Pedagogy for the Oppressors
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy for the Oppressed has been corrupting teachers.
In its relentless campaign to destroy our culture, cherished traditions and values, the left elite has used dissimulation to control the content and usage of texts and ideas to animate their movement. This has been painfully obvious in the pushback against the exposure of critical race theory by Christopher Rufo and others on the center-right. Seeking to take advantage of the general population’s ignorance about what critical race theory really is and how its teachings have seeped out into K-12 and college education, academics have sought to portray CRT as an abstruse doctrine taught primarily in law schools. Mainstream journalists, most of whom don’t know any better, have uncritically parroted such disinformation, while absurdly contending conservatives are just trying to silence the teaching of truths about slavery and racism. However, the truth is left-wing elites are eager to hide from the public the contents of core texts that form the education they advocate. This is just a small part of critical race theory. Critical pedagogy is the larger fish that must be returned to the stream in which it was taken.
What is “critical teaching”? When you hear the “critical” modifier, as in “critical race theory,” “critical legal studies,” or “critical gender studies,” you can be fairly sure its ultimate roots are in “critical theory.” Critical theory refers to the mid-20th century movement to study why a workers’ revolution along the lines Marx predicted had not yet materialized throughout the industrialized societies of the capitalist West, which had been expected to fall like dominoes after the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civilizational cataclysm of World War I. Also known as “Cultural Marxism,” this movement, which I have described at greater length here–composed of such thinkers as Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm and the notorious 60s radical and father of the American New Left, Herbert Marcuse–built upon the work of the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs and the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci to propose that because, contra Marx, much of the proletariat had been successfully entranced by capitalism and the creature comforts and cheap-thrill entertainments (rather than Marxian “immiseration”) it enabled, radicals had to bide their time and plant seeds by taking over elite institutions, using them as platforms to “raise” the consciousness of the working class. Later, in 1967, Marcuse argued expressly that because the white working class was a lost cause for the socialist left, the groundwork for the revolution had to be laid by co-opting “outsiders within the established order,” namely, the “underprivileged” “in the ghettoes” and those “at the opposite pole of society,” among our socio-cultural elites. This blueprint was followed exactly, and their dream of a cultural and institutional takeover has come to pass.
The explicitly educational branch of the “critical theory” movement, known as “critical pedagogy,” “views teaching,” in the words of Henry A. Giroux, one of its leading lights, “as an inherently political act,” that “reject[s] the neutrality of knowledge, and insist[s] that issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning.” As Wikipedia, echoing Giroux himself, tells us, critical pedagogy was “founded by the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire, who promoted it through his 1968 book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”
Though you may be hearing of it for the first time here, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is no obscure tract. It is, rather, a central text in many American graduate schools of education, the institutions–however academically non-rigorous and anti-intellectual they may generally be — where most teachers get credentialed. I first heard about the book and Freire–a Brazilian Marxist and municipal Secretary of Education in Sao Paulo during the late 1980s and early ’90s –from a 2009 City Journal article by ex-radical Sol Stern. Pedagogy for the Oppressed Stern said that the book was “one of the most commonly assigned texts in philosophy of education courses” and had “nearly-iconic status”, making it a mandatory text for first-year teachers fellows.
Freire has had an impact beyond the world of theory. Already, back in 1986, a New York Times report on Freire’s tour of America to conduct workshops and seminars at American universities, observed that “Mr. Freire’s methods were adapted by American feminist, Hispanic, and black groups which operate adult literacy programs. Freire’s focus on practicality has been taken to absurd heights in Nicaragua where second-graders use hand grenades to learn maths, instead of apples and oranges.
A decade later, Freire’s 1997 New York Times obituary quoted John Devine, then-director of the School Partnership Program at New York University, a collaborative venture between that university and inner-city high schools in New York: “We place gr[a]duate students into inner city schools where we try to exemplify some of Paulo Freire’s principles.”
In recent years
Freire has maintained its canonical position within American academia. In 2013, the Paolo Freire Social Justice Charter School opened in Western Massachusetts, with its curriculum containing “social justice” components in every academic subject, including “social justice science” and “social justice mathematics.” The “social justice literacy” component of its education, for example, is described as follows:
Students will engage in critical literacy and will actively examine the levels of power and injustice that exists in written formats. Students will be able to understand and deconstruct codes and descriptions which undermine minorities and marginalize society members. To understand power relations in language, and to identify social inequalities that exist, they will need to read. The students will be able to see writing through a range of viewpoints and recognize the voices and perspectives of various classes and cultures. The readings will focus on works that represent the community’s values and interests. They will also be critical of stereotypes about race, gender and socioeconomic status. The students will share their experiences with the world and be able to write about them.
