In the Summer LEAP class, we teach an excerpt of Paulo Freire’s “The Banking Concept of Education.” The students find it challenging but (with some close reading help) they really latch on to the problems of traditional education. (Even if one of them insisted on calling him Paulo Freeze.) As our educational system–at all levels–continues to get reduced to nothing more than a homogenous, conservative (in all senses of the word), corporatized, and instrumentalized hull, it’s important that we remember, embrace, and revitalize what Freire so stridently argued for:
Lessons From Paulo Freire
By Henry A. Giroux
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Paulo Freire was one of the most important educators of the 20th century. He occupies a hallowed position among the founders of “critical pedagogy”—the educational movement, guided by passion and principle, to help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action. He also played a crucial role in developing a highly successful literacy campaign in Brazil before he was jailed by the military junta that came to power in 1964, and then exiled. When Brazil once again offered the possibility of democracy (or at least amnesty), in 1980, Freire returned and played a significant role in shaping the country’s educational policies until his untimely death, in 1997. His groundbreaking book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has sold more than a million copies and is deservedly being commemorated this year—the 40th anniversary of its English translation—after influencing generations of teachers and intellectuals in the Americas and abroad.
Since the 1980s, no intellectual on the North American educational scene has matched either Freire’s theoretical rigor or his moral courage. And his example is more important now than ever before: With public institutions —including universities—increasingly under siege by conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge Freire’s understanding of the empowering and democratic potential of education. Critical pedagogy offers the best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in governing, and not simply to be governed.
Most universities are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to accountability measures, and run by administrators who lack both a broader vision and an understanding of education as a force for strengthening the imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education—once conceptualized as a public good—has been reduced to a private one. Universities are increasingly defined through a corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge, and credentials to build a work force that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in Chinese and Southeast Asian markets while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.
Against the regime of “bare pedagogy,” stripped of all critical elements of teaching and learning, Freire believed that education, in the broadest sense, was eminently political because it offered students the conditions for self-reflection and a self-managed life. As the sociologist Stanley Aronowitz has noted, Freire’s pedagogy helps learners “become aware of the forces that have hitherto ruled their lives and especially shaped their consciousness.”