Pedagogy of the Oppressed Chapter 3
Pedagogy of the Oppressed—Paulo Freire
Translation by Myra Bergman Ramos
Chapter three of Freire’s work is essentially two parts: part one begins with a focus on the words that are the foundation of dialogue, leading into how dialogue creates themes in which humans interact with the world. Part two of this chapter is an example of a collection of guidelines for developing these themes and how to proceed in establishing a viable learning environment for the oppressed.
Dialogue is a form of communication. It is a strategy that employs words to convey and express needs and information between two or more humans. Words have two components, reflection and action, that create a radical interaction; thus they are considered true words. Freire asserts, “to speak true words is to transform the world” (p. 87). If words used in dialogue do not embody reflection and action, they are idle chatter; empty and useless to implement change. Empty words cannot denounce the world and thus support transformation, and there is no transformation without reflection and action. For people to speak true words and engage in true dialogue is the right of everyone. For genuine dialogue to occur, it must be authentic and accomplished by someone, not for someone. According to Freire, “dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants” (p. 89).
Freire continues his case for the importance of dialogue in the transformation of the world and thus the liberation of the oppressed. His perspective includes humanist qualities of compassion, commitment, and love for others as attributes dialogue must contain in order for it to be meaningful. ‘Love’ is not sentimental but must generate acts of freedom for all oppressed people in order for it to be a characteristic worthy of transformational dialogue. There also exists humility and faith in human kind contained in dialogue for meaningful transformation to occur. From all these qualities, mutual trust will develop. In a banking model of education, one where information is deposited in students, the quality of trust is absent. Finally, within education, dialogue must incorporate critical thinking of all participants. This line of cognition is dynamic. Communication is important to true education.
Authentic education is therefore carried on by the teacher with the student when true dialogue is implemented. Teachers must ask themselves what they will dialogue with the students about. Freire points out that educators cannot go to the laborers with a banking style of education to deposit knowledge or impose upon them the notion of a “good man” based on the conclusions of the oppressors. “Many political and educational plans have failed because their authors designed them according to their own personal views of reality…” (p. 94). Leaders and educators must use the language of the oppressed so that they may dialogue with them to learn from them.
Freire next offers the concept of themes in education, which can be as tools to liberate the oppressed. Generative themes are the components of the thematic universe of all peoples and these themes arise from dialogue. Generative themes are educational, political, or social topics important to the people whom they affect. These themes are important because, as humans, people have an historical existence and therefore can work to alter their world. Freire also describes limit situations within these themes. These limit-situations are identified as obstacles to ones’ liberation. People need to use the resources revealed through dialogue to work to surmount these limits.
These themes and an understanding of them give people a perspective of their reality. Themes exist when people interact with their world with reference to concrete facts, with generative themes intersecting and creating a thematic universe. Freire explains, “To apprehend these themes and to understand them is to understand both the people which embody them and the reality to which they refer” (p. 107). Once the reality is understood and recognized, people can begin to dialogue and work to liberate themselves and thus end oppression.
In problem-posing educational situations, Freire asserts that the students’ view of the world is what organizes the structure and creates the generative themes to be appraised. Through dialogical methods, teachers must work to “re-present” the universe revealed to the makers of that universe as a problem, not as a lecture to “deposit” information to the students.
In the second half of Freire’s chapter three, he provides an example of how to structure an adult education program. This model is for a literacy campaign with a post-literacy stage to address the illiteracy rates of a group of adults. It begins with the need to form a generative word that will be the focal point of the generative theme. Detailed and complete descriptions are given for each step in this crusade, and support much of what Freire has presented in his first two chapters.
The first stage is one where the investigators identify the area or group of constituents the campaign will address and the items which need to be explored. Objectives of the investigators must also be acknowledged, along with any difficulties and risks that may be encountered. Investigators should maintain a position of sympathetic observer while continuing to build understanding of the participants; they must disclose to the members of the group to be taught their intentions. This is done through informal dialogue between all participants. During this initial contact, there must be an establishment of mutual trust and understanding. Once a positive platform has been created, investigators must seek volunteers among the group participants to become active assistants in the entire endeavor.
When establishing the criteria for the project, it is imperative that investigators chronicle every aspect of life in the area including the language used by the people: their expressions, vocabulary, syntax, and especially how they construct their thoughts. This act of recording daily life should be shared by each investigator with others. True dialogue will develop from the shared awareness, and there may even be an opportunity to organize program content at this early stage.
During the second stage, Freire describes the evolution of codification and how it is used for thematic investigation. These codifications must be familiar to the people whose themes are being examined so they can relate to them and participate in establishing the process of recognition of their own reality. Codifications should not be too general or too explicit and “should be simple in their complexity and offer various decoding possibilities in order to avoid the brainwashing tendencies of propaganda” (p. 115). There should also be opportunities for codifications to expand in the direction of other themes. By employing the true thoughts and language of the participants, engaging them will be less of a struggle. From this process, materials for the campaign can be prepared to be implemented.
Stage three of the undertaking includes investigators returning to the people and conducting taped discussions decoding the prepared material in what Freire calls thematic investigation circles. These discussions should be recorded for an opportunity for examination by the team, offering them a chance to reflect on the project as a whole and their own view of their own reality. This process can assist with the investigators remaining objective and not revert to the role of oppressor. Not only do all participants need an objective perception of the situation, but their actions must assist in the struggle of people against the obstacles to their humanization.
The final stage Freire describes is where the investigators commence a systematic interdisciplinary study of their findings. He suggests that information gathered be classified into various categories of social sciences. These classifications should not be seen as the end of the investigation, but as general themes that are interrelated at many levels. These themes are never approached rigidly, in isolation, but considered in the reality of the people. After all the materials have been explored and discussed, the identified themes which have come from the people are returned to them, not as deposits in a banking education situation but as problems to be solved. At this point, the post-literacy stage and the education of the group of people can begin. Freire asserts that with libertarian education, the people come to “feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world explicitly or implicitly” (p. 124).
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