Another school, the Paolo Freire Charter High School, was opened in New Jersey but was closed by the state in 2017 due to test scores that lagged behind public schools, an all-around lack of “instructional rigor,” and an absurdly low on-time graduation rate.
In 2016, a Google Scholar analysis found Freire’s book to be the third most-widely cited publication within the social sciences. Just last year, Columbia University, home to Teachers College, one of the nation’s top schools of education, celebrated Freire’s centenary on September 19, 2021 by creating the Paolo Freire Initiative at Columbia University, with an annual birthday event open to the public, a “Freire Scholars program” to fund research into his work, a year-long series of lectures, an announcement describing Freire’s work as “foundational” and “closely aligned to the mission of Columbia University and Teachers College,” and a threat to “continue to expand its activities, with academic publications, fellowships, events, and the strengthening of the community of Freirean scholars on campus and beyond” in years to come.
Given the extent of Freire’s influence, and the praise he has received from the left-wing elites responsible for our education establishment’s management, one might ask what Freire’s educational philosophy is. His book was a complete read, with footnotes, that I had to go through earlier in the year. A word, first, about those footnotes, as aptly summarized in Sol Stern’s 2009 article. For a book that is ostensibly about education, the footnotes remarkably cite no leading thinkers on education, past or present, but rather consist almost entirely of citations of “Marx, Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, as well as the radical intellectuals Frantz Fanon, Regis Debray, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, and Georg Lukacs.” Indeed, having myself read my share of those thinkers and others in the familiar revolutionary canon, what struck me about Pedagogy of the Oppressed–even compared with works by most of these other luminaries of the far-left pantheon—is how thoroughly crude and Manichean is its author’s image of our complex world. Freire cautions that “[T]his tentative work is intended for radicals.” He might have said that it is intended for simple-minded radicals.
I will make extensive use of Freire quotations in the following to counter the left-wing counteroffensive, which will claim that I am distorting Freire. Also, to show how extreme this thinker is, so all Americans can clearly see just what he really believes.
According to Freire, society is made up of two distinct groups. Marx even had more. Freire says society is made up of two groups (Marx had more): the oppressors and the oppressed. In language all too familiar with how people approach these issues, Freire describes oppression in terms that are “[a]ny circumstance in which ‘A” objectively exploits or hinders ‘B,’ and that any such scenario “itself constitute[ing] violence.”
We should recognize in these remarks–echoing Marcuse’s idea of “institutional violence” as distinguished from the “liberating violence” of oppressed people in his 1967 essay, “The Problem of Violence and the Radical Opposition”–the roots of some of the most Orwellian double-standards we confront in our contemporary milieu, in which mere speech by certain people is routinely equated with violence, while actual violent riots by other people are characterized as “largely peaceful protests.”
Because Freire says that the interests of oppressors are in “changing the consciousness and not the circumstances which oppress them,” one element of every oppressor’s arsenal is “pedagogical prescription.” This “prescription” was designed to make the oppressed believe they can take responsibility for their situation. If they receive welfare, then “they” are considered individual cases and are beneficiaries of the oppressors generosity to those “incompetent or lazy” who are not in line with the ‘good, organised and just’ society .”
To achieve their fiendish goal of deforming the victims’ consciousness, oppressors employ what Freire refers to as the “banking concept” of education. This “turns students into “containers,” and into “receptacles,” where teachers “deposits,” knowledge that the student is expected to “patiently absorb, remember, repeat, and then “remember to return.”
According to Freire’s “banking model,” knowledge is “something bestowed upon people who think they know something.” This “knowledge” is actually a collection of words that are “detached form reality” and “[t]he less students work at deposit storage, the more they become critical of the world that would result from their involvement in that world .”
But even if we ignore the empirical evidence, mentioned in Sol Stern’s article on Freire, that it is precisely such imparting of “core knowledge” by those who have it to those who do not that has been proven to work “over and over again” in generating curiosity, intellectual stimulation and engagement (not to mention success on standardized tests and in later life), we might still ask how precisely Freire expects ignorant students to be educated without the benefit of the “deposits” of knowledge that he deems so pernicious to their education? Freire believes that the demand from students to “accept their ignorance in order to justify the existence of the teacher” is absurd. Rather, “education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction … so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.”
