Pedagogy of the Oppressed Summary

Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed Summary

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed is Paulo Freire’s multi-layered theory concerning education as a means to eradicating oppression. While breaking down his own theory for combating and eliminating oppression to bring about liberation, Freire also addresses the theory of oppression itself, including its origins and systematic use by oppressors. As Freire sees it, the vital component to bringing about this liberation from oppressors is to tap into critical awareness, an awareness that individuals hold in their own thought processes. To do so, education itself must evolve, thus creating an educational dynamic where the teacher/student rubric is more of a partnership than a hierarchy. In this way, a dialogue that posits both sides on equal footing can be enacted, one that points toward a realized humanity for both the oppressor and the oppressed.

The narrative’s preface addresses the concept of developing a consciousness within the oppressed that is critical, and therefore responsive. Freire points out how the oppressed suffer from a fear of freedom, therefore crippling critical consciousness as this fear leaves the oppressed chained to their oppressive situations. To begin exercising critical consciousness, the oppressed have to look outside of themselves, therefore understanding their situation in relation to the world around them. Freire’s stance is that education, and more importantly, the dialogue that education can bring about, is the key to bringing about this radical change. In fact, Freire admits that his view is radical, but that to bring it about, the reader must embrace this radical change.

Freire then goes on to examine critical consciousness in detail, explaining how the act of looking outside oneself and the dialogue of education can result in a synthesis of thought and action. This synthesis is what is needed to bring the oppressed from a place of dehumanization to a reclaimed humanity. By extension, Freire points out that it is the oppressed who hold the key to their own liberation. By engaging in this synthesis, the oppressed engages critical consciousness and realizes self-worth, which results in action on the part of the oppressed. This action causes the oppressed to view reality clearly, and is what frees both the oppressed and the oppressor from the cycle of oppression.

Continuing with the thread of education, Freire states that the traditional relationship between student and teacher is an oppressive system known as “banking education.” In this dysfunctional system, the teacher holds all the power and, as such, takes on the role of the oppressor. The student, then, takes on the role of the passive individual, someone not able to think critically, merely following. As an alternative to this empty educational method, Freire suggests a system he calls “problem-posing education,” where students are encouraged to not only think, but to be a part of a greater dialogue. The teacher and student can then enter into a partnership of sorts, and through critical consciousness, bring about a dialogue to overcome their problems. It is important to note that, as in the banking education system, the solutions in the problem-posing education system cannot be proffered by the teacher alone. By engaging in critical dialogue, however, the student and teacher can learn from one another.

Freire then outlines various ways to engage the community in an effort to bring about dialogue. By examining issues important to community members, and by creating objects of study, such as film, audio interviews, pictures and other media, a dialogue that addresses issues important to the lives of the community can begin. This vital step ensures that free will, a constant theme throughout the narrative, is maintained. By allowing for free will, the oppressed can effectively see outside themselves and engage in a dialogue where both sides learn.

The narrative also posits Freire’s theory on a larger scale, as he shows how his revolutionary theory also applies to politics, including the rise of revolutionary leaders from among the oppressed. In his explanation, Freire describes four oppressive techniques that are used by oppressors, and that are inherently opposed to the dialogue he encourages. The techniques are conquest, division, manipulation, and cultural invasion. These techniques, in the hands of oppressive leaders, are also used to control the populace. Freire then mentions a set of techniques that can effectively combat the above-mentioned anti-dialogic techniques. His techniques are cooperation, unity for liberation, organization, and cultural synthesis. By using these pro-dialogue techniques in opposition to oppressive techniques, revolutionary leaders can fight oppression and, in doing so, help the populace bring about change by engaging in dialogue, thus changing the definition of education for the betterment of the individual and the world at large.