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Reading Freire (the rest) and feel free to comment on Dewey too

jccohen's picture


abenjamin's picture

Passion and Creativity in Freire

While reading Freire's final chapters, I was extremely struck by the level of passion that he argues is necessary in teaching. He writes about love and commitment to a cause as requirements for effective dialogues, liberations, and successful teaching. "It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love." Freire's thoughts here correspond with how i feel about arts education (and education overall). As teachers we must commit ourselves fully to our cause. Our excitement and passion for our fields will inspire students to also find passion in them. When educators and leaders display their own love for their subjects, and encourage their students through dialogues of actions and reflections, they take a major step away from the banking method of teaching. When there exists a mutual passion (and when teachers can inspire that passion in their students), educators and learners can bridge the gap (between oppressed and oppressor) through dialogue.

jccohen's picture

passion for the work


I too am struck by Freire's words about the role of passion or love in education; in fact, each time I read Freire I think I'm a little surprised by how openly he addresses this -- as opposed to the split between the 'academic' and the 'emotional' in a lot of ed-related texts and talk.  You note (and I agree) that he's talking about 'passion for our fields,' at least in part.  Do you also read him as talking about educators loving our students?  I'm intrigued by your final sentence, and the idea that 'mutual passion' can 'bridge' the oppressor-oppressed gap via dialogue -- I'd love to hear more about how you see this working!


ccalderon's picture

Reading Response

Reading post on Freire second part

After reading this book, it very closely reminded me of the sociology classes I have taken. Freire’s book reminded me of Marx and his ideas on “the colonizer” and “the colonized”-i.e. “the oppressor” and the “oppressed”. This made me further think about the dynamics of separation and like in our previous class I was a bit skeptical on the idea that people can fit perfectly into this category. Talking about who fits in what category and what teaching methods work and do not work. I was curious to continue the book and see what else Friere had pushed the boundaries on.

He goes more into this idea of “limit situation” and the ideas of “human praxis”. This part in his book made me question life in its entirety and found myself a bit more confused but remembered to try and relate this back to education. When trying to apply his work into education I found a bit more connection than expected. Friere argues that to help the oppressed people, we must enter into solidarity with them and therefore join the oppressed. Like in our other class we talked deeply about false generosity. So is the only way to help the oppressed is to be the oppressed and where does this consciousness come into play. What I mean to say do those who are the oppressors have that same consciousness that those that are oppressed have? Is it possible to “educate” oppressed people living in poverty to give them an awareness of their situation? I think they may not necessarily have to be taught of their situation. This part is where I didn’t really coincide with Freire- in the sense that they may need to be educated about their situation. But I think we already know and maybe instead of educating on the situation but giving the tools in order to overcome their oppressors. But then this whole idea of the teachers giving the students tolls to overcome their oppressors may sound like false generosity or where the teachers themselves may manipulate the students into still being the oppressed. I am still struggling with these ideas.

In the last chapter Freire talks about what to use in order to free those who are oppressed or colonized through cooperation, unity, and organization in his section on “divide and rule”.  This made me think about him giving suggestions or tools on how to overcome the oppressors which is like a teacher of the classroom.  There are many dichotomies that he talks about in the book but the one that I focused more on was the student-teacher and the oppressed-oppressor dichotomy.  Over all, this book made me really think about what as future teacher some of us may have to deeply think about our classroom environments. When Feire rejects the idea of “traditional education” as it is there to oppress it made me think about what is now considered traditional and non-traditional. What does this separation do to the classroom?

Side note:

How could Freire's pedagogy for the oppressed be applied in to public school classroom, which are typically institutions of oppression? Or how could this be taught in schools?

jccohen's picture

so many rich questions here!


I appreciate the way you're really struggling to understand, apply, and question some of Freire's key ideas here.  I'm especially thinking about this question of whether 'the oppressed' need to be educated about their own circumstances.  You note that you think they know about this but may need the 'tools to help them overcome the oppressor,' which is of course tricky b/c educators might also be part of an oppressor group.  This whole question of who has the full, accurate understanding of the conditions of oppression is a difficult one.  What if (as Freire uses as an example) people locate oppression in their low wages, and the educator thinks this is true but not a broad enough perspective -- who's got the more accurate picture of the world here?  And this matters in terms of tools for change since in the first instance tools might be geared to the individual but in the second to a broader organizing effort... 

Great last question about public schools; what do you think -- is this possible?

mschoyer's picture

Friere response

"On the other hand, it would be a false premise to believe that activism (which is not true action) is the road to revolution" (125). This quote, from the beginning of Chapter 4, reminds me a lot of the conversation we had during the last class- the idea of giving to charity because it looks good/benefits yourself and how you feel, as opposed to actually wanting to help others. While I don't think this is exactly what Friere was getting at through this quote, it made me think about how the same action can be very different from person to person depending on their intentions. There is a huge difference between doing something for the purpose of serving yourself, as opposed to doing something to help others.

