Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been widely adopted in America’s teacher-training programs. A 2003 study by David Steiner and Susan Rozen determined that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was frequently assigned at top education schools.
So, if your child is being educated by one of the graduates of a “top education school” or any of the myriad of education schools which ape the top education schools (hint: almost all of them), there’s a very good chance that the education of such a teacher included this piece of unabashed Marxist – I gave up potty talk for Lent.
Imagine a young person, bright eyed, optimistic, and yet insecure, ignorant (which is how they justify going to college, right?) and desperate to fit in and get good grades. When an education professor gets out the trowel and starts laying this stuff on, how likely is a student to protest? Argue back? Call out manifest errors? How likely are they to even see any problems? They have been trained for years to please, not to think. Thus, our K-12 schools are full of teachers who
think feel this sort of nonsense is simple common wisdom. Our children marinate in those assumptions – for 12+ years.
Thinking I should do a detailed chapter by chapter review, pointing out what Freire means in practice. He alternates, roughly, between typical Hegelian gibberish and nice sounding passages about freedom and even love. One who is ignorant, gullible or both – as is nearly always the case with the products of our schools (hey, they’re kids – I was ignorant and gullible back then, too) – might find his words sympathetic – Christian, even. Yet one must remember that examples from history – what actually happens, not the “concrete historical reality” of Marx and Hegel, which consists of cherry-picked items hammered beyond recognition into the mangled shapes of theoretically acceptable outcomes – tend strongly to contradict everything Hegel, Marx, and Freire say. Half-truths are the coin of this realm. They ape truth enough to fool the inattentive, which is always how the better class of liars work.
Here are some samples from early in the book (I’m into the second chapter so far; don’t know how much of this I can stomach):
While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. (1) Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.
Clear? If so, let me muck it up for you. Imagine you’re a conventionally-educated young person, with a fresh diploma from any of the thousands of institutions governed by the sort of people who inflict the above on more or less innocent young people: have you ever been required to parse out anything this obtuse? Do the terms – humanization, axiological, ontological, historical reality, concrete, objective, context, uncompleted, conscious (Hegelian, Marxist, even a bit of Freud eventually) – mean anything to you? Would you even suspect that they don’t mean what common English might lead you to think they mean?
Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. There is approximately zero chance any 20-something in America who attends an education school has any substantial understanding of any of these things. In fact, K-12 training (it will hardly do to call it education) conditions children to regurgitate what the teacher or test expect.
If they did, they might know, for example (3):
“Humanization” – this term has a history. Hegel views the world as always Becoming, never Being – being is dead, only becoming is real. Therefore, we cannot talk about a duty to recognize the humanity in another person – that would be to talk about Being: being human. If we go down that road, we might expect to be called to treat all people as human beings (not human becomings!) and imagine that justice would require all of us to have, for example, unaliable rights and duties to each other.
No, much better from Freire’s and Marx’s perspective if we think of human beings as incomplete, in their rights, freedoms, and duties. Then, we can talk about how to violate some people’s rights in order to get other people their rights without ever using those terms – which might, just barely, cause a twitch of conscience.
“Historical reality” – much beloved concept by Hegelians and Marxists. One might imagine it means “what is evident looking at history”. What it really means is “how history looks once it has been tortured into a shape determined by Hegelian or Marxist theories.” Those theories, in turn, do not base their truth claims on anything observable in history, but rather on special insights gained by getting sprinkled with the right magic fairy dust – something like that. Just know that Hegelians and Marxists reject out of hand that one should be able to arrive at their conclusions by rigorous and logical examination of the facts on the ground – nope, as in all religions, they claim “I believe, so that I might understand”.
“Conscious” – this is a measure of how much you agree with Freire, Marx or Hegel. If you totally disagree, you consciousness is ‘false’; if you totally agree, your consciousness if high or complete. If you are (mercifully) unaware of the discussion, you are unconscious. Thus, whenever these folks speak of raising consciousness, they mean getting people to agree with them, generally the unconscious. It seems the kids these days use the term ‘woke’ in the same manner. In such a world, anyone who claims to thoroughly understand Marxist premises and nonetheless completely dismisses them – me, for example – becomes irredeemably evil – I don’t even *want* to have my consciousness raised! (My consciousness is already raised way higher than theirs, as I explain here.)
More important even than never having heard these Marxist notions explicitly laid out, our education victims have never heard them vigorously attacked. They assume such notions represent the universal educated view – and their teachers will never do anything to disabuse them.
With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the product of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.
Here we pull a neat trick, one very popular in modern Marxist thinking: Everything you, the designated oppressor does, is an act of violence; nothing I, the designated oppressed or victim, do can be violence by definition. Thus, a white person doing *anything* other than complete self-immolation on the altar of institutional racism is committing an act of violent oppression. Thus, personally being kind and accepting with no regard for a person’s race is – ready? – violent racist oppression. And inciting people to shoot and murder white policemen with no regard for the policemen’s personal behavior, or committing the actual murders themselves are – not violence, and cannot be. By definition.
