“Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world” (Freire, 1970/1993/2013).
For my Curriculum Issues class, I had to respond to one of the chapters we weren’t covering in class. I chose the excerpt Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressesd because I recognized the title. The rest of this post is what I submitted for my assignment.
How have I never read any of his work before? I added several of his books to my Goodreads “To Read” list and hope to find time over winter break to delve into more of his writing. Freire spoke to my intellect and my heart. His words resonated, based on my experiences as a teacher and (never ending) student. I hope you do not mind me not being completely formal. I could, but I think this response would be better if I am a little less formal because this excerpt “blew my mind.” I highlighted so much of the piece, but I will try to stick to the major parts.
The more I write on my own and teach students about writing, the more I think about effective communication. I blogged about communication and shared it with students: http://www.jennwillteach.com/2016/03/needing-connection.html. Within the last couple of years, I have also taught students the burden of communication (when writing) falls on the author. Every choice the author makes (diction, paragraphing, grammar, punctuation) should help him/her communicate the message. Then, it is up to the reader to pick up the clues and interpret the message.
What Freire posits resounds with me. “Men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, an action-reflection” (1970/1993/2013). His use of “men” throughout does bother me, especially since this is a more current piece, and he was writing about the “oppressed,” but that aside, Freire speaks true: we build people (specifically our students) with our words, our work, and our actions. As teachers and members of a society, we must reflect on everything we do because just as we can build, we can also destroy with our words, works, actions.
“But while to say the true word…is not the privilege of some few men, but the right of every man…nor can he say it for another, in a prescriptive act which robs others of their words” (1970/1993/2013). I began my career doing more of the speaking as a “sage on the stage” than my students. I robbed too many of them of their stories. My intentions were good—I mean, am I not the teacher? Luckily, it did not take me long to become much more humble, to realize the more I know, the less I know. I began my journey encouraging students to believe in their own voices and to speak out. Even with small aspects, like when students would ask, “J Dub, should I start a new paragraph here?” I discuss the two major times to start a new paragraph, then ask, “What do you think?” As I have paradoxically become more confident in my teaching abilities and in my students’ abilities, I have even let them informally blog. This gives them a chance to work on finding their unique style and a chance to freely express their opinions. By using their voices, my students can name the world, transform it, and “achieve significance as men” (1970/1993/2013).
Freire’s thoughts on dialogue also fascinate me: “It must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one man by another,” and “Dialogue cannot exist…in the absence of a profound love for the world and for men” (1970/1993/2013). Bear with me as I pull one more quote: “Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to other men. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation” (1970/1993/2013). This is why I stress to all teachers the importance of loving ALL students—not as a warm, fuzzy emotion, but as Freire stated it an act of “liberation.” I hear so many teachers say they love their students, but their actions and “well-intentioned” words speak louder than the emotion they casually toss around. Teachers/people cover their ignorance with “love” so they never have to make themselves uncomfortable and change. They never have to stand in front of a metaphorical mirror, examine themselves, find all the ugliness, and fix it. Instead they “love” students, so how can their words/actions possibly be construed as racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc.? They never meant that. It was just a joke! But, I agree with Freire: love is courageous. Love will admit it is wrong, horribly wrong, and seek to rectify that wrong. Then, love will seek to right those wrongs—and seek liberation for those our “love” has oppressed.
I have many other quotes, but I will skip ahead in the interest of saving space. I have a presentation this weekend at Oklahoma Council of the Teachers of English. My premise focuses on changing what we teach in ELA. I think I will include this quote: “It is not our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world, not to attempt to impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their view and ours” (1970/1993/2013). I am fed up with teaching the “dead, White men.” It is 2017, and we still act as if those are the most important (or only) stories we should share. We spout platitudes of a “common” or “shared” culture, but why must that culture be White? White is not even a race—it is an ideology. By continuing to center those DWM and marginalizing the others, we continue to push a White-centric belief system. We perpetuate systemic injustices with our choices: whom we choose to feature, and whom we choose to silence. That silence does not encourage dialogue as Freire sees it. That silence encourages oppression. Oh, but we can again hide the silence under a veil of love or compromise or kindness or getting along or kumbaya or whatever word we choose to erase others. “To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate man is a lie” (1970/1993/2013). As an educator, I can no longer shadow my ignorance with bright words; I can no longer silence students by pretending my worldview is the only one; I can no longer continue a curriculum of oppression by only including DWM or those few authors deemed “acceptable” by DWM; I can no longer be part of the problem. I must be part of the solution and use love to seek liberation for all my students. Thus, I hope “to speak a true word…to transform the world” (1970/1993/2013).
Excerpts from Paulo Freire (1970, 1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed In David J. Flinders and
Stephen J. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader: Fourth Edition (pp. 75-86,
95-100). New York, New York: Routledge.