I have now been thinking a lot about that concept in regards to teaching. How many people get into education because they consider it a fall back or just a temporary job before moving on to something else? As a college student who is planning on working for a teaching residency, I have seen many programs marketed to students looking to, for lack of a better phrase, "kill time" before moving onto another career. While in no way do I think teaching needs to be the final career path for anyone who ever teaches, it is important to keep in mind that as a teacher, you are directly influencing the lives of others. Good teachers are those who are acting with their students' best interest in mind, rather than their own.

jccohen's picture

depending on our intentions


That's a good point about the intentions we bring to the work we do, and I think Freire would agree that this is key but perhaps he (or maybe I) would raise two caveats:  First, in this case ongoing and honest self-awareness becomes crucial in order for us to truly know and convey our intentions, and secondly, being attuned to others' perspectives means that we acknowledge that what we intend is one thing but it's also important how we're perceived.  So 'acting with (our) students' best interests in mind' is of course crucial, but then also being open to how others including our students perceive our actions may help us go deeper in term of self-knowledge and action.  What do you think?

lyoo's picture


In that quote I think Friere's main point was that activism is not true action when the subjects of a leader are not allowed to think or reflect upon things for themselves. If subjects are merely manipulated by an more powerful class to perform certain actions, then that is no road to this ideal revolution that Friere envisions. 

I think this idea ties in nicely to the issue of superficial charity that you brought up.  I think superficial activism has become a big part of our culture today and it causes more problems than it supposedly solves. I think that a chairty or welfare program should not be judged its intentions (because all charities are supposed to have good intentions), but by its actual results. For example, KONY 2012 was such a big campaign and many people bought into it because it seemed like the moral and responsible thing to do. But once people started questioning whether their goal-- to send US troops into Northern Uganda-- would actually promote peace in the area of the world, some people were more wary of donating money to this cause. I think a truly charitable and genuinely sympathetic person cares enough to carefully research the actual consequences of the actions of a certain program or charity that was meant to benefit the oppressed in society. 

I think TFA is another example. TFA, while their intentions are good in the sense that they want to supply teachers to low-income schools, creates a number of problems that only play into the broken system we have today. The fact that their teachers are untrained, and barely educated in the field of education lowers the standards of teachers. Their 2-year minimum commitment program only worsens the teacher retention rate in these low-income schools. 

I think Friere is right when he says that we must not simply do things for the sake of activism, but also reflect and truly think about the real consequences of the various charities and welfare programs we have today. 

jccohen's picture

rethinking intentions and action


Your call for us to 'reflect and truly think about the real consequences' of our various actions for the 'public good' is a reminder very much in the spirit of Freire's understanding of praxis.  And yet this does not guarantee, of course, any single 'answer' or way of viewing an intervention like TFA; for example, some TFA teachers do strong work, stay in teaching, etc.  So we're in the tricky and demanding situation of having to do some real scrutinizing -- of ourselves as well as of external situations -- in order to 'intervene' as the intrinsically 'historical beings' that Freire sees us as.  I think this entails living in the dialectic of action and reflection...quite a challenge!

AmbrosiaJ's picture

I completely agree. Do you

I completely agree. Do you agree as well that there should be some sort of "revolution" to change the norm when it comes to hiring teachers? Is it fair that individuals can use teaching as a "fall back plan" without having an actual connection or desire to truly change the lives of children? I think this is something that's extremely important and should be addressed. Whether you're applying for a post-grad opportunity of if you're a grown woman in search of employment, your genuine desire is essential to your effectiveness as a teacher, as well as the success of  your students. 

jccohen's picture

hiring teachers


I agree that 'genuine desire is essential' for teachers, and I think this connects with Freire's emphasis on passion for education (see Abenjamin's comment) but...I'm worried about trying to mandate this for several reasons:  First, how do you assess this as a criteria for teaching, and secondly, what about those people who enter teaching for those other reasons you refer to and end up loving it, and being good at it?  I understand and share  your frustration and yet...

dshu's picture

I appreciate reading your

I appreciate reading your response to Friere because I also question about the idea of giving. I do think that participating in a charity or any kind of service to make one look good is not as meaningful as doing it from the heart. The last sentence of your first paragraph made a very strong argument because I have met people in my life who follow those characteristics. I do agree that each person has his/her own viewpoint, but a part of me always wanted me to tell that person who is doing something because it looks good (ie, for college or resume) is not the right approach, but rather one should be doing things he or she enjoy or appreciate in life.

For me, I have always wanted to help people in any way I can since I was 5 years old. At first, I wanted to become a pediatrician, but then turned to the idea of teaching in senior year of high school because of the positive influence that I received from my 12th grade calculus teacher. Since then, I have noticed that people do take the advantage or abuse the power to make himself/herself "look" better. I question a lot about the services that are available for “teaching after the college life”. I do agree that going into something that "kills time" or doing a program because everyone is doing it, is not at all the right approach. In addition, a teacher plays a big and important role to  students. However, I have noticed that those who choose this option sometimes can become really successful or has finally found their passion. Sometimes risk taking or trying something new may lead to a positive outcome. Therefore, teaching from the heart or following the crowd to join teaching profession is up to individual.  

jccohen's picture

positive influence of your calculus teacher


I'm interested to hear more about what your Calculus teacher did that made you turn your desire to 'help people' toward the idea of teaching.  And -- do you see teaching as a form of the 'action and reflection' that Freire talks about?  You note that teachers play 'a big and important role to students,' and I could see this playing out in Freirian terms and also in other terms; what does this mean for you?

dshu's picture

RE: positive influence of your calculus teacher


When I had questions on a topic/homework/review sheet before exam, I would e-mail her right away and she would respond back to me and inform me at the end of her e-mail if I had any other questions to please let her know. In addition, sometimes I could even meet with her early morning before school began around 7:50 AM. By going to her for help, I have witnessed her dedication to her students, which has made a very positive impact on me.

