decisions on how to educate other people’s children.