Under Marxist and, indeed, Hegelian analysis, the Law of Noncontradiction (4) does not apply: something *can* both be and not be at the same time in the same way. The obvious violence involved in murder is not violence – because we say so. Oh, sure, in some *technical* petty way, blowing somebody’s brains out (or starving 20 million Ukrainian peasants, or taking a power drill to the heads of Cambodian children, or forcing Venezuelans to eat their pets, or refusing asylum to Cuban refugees) might be called violence by the small minded and those not yet woke, or otherwise laboring under false consciousness, but in the big picture, any means to achieving the glorious end is licit and commendable – and, per Freire, not violence.(5)
Thus, when thugs – excuse me, fully conscious individuals acting out of true fraternal love – threaten and beat people, burn cars, and destroy shops in order to prevent other people, people clearly laboring under false consciousness, from hearing wrong thoughts – well, only oppressors would call that the violent suppression of free speech! Orwell rolls his eyes.
In the same way, obvious kindness involved in acts of true generosity are not only not kindness, but are acts of violence and oppression UNLESS they further the cause of the revolution:
True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’, to extend their trembling hands. Real generosity lies in striving so that those hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human -hands which work and, by working, transform the world.
I believe Freire here means to evoke the image of, say, English landholder in Ireland who, by law, had to feed their starving Irish serfs – or, if it turned out to be cheaper, pay their passage to Canada or the US. There is no charity in such an arrangement, just business. And the goal clearly was to do whatever was cheapest to maintain the English as lords and owners, and the Irish as powerless serfs. History (again, what actually happens, not Marxist hamburger) does indeed present us with a nearly limitless supply of such cases. Brazil, where Freire spent years of his life, would not lack for examples.
We are intended to see cases of true oppression by means of violence and the threat of violence at the hands of invading conquerors as the type of false charity. But: if you were to ask Freire (or any Marxist): what about the charity of, say, nuns starting a school in the wild, feeding and clothing the children of the poor as well as teaching them? That happens a lot, too. He’d say, on principle, that those nuns are acting violently to perpetuate the oppressor’s dominance UNLESS they are PRIMARILY concerned with raising the consciousness of those children, to make them into Marxist revolutionaries. So, feed them, cloth them, teach them to read if you must, so long as those are steps on the way to making them little Comrades who are willing to commit any act of violence-that-is-not-violence to free the oppressed.
But, boy, it sounds so cool with no context, striving so that hands need less and less to be extended in supplication. Sounds like a free market guy, even. But helping people help themselves is not exactly what he means.
A full review would be another book. Sigh. We’ll see what we can do, if the interest is there.
- Not looking for pity, here – just read Mike Flynn’s excellent Captive Dream and his latest in Analog, so I’ve gotten a good solid fun read fix. I’ve willingly accepted the grim responsibility that motivates reading this other stuff. As those addicted to outrage evince, getting worked up does have its meager, transient and probably not good for you rewards.
- An amusing tidbit: in the translation I’ve downloaded onto my Kindle, the translator uses traditional Marxist jargon – man, New Man, mankind – and, when referring to ‘the worker’ or the ‘new man,’ uses the generic pronouns he, him, his. The translation linked above is more recent, and so refers to New Person, humankind, and uses ‘he or she’ etc. Seems that even Freire himself, or at least his translator, was trapped within an oppressor construct, and his apparent good-will and generosity were self-serving delusions, merely tools of oppression designed to maintain the oppressor/oppressed dynamic. In other words, he ain’t woke. But: a still more recent translation, if such exists, would of course use ‘zur’ or whatever the heck made up pronouns the kids these days are using, revealing even the newer (2000) translation as socially constructed to maintain the current oppressor paradigm. I’m sure even now in a classroom somewhere, Freire is being held up as an oppressor in sheep’s clothing for the delectation of wide-eyed 19 year olds. And then the next translation…
- Please note that this is a way high-level analysis. I know it’s not complete. What I’m trying to do is give a flavor of the sort of thing that will likely never get discussed, because neither the student or the teacher have much of an idea of what’s going on in the text.
- The contradiction is suspended in the dialectical synthesis (murder of oppressors isn’t violence) of thesis (murder is violence) and antithesis (but I really want to!) – suspended, but not contradicted or resolved in any way accessible to a rational person using logic as understood by anybody who is not a Hegelian. Because Marx says so.
- Dewey, an earlier education theory god, from his perch high in the education pantheon, likewise excused Soviet atrocities as simply necessary pragmatic steps – the only meaningful way one could say murder, even murders rising to the level of statistics, was ‘wrong’ is if it failed to achieve its end. (Note to the note: yes, I am aware of the dispute around whether Stalin actually said that line, but given his actions, misattributing it to him seems a fairly tame error.)