Wait, am I the oppressor? How do I know if I am?

A few quick (disjoint) thoughts:

1. I really liked the idea of “generative words,” and I wished that I could have read more about precisely what Freire’s literacy program looked like. Interesting methodology: “Seventeen generative words…to codify seventeen existential situations familiar to learners (Cultural Action for Freedom, p. 27).” I really liked the spirit of this exercise — one that encouraged composition, creativity and agency straight away.

2. I thought that this quote was relevant to some of the discussions we were having last week…

“This then is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 44)

After reading Freire, it seems even more absurd to think about while male idealists — with close ties to business and the military — as the guys who are going to envision the great new utopian applications of technology. I buy Freire’s argument that only those who are the victims of oppression have the will needed for real change. That being said, I wasn’t clear on how this new guard of formerly oppressed wouldn’t just play the role of the oppressor in the new configuration. Would a liberatory, critical education be sufficient to humanize us all, indefinitely? Seems optimistic, and I’m not aware of a historical precedent for such optimism. But perhaps, as Freire tells us, assuming that the past shows us what is possible for the future is unproductive and overly deterministic. So I’m down for having some optimism. Perhaps Freire’s version of utopia is possible.

3. Given this oppressor / oppressed dichotomy, and the inability of the oppressor to humanize the world, I wonder who the “we” is (the audience for the book). He speaks of an “interdisciplinary team” of educators that have a role in educating the oppressed…

“It is not our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world, nor to attempt to impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their view and ours. We must realize that their view of the word, manifested variously in their action, reflects their situation in the world. Educational and political action which is not critically aware of this situation runs the risk either of ‘banking’ or of preaching in the desert.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 96)

…is this “we” that Freire speaks of part of the oppressor or the oppressed contingent? Based on the writing style, he’s not talking to illiterate or recently “educated” farmers, right?  So if he’s addressing the oppressor class, then what is the role of the oppressor in this struggle for humanization? Give me a job, man! Since I tend to read philosophy like self-help, I wonder what the implications are for me (if any). As a privileged, white, American, Berkeley student, do I have a role in Freire’s vision? If so, what is it? He implies that educators are part of the struggle. Are these educators somehow separate from the oppressed and the oppressors? Like the Swiss? Perhaps I missed a key part of the argument — can anyone help me out?

3 thoughts on “Wait, am I the oppressor? How do I know if I am?

  1. One point Freire makes is that the oppressed only have one vision of what being human looks like and that is like the oppressor. So that is the crucial utopian view he provides tis that through dialogue we can re-imagine what it means to be human on our own terms rather than the oppressors. How did you make your quote all big ?

  2. Also, basically if you teach in a school with the banking model you are only tightening the shackles, reinforcing the ideals of expert led society.

  3. sarah,

    yes, i think you are the oppressor. that is, you are the oppressor if you see children as safety deposit boxes for your ideas about the world. the good news is that you’re apparently oppressing yourself as well, and you’ll need your students’ help in undoing your self-imprisonment

    > this new guard of formerly oppressed wouldn’t just play the role of the oppressor in the new configuration. Would a liberatory, critical education be sufficient to humanize us all, indefinitely?

    so, maybe freire refers more to a symbiotic kind of mutual oppression. how both parties might oppress the other in this situation remains unclear to me.

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