In Pedagogy of the Oppressor in City Journal, Sol Stern takes on Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which has become a staple in teacher-training programs. It’s not actually about education, Stern writes. There’s no mention of “testing, standards, curriculum, the role of parents, how to organize schools, what subjects should be taught in various grades, how best to train teachers, the most effective way of teaching disadvantaged students.”
This ed-school bestseller is, instead, a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies.
. . . His idiosyncratic theory of schooling refers only to the growing self-awareness of exploited workers and peasants who are “unveiling the world of oppression.”
A Marxist professor in Brazil, Freire “organized adult-literacy campaigns for disenfranchised peasants” to get them to elect radical candidates. After the 1964 military coup and a stint in jail, Freire was exiled to Chile.
Freire believed that all education is political and that teaching academic subject matter “serves to rationalize inequality within capitalist society,” writes Stern.
One of Freire’s most widely quoted metaphors dismisses teacher-directed instruction as a misguided “banking concept,” in which “the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits.” Freire proposes instead that teachers partner with their coequals, the students, in a “dialogic” and “problem-solving” process until the roles of teacher and student merge into “teacher-students” and “student-teachers.”
Progressive educators in the U.S. loved it.
Freire’s rejection of teaching content knowledge seemed to buttress what was already the ed schools’ most popular theory of learning, which argued that students should work collaboratively in constructing their own knowledge and that the teacher should be a “guide on the side,” not a “sage on the stage.”
But political, content-free education hasn’t proven liberating for poor and minority students learn, writes Stern. The “pedagogy of the oppressed” keeps them poor, uneducated and easily oppressed.
Check out the debate in Core Knowledge’s comments about whether Freire is still influential.