Tying to Freire, he promotes “dialogue” to transform the world. “Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow" (80). Dialogue is a praxis that engages words with love, humility, and faith to exchange information, which leads to critical thinking between two parties. For dialogue to occur, it must be genuine and accomplished by someone, and not for someone. Teacher with the student carries on an authentic education when true dialogue is implemented.

He analyzes dialogue and writes, “Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed - even in part - the other immediately suffers" (87). According to Freire, reflection and action are the essence of words. They are interacted radically. They make a word true. A word without action is verbalism. A word without reflection is activism. Dialogue cannot be reduced to either verbalism or activism. Freire also says, "Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection" (88).

Needing extra support in pursuing my math questions, I took action to confront my math teacher through e-mails, and she responded to me with reflection while answering my questions. As human beings, we should not be afraid to communicate with each other. My action was reaching out to the teacher and the reflection came out to be a positive and informative response. The two of us were able to create dialogue throughout the year in regard to a certain topic-- calculus. There was no "domination" of who knew the subject better than the other. My calculus teacher not only was enthusiastic in teaching mathematics but also "loved" her students. She wanted her students to succeed. As Freire mentioned, “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for the people" (89). I was able to encounter love from my teacher for her commitment to her students. My high school calculus teacher has played a big and important role to me.

Riley's picture

in response to your thoughts:

I completely agree! Freire writes that "solidarity requires true communication, not just co-existence." If a humanist revolutionary educator is a true partner of her students, and if true consciousness is being able to understand one's relation with the world, not just in it, how can someone who thinks of charity as looking good or benefitting the self above all truly be doing "good work?" This person is just "'buying' peace for him/herself" (127).

I think what you are hinting at is that the intentionality of an action is what makes the act what it is. And taking action must always take into account dialogue. Self-involved reasons for taking up revolutionary causes is not true action because any attempt to mobilize change of any sort cannot be successful without a person understanding their place WITH the world (true solidarity), not just IN it (self-involved action). That applies to "activism" as well as teaching. Critical consciousness means intervening in the world to become a transformer of the world.

jccohen's picture

'WITH the world not just IN it'


I like the distinction you're making between looking to 'understand our place' and, I'd add, do our work 'with' rather than just 'in' the world.  You also note that 'taking action must always take into account dialogue,' and I'd like to hear more about how you see this.  I'm thinking that dialogue in Freirian terms has to do with how we'd get to that 'with,' and when I think about this specifically in relation to teaching, it seems to me that one way is in the lengthy process Freire describes as "conscientizacion" in which teachers work with 'insiders' to locate cultural themes that will crack open analysis and thus critical literacy.  What's occurring to me in relation to your framing of the 'with' is that this is an ongoing process, rather than that more singular process to get to culture circles...  Your thoughts?

sully04's picture

Friere and the 'black box'

Similar to what my peers have noticed about Friere’s focus on ‘good intentions’ and leadership, I was struck by this idea that good leaders can sometimes go astray. Friere writes, “revolutionary leaders do not go to the people in order to bring them a message of ‘salvation,’ but in order to come to know, through dialogue with them, both their objective situation and their awareness of that situation the various levels of perception of themselves and of the world in which and with which they exist. One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people,” (95).

This quote strikes a chord with me as both an anthropology major and future teacher. I have studied many times over the ways in which the anthropologist or field researcher can go into a new situation with the thought that they will ‘save’ a people or a culture, only to realize that they were wrong about many things. In her ethnography Thin Places, Ann Armbrecht recounts the notion of going into fieldwork with a ‘black box’- an argument that you think you are prepared to make about a group of people without even doing the research: a preconceived notion. Friere’s concept of leader as bringing salvation- being more concerned with one’s own ideas rather than the community’s – is like going in with a black box of ideas that are made before even experiencing what is needed.  

In thinking about the classroom, it would be easy for new teaches to assume that they can change the world of their students. It may be true that great teachers can do this, but, it is not without the knowledge of each individual in her classroom- of their goals, their culture, their family life, etc.- that a teacher can make a difference. Friere’s words are important for new teachers to remember: “one cannot expect positive results from an educational program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people.” 

jccohen's picture

working outside the black box


I appreciate the way you're looking at the anthropologist and the teacher together in this light, and the black box is a helpful way to think about what we bring that we may not even realize we're bringing.  A key question that your post raises for me is how to actually become aware of our 'blac boxes,' and I'm using this now as a kind of metaphor for our assumptions, expectations, etc., so that we can actually hear what others (our students, in the education case) are saying.  Freire goes through a pretty lengthy and complex description of the process teachers need to go through to understand and, in a sense, begin with students' perspectives.  As an anthropologist and/or as an educator, what do you see as a realistic and effective way to hear others' 'particular views of the world'?

