Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was a Brazilian educator and deemed by some to be the most important educator of the second half of the twentieth century(Carnoy 2004). Freire was the leading voice in the critical pedagogy theory and thus wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, believed to be the founding text of the critical pedagogy movement. Freire was born to a relatively wealthy middle-class family in Brazil who then suffered during the great depression resulting in Freire experiencing the life of the poor. Freire did not do well in school, nor did many of the poorer children who came to be his close companions; this was due to their hunger and social situation as Freire stated ” “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education”(Stevens, no date). Many believe these early scenarios are what led Freire on his lifelong conquest to aid the poorest in society. After his family had their fortune back, Freire enrolled into law school and also studied phenology and language psychology. For the next few years Freire worked as a lecturer and attained many high ranking positions at various universities; he was imprisoned as a traitor during the 1964 military coup as he was believed to be a traitor. After being released he worked in Chile and published Education as the Practice of Freedom which was his first book. He was then offered a visiting professorship at Harvard. The next year Pedagogy of the Oppressed was released,although it took some years to be translated due to political feuds. After working in The USA and Switzerland, he eventually moved with his wife to Sao Paulo where he died in 1997 due to heart failure.
Oppression was believed to be Freires most contested social issue. Oppression is a constant and ever evolving struggle between those with power and those without it, between the oppressed and the oppressor. We all belong to one of these groups at certain points in our lives. There are numerous categories which can form our varying forms of as oppressor/oppressed such as: social class, gender, sexual orientation, age, sex and so on. Sometimes people use these categories as a mode to vent their own prejudiced ideologies, for example, someone of a particular race may steal from them, they then, in turn, may view all people from that race as thieves. This can also be seen the other way around where dominant groups may be victimized such as if a woman suffered some form of domestic abuse they may them blame all men. Both forms of mistreatment may hurt individuals equally case by case but mistreatment by women is systematic and socially accepted so the context within the mistreatment really makes a big difference (Sean Ruth 2006).Oppression is a word which people hear and often think of an authoritarian regime bent on totalitarianism. This is not always the case as Sean Ruth defines oppression as “where people do not get equal treatment or do not get treated with respect because they belong to a certain group or category of people”(Sean Ruth 2006). Oppression is a systematic process; it is not random. Many people internalize oppression, if someone is told something for long enough, they start to believe it. If someone Is told that they are stupid or ugly for long enough, then they begin to see it as fact.
Conscientization is defined by Ledwith as “the process whereby people become aware of the political, socioeconomic and cultural contradictions that interact in a hegemonic way to diminish their lives” (Ledwith 2005). Conscientisation means developing a critical consciousness which is pivotal to perceive social, political, and economic oppression and to take action against the oppressive elements of society.(Hermes press, no date). Conscientisation can result in collective action, or can even be applied individually to encourage critical analysis, metacognition and perhaps also to let go of long-held and oppressive worldviews.
Freire believed that the key to attaining conscientisation was through liberating and radical education, one such mode could be culture circles. This is a more informal teaching methodology where the focus is on group discussion and participation as opposed to an alienating syllabus. This is a form of liberating education.
Freire saw two perspectives two education. Firstly there was the banking approach where the student is seen as an empty account merely waiting to be filled by the teacher; this results in the students simply being receiving objects and little more. This keeps things as they are and educates individuals to fit into society. Secondly, there was the liberating approach; this can be implemented through methods such as culture circles. This allows both teachers and students to be co-learners where relevant knowledge can be sought together. Students are left with critical knowledge in a way that the banking approach to education could never provide. This results in the transformation of the status quo entirely. (Hope and Timmel 1995)
Freires concepts of oppression and conscientization have always impressed me and are most relevant in our current narcissistic era. In our current societies, we aspire to be cool, illiterate, egotistical and violent individuals. Not to seem like a political nihilist but we truly are victims of our past and upbringing, and that is why we do what we do now, we have little control. We have lost the knowledge of how precious real human liberty is. This is because our education systems have and are continuing to create a whole generation of distracted people. In Frieres own words:
“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? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.”(Friere 1968)