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Chapter Two: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This week on my blog, I am sharing some reading and study guides for Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

This book helped me better understand oppression and racism. It has also helped me to better understand how I can co-labor with the oppressed to create a world that is more humane for everyone.

I hope that as I share these posts and guides, people might feel empowered to read and understand the concepts in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It is a very powerful book but is also sometimes difficult to understand.

You can read the first post in that series, which is on chapter one of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, here.

You can also find the full text of Pedagogy of the Oppressed here.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In this post, I want to review a few important concepts in chapter one. Then I am going to introduce chapter two. Lastly, I will give you a reading guide and reflection questions for chapter #2.

Chapter One–Review

In chapter one, Freire focused primarily on our vocation, humanization. He also talks about dehumanization.

When Freire says that our vocation is humanization, he means that our purpose as human beings is to fully develop our human capacities and to create a world that allows us to do just this.

One way to understand what Freire means here is to think about this question: What is the difference between being a human being and becoming fully human?

Why don’t you take a minute to think about this question and, perhaps, to write about it.
Some thoughts for your consideration:

The Difference Between Being a Human Being and Becoming Fully Human

Being a human being means that we are biologically a human being. For exmaple, we look and function like a human and have human DNA.

Becoming fully human means that we develop all our positive human capacities fully. For example, here are just a few of the distinctly human capacities we have (by distinctly human, I mean that we have these capacities in distinction from animals, or we have them to a greater degree than animals).

We have capacities for love, kindness, communication, creativity, critical thought, wisdom, creativity, compassion, courage, playfulness, aesthetic capacities, political capacities, logic, friendliness, reconciliation, care taking, and hospitality.

Freire argues that the most human thing about us is that we can step back from the world and reflect on the problems we see in it. We can then act on these reflections to make the world a better, more humane place.

Such a world is more supportive of the capacities mentioned above.

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang, courtesy of Unsplash

Just imagine what it would be like if all of us together set the intention every day to develop the capacities I mentioned above and to create the kind of world that supported and encouraged these capacities in everyone.

That would be an incredible world.

It would be a fully humanized world.

And It would be the kind of world in which everyone and everything had the ability to flourish.

That kind of world is possible.

Why We Fail to Pursue This World

Too often, however, Freire suggests that we fail to pursue, or even to consider, humanization. Instead, we settle for existence at mere biological level. For example, we just focus on eating, sleeping, procreating, and surviving. Thus, we pay little attention to the development of our human capacities.

Or even worse, we don’t just neglect our human capacities, we actively discourage or crush them. Freire refers to such capacity-destroying actions collectively as dehumanization.

We dehumanize others in a variety of ways. For example, we may try to dominate them, control them, and impose our view of the world on them. When we act like this, we fail to see other people as human beings whose purpose to reflect on the world, identify problems, and act to create a more humanized world.

Instead, we treat people like it is their job to serve us. And we treat them like it is their job to accept our views of the world, instead of allowing them to develop their own views. We also often try to force people to accept the world as we wish it to be, whether it destroys them or not.

Individual and Institutional Dehumanization

When we act this way, we dehumanize both ourselves and others. Human beings are not meant to live in a master-slave relationship. When we live in a master-slave relationship, we treat other people like objects to manipulate or like containers into which we can pour our views.

We treat them like this instead of treating them as human beings with curiosity, intellect, hope, dreams.

And we forget that they have their own unique view of the world and are meant to be our partners in creating the world.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for people to fall into patterns of dehumanization. There are many reasons for this, but here are a few of the reasons:

One: We tend to think our view of the world is the right view.

So, it is very hard for us to imagine that a different view of the world could contain important elements that correct and enhance our own view of the world.

Two: Because we have a tendency to think our view of the world is the right one, we spend a lot of our life trying to get other people on board with our program.

Thus we fail to realize that no one has a completely right view of the world. Because of this, we must pursue a complete understanding of it together.

Three: It is scary to talk to, work with, and negotiate with people who are different from us.

Human beings have a tendency to fear, rather than embrace, difference. Therefore, when we meet people who think and live very differently from us, our tendency is to flee, ignore, or to try to control them. Or we try to force them to be more like us, rather than allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to learn from them. In worse case scenarios, we try to dominate and destroy difference so that we feel less threatened.

Four: We tend to form our beliefs according to what works for us and gives us a sense of control or pleasure.

Listening to other views that demand that we think or live differently can cause us a temporary, or even long-term, loss of control and pleasure. Therefore, we tend to resist considering other views. And sometimes we actively try to destroy the people who hold them.

Photo by Ev, courtesy of Unsplash

Both People and Institutions Can Dehumanize

People like to think of themselves as supporting institutions that dehumanize people. So people usually tell themselves a story about their behavior or the behavior of the institutions they support that makes. Such stories make their behavior the behavior seem good rather than dehumanizing.

People can dehumanize each other in personal relationships. But institutions like schools, governments, churches, the military, and the police force can also engage in dehumanizing practices.

No one likes to think of themselves as engaging in dehumanizing behavior. And non one

Here are some of the common stories they tell themselves:

I am doing the moral thing. (But they don’t consider that they may have deeply misunderstood morality.)

Or, I am doing the Christian thing. (But they don’t consider that they may have deeply misunderstood Christianity.)

I am upholding law and order. (But they don’t consider that there are humanizing ways to maintain law and order or that the current laws may be unjust and may need to be changed.)

Or, I am just stating the facts or telling it like it is. (But they don’t consider the other facts they have left out or consider that their view of the facts may be distorted by their preconceived ideas about the world.)