rbp13's picture

In reading the second half of

In reading the second half of Freire's book, I too was struck by the first quote that Hannah mentions. Throughout the text, the concept of action and the need for the oppressed to assume an active role in their transformation has been salient to me, since I can easily relate this idea to the expectations that I intend to have for my students. In Chapter 4, Freire isolates dialogue as a specific and necessary type of action. He writes, "Its [revolution's] very legitimacy lies in that dialogue. It cannot fear the people, their expression, their effective participation in power. It must be accountable to them" (128). As Freire's discussion of action allowed me to develop ideas regarding what I will expect of my students, his discussion of dialogue caused me to further consider my role as a teacher. How will I facilitate the genuine transformation of my students without imposing specific action on them? How will I ensure that they are independently engaging in "reflection and action", rather than merely acting on the reflections that I have presented to them? Essentially, how do I make sure that my students are being truly empowered through the learning process, and deriving personal meaning and significance, rather than simply being passive recepticles of information?     

Ultimately, I agree with Freire's assertion that dialogue is the key. Although Freire does not specifically identify the student as the oppressed and the teacher as the oppressor, I think that dialogue is a vital component of the teacher-student relationship and an essential tool in motivating students to assume and active role in their own learning. It is through such open and honest conversation that students and teachers enter into a partnership; a dynamic of mutual respect with an understanding that both parties can learn from the other. As Hannah mentioned in her post, the teacher cannot enter the relationship and primarily be concerned with her own interests or what she perceives as being the interests of the population with whom she is working. Rather, she must engage in a dialogue with this population and encourage them to tell her, in their own words, what their best interests are. It is through recognizing these interests that the population (in this cast the students), will assume responsibility for achieving them. Once they establish a desired outcome, they can begin to develop the process necessary to achieve it. This process should be developed in tandem by the teacher and her students, but should be driven by the goals of the students rather than the teacher alone.      

jcb2013's picture

Respecting Culture

The quote that you posted from Freire is one that I noted while reading the second half of Freire. I thought that your take on the passage was similar to mine, as influenced by my personal experiences in field placements.

 All of my field placements have been in urban ed., and I feel while your point applies everywhere, I personally see it specifically in urban ed. Because of the many stereotypes surrounding urban education many people enter the field without ever working in an urban environment before expecting certain things, prepared with certain solutions.  Broad theories are taught (which do have value), but can't always be applied in the ways that they are intended.  When entering a community, a school, and a classroom all theories , expectations, and solutions must be adjusted to that particular environment.  It is important to take into account and respect the culture of the environment you have entered.  

While this is relevant for all teachers, it is especially relevant when considering the prevalence of teaching residencies today.  Residencies primarily recruit college students and career changers to urban ed. and rural ed.  While individuals from those communities are encouraged to apply for these programs, realistically these programs bring a lot of "outsiders" into these communities to teach.  When this occurs, teaching residents must work to learn about the communities that they are joining, the culture of their environment, and their students in order to create a benefitial and mutually respectful relationship with their students.  

This reminds me of the text we read by Sherman Alexie about his Native American upbringing on the first day of class. At one point in the text (pg. 1) he discusses Betty Towle, his missionary teacher.  He discusses how she disrespected his Indian culture stating, "Indians, indians, indians. She said it without capitalization."  This is a prime example of teachers entering a community, and overlooking the current culture in order to impose their own solutions and methods.  Freire poses an important point in the statement that you referenced in explaining the importance of not saving students, but opening dialoging with students in order to include them in their own education. 

jccohen's picture

teacher residency programs


You make a great point about teacher residency programs. In fact, 'alternative certification' programs are set up to almost inevitably attract large numbers of outsiders into a community, and the people running the programs are also not generally from the communities, and since these are usually two year commitments there's also not an element built in that would facilitate program-community connections.  Given all of this, how could these programs rethink their methods along these lines, or more immediately, how could individuals going into these programs adjust their entry to provide some ways of learning from and about the communities they're entering?

Sharaai's picture

Thank you for mentioning this

Thank you for mentioning this aspect of teaching and the experience that some people expect you to have when you decided to go on the teaching path. In particular, I am thinking about the thoughts and preconceptions that come along with teaching programs/fellowship like Teach For America or Math for America. I find that some are congratulated for going into these programs, acknowledging them as more of a transition phase than a concrete path. I sometimes worry that my interest in these programs could be in the category of teachers thinking they have a black box but I must take a step back from it and realize that if I am conscious of these ideas that I am conscious enough to keep an open mind when putting myself into a teaching position.

