Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Book Review)

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator who published the activist classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1970. It’s full of revolutionary thoughts, and I had a hard time picking out just a few short bits. In the beginning of the book Freire states that true revolution requires more than charity, but instead solidarity:

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity… This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are truly solidary with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation?”

Freire goes on to explain:

“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. Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well.”

In liberating the masses, the oppressed must also force a new way ahead which is different from the role of the previous oppressors:

“But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they are shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.”

Next Freire tackles the inevitable question about revolution — what happens when the oppressed win? How do they themselves keep from becoming the oppressors?

“It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors. The latter, as an oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the oppressed wage the struggle to resolves the contradiction in which they are caught; and the contradiction will be resolved by the appearance of the new man: neither oppressor nor oppressed, but man in the process of liberation.”

At this point Freire speaks about allyship:

“…Certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other. Theirs is a fundamental role… however… they almost certainly bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformation, which include a lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to people’s cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors… Our converts… truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change… Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.”

Freire goes on to explain that true education, where the “teacher” and “student” are both exchanging perspectives and experiences and learning from one another authentically, is the only way for revolutionary change to come about and for more people to join the struggle for liberation. Freire admits that this is not always the way things play out:

“Unfortunately, however, in their desire to obtain the support of the people for revolutionary action, revolutionary leaders often fall for the babking line of planning program content from the top down. They approach teh peasant or urban masses with projects which may correspond to their own view of the world, but not tto that of the people They forget that their fundamental objective is to fight alongside the people for the recovery of the people’s stolen humanity, not to ‘win the people over’ to their side. Such a phrase does not belong in the vocabulary of revolutionary leaders, but in that of the oppressor.”

Freire posits that educators should take on the role of “facilitator” or “co-ordinator” or discussion as students discover the world themselves, instead of treating students like boxes to fill with prepackaged facts.

So how do we learn from one another? Freire writes that it is as simple, and as complicated as honest dialogue and companionship.

“Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people… Because love is an act our courage, not fear, love is commitment to others. “

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

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