Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed discusses a theory of education in light of oppression and explores the source of liberation. Drawing from both political and philosophical insight, Freire determines that our current system of education denounces students to mere objects, leaving them little room for creative expression, which, in turn, eliminates students’ opportunity to digest true and conscious knowledge about the reality they live in. The traditional education system operates on dominions: students are controlled by a teacher’s authority. Freire identifies this method of teaching as “banking education” because students are trained to memorize and deposit information instead of responding to knowledge as critical thinkers and active problem solvers. In this respect, Freire suggests that we transform our current way of teaching to embody a “problem-posing education” that encourages both the student and teacher to learn from one another. By establishing this type of relationship in the classroom, the education system revitalizes its students to become more cognitive and autonomous thinkers.
The significance of Freire’s theory of education and oppression is directly related to the film “Precious Knowledge,” which documents the benefits of ethnic studies programs for Mexican-American students in Tucson High School. The Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program allowed Chicano students to learn and embrace their culture, tackle societal issues, and become more active members of their community. Students responded positively to the course material because the MAS program offered them a sense of inclusivity that motivated them to succeed. Evidently, the Chicano population is identified as a marginalized group because they are not included in the traditional American narrative; they are alienated and negative stereotypes train them to believe they can only achieve a small standard of success, which Freire addresses when he writes, “the students…accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existence” (72). The MAS program proved Chicano students could succeed, however, because following the implementation of this ethnic studies program, the graduation rate for enrolled Chicano students increased to 93% whereas the national dropout rate for these students averages at a staggering 48%.
The MAS program embraces a “problem-posing education” because the teachers invigorate their students to actively participate and discuss knowledge, instead of lecturing them with information students cannot relate to. Freire recognizes that “only through communication can human life hold meaning,” which is reflected when the students integrated their knowledge into their community and further created a sense of belonging and being (77). It’s no surprise, nonetheless, because Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was a required text for the course. Unfortunately, this text was a driving force in the elimination of the MAS program because it cited works by Marx, Lenin, and Mao. Despite the visibility of the MAS program’s accomplishments and the restoration of confidence in the Chicano student body, strongly opposing forces determined that the ethnic studies program was negatively affecting these students, encouraging them to adopt values of victimization and sedition. Specifically, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, repeatedly claimed that the program was “un-American” and “taught students to hate white people,” but neither of these claims was substantiated with information other than Horne’s manipulative misunderstanding of ethnic studies.
Horn voiced that Chicano students should not be treated or taught according to their race because, in his youth, he was educated to believe learning should transcend borders of race or culture. What Horne fails to recognize is that he promotes a system of “banking education” in Tucson that does not support students who belong to minority groups, and it does reflect the society we live in today. Freire acknowledges that “education is suffering from narration sickness” because the teacher’s “task is to ‘fill’ students with the contents of his narration—contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance” (71). Freire then goes on to discuss the “need [for marginals] to be ‘integrated,’ ‘incorporated’ into the healthy society that they have ‘forsaken’” (74). Horne favors an education that indoctrinates students to “adapt to the world of oppression” because he overlooked the MAS program’s ability to provide students a transformative understanding of “problems relating to themselves in the world” (78, 81). He failed to align himself with the Chicano students and did not even attempt to understand their positionality, let alone attempt to comprehend the knowledge being taught within the classroom. Neither Horne nor any of the lawmakers opposed to ethnic studies programs actually read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and instead criticized the text for its mere mention of Marx. This alone showcases how a system of “banking education” fails to train our population to “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves” (83).
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1970. Print.
Precious Knowledge. Directed by Aril Luis Palos. Dos Vatos Productions and Independent Television Series, 2011.