I appreciate that Freire brings up the fact that educators need to be aware of the environment they are in and those that they may be teaching in order to make a productive environment for both parties involved.


jccohen's picture



Yes, to my mind, your saying that you're 'conscious of these ideas,' e.g. what you're bringing by way of assumptions and expectation, is key.  And to go to Freire for a minute, I think he's absolutely NOT speaking from the expectation that educators can or should be 'perfect' in this way -- in fact, since he sees being in process and 'unfinished' as defining what it is to be human, your idea about staying conscious and reflective while entering and working with a school community seems to me exactly the point. 

hl13's picture

Friere informing curriculum

Reading the rest of Friere, I kept on thinking about our discussion from last week about how we can bring Friere's very abstract ideas into the practical classroom. I think a huge part of developing a curriculum and pedagody that would help to "liberate the oppressed" would be to acknowledge who the students are and how they specifically relate to the curriculum, because this does not always happen. In a New York Times article about Philadelphia schoolchildren, the author argues that the lack of Latino and other children of color in the books they read for school is an obstacle in their engagement with and improvement in reading. Here is a link to the article:

Friere writes that "People are fulfilled only to the extent that they create their world... and create it with their transformative labor." I think in many ways its hard for children to "create their world" in school if what they see and learn about does not relate to their own lives. It would seem that their "transformative labor" would be more readily motivated by a sense of their contribution to a world of stories and people that look like them, do the things they do, and come from the types of places and from families like their own. This idea extends from reading to many other subjects: history, music, art, even math and science. While subjects need to be taught in different ways, it should always be clear to students (whether they deeply recognize it at the time or not) that this information will help them in the world.

Furthermore, any lack of informing students of their role in the world be excluding them from curriculum might be what Friere calls cultural invasion. He writes, "Cultural invasion is on the one hand an instrument of domination and on the other, the result of domination." In this case, I believe a narrow curriculum characterized an intrument of domination and a form of repression, even when it's unintentional or subtle.

jccohen's picture

curriculum: transformative labor or cultural invasion?

Hannah M,

I like a lot the way you look at curriculum as potentially the very material for transformative teaching and learning and on the other a potential 'cultural invasion.'  To take this a next step, while it's certainly highly relevant that students' own 'role in the world' be explicitly evident in the curriculum, an additional way to come at this has to do with approaching any aspects of curriculum through the lens of the particular students' role in the world; for example, what would it look like to teach those books with white characters from a perspective of a Latino/a school community?  Of course, we need both these approaches to curriculum to do the kind of work you (and Freire) are talking about...

Laura H's picture


I completely agree that it is important for students to "see themselves" in their curriculum. However, I wonder in what ways this is possible when you have a class of students from such a wide range of backgrounds. Freire's idea of "creating their world" in school is a very interesting concept, yet it is not necessarily grounded in a practical example. One connection I made to this idea was in my field placement, when the students read the book Passing, which addressed issues of white and black identities. While not all the students in the class were white or black, the teacher led a discussion about broader issues of discrimination, racism, and privilege. All the students could relate to this in some way, but they were also encouraged to understand both the similarities and the differences they were bringing to the classroom. The teacher acknowledged that not all students would feel the same way about a topic, but that these differences lead to productive discussions. Like you said, this could extend beyond reading or English and relate to many other subjects. 

jccohen's picture

'creating their world'

Laura H,

This is a rich classroom example of how Freire's notion of curriculum as emergent from and reflecting back onto learners might actually play out in pulic schools.  I'm interested in the way you talk about the use of the text Passing in terms of not only content (which, as you say, might apply more to some than others -- and given its historical setting, might in a literal sense not apply) but also the way the teacher framed and interrogated content in relation to his students.  Part of what I find striking here is the sense I get that this was a kind of negotiation among teacher and students, with the text as the mediating force.  This can be powerful as teaching and learning!  and yet too it seems like a continual challenge for the teacher not to overstep and assume knowledge about and of the students...

ellenv's picture

conscious/unconscious; localized/focalized

After reading the entirety of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, there were two different distinctions that Freire raises in separate parts of the text that I wished he had been more explicit about. The first is the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness in the process of oppressing and being oppressed.  Throughout the text, Freire employs active language when referring to oppressors. The work that oppressors engage is in calculating and intentional for the purpose of creating, maintaining, and perpetuating the status quo. To me, then, it would seem that Freire is arguing that the act of oppression is conscious. Freire’s description of the oppressed (prior to dialogue, revolution, and liberation), on the other hand, is that of an unconscious pawn who has barred from seeing the truth of their situation and subsequently unable to liberate themselves/their oppressors. While the oppressed do gain a level of consciousness when this truth is illuminated, it is not without a sense of danger: that they will become the oppressor, that they will come to fear liberation. Freire does allow that oppressors can occupy an unconscious-oppressive role when they inherit their status of oppression, however, this caveat does not seem fully developed. My main question is how Freire would account for an intersection between consciousness and unconsciousness, for the idea of consciousness and unconsciousness cannot be untangled. This question could partly come from the fact that Freire speaks in dichotomous terms, as we acknowledged last class, and therefore the interplay between consciousness/unconsciousness may not be central to the text.


The second distinction that I wish Freire dedicated more space to addressing directly is the distinction between focalized and localized. This is less because I had questions about Freire’s separation between of these two concepts, and more because I think this distinction is often tricky to balance in teaching. Ultimately, what I get from this distinction is that it is necessary to see both the trees and the forest; that both the big picture and the little details are important, but that it is the connection between the two that is necessary above all else. While it is important to tailor education to the community that you are working with, education should not be confined to teaching students to understand/function within that community alone.  

jccohen's picture



Both such interesting points! 

With regard to the un/conscious issue, this really gets at one of the most convincing (to me) critiques of Freire, which is the way he creates the path for educators to consider perspectives held by 'the oppressed' as 'fase consciousness,' which of course implies that somehow the educator knows/has true consciousness (e.g. about oppression).  I'm not quite sure I understand your question about 'accounting for the intersection,' though -- please explain?