About Chapter 2 and Education and Dehumanization

This brings me to education, which is Freire’s focus in chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

As you read the first chapter and the study guide material in both the last post and in this one, you may have asked yourself some questions like the following.”How do people and institutions fall into dehumanizing patterns? How can I figure out if I am acting a dehumanizing way without realizing it?”

There are many answers to both of these questions but one of the answers to both questions, which Freire explores in chapter 2, is education.

Photo by Priscilla du Preez, courtesy of Unsplash

In chapter 2, Freire describes a kind of education–he calls it banking education–which tends to encourage dehumanization. It also indoctrinates people to accept dehumanizing relationships.

He also describes another kind of education–liberatory education. He also calls it dialogic and biophilic education. Such an education helps students detect and escape banking education. (You can read a little more about liberatory education, and my attempts to implement it in my own classroom, here.)

As you read chapter two, realize that Freire specifically explores the kind of education that occurs in schools. But his ideas in chapter two can also apply to the kind of education that occurs in homes, churches, society, and other social institutions.

Key Points for Chapter Two:

  1. The problem with primarily narrative education is that it suggests that only the teacher gets to reflect on, name, and transform the world.

  2. Remember that the defining characteristic of human beings is that they reflect on, name, and transform their world. This is the right of everyone—not just teachers.

  3. When Freire says education is suffering from narration sickness, he means that education must be a dialogue between the student and the teacher. Otherwise it does not fully honor students’ humanity.

  4. The problem with narration is that it turns students into “containers” or “receptacles”. Narrating education does this rather than treating students as human beings in the process of becoming more human through praxis.

  5. Freire calls narrating education  banking education. (Banking = making deposits).

  6. Students cannot pursue humanization if people treat them like objects.

  7. If the purpose of education is to liberate students, it must help students and teachers discover that they are both in process. It is the process of learning and becoming more human together.

  8. The banking model of education tries to manage people and make them adapt to their world. It does this as opposed to helping them understand that human beings construct their world together. And it prevents some people from realizing that they have a right to participate in this construction.

  9. This type of education serves the interest of the oppressors because the oppressors can deposit their view of the world into other people. Banking education tries to make people automatically adapt or conform to the view.

  10. Oppressors, whether purposefully or not, want to change the consciousness of the oppressed. They want to do this so that the oppressed no longer believe they have the ability to engage in praxis but believe they must just adapt to the status quo.

  11. Oppressors often blame the oppressed for their condition. The oppressors tell the oppressed that it is their fault they are oppressed, rather than being the fault of an oppressive system.

  12. The oppressed have been made into “beings for others” rather than beings for themselves. That means that the oppressed have been denied ownership of their humanity. And the oppressed try to co-op the oppressed people’s humanity for their own end.

  13. Banking education does not encourage students to critically consider reality (and name and transform it). It encourages them to accept it.

  14. The world always contains contradictions. The contradictions Freire is talking about are parts of society that don’t make sense or that conflict with each other.

  15. Contradictions in reality occur because human beings are the ones who create society. And no society is perfectly humanized. So, contradictions often signal a point at which people are being dehumanized and society needs to become more humanized.

  16. An example of a contradiction would be the fact that slaves were treated as though they were less human than their masters. But slaves were the ones who made the very existence of the masters possible.

  17. Another contradiction in our country is that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, but we have a great deal of poverty. And we have this poverty, even though many people in poverty want to work (but can’t get a job). Or, they already work really hard. In addition, we have enough money to fix the problem, if we want to.

  18. Another contradiction is that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world. We should wonder why we have such high incarceration rates and other countries have lower rates.

  19. Banking education does not acknowledge any contradictions in reality. It tries to get students to accept reality as it currently is.

  20. In the banking model of education, it is the teacher’s job to “regulate the way the world ‘enters into’ the students”.

  21. Banking education makes students passive.

  22. And banking education tries to makes students fit into the world. It does this rather than helping the student figure out what parts of the world need to be transformed.

  23. Banking education works really well for oppressors because it maintains the system that supports them.

  24. Teachers escape banking education by building solidarity and communicating with their students. Building solidarity means recognizing that both students and teachers are pursuing humanization.

  25. Banking education promotes necrophily, which treats students as inert, dead objects. Biophilic education treats students as living, developing beings.

  26. Oppression and control are necrophilic.

  27. Necrophilic education inhibits students creative power. That is because it prevents them from transforming their environment.

  28. Liberating teachers reject the banking model of education. But it is hard to be a liberating teacher because teachers are generally surrounded by, and even trained in, the banking model of education.

  29. Liberation is grounded in praxis conducted by men and women.

  30. Teachers who wish to be liberating must reject the banking model of education and embrace problem-posing education.

  31. Problem-posing education emphasizes students’ reflective, naming, and transformative capacities. It helps them recognize contradictions in the world and think about how they could transform it.

  32. Liberating education helps students cognize their world, not just receive information.

  33. Liberating education is dialogical education. It is through dialogue that we may reflect on our world, name it, and transform it together.

  34. Through dialogue, a classroom transforms into a place where there are teacher-students and student-teachers, rather than just students and teachers.

  35. Education must be a process in which everyone becomes more human together.

Reflection Questions:

1. What are some examples of banking or necrophilic education you have observed in your life? They might have occurred in actual schools, or they may occurred in other social institutions.

2. What are some examples of dialogic, biophilic, or liberatory education you have observed in your life?

3. What are some ways that you may have accidentally engaged in banking education in your various relationships or institutions of which you are a part of ?

4. What is one practical step you can take to practice more dialogic education in these relationships or institutions?

If you would like to read more about what it means to practice humanization and dialogic education in your every day life, you might like to read this post.


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