Freire’s educational philosophy is largely political and social in nature. This aim of his message is to bring attention to the structures that govern our perceptions. These structures are generative themes that frame perceptions and our real consciousness. In doing so an ‘awareness’ can be achieved. It is this very process of approaching these structures that develops our critical consciousness, or a phronesis of practical wisdom, which uses the praxis of reflection and action. Freedom is achieved through the development of this critical consciousness as we confront reality.
Exploring and confronting reality need to occur for knowledge to be acquired. It is the critical consciousness that is responsible for this task. However, he believes that we all operate in generative themes that are framed by real consciousness that contains limited perceptions. He sees that a critical consciousness using praxis of reflection and action takes one beyond real consciousness into the potential consciousness where new themes can be generated. A supposition for the confrontation of reality is that an objective reality exists independently from the consciousness that can be explored. However, he believes that our understanding and knowledge is limited by the generative themes, the perceptions of this reality, which are historically and culturally rooted. Since all humans exist independently and are integrally experiencing reality, he believes that communal discourse allows for reality to be mutually explored which in turn yields a much more comprehensive understanding.
The mutual exploration requires that humans see each other as equal subjects. As subjects, we should exercise our critical consciousness to solve the pressing dilemmas that are relevant and approximate to us. We should live as beings in ourselves, as ends in ourselves, fully employing our creative faculties of freedom to confront the demands of reality that lead to a fulfilling life. According to Freire, “People are fulfilled only to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor. The fulfillment of humankind as human beings lies, then, in the fulfillment of the world. If for a person to be in the world of word is to be totally dependent, insecure, and permanently threatened- if their word does not belong to them- the person cannot be fulfilled. Work that is not free ceases to be a fulfilling pursuit and becomes an effective means of dehumanization.” (145)
In sum, every human possesses the ability to exercise their critical consciousness, to reflect and act on the world, in order to transform it to meet their approximate dilemmas. This is their labor. We are ends in themselves. In contrast to animals which merely live in the context appropriate to it, and do not transcend contexts and communicate about it, human activity is characterized by reflection and action, theory and practice. This is how knowledge is garnered. Knowledge is simply the product of reflection and action.
However, due to the oppressive structures that characterize their existential experience, many people do not develop a critical consciousness. As a result, this critical conscious is underdeveloped. Oppression, in all the manifestations mentioned, subdues this critical consciousness.
You cannot separate freedom from humanity. It is distinct. Likewise, you cannot separate knowledge from humanity. As long as humans exist in reality there are themes that give it context and meaning. The question is whose context and meaning. Are the people generating these themes, this knowledge about the world and personal problems, themselves from their direct experience? Or are they prescribed or dictated these themes and knowledge by other people?
Freire’s message is that oppression robs people of their freedom to confront their own problems which thus subdues the critical consciousness. Oppression occurs when humans objectify their fellow man instead of see them as subjects. This translates to subjects who own, and objects who are possessed. This manifests as those who own labor, and those who are labor; those who prescribe knowledge, and those who receive knowledge; those who make rules, those who follow rules; those who teach, those who memorize. To retain power and dominance, the subjects do not want the dominated objects to develop a critical consciousness as subjects and think. This would upset the power balance and strip the oppressive subjects of their ability to control.
Learning occurs when problems are posed and the critical consciousness confronts and rises above the current perceived limitations of the real consciousness. (113) The aim is to for the critical consciousness to move beyond the real consciousness into the potential consciousness where generative themes can be synthesized to solve the pressing problems. It is important to recognize knowledge as cultural and historically rooted. It is relative to the place and problems of the people. To substitute direct experience and the contradictions that arise from that experience is to strip life of its meaning.
Our current academic institutions operate in this oppressive teacher-student, subject-object, dichotomy under the banking method, where knowledge is transferred from a teacher who is ‘enlightened’ to a student who is ‘unenlightened’. This is the wrong way to approach education because it reinforces the oppressive structure by preventing the student from developing their critical consciousness, thus suppressing their ability to critically cognize knowledge for themselves. The transfer of knowledge in this method is static, absolute and lifeless.
On the contrary, education should be a dialogical in a mutual, cooperative, co-intentional exploration of the problems relative to the individual. Under the problem posing method, a teacher is not the ‘teacher-of-the-student’ but rather a ‘teacher-student’, and the student is not the ‘student-of-the-teacher’ but rather a ‘student-teacher’. Mutual learning takes place in dialog between the student and teacher as they unveil reality together. There is a trust, humility, and love that unites the teacher and student to address the problems relative to the student. Knowledge in this method is treated as changing, relative, and lively.