In terms of your second point, I agree that it's important to teach to both the local and beyond; I wonder, though, whether Freirian thinking would address this in terms of using the local as a starting point and from there moving outwards, so to speak, to embrace broader themes...

mencabo's picture

Building a Curriculum

          Freire talked extensively about leaders and the dangers that come with their roles. Even though I think his ideas can be applied to most cultures and in any field, one specific example that came to mind when I was reading the last half was the issue of curriculum, particularly if it is a rigid one. Freire writes, “Many political and educational plans have failed because their authors designed them according to their own personal views of reality, never once taking into account (except as mere objects of their actions) the men-in-a-situation to whom their program was ostensibly directed” (94). Since each school’s curriculum is different, I wonder then, what does a balanced and effective curriculum look like? Also, what should leaders/”authors” do in order to accommodate different views of reality in addition to the politics that are involved?

            Freire also says, “People are fulfilled only to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor” (145). If many educators and schools promote a student-centered approach to teaching, then it seems logical to consider the students’ sense of fulfillment. How do we know if/when students gain a sense of fulfillment? Or maybe it is better to ask, in what ways can educators guide students so that they can find “labor” that is fulfilling? By labor I mean anything from homework & projects to their potential careers. To tie it back to my earlier paragraph, how does the curriculum create space for fulfillment and “transforming labor?”

jccohen's picture

curriculum and transforming labor


I appreciate your work here with the question of how Freirian thinking can inform curriculum.  And I'm particularly taken with the idea that educators' work is to guide students to find 'fulfilling labor.'  This makes me think of the leadership curriculum you designed a few semesters ago; looking back at that now, would you associate it with the kind of endeavor you're wondering about here? 

In terms of the question of how leaders/teachers might 'do in order to accommodate different views of reality,' this raises for me the notion that we might see students more as individuals than Freire does, in his description of community cultures, localized themes, and so on. I wonder what you think about Laura H's example from her field site as a way to address this question--?

L13's picture

Forced Reflection?

At the beginning of chapter four, Freire notes that “leaders cannot treat the oppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of acting, whereas in fact they would continue to be manipulated –“ (107).  

In this case, I can’t help but relate Freire’s “leaders” to teachers and “oppressed” to students. By this extension, I wonder how this applies to classes today. Freire goes on to say that “The leaders do bear the responsibility for coordination and, at times, direction. . .” I question how this can be realistically achieved in classes today. It would seem to me that today, teachers respond passionately to this call for student “opportunity of reflection” almost too passionately at times. For instance, in classrooms where students are required to participate x amount of times in class discussion or classes in which you have a response paper due on readings or even a weekly blog post, is this true student reflection or is this another form of manipulation if the teacher or the leader is manipulating the student in a sense to write or participate?

How can teachers “coordinate” and provide “direction” without creating an “illusion of acting” through forced reflection? One solution to this, as Freire seems to suggest throughout this final chapter, would be unity and cooperation rather than conquest. Do teachers, as leaders, really cooperate or collaborate with students in the classroom? If teachers also take part in reflection, even if it is assigned reflection, this might decrease the level of manipulation. In relating this to my own life, during practice, regardless of the sport, I was more inspired and willing to run sprints at the end when the coach ran with us. Whenever you are assigned a task, don’t you ever find yourself thinking could my teacher/coach/leader etc. really do this too? Why are they assigning something they are not willing to do themselves?  I am always inspired when I feel like the leader can collaborate with me on any given activity. Can all leaders do this?  Do teachers practically have the time for this level of collaboration in all of their classes and with all of their students? 

jccohen's picture

what leaders/teachers are 'willing to do'


You raise a hard and very relevant issue here about 'forced reflection,' in the (familiar to me!) forms of participation, weekly blog posts, etc., and I too question whether there's a way to 'lead'/teach that involves guiding/pushing students in the way a teacher understands to be in the direction of genuine growth (grounded in the student's reality) that is not also 'manipulative' (and grounded in the teacher's reality).  Nice point about coaches and collaboration.  To your way of thinking, does this always mean the teacher is doing the same thing as the student?  For example, is this response a 'collaboration' or would I be more collaborative if I was also writing an initial reflection on the reading?

Uninhibited's picture

Two Reminders from Friere

Reading the last chapter of Pedagogy of the Oppressed made me think about the questions that we asked last week relating to disseminating information, but also good intentions going wrong. Last week, I spoke with my group about how the oppressed can liberate themselves without access to the information that leads to wanting this. I wondered if it was appropriate for an outside person to come to “impart knowledge’ on other people without having real knowledge of their experience. Friere seems to answer this by telling us that the work must be achieved together, through questioning and curiosity.  By noting the importance of activism and verbalism/thinking, he argues that one that cannot successfully lead to a revolution without the other. In a way it seem similar to the binary of oppressed/oppressor, although I agree with my classmates in saying that the lines are perhaps not so clearly defined. In this instance for example, someone with privilege from one sphere can bring this knowledge to someone with privilege in another sphere, bringing reflection and action together to inform praxis.


