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Learning at its Best

Four Resolutions from Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been on my book list for years, and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. It is chock full of lessons for my teaching in 2013, and I thought I’d share four of the most important ones with you all.

ONE: Radical education takes place in communities, with students, not for them.


“Education 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.”

Teachers cannot hold themselves above their students in any way, nor think they have nothing to learn from the kids they spend their days with. We both have lots to learn and lots to teach. Any classroom must begin from that perspective. If we go into the classroom to be teachers, not learners, if we think of ourselves as the end-all-be-all of knowledge, we do nothing but embody paternalism and maintain oppression. We must be a community of learners – administrators, teachers, families, children – “The pursuit of full humanity…cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.”


TWO: Educators must take a side – we cannot be neutral.

“There is no such thing as neutral education process.”


Either we are supporting the status quo in our classrooms or uprooting it. Either we are encouraging our students to challenge their reality, to improve their communities, to revolutionize the world – or we are mandating they stay silent about the issues of racism, sexism, and classism they face every day.

THREE: We must include student voices in all facets of their education.


“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?”


Students know more about their circumstances than anyone else – we must listen to their voices and hold their experiences as valid. This means we ask student opinions on what they want to learn, as well as how and when they want to learn it. We must ask student opinions on us as their teachers – whether that be discussion groups or surveys. We must include student input when evaluating school culture, administrators, classroom size, standardized tests – we must include student input when we discuss reforms to the education system.

And not only must we ask their opinions – but we have to show students that their opinions are being taken into account and weighted heavily in any decision-making processes. Student suggestions should be discussed and implemented when we give them a seat at the table.

FOUR: Teachers must be activists.


“True solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality.”

We can’t talk to students about how important it is to change the world unless we are simultaneously fighting for equality both inside the classroom and beyond. We can’t affirm that the education system is broken, we can’t have conversations about teacher autonomy or student-led learning, we can’t share experiences about the faults of standardized testing, without simultaneously organizing to change the way these things work in our classrooms, without organizing to change the way our culture and society creates poverty and inequality.

Teachers can’t say they stand for education reform and leave the classroom behind at the end of the day without actively engaging in the community and actively engaging their legislators to make changes that support students, families, teachers, and communities.

If teachers believe that every student has a right to public education, and yet do nothing to help uphold this right, our affirmations are a farce, a disservice to the students alongside whom we work. This means we attend the meetings, we make the phone calls, we lobby our legislators, we go to the rallies, we speak out about the conditions within and beyond schools, we show our faces and amplify the voices of our students.

“To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.”

This year, I resolve to examine the power dynamic within my classroom, to identify myself as a teacher-student, to identify my students as students-teachers. I resolve to make my classroom one that challenges the status quo, that takes sides on issues of social justice, that encourages students to create their own visions of reality. I resolve to take student opinions seriously, to continue passing out surveys, to more deeply discuss their input in classroom and school culture. And finally, I resolve to take a more active role in the struggle for education justice – to end poverty, inequality, and oppression – and to support allied struggles in the U.S. and around the world.


About robinclane

Robin is an educator, writer, and activist living in Austin, TX. You can follow her on Twitter @robinclane or via her personal blog (


17 thoughts on “Four Resolutions from Pedagogy of the Oppressed

  1. My copy of this book is well-read. Your four resolutions are right on the money.

    Posted by ivonprefontaine | December 31, 2012, 10:09 pm
  2. Thanks for the succinct call to action and reminder of why Freire is so relevant. I recommend following Pedagogy of the Oppressed by reading another inspiring educator and community organizer: Myles Horton, who was the founder (with others) of the Highlander Folk School. “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change” documents an amazing conversation between Horton and Freire. “The Long Haul: An Autobiography” tells Horton’s story and the history of the Folk School. Both of these texts provide rich examples of your four resolutions in action.

    Posted by Jeremy | December 31, 2012, 11:53 pm
  3. Thank you for bringing Freire to the Coop in this way. He has been a truth-teller and meaning maker for me for decades.

    With appreciation,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | January 1, 2013, 5:32 pm
    • I second Kirsten’s thanks. I was not ready for Freiere the last time I read him in grad school.

      I think it’s paramount that we take sides in ways that help kids learn wherever we work with them. I am increasingly unable to buy into the notion of teaching authentically, but so kids also pass the tests. That rider lacks legitimacy in my eyes because of the way we – as a society and system – school and test children.

      Then again, I wish Congress would govern.

      Then again, there’s little chance of that until we graduate a citizenry that can find consensus and compromise – these notions and values need to be a part of how we teach, learn, wonder, and come together.

      Best regards,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | January 2, 2013, 8:17 pm
  4. This book helped change my thinking as a teacher and a writer. I wish this book was in every College of Education curriculum.

    Posted by Jeff Nguyen | January 1, 2013, 10:05 pm
  5. Reblogged this on Deconstructing Myths and commented:
    This is one of the books that changed my thinking as a teacher and a writer.

    Posted by Jeff Nguyen | January 1, 2013, 10:16 pm
  6. Reblogged this on Utopian Dreaming and commented:
    Some very important points about how and what we should be teaching the next generations. Both education and activism must be employed to lay the groundwork for positive social change.

    Posted by utopiandreaming | January 2, 2013, 5:42 pm
  7. My pedagogy is also greatly influenced by Freire’s work. I’ve had a similar post in my mind for quite a while; perhaps I’ll go for it now. The focus of my resolutions would be different, but I definitely appreciate yours. Thanks for doing this!

    Posted by Greg Graham | January 4, 2013, 3:11 pm
  8. Freire’s book has informed my teaching since I first began indoctrinating students. Well, he and Mao’s little red book.

    Posted by crispinrobles | January 6, 2013, 10:04 pm
  9. great post, great new year’s idea – thanks – i spread this around widely…(and crispinrobles above is just an ass)

    Posted by iteach4change | January 9, 2013, 9:41 am
  10. Just read your post and thought of something that Iwrote a while ago,

    Posted by Gyges | January 12, 2013, 10:25 pm


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