This is done through Freire’s “problem-posing education,” which is based on “dialogue,” a “humanizing pedagogy” in which revolutionary leadership creates a relationship with the people to find that program. None. “This view of education begins with the conviction it cannot present its program, but must seek out this program dialogically, so it serves to introduce and implement the pedagogy for the oppressed in which all must take part.”
Freire adds that such a view of education allows students to become “critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher,” such that, in the end, “the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers.”
The main objection to this approach is: How can these “students/teachers”, who inevitably start from an insufficient or nonexistent knowledge of the entire thing of which they are part, be expected to contribute intelligently to the content and design of their education experience? It is important to order knowledge. Homer influenced Virgil who in turn influenced Dante who was in turn influenced by Shakespeare and other great writers like James Joyce. The student who picks up Joyce’s Ulysses without a thorough steeping in the great tradition that culminates in Joyce will find himself utterly lost.
This does not mean that all literature, history, and science must always be presented in a specific chronological sequence, but it does tend to work a whole lot better that way. Freire has this wonderful passage to answer any objection:
Were it not possible to dialogue with the people before power is taken, because they have no experience with dialogue, neither would it be possible for the people to come to power, for they are equally inexperienced in the use of power. Revolution is dynamic. It is only in these continuing dynamics that leaders and people will be able to learn how to use power and dialogue. This is just as evident as stating that one learns how to swim in water and not in a book. )
To continue Freire’s analogy, his educational approach is to throw both novice students and the whole library into the water. Then expect the teacher to rescue whatever or whomever it takes.
It is clear that this strategy isn’t the best for anyone to educate. But it should also be obvious now, Freire’s real goal is revolution, not education. It is not a monkish pursuit of knowledge and contemplation of higher matters that the “pedagogy for the oppressed” is.
Reminding us of contemporary critical race scholar and activist Ibram X. Kendi’s simplistic view that all action is either racist or antiracist, with no in-between, Freire deems all cultural action as “either serv[ing] domination (consciously or unconsciously) or…serv[ing] the liberation of men and women.” We know, of course, which side of that binary is the path to the promised land.
Although the education of oppressors leads to revolution, it is good news for oppressors.
Although the education of the oppressed leads directly to their revolution against their oppressors, this news is not all bad for the oppressors.
As the result of the “gesture” of love, the type of dialogue in which oppressed were immersed in can now be used for productive dialog that educates, liberates, and encompasses all of them in a bigger, post-revolutionary love circle. It’s not exactly. Freire makes as much clear in another beautiful passage, which George Orwell, had he lived to read it, might easily have mistaken for an excerpt from Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four:
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Once a popular revolution has come to power, the fact that the new power has the ethical duty to repress any attempt to restore the old oppressive power by no means signifies that the revolution is contradicting its dialogical character. Dialog between oppressors of the past and oppressed, as opposed classes, was impossible before the revolution. It is still difficult afterward.
This, dear reader, is a central, influential, and crucial book of educational philosophy. It’s taught in American schools, which are the place where American teachers are made. When we wonder why so many of our children are being taught to hate their own race, their own gender, their own history, and their own nation, and why far-left wingnuts are so overrepresented among our teachers–97 Democrats for every three Republicans among English teachers, 99 Democrats for every one Republican among health teachers, and 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans among high school teachers overall–we need look no further. Our Founding Fathers names are being removed from schools and monuments, but Paolo Freire is being honored with glowing tributes in American universities.
The truth is that conservative voices, much like liberals who shout “racist!” and “fascist!” at any person to the left of Mitt Romney’s, tend to use words such as “Marxist,” or “communist” and “socialist, which reduces their shock power and causes many to roll their eyes. However, the usage of “Marxist,” in relation to Paolo Freire’s case is very literal. It may seem crazy, but a Marxist explicitly revolutionary text is one of the main guidesposts for the American educational establishment. This is not something you can hide from, nor is there any plausible denial. It is not a simple text that is restricted to grad school seminars at high levels, and has no effect whatsoever on how or what our children learn. No matter how they disguise themselves as “social justice teaching”, “antiracist education”, “culturally sensitive education” or even “promoting diversity and equity and inclusion”, critical pedagogy has infiltrated both our schools and minds. It is urgently necessary to expel it and its followers from our schools.