The chapter also reminded of the many times in which good intentions can go wrong, which I think Friere warns us about in his book, specifically with “leaders.” As leaders of a revolution, he notes, they must be careful not to replicate the same oppressive power structures that lead to the revolution in the first place, mistaking organization for oppression. I think this point is very interesting especially as we think about our roles after leaving Bryn Mawr, how can we ensure that this new knowledge does not get in the way of praxis, which I assume is our ultimate goal? How is it that we can stop thinking about teaching or volunteering, or public service not as giving back to “underserved communities” but rather to the world and ourselves? Thinking about answering this question with Friere’s point in mind that the oppressors are also constrained by the current system of oppression? 

jccohen's picture

giving to 'the world and ourselves'


That question about how we position ourselves when we 'give' might in itself act as a kind of lens of continual self-awareness; what if we asked ourselves the question of 'who we think we're giving to' whenever we enter into teaching/learning/volunteering/'service' situations -- might this kind of internal inquiry help us to adjust/revise what, how, with whom we 'give'? 

I'm also struck by the fluidity of 'oppressed/oppressor' that I read as integral to your comment.  That is, 'giving back' seems to suggest that once you're from a given community, that identity is in a sense static, but your revision of the question in terms of 'new knowledge' that you and others will have upon leaving Bryn Mawr illuminates a way to see not only y/ourselves but also others, who are also always 'unfinished' (in Freire's term); so maybe we need to infuse Freire's binary with this other dimension of his/your thinking...  Your thoughts?

et502's picture

"Giving Back"

When reading your post, the question that stood out to me the most was, "How is it that we can stop thinking about teaching or volunteering, or public service not as giving back to “underserved communities” but rather to the world and ourselves?"

First of all, because it calls to mind our motivations for teaching or volunteering, something that's been bothering me more and more over the past several years. Throughout high school, the concept of "giving back" was a mantra repeated by my peers, teachers, and mentors as a selfless ideal. But maybe the ideal is to be SELFISH: Take care of the world so as to take care of yourself. Recycle and reduce so that YOU won't suffer later. Be kind to your neighbors to promote an overall community feeling of safety and self-worth which will eventually benefit you. Maybe. Perhaps we need to revise the terms, “giving back,” and “selfishness.”

One of the readings that really had me questioning motivation and “giving back,” was Ivan Illich’s To Hell With Good Intentions. (It’s really short, I definitely recommend skimming it, at least!). He writes about the hypocrisy of Americans who volunteer abroad. I think some of his suggestions may be useful for our examination of the meaning of working in “underserved communities”: 

If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as 'good,' a 'sacrifice' and 'help.'

“I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the "good" which you intended to do.

So, that’s a little discouraging. However, he has a point about attitude that I think is important. The fact that we might assume we have the power to help someone else is, potentially, a sign of the oppressor system being firmly rooted in us. He is calling for students to wait for people to ask for help. And to problematize that interaction, too. Further, he's calling on students to recognize their privilege and use it more effectively - even if acting might make you feel good, it's not necessarily the most useful response to a percieved problem. Could a solution be some fusion of selfishness and self-awareness? 

jccohen's picture

'selfishness and self-awareness'


i appreciate your willingness to face -- and your asking that we face -- a 'take' on this issue of volunteering, 'giving back,' and so forth that may feel 'a little discouraging.'  I wonder, in fact, whether undergoing that feeling of discouragement may somehow be an important pause, a way to take a time out from 'good intentions' in order to look into our own positioning, motivation, and capacity.  I like and recommend this piece by Teju Cole, also a call to exaine ourselves but also to look (again) at what those 'others' in places other than our own are doing to work toward justice in their contexts:

Riley's picture

"He is calling for students

"He is calling for students to wait for people to ask for help." (Emily's quote) I agree to an extent, but what I think he is saying is that maybe (probably) these people won't end up even asking for (first world) help, because we are working within an oppressive societal structure that is the reason they would need "help" in the first place (economic struggles etc). 

I think "help" is maybe a loaded term in this case, because it's assuming that something on the oppressed's side needs to be fixed and that it's their fault that it's broken.

Maybe thinking of revolution and change in a more collaborative way than "help" (a word that implies a dichotomy of broken/bad vs. intact/good/healthy) is the key. Actually, that is what I like about teaching...I think we all know that one of the most powerful ways to enact change in a collaborative way is to teach--to start at the human stop thinking of overwhelming idealistic challenges like fixing "broken" things and remembering that these debates are really about individual people. What I mean is, I love the idea that revolution can start by convincing one student that his/her contribution to the world is a valuable one.

What do you think?

jccohen's picture

'revolution can start by...'


Your thinking about cycles here -- e.g. certain people seeming to need 'help' because those very folks who might offer that help in fact helped to create the difficulty in the first place -- makes me think about the way Freire talks about the relationship between 'oppressed' and 'oppressor.'  While it's relevant and useful to complicate this binary, as we have been doing, it can also be useful to look at the binary in terms of cyclical interaction.

I like your focusing in then on teaching and individuals, and/but would like to hear more about how 'revolution can start by convincing one student that his/her contribution to the world is a valuable one.'  Is this revolutionary because if/when people see themselves in this way they become able to intervene in history (to use Freire's terms) and make change?

