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Critical Analysis of Freire

wendydays's picture

“I am a ‘conditioned’ being, capable of going beyond my own conditioning”

There were many times while I was reading The Pedagogy of Freedom, where I was nodding in agreement to many of the theoretical concepts discussed by Paulo Freire. The book may have seemed a bit excessive in really “hammering” the main points repeatedly, and some of the concepts could have benefited from more relatable examples to help the readers who struggled with abstractness of his thinking. However, personally I felt that the book really encompassed my perspectives on the pedagogy, duty and the responsibility of what it means to be a teacher.

Friere begins the book by discussing the ethnical nature of educative practice. I firmly agree with this idea because I think that teachers should possess a moral compass and not simply teach students knowledge, but also teach students how to be people, to possess what Freire has described as the “universal ethic”.  I agree with Freire that as people, we can never be truly impartial or objective. Societal and environmental forces act on us, and ‘condition’ us by equipping us with certain sociopolitical, cultural, racial, and gendered lenses to perceive the world. As an Asian I am ‘conditioned’ with my parent’s traditional Confucian values, collectivism, Buddhist doctrines as well as my education of American liberalism, freedom and individualism. Freire defines the universal human ethic as something  “we should devote ourselves humbly but perseveringly to our profession in all its aspects: scientific formation, ethical rectitude, respect for others, coherence, a capacity to live with and learn from what is different and an ability to relate to other without letting our ill-humor or our antipathy get in the way of our balanced Judgement of facts” (24).  As people we cannot be impartial or purely objective for we are all conditioned with unique societal and cultural forces. Freire tells us it is the universal ethics for us to “humbly” persevere in our different beliefs and values but when we cannot respect others or have the capacity to live with those who are different, it is a “negation” of the human ethic. Freire would says that “terrorism is negation of universal ethic,” (24) and a horrific disgrace against our humanity. Christians, Buddhists, or Atheists should have humility and should not view themselves as superior to others. I believe that students should learn about ethics not because they are told it is the right thing to do, but because they understand and can rationalize it as the right thing to do.

The idea of how to teaching students how to rationalize and justify their beliefs and knowledge is what I consider to be epistemological curiosity. Part of my International Baccalaureate curriculum in high school required me to take a class called “Theory of Knowledge.” It was a rewarding class because we learned about the epistemological study of fields of knowledge such as Natural Science, Mathematics, the Arts, and History. Typically people would think that the Natural Sciences and Mathematics would have more validity and reliability. Society today tends to value the sciences more than the humanities. At times I feel there is an unspoken hierarchy between the different fields of Knowledge. Theory of Knowledge made me realize that all fields of studies have their limitations. It would be silly to try to derive a mathematical equation for true love, or a scientific experiment that tries to quantify how much a mother loves her son. Humanities such as History and the Arts do a much better job of helping us understand culture and society than the natural sciences. All forms of knowledge have their own strengths and weaknesses and we must constantly possess a critical consciousness or epistemological curiosity to the different forms of knowledge we are taught. In the past, it was common knowledge that women were biologically inferior to men both intellectually and physically. If no one had questioned the validity of that knowledge, we would not have the Bryn Mawr College we know of today.

When Freire says that teaching is not simply transferring knowledge, I interpret it as him making a claim that education teaches you how to learn, and equips you with the critical reasoning skills to become a lifelong learner. There is quote that "education is not the filling of a pail, but a lighting of a fire" which seems to go along well with Freire's ideas. The quote Professor Lesnick talked about in class that “We are constantly at the cutting edge of the universe” also seems to relate to Freire’s idea of the condition of human “unfinishedness.” No human is ever able to acquire all the knowledge of he world, which is why we are inevitably “unfinished”. A progressive education teaches you the knowledge that enables you to achieve further development and become “the architects of [your] own cognitive process. For my History of Art papers at Bryn Mawr, my professors always tell me that in addition to understanding the art historical methodologies of scholarly articles, I also have to formulate my own opinions and arguments about how I interpret a work of art based on my own perception of registered sensations and my own interpretation of primary texts. I have to be the "architect" of my own cognitive process, where I am then graded on how coherent I am in supporting my argument.

Lastly, Freire also argues that teaching is a human act and the statement that education is never neutral. If “education is not political, we are not human” (pg 101). I think this is true because, the teachers in my educational career who were the most memorable were the ones who taught me knowledge as well as their own unique coherent understanding of knowledge. The writing program at my placement, where students have a computer program grade their essays seems to take away from the idea of "teaching as a human act," a social interaction.  Great teachers are great thinkers, and to be influenced by teachers is to be inspired by their thought process and ideologies. Education has the power of shaping us as human beings. Freire is politically progressive and I've noticed that I've become more progressive and liberal when I reflect on my views during my freshman year and how I've changed after 3 years in Bryn Mawr College. I don’t think I would be taking the Critical Issues in Education course,if I didn’t have the sentiment of idealism that education is capable of social transformation. If I didn’t have the “conviction that change is possible,” (pg 73) then I would be adopting the immobilizing ideology of fatalism and acknowledge that humans don’t have freedom because we are socioeconomically, culturally, racially and sexually pre-determined. The end of the first chapter summarizes Freire’s why the book is against the ideologies that deny our humanity and freedom: “There is a lot of fatalism around us. An immobilizing ideology of fatalism, with its flighty postmodern pragmatism, which insists that we can do nothing to change the march of social-historical and cultural reality because that is how the world is anyway. The most dominant contemporary version of such fatalism is neoliberalism. With it, we are led to believe that mass unemployment on a global scale is an end-of-the century inevitability” (pg 27). I think Freire is trying to say that if we possess universal ethics and epistemological consciousness. We will ultimately be liberated from the societal and environmental constraints, and have the ability to go “beyond our own conditioning”.

I will be interested in seeing whether these theories Freire that discussed are applicable in my field placement at Radnor Middle School as well as GASP after school program.