Friere and Literacy

Reading through Friere’s thoughts on education and it’s relationship to power makes me think of the one laptop per child project. The project which is lauded with many design and humanitarian awards has proven to be a complete failure. The utopian aim was misguided by the technological determinism that sells wired magazine subscriptions. Friere’s emphasis on literacy is important. Literacy, according to Friere, is a vehicle to understanding one’s self and unearthing their oppression while giving them the proper language to combat their oppressors. To restate a question from last weeks discussion is technical literacy, in the form of learning programming, essential to the vision of Friere’s literacy?

4 thoughts on “Friere and Literacy

  1. Based on my admittedly limited exposure to Freire’s writing, I would say 100% no. Learning programming is NOT essential to his vision (although a form of technical literacy perhaps may be), and is more likely to be antithetical to his vision. I would argue that the OLPC campaign, and any campaign to teach the oppressed how to program would, at best, qualify as one of the “humanitarian – but not humanist – literacy campaigns” that Freire laments at pg. 21 of the The Adult Literacy Process (first reading). To answer yes would be to suffer the fallacy of the equivocation of “programming language” with “human language”.
    Human languages enable human relationships, and reading and writing expand those relationships to enable humans to communicate ideas across distances and time, to form social groups, to become conscious and participate in social movements and revolutions. Programming languages enable relationships between humans and machines. They are commands. They do not embody the dialectic model between two equally knowing subjects that Freire espouses, nor do they take any account of, nor enable, the sort of critical and contextual analysis that Freire believes is necessary to the adult literacy process (pg. 22). As Freire states, “[w]hat is important is that the person learning words be concomitantly engaged in a critical analysis of the social framework in which men exist.” (pg. 28). How does teaching people to code do that? Code does not enable critical analysis of social frameworks; rather, it entrenches those frameworks by enabling their operations to be automated and obfuscated.

  2. I don’t think so. Freire argues for literacy as an anti-oppression tactic because it encourages the oppressed to use language on their own terms to express their own ideas (in discussion groups of similarly situated people). I think that ICTs can give people access to other oppressed groups’ relevant perspectives (Like Amy Goodman Democracy Now!…or StoryCorp). But I don’t think that actually being the programmer is necessary. That being said, Andrew McConachie cited Jane Margolis’s study ( in his post, and she argues that:

    The underrepresentation of men of color and all women among the creators of information technology has serious consequences, not only for those individuals whose potential goes unrealized but also for a society
    increasingly shaped by that technology.

    Which does make you think. If information technology is becoming more and more powerful in shaping society and if the oppressed are not involved in architecting these technologies, maybe there is cause for concern.

  3. OK. I’ve just changed my mind. Maybe Freire wouldn’t think this, but I’ve convinced myself. Why should the architects of technology all reside in the ‘oppressor class,’ while the oppressed are the ‘users’? I don’t believe that coding is literacy in Freire’s sense of the word, but I do think that not having coders among the oppressed is really, really problematic, especially given Freire’s argument that technologies are increasingly used by oppressors for “massification” and automation.

  4. In response to the original question, I think, like the others, no when strictly speaking of programming languages. Perhaps, though, a broader technical literacy — one that enabled a lot of the generative thinking that Freire discusses — could fit within Freire’s framework. I think that also fits into Sarah’s second point, which I agree with completely. I think it gets back to the point that others have made of the challenge of having members of the oppressed and oppressor classes come together under a common, net positive banner.

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