This week on my blog, I am sharing some reading and study guides for Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that has helped me better understand oppression and racism. It has also helped me to better understand how I can co-labor with the oppressed to end oppression and racism and to create a world that is more humane for everyone.
I hope that as I share these posts and guides, people might feel empowered to read and understand the concepts in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book which is extremely powerful but sometimes difficult to understand.
You can read the first post in that series, which is on chapter one of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, here.
You can also find he full text of Pedagogy of the Oppressed here.
In this post, I want to review a few important concepts in chapter one. Then I am going to introduce chapter two. Lastly, I will give you a reading guide and reflection questions for chapter #2.
In chapter one, Freire focused primarily on our vocation, humanization. He also talks about dehumanization.
When Freire says that our vocation is humanization, he means that our purpose as human beings is to fully develop our human capacities and to create a world that allows us to do just this.
One way to understand what Freire means here is to think about this question: What is the difference between being a human being and becoming fully human?
Why don’t you take a minute to think about this question and, perhaps, to write about it.
Some thoughts for your consideration:
The Difference Between Being a Human Being and Becoming Fully Human
Being a human being means that we are biologically a human being–we look and function like a human and have human DNA.
Becoming fully human means that we develop all our positive human capacities fully. For example, here are just a few of the distinctly human capacities we have (by distinctly human, I mean that we have these capacities in distinction from animals, or we have them to a greater degree than animals): love, kindness, communication, creativity, critical thought, wisdom, creativity, compassion, courage, playfulness, aesthetic capacities, political capacities, logic, friendliness, reconciliation, care taking (like of the earth and our communities), hospitality.
Freire argues that the most human thing about us is that we can step back from the world; reflect on the problems we see in it; and then act on these reflections to make the world a better, more humane place, more supportive of the capacities mentioned above.
Imagine what it would be like if all of us together set the intention every day to develop the capacities I mentioned above (and capacities like them) to their fullest and to create the kind of world (through our actions) that supported and encouraged these capacities in everyone.
That would be an incredible world.
That would be a fully humanized world.
That would be the kind of world in which everyone had the ability to flourish and to create space for everyone and everything else to flourish.
And that kind of world is possible.
Why We Fail to Pursue This World
Too often, however, Freire suggests that we fail to pursue, or even to consider, humanization, and, instead, we settle for existence at mere biological level. We just focus on eating, sleeping, procreating, and surviving, and we pay little attention to the development of our human capacities.
Or even worse, we don’t just neglect our human capacities, we actively discourage or crush them in ourselves and others. Freire refers to such capacity-destroying actions collectively as dehumanization.
We dehumanize others in a variety of ways. We may try to dominate them, control them, and impose our view of the world on them. When we act like this, we fail to see other people as human beings whose vocation (calling) it is to reflect on the world, identify problems, and act on these reflection to create a more humanized world.
Instead, we treat people like it is their job to serve us (we create a master-slave relationship); to accept our views of the world as their own (instead of allowing them to develop their own views); and to accept the world as it currently is, whether this world destroys their ability to flourish or not.
Individual and Institutional Dehumanization
When we act this way, we dehumanize both ourselves and others. Human beings are not meant to live in a master-slave relationship. When we act like this, we treat other people like objects (like rocks) we can manipulate or like containers into which we can pour our views instead of as human beings with curiosity, intellect, hope, dreams, and their own unique view of the world. We forget that other people are meant to be our partners, with whom we create a more humane world.
Unfortunately, it is very easy for people to fall into patterns of dehumanization. There are many reasons for this, but here are a few of the reasons:
One: We tend to think our view of the world is the right view (of course we do–otherwise we wouldn’t believe it). So, it is very hard for us to imagine that a different view of the world could contain important elements that correct and enhance our own view of the world.
Two: Because we have a tendency to think our view of the world is the right one, we spend a lot of our life trying to get other people on board with our program (which we believe is THE program), rather than realizing that no one has a completely right view of the world, and that we must pursue a complete understanding of it together.
Three: It is scary to talk to, work with, and negotiate with people who are different from us. Human beings have a tendency to fear, rather than embrace, difference. Therefore, when we meet people who think and live very differently from us, our tendency is to flee, ignore, or to try to control them and make them be more like us, rather than allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to learn from them. In worse case scenarios, we try to dominate and destroy difference so that we feel less threatened.
Four: We tend to form our beliefs according to what works for us and gives us a sense of control, efficacy, or pleasure. Listening to other views that demand that we think or live differently can cause us a temporary, or even long-term, loss of control, efficacy, and pleasure. Therefore, we tend to resist considering other views. And sometimes we actively try to destroy the people who hold them.
Both People and Institutions Can Dehumanize
People can dehumanize each other in personal relationships, but institutions like schools, governments, churches, the military, and the police force can also engage in dehumanizing practices.
No one likes to think of themselves as engaging in dehumanizing behavior or supporting institutions that dehumanize people. So people usually tell themselves a story about their behavior or the behavior of the institutions they support that makes the behavior sound good rather than dehumanizing. Here are some of the common stories they tell themselves:
I am doing the moral thing. (But they don’t consider that they may have deeply misunderstood morality.)
I am doing the Christian thing. (But they don’t consider that they may have deeply misunderstood Christianity.)
I am upholding law and order. (But they don’t consider that there are humanizing ways to maintain law and order or that the current laws may be unjust and may need to be changed.)
I am just stating the facts or telling it like it is. (But they don’t consider the other facts they have left out or consider that their view of the facts may be distorted by their preconceived ideas about the world.)
