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Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of the foundational texts in the field of critical pedagogy, which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.


A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.

In one sense, Freire's philosophy of history supplies grounds for hope, especially for oppressed peoples. "[D]ehumanization," he counsels, "although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order." On the other hand, this perspective may lead to despondency and anguish when oppression seems to have the upper hand. What if man's historical vocation were not liberation, but enslavement? A terrible thought. "[T]o admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation," writes Freire, "would lead either to cynicism or total despair." In that case, "the struggle for humanization...would be meaningless." Freire thus places a great burden on his readers as agents of history. The task is one of painful struggle. The results are uncertain.

The first stage of education thus begins with an awakening awareness that oppression is in fact man-made, unjust, and transformable. It ends with the success of the revolution. The second stage might be described as the "post-revolution," except that Freire takes a rather dynamic view of revolution according to which "there is no absolute 'before' or 'after,' with the taking of power as the dividing line." However that may be, once power has been taken, the goal of education ceases to be liberation from oppression, since the oppressor-oppressed contradiction will have then been transcended. The goal, rather, is communal struggle against persistent ideas that limit human freedom.

Because the oppressors will be bent on maintaining their status, they can never take part in the changes that must occur; only the oppressed can bring about change. The situation of oppression is "a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they oppress," but it is only "the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity." "Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed," he adds, "will be sufficiently strong to free both" the oppressed and their oppressors.

Freire wrote his book at a particular time with a particular set of oppressed people in mind. He knew what oppression was because he witnessed it firsthand. Freire himself suffered from poverty and hunger during the Great Depression and was imprisoned for 70 days in Brazil after the 1964 coup. But Freire's book is not read today by people who suffer from the same kinds of oppression that Brazilian agricultural laborers suffered during the mid-20th century. Rather, it is read by American college students and their teachers who, if they suffer from oppression at all, suffer from something less physical and more subtle than what Freire had in mind.

Another problem with Freire's teaching is that, while it aims at eliminating alienation, it can only increase it. Indeed, an explicit goal of Freire's pedagogy is "the overcoming of alienation" by making the world fit for liberated human beings. But Freire's method of combating alienation is to "confront reality critically, simultaneously objectifying and acting upon that reality." To "objectify" means to distance oneself from, to take a critical attitude toward, to see the world as an object different from, or alien to, the subject that is "I." In other words, "to objectify" means "to alienate."

What about their comrades, though? Don't the oppressed enjoy genuine relationships with those who stand by their side and assist them in the fight against oppression? Not really. While Freire does insist on the importance of community, he simultaneously isolates the individual in his vocational labors. On the one hand, the "pursuit of full humanity...cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity." Yet on the other hand, no one can be liberated by another, no one can receive independence "as a gift"; one must earn it for oneself. This leads Freire to his paradoxical position that "I cannot think for others or without others, nor can others think for me." This is a strangely isolating and impossible teaching. Each of us has a vocation that only we can achieve for ourselves. It cannot be accomplished by others, nor yet without others. Freire may recognize the need for solidarity and comradeship, but he describes us as fundamentally alone.

Chapter 1The justification for a pedagogy of the oppressed; the contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed, and how it is overcome; oppression and the oppressors; oppression and the oppressed; liberation: not a gift, not a self-achievement, but a mutual process.

In their political activity, the dominant elites utilize the banking concept to encourage passivity in the oppressed, corresponding with the latter's "submerged" state of consciousness, and take advantage of that passivity to "fill" that consciousness with slogans which create even more fear of freedom. This practice is incompatible with a truly liberating course of action, which, by presenting the oppressors slogans as a problem, helps the oppressed to "eject" those slogans from within themselves. After all, the task of the humanists is surely not that of pitting their slogans against the slogans of the oppressors, with the oppressed as the testing ground, "housing" the slogans of first one group and then the other. On the contrary, the task of the humanists is to see that the oppressed become aware of the fact that as dual beings, "housing" the oppressors within themselves, they cannot be truly human.

The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come to feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world explicitly or implicitly manifest in their own suggestions and those of their comrades. Because this view of education starts with the conviction that it cannot present its own program but must search for this program dialogically with the people, it serves to introduce the pedagogy of the oppressed, in the elaboration of which the oppressed must participate.

But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people's vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.

Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within history; but it is not an historical vocation. Indeed, to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to cynicism or total despair. The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of labor, for the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as persons would be meaningless. This struggle is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.

Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed:to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to "soften" the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their "generosity," the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this "generosity," which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.

This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves and from those who are truly solidary with them. As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. 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. 041b061a72


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