Beyond Oppression
The Steps to Freedom, Justice, Independence, Dignity


Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The practice of oppression divides the world into two classes of people: the oppressors and the oppressed.

Education is the "subversive force" which can end the problem of oppression (11).

The oppressed are victims of a "whole situation of economic, social, and political domination" (12). They have, as a result, developed a "culture of silence." Their "ignorance and lethargy" are a direct product of the situation in which they live (12).

The job of the intellectual is to humanize both classes by negating accepted limits (14).

The job of all people is to realize their humanity by moving "toward ever new possibilities of [a] fuller and richer life individually and collectively" (14).

People are divided into separate groups because of their opinions, interests, practices, and faiths. This division of people is the result of the myths (false reality) created by the oppressors. These myths lead to fanaticism, alienation, and a belief that reality is not changeable (19).

Both the oppressors and the oppressed get caught up in the myth, considering "anything that is not [their] truth a lie. They both suffer from an absence of doubt" (21).

The oppressed add to their own oppression. "The very structure of their thought has been conditioned... Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity" (27).

The oppressed "have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it.." (29). They feel incapable of struggling for freedom because "they feel incapable of running the risks it requires." They fear for their family and friends. They fear that action on their part will increase the repression.

The oppressed can gain liberation (ie., regain their humanity) only through self-education. NO one can "teach" them. THEY must do the learning and create the learning situation THEMSELVES (30).

This self-education which leads to liberation must be centered on a reflection by the oppressed on their oppression and its causes. This will lead to their "engagement in the struggle for their liberation" (30).

Reflection on oppression and its causes will lead to the discovery/realization "that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization" (30).

The key epiphany for the oppressed must be the realization that their reality -- their limiting situation -- can be changed. They must realize that "they exist in dialectical relationship to the oppressor, as his antithesis -- that without them the oppressor could not exist" (31).

"...what characterizes the oppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the master.." (31). They believe the propaganda. They have allowed the oppressor to create their reality. They see themselves as less than human because that's how the master sees them.

"One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings' consciousness [critical thinking]. Functionally, oppression is domesticating" (33).

What is domestication?

Domestication can be overcome by what the Marxists call "praxis" -- a cmbination of critical reflection and concrete "action upon the world in order to transform it" (33).

(Funk & Wagnalls defines praxis as action for a specific purpose, practical application as distinguished from theory.)

So, we see that Freire's definition of the goal of liberating education is "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it" (33).

What must happen is that the oppression must be mad "MORE oppressive still by adding to it the realization of oppression" (33). This will lead the oppressed to authentic praxis -- "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it."

Liberating education, or pedagogy of the oppressed -- learning freedom, learning independence, learning liberation, learning to regain our humanity -- is accomplished by "dialoguing with people about their action," their lives, their situations, as well as an "affirmation of the need for the critical intervention of the people in reality through the praxis" (35). The oppressed must come to a realization that they must engage "in the fight for their own liberation" (35).

No "do-gooder" can lead the oppressed to learning and liberation. The "oppressed must be among the developers of this pedagogy. No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption" (36).

[Beyond Appearances
Beyond Superficial Learning
Beyond Repression, Slavery

I partially disagree. The task of the uneducated can be greatly eased, and the results vastly improved, by a good teacher who has knowledge and experience. Why should the uneducated have to reinvent the wheel. We can see in history many cases where the results of poor thinking on the part of the uneducated have resulted in sad consequences.]

The pedagogy of the oppressed must unfold in two stages (36):

  1. The Liberation Process
    1. The world of oppression is unveiled
    2. The oppressed commit themselves to transform the world
  2. The Experience of Freedom for All
    1. Becomes a pedagogy of all people
    2. The culture of domination is culturally confronted
    3. The myths created and developed in the old order are expelled

"Any situation in which "A" objectively exploits "B" or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual's ontolocical and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has ALREADY begun (37).

The oppressed are afraid to resist because they lack confidence in themselves. Small victories are needed to give them confidence.

Also, the oppressed are afraid to resist because they have an almost magical belief in the invulnerability and power of the oppressor. "The oppressed must see examples of the vulnerability of the oppressor so that a contrary conviction can begin to grow within them" (46).

Third, the oppressed will remain fatalistic as long as they remain ignorant. As they learn the causes of their condition they will realize that they CAN be changed (46).

The oppressed must engage in reflection on their own concrete situation. Action becomes authentic praxis when "its consequences become the object of critical reflection" (48).

The only way to help the oppressed, without using the tools of dehumanization of the oppressors, is to DIALOGUE with them (49).

Chapter 2: A Problem-Solving Pedagogy

Problems with the typical educational approach:

"The more completely [students] accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them... This serves the interests of the oppressors" (54).

Authoritarian education mirrors oppressive society as a whole. Libertarian education, on the other hand, "must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers AND students" (53).

"..the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to [their] situation, the more easily they can be dominated" (55). The bellweather of a "good" education (good, that is, according to the oppressors) is "how well people fit the world the oppressors have created and HOW LITTLE THEY QUESTION IT" (57).

"Turning information into understanding." A slogan from CBN news

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

Return to The Independent Thinker

Return to Philosophy Homepage