On reading Freire

I’m spending the Summer reading for comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. focusing on critical pedagogy.  Today, I read the short book, “Education for Critical Consciousness” by Paulo Freire.  In these posts, I’d like to just briefly comment on parts of my readings that inspire me, and hope you comment on them too.

I feel I’m in conversation with the authors as I read them.  Today Paulo told me: “Education is an act of love, and thus an act of courage. It cannot fear the analysis of reality or, under pain of revealing itself as a farce, avoid creative discussion” (34).  I have heard this quote repeated and seen it replicated in conversation and on social media; usually, the quote ends at “act of love”.  It makes education seem all touchy feely.  It re-inscribes the common myth that teachers are self-less, magnanimous martyrs, or they should be in order to be good teachers.  Yes, teachers are extremely giving for the most part, but they are professionals, not volunteers.  Too often I hear people say, “Oh you’re a teacher? Wow. Thank you”.  As much as I appreciate the sentiment behind comments like these, they have a hint of condescension.  Yes, teachers are shamefully underpaid, intentionally so.  But to portray teachers as merely selfless and loving is an insult to their need for a quality of life and professional respect.  And, moreover, education is hard.  I often think of the connection between discomfort and learning—how often we must go beyond our comfort zone to have truly memorable experiences.  Furthermore, love is hard.  We are often the most brutal and honest—sometimes regrettably—with the people we most love.  If education is an act of love, it is the “strong, demanding” love articulated by Dr. King, not the commodified hippie logo.

But what gets lost in the appreciation of this quote is the remaining part that deals with courage and the bravery to subject one’s self to critique, to see a painful truth, and perhaps that possibility that that truth reveals ourselves as complicit in a dehumanizing system that equates knowledge with test scores, truth with “work” and eduction with schooling.  How often do teachers fear loss of face in front of their class?  Why does our common understanding of “education” mean authoritarianism, where a teacher is defined by “knowing all the answers”?  What does it take for a teacher to sit at eye-level with students and value their questions, concerns and ability to reason independently?

This reminds me of Paulo’s discussion of theory.  “Our education”, he writes, “was not theoretical…I was concerned…to rid our education of its wordiness, its lack of faith in the student and his power to discuss, to work, to create” (33). Critical pedagogy is a different paradigm completely—one that radically re-defines commonsense understandings of knowledge, teaching, learning, truth, culture and authority.  It is neither liberal nor conservative.  Critical pedagogy critiques the liberal view of schooling as equalizing and egalitarian, as well as the conservative view of “high culture”, accountability and standardization—generally the entire neoliberal project that subjects everything to the market place and the demands of capital.  Perhaps that is another blog post altogether.



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