Sarah's picture

I think reframing of "giving

I think reframing of "giving back" into helping ourselves is essential. Freire talks about antidialogical and dialogical action and I think focusing on how to work with oppressed groups in order to help oneself may be a good way to go about things, even if it sounds counterintuitive.  This type of dialogue, "I want to help, because I realize helping you will also be beneficial to me and those I care about, such as my family”, does not fall under the categories of “conquest,” “divide and rule,” “manipulation,” or “cultural invasion,” but they do fall under the categories of “cooperation,” “unity for liberation,” and hopefully “organization,” though, I am not certain that is given. 


I can think of a few reasons this type of framing is uncommon.  One is the connotation with being “selfish”.  No one wants to be described as someone who cares about just him/herself or him/herself primarily.  Also, I think people tend to think of the world through a zero-sum lens; there are people on the top and people on the bottom, there is an order.  That order can be shifted, but never in a way where people are on the same level.  The example I think of is school funding: it would seem to make logical sense if schools were funded fairly equally, but no one wants to give up their own school’s funding; having one really well funded school and one poorly funded school is better than two average schools, but who is to say leveling the playing field in terms of funding would level out quality of education?


Although I do think the zero-sum mindset is detrimental, I also do wonder what it would be like to be a person at the very top.  As someone who is both an oppressor and oppressed, I can see value in different social movements.  But if you really aren’t oppressed in any way (at least, from your perspective), what is the value for you?

jccohen's picture

'what is the value for you?'


The way you say this is straightforward and, to me, pretty convincing:  "I want to help, because I realize helping you will also be beneficial to me and those I care about, such as my family.”  The strange piece here is really how we've come to believe so profoundly in the individual, competitive, zero sum perspective on the world.  Or to put it another way, doesn't it really make sense that helping others IS helping ourselves?  Environmental justice seems to me a clear instance of how this is intuitively the case (and the assumption of competition or self-interest in the narrowest sense is itself counter-intuitive).  Wouldn't this be the case even/also for someone who 'isn't oppressed in any way'?

transitfan's picture

lessons for teachers from Friere

Given how the last chapter of Friere seems to jump back to previous themes, I will try to do the same in my response. Sorry if that makes it a little jumpy.

Initially I was rather confused by the specific pedagogy he introduces in chapter three, but once I understood it (from the example about the people's understanding of the codification with the drunk person), I tried to think how it could work in educational and social movement settings I have experienced. I also became annoyed somewhere around page 110 with the continued abstracted of the text; maybe Friere was trying to make us appreciate the need for concreteness by depriving us of it, but probably that's giving him too much credit.

That said, I think that there are some great underlying messages for educators--even if we don't use the pictoral codifications. Here are some messages that were helpful (for me):

-balance reflection and action/ don't just act for activism's sake

-don't be alienating/ be aware of people's situation in the world and let them share it with you (very Dewey-esque)

-act out of love, not out of fear. (I think Earth Quaker Action Team does this very well in our anti-mountaintop removal coal-mining protests. I think the Occupy movement by contrast struggled with this.)

-the investigator/teacher can't establish "iteineraries" for the exploration of the universe (also Dewey-esque) But how do you most effectively analyze different schools of thought without either inevitably guiding students to your own viewpoints?

-get buy-in from your participants (This is clear when recruiting participants for a social cause but what about in a classroom where you have to teach students whether they buy into it or not? Last year in a field-placement I was upset with a teacher who seemed to let disinterested students languish in his class. Was that teacher actually being Frierian? Also, what if you are teaching board-members of your college why divestment is a good idea? Do you give up if you can't get buy-in? I guess in the classroom scenario Friere would probably say to change your approach in the class to correspond with the student's interest until you get buy-in.)

-in research (similar to our fieldwork, I think), capture syntax of thought; not necessarily incorrect grammar or pronunciation. (this will be helpful for me)

-ground readings or speakers in context (as in "this person is a professor from "x". What can we expect from this person?)

-ground studies with themes, one of which should be culture.

As a social-activist, I really liked Dewey overall. The importance of horizontal leadership (he calls it diagonal leadership but I understood as basically the same), the importance of the "oppressed" group being the leaders of their own movements, people in power "fearing" the other people, the problem of how people in power try to fracture the disempowered, reliance on myths and slogans, were all things I have experienced. I agree with my classmates that his oppressor/oppressed dichotomy needs to be challenged, but like the also-problematic 99%/1% slogan it can be a useful way to think of divisions of power in our society.

jccohen's picture

codification and buy-in


First, I really appreciate the way you're 'reading' Freire across the settings of classrooms, social movements, etc.  Your contrast of Earth Quaker Action Team and Occupy with regard to acting out of love is an insight I find provocative; is this partly about ecology and economy?

I'm also glad you raised the pedagogy of codification (which is really part of the whole conscienticion process), and I too find the visual of the drunk helpful in understanding this.  I'm thinking about this in relation to 'buy-in,' your phrasing later in the passage, and wondering whether these two are contradictory in an essential way (that may be in Freire's work as well as your comment).  Looking for participant buy-in suggests to me an impositional curriculum, whereas codification is supposed to come from the inside out or the ground up, so to speak...  What do you think?

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