Pedagogy of the Oppressed Review

Chapter One

  In chapter one Paulo Freire addresses the matter of humanization, or the problem of dehumanization. Initially the reader is left wondering what it means to be fully humanized. As he talks of these hierarchal roles of subject-object, of oppressor-oppressed, he refrains from explicitly prescribing what it means to be fully human. This is not unintended, for such a prescription would vitiate his message by qualifying the very structure he seeks to eliminate. For Freire, humanity is not a thing to have or possess, but rather a responsibility towards freedom that allows being more fully.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire undertakes the task of delineating the ideology behind the societal structures perpetuating the stagnation of consciousness. His message is to raise awareness of these ideological structures with the hope that a greater responsibility is gained for the autonomous freedom of humanity. The audience that Freire addresses is that of the oppressed. He sees the oppressors as having no mechanism for changing their consciousness, nor an obvious incentive to do so. The oppressed, however, retain the ability to revolt which utilizes radicals to confront reality with critical curiosity in an effort to unveil and transform it. Paulo stresses that this is an open dialogical process, a mutual and communal undertaking among the oppressed to liberate themselves as well as their oppressors.

Freire warns, however, that a critical consciousness must exist in order to identify causes of oppression, lest a role reversal occur within the existing structures where the oppressed become the oppressors. Because the oppressed have been molded by their existential experience of the oppressive structure, they develop a blind affinity for the structure and the oppressor. As a result, the oppressed all too readily admire the individualism of the oppressors and their ability to simultaneously maintain dominance and (false) generosity. This dominance and false generosity is likened to the domestication of an animal, where a dependency is formed with each outstretched hand containing food and comfort. Soon this domestication robs the animal of their natural ability to fend and think for themselves; just as false generosity robs man of his freedom and responsibility to actualize his humanity autonomously. As a result, this conditioning breeds a fear of freedom. Thus, true generosity is the aim of Freire. It is a pedagogy that nurtures universal equality. It does not offer direction, but explores co-intentionally, alongside fellow man.

The primary problem of the oppressive subject-object structure is that is submerges the consciousness, making awareness subliminal for all parties involved. What Freire is discussing is not the eradication of the subject-object relationship, but a transition into a horizontal, mutual relationship alongside fellow humans. The retention of the subject retains a place for humanity in the world, while the retention of the object retains a background to be unveiled, a reality to be transformed.

Central to this revolution are principles and values that Freire expands on in later chapters, but touches on in chapter one. Love and trust, namely, are the primary adhesives for revolution that maintain co-intentionality. It is in the name of love that the oppressed revolt, love for each other, and love for the oppressor. A revolution is a statement of love for the humanity, the responsibility for freedom, which is mutually shared.

In my opinion Freire’s work is masterful. His message resonates with intonations of Nietzsche, Hegel, Sartre, and Marx that are distilled and synthesized into concrete experience with precision. His philosophy is transparent and congruent, rhyming with the word so to speak, so that he successfully weaves theoretical language and concrete reality into a reflective tapestry of the human condition. His message in chapter one establishes an operating framework that can be applied to all relationships, be it teacher and student, parent and child, government and citizens, boss and laborer.

With out expanding further on the idiosyncrasies of his message, it is clear that Freire is tackling a universal dilemma that stems from the ego. This makes his resolution difficult to see for many people, especially citizens of western society that value individualism and capitalism as a way of establishing their being in the world. For many of these people, Freire’s ideology is difficult to ingest and conceptualize as legitimate.

But, does he address how a people can ever fully escape the ego? After all, it is the ego that perpetuates oppression through the objectification of its world. The subject object relationship is an inescapable gravity sees the world as something to be possessed. To break this relationship, Freire posits that progress is achieved dialogically. Only in this way do people recognize the humanity that is mutually shared. If dialogue fails to occur, there is no exchange to foster affinity or breed familiarity that bridges one to another. The recognition of a universal humanity results in a transcendence of mind, of elevated consciousness, which allows humans to see this universal humanity as a single subject. This leaves all else in the world as an objective source of reality to be explored. The dialogue that creates an affinity for fellow man expands the pool of relations in which humanity explores reality.

I believe there is an inherent dilemma that follows with this thinking however. As I was reading, I thought of the Prisoners’ dilemma. In summary, it states that two people working together achieve more overall, but one person can decide to work harder at the expense of the other to achieve more. It in certain situations it is beneficial to work together, especially when there are external threats. Relating this to Freire, when a person is seeking to actualize himself and achieve a fuller humanity, what is stopping him from being more than his fellow man? And if he achieves this, an inequality is created which jeopardizes the integrity of the mutual cooperation that unveils of reality. This seems to happen almost naturally due to the egos prevailing influence. Furthermore, if there is no immediate threat, and all parties are content, or seemingly content, who will revolt, and for what reason?

I do believe Paulo touches this briefly and addresses it more fully in later chapters however, although I’m not sure to what extent. He explains that there is no such thing as being more human, for that would imply a possession of more humanity, which directly supports the oppressor’s mentality of objectifying and quantifying the world. He does say, however, that having does not present a dilemma so long as it does not prevent others from having or being.

In conclusion of chapter one, Paulo successfully lays the foundation for an introspective look at the human condition. His message seems to be universal, something to be applied to achieving a better humanity with a greater sense of conscious awareness.

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