Who are these teachers? They are those who have developed a critical consciousness and see the student not as an object, but a fellow subject, a fellow ‘I’, that aids in the exploration of reality and problems. If those who have a critical consciousness make the student an object, and thus manipulate and divide and conquer, they are not practicing the problem posing method characterized by love, trust and humility. Instead they are oppressing, just like the banking method. A human being as an object in the world and not as a subject suppresses their freedom, submerges the critical consciousness, and limits access to the potential consciousness which gives rise to developing our humanity more fully.
What effects would manifest in an oppressive society that is structured to suppress this critical consciousness? Regarding the malaise of our modern culture, let us suppose that the democraticAmericawe know and love is actually an oppressive system composed of an oppressive hierarchal structure composed of elites and the populous. In a world flooded with information and knowledge that has been pre-cognized and pre-objectified, where all of our answers have been prescribed for us, what does this do to our humanity, our critical consciousness and freedom?
All information that is not derived from personal experience is sloganized and robbed of the approximate and relevant meaning to the individual. News and media is simply precognized knowledge or propaganda presented and perpetuated by those who ‘know best’. I have to wonder if the repercussions to such oppression manifest as psychological ailments of society. What if there are no ‘Learning disabilities’, or if ‘depression’ and ‘bipolar’ and the like, are simply the manifestations of an oppressed humanity, an oppressed freedom, that cannot cope with the prescribed expectations and seemingly irrelevant and foreign demands of our culture?
If family structures reflect societal structures, then the majority of households operate within this oppressive structure. If this is the case with our current society, then most family structures are characterized by authority in the home, usually a dominating patriarch. In my own life, I found that I could not escape the oppression at home, or in school. When I attended school, or church, I was met with the same authoritative structure that dictated foreign demands and expectations. Teachers would lecture in front of the classroom and I was expected to engage in rote memorization, as if I were an empty receptacle to be filled with someone else’s cognitions of the world. In school, students are not given the opportunity, nor are they encouraged, to engage the world’s contradictions and coin relevant meaning. Instead, students are expected to passively consume someone else’s lifeless narrative of how things are. These structures suppress the critical consciousness, the curiosity for life and the world, by delegitimized our own ‘word’ and experience with the world. This oppression turns into listlessness, depression or rebellion against authority. These expressions are simply a result of ‘oppression’. Rebellion is a revolt against this authority. With this oppressive structure in mind, it’s queer to see how society treats us as problems and seeks to ‘prescribe’ its remedies. Children nowadays are diagnosed with a concoction of physiological dysfunctions that ranged from mood disorders to learning disabilities. Psychiatrists and psychologists attempt to assess and ‘treat’ patients with their own ideologies, and yet the rebellion continues.
I was personally met with this seemingly inescapable oppression which eventually drove me into rebellion as I sought escape from reality through drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until after high school, when I was kicked out of my house and forced to live on my own that I experienced true freedom. For the first time in my life I was met with a profound freedom. The realization that I could be whoever and do whatever I wanted, that I could transform my life according to my passions and the dreams of my heart, that I experienced true joy in life.
From that point on I no longer struggled with substance abuse (although the habits and dependencies that had formed created challenges), nor did I see learning as a chore, a mindless endeavor of rote memorization with no significance or context. I could engage reality freely, independently, and create meaning and context as according to the passions and curiosities that affirmed my being. Everything came to life.
Any human, be it parents or teachers, should lay foundations of trust and love and humility as the starting point for all human development. Exploration of reality should be a cointentional effort.
However, one must wonder if there something lost by appeasing the undeveloped and nascent thematic understandings of reality in people. As much as Freire advocates a horizontal playing field where every relationship and community is to be considered valuable and legitimate at illuminating themes as a whole, understanding all people as equals creates an imbalance. People are at different stages of reflection. How can one expect effective discourse to take place when illiteracy and proper reason, poisoned by superstitions, is rooted in their minds? Freire addresses this in the opening preface by referencing a meeting with peasants where a fear of freedom led some to think that this revolution of the critical consciousness could lead to a fanaticism. He mentioned the factory worker that described his transition from being naïve to critical and that while he still didn’t have all the answers, he did not experience a collapse of his world.
If one argues that there are principles that first must me ‘instilled’ in students before exploration can begin, they are overlooking the very freedom contained in humanity that allows him to explore and transform and learn from reality. If these principles exist, we need to be critical and ask their origin, as well as what their functional aim intends. This objective reality is not privy space accessed only by the elites, but an objective reality that can be learned by every human so long as there is a relevant problem to be solved. While these principles seem to offer a starting point for reason and reflection, by exploring reality with a critical consciousness, these principles can be derived from direct experience. In this way people can come to understand and utilize these principles in a way that gives meaning and context while preserving their humanity.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed.New York: Continuum, 2000. Print.