About Chapter 2 and Education and Dehumanization
This brings me to education, which is Freire’s focus in chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
As you read the first chapter and the study guide material in both the last post and in this one, you may have asked yourself some questions like this: “How do people and institutions fall into dehumanizing patterns? How can I figure out if I am acting a dehumanizing way without realizing it?”
There are many answers to both of these questions but one of the answers to both questions, which Freire explores in chapter 2, is education.
In chapter 2, Freire describes a kind of education–he calls it banking education–which tends to encourage dehumanization, and it also indoctrinates people to accept dehumanizing relationships.
He also describes another kind of education–liberatory education (he also calls it dialogic and biophilic education) which can help students detect and escape banking education. (You can read a little more about liberatory education, and my attempts to implement it in my own classroom, here.)
As you read chapter two, realize that while Freire specifically explores the kind of education that occurs in schools–like primary and secondary schools and colleges and universities–his ideas in chapter two can also apply to the kind of education that occurs in homes, churches, society, and other social institutions.
Key Points for Chapter Two:
- The problem with primarily narrative education is that it suggests that only the teacher gets to reflect on, name, and transform the world.
- Remember that the defining characteristic of human beings is that they reflect on, name, and transform their world. This is the right of everyone—not just teachers.
- When Freire says education is suffering from narration sickness, he means that education must be a dialogue between the student and the teacher or else it does not fully honor students’ humanity.
- The problem with narration is that it turns students into “containers” or “receptacles”, rather than treating them as human beings in the process of becoming more human through praxis.
- This narrating style of education that turns students into containers or receptacles is what Freire calls banking education. (Banking = making deposits).
- Students cannot pursue humanization if people treat them like objects.
- If the purpose of education is to liberate students, it must help students and teachers discover that they are both in the process of learning and becoming more human together.
- The banking model of education tries to manage people and make them adapt to their world, rather than helping them understand that human beings construct their world together and that they have a right to participate in this construction.
- This type of education serves the interest of the oppressors because the oppressors can deposit their view of the world into other people and try to make them adapt or conform to it.
- Oppressors, whether purposefully or not, want to change the consciousness of the oppressed so that the oppressed no longer believe they have the ability to engage in praxis but believe they must just adapt to the status quo.
- Oppressors often blame the oppressed for their condition. They are told that it is their fault (that they are too lazy, ignorant, etc.), rather than being the fault of an oppressive system.
- The oppressed have been made into “beings for others” rather than beings for themselves. That means that the oppressed have been denied ownership of their humanity, and their humanity has been put in the service of someone else.
- Banking education does not encourage students to critically consider reality (and name and transform it); it encourages them to accept it.
- The world always contains contradictions. The contradictions Freire is talking about are parts of society or the status quote that don’t make sense or that conflict with each other.
- Contradictions in reality occur because human beings are the ones who create society, and no society is perfectly humanized Contradictions often signal a point at which people are being dehumanized and society needs to become more humanized.
- An example of a contradiction would be the fact that slaves were treated as though they were less important and worthwhile than their masters, but slaves were the ones who made the very existence of the masters possible.
- Another contradiction in our country might be that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, but we have a great deal of poverty, even though we could easily eradicate it, and even though many people in poverty want to work (but can’t get a job) or already work and work really hard.
- Another contradiction is that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world.
- Banking education does not acknowledge any contradictions in reality. It tries to get students to accept reality as is.
- In the banking model of education, it is the teacher’s job to “regulate the way the world ‘enters into’ the students”.
- Banking education makes students passive.
- Banking education tries to makes students fit into the world, rather than helping the student figure out what parts of the world need to be transformed for greater humanization.
- Banking education works really well for the people (oppressors) who profit from the status quo and are unwilling to change it no matter how dehumanization it is to other people.
- Teachers escape banking education by building solidarity and communicating with their students. (Building solidarity means recognizing that both students and teachers are pursuing humanization.)
- Banking education promotes necrophily, which treats students as inert, dead objects. Biophilic education treats students as living, developing being in the process of becoming more human and creating their world.
- Oppression and control are necrophilic.
- Necrophilic education inhibits students creative power because they are not allowed to transform their environment.
- Liberating teachers reject the banking model of education, but it is hard to be a liberating teacher because teachers are generally surrounded by, and even trained in, the banking model of education.
- Liberation is only grounded in praxis conducted by men and women.
- Teachers who wish to be liberating must reject the banking model of education and embrace problem-posing education.
- Problem-posing education emphasizes students’ reflective, naming, and transformative capacities. It helps them recognize contradictions in the world and think about how they could transform it.
- Liberating education helps students cognize, think about, or critically examine their world, not primarily just receive information.
- Liberating education is dialogical education—it is based on dialogue. This is because it is only through dialogue that we may reflect on our world, name it, and transform it together.
- Through dialogue, a classroom is transformed into a place where there are teacher-students and student-teachers, rather than just students and teachers.
- Education must be a process in which everyone grows together (i.e. in which everyone becomes more human together).
1. What are some examples of banking or necrophilic education you have observed in your life? They might have occurred in actual schools, or they may occurred in other social institutions.
2. What are some examples of dialogic, biophilic, or liberatory education you have observed in your life–either in school or in other social institutions?
3. What are some ways that you may have accidentally engaged in banking education in your various relationships or institutions of which you are a part of ?
4. What is one practical step you can take to practice more dialogic education in these relationships or institutions?
If you would like to read more about what it means to practice humanization and dialogic education in your every day life, you might like to read this post.
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