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.