Summary of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire) by Noémie Bécotte and Naomie Bouchard

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paulo_freirePaulo Freire was an educator and philosopher who critiqued pedagogy (Bentley). He is best know for his work «The Pedagogy of the Oppressed» which represents “[…] the pedagogy of people engaged in the fight for their own liberation […]”(53). This summary will put the emphasis on the first chapter of his work, which states the roles of the oppressors and the oppressed in society and towards each other. A brief conclusion will bring out the main points of this summary.

In Paulo Freire’s first chapter of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is said that there are two types of people in society: the oppressors and the oppressed. At first, it is important to understand the role of these people. Concerning the oppressors, they can be seen as power seekers. In fact, their purpose is to be the boss over other workers. In other words, they fight for liberty but in the end, they only want authority. To obtain that power, oppressors often use violence. As for the oppressed, they are the ones that have to conform to other people’s ideology. They live, act, and work for other people. The oppressed don’t have the right to do anything for themselves. In other words, they are “beings for another” (p.49).

As a result of these two different kinds of person comes something that is united. In fact, this is referred to as the “us versus them” concept, which represents the oppressed versus the oppressors. The oppressors, are the models in society who the oppressed look up. It is possible to associate this concept with Michel Foucault’s panopticon. In fact, the oppressed are being so controlled by the oppressors that they start to behave the way the oppressors act. In other words, they become like the people they are with. Another way to see this would be that when people know they are watched, they start to watch themselves. This is the process of internalization of rules. The oppressed are so focused on respecting those rules that they don’t realize they are being controlled. That said, it’s also important to mention that surveillance does not only touch observation and control, but also the evaluation of the victims and their changing behavior. In other words, the state imposes rules through constant discipline.

The oppressors and the oppressed, otherwise known as the subjects and objects, need each other. This connection illustrates two types of worlds; subjectivity which is a world without people and objectivity which represents people without a world. Our society needs both in order to function properly. Therefore, the oppressors need the oppressed as much as the oppressed need the oppressors. That said, it’s important to remember that at first sight, the subject has all of the power on the oppressed. However, if we take a closer look, the objects also have power on the oppressors. As mentioned, they are tied to one another.

From a different angle, this relationship could be seen as binary division. This refers to oppressors branding the oppressed in order to categorize them. For example, the oppressed can be seen as savages, natives, and others. This is also seen as systematic control. They are othering people by not calling them by their names. This system prevents any kind of familiarity and therefore, any kind of comfort. This creates a line between the hegemonic people and the outsiders. In contrary, if the oppressed decide to accept their dehumanization, they also accept the whole system. This way of living gives you one choice or the other. You scannot stand in the middle. For example, if you choose to go against this treatment, then you go against the society as a whole.

While binary division is an important concept, dehumanization is also crucial in this chapter. Throughout time, the main consequence of being controlled and oppressed is dehumanization. In other words, the oppressed are being separated from their human qualities. After being brainwashed continuously, their opinions and their values are taken away. In fact, they are so brainwashed that they start to believe that they are worth nothing. This self-depreciation concept makes them depend on the oppressors. The more they become oppressed, the more they become inanimate objects that are controlled. After a certain amount of time, they loose their motivation and their ability to think. They also loose their courage to fight and to acquire knowledge because they become weak. Dehumanization changes a person so much that it can be compared to rebirth. You become a complete other person. From the oppressors’ point of view, this is seen as civilizing savages. They are so keen to make them conform to their values that they become themselves dehumanized. Here is how Paulo Freire best described this conflict:

The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world. (48)

While many people do not eat, have nothing to wear, or have no shelter; the oppressors are all that matters. If they find themselves deprived of these needs, it violates their rights. In other words, they only focus on what they have. For them, their rights are deserved because of their efforts and courage to take risks. They merit being part of the “haves” and being successful. They want to be recognized by the population and be seen as a leading figure. However, they sometimes forget the good values of family, love, and friends. These are concepts of the “Ideological State apparatus” written by Louis Althusser. Instead, they constantly have in mind the repressive apparatus.

That said, even if an oppressed becomes an oppressor, he or she will always feel a lack of confidence. In a way, they feel a sense of security while being oppressed because this is what they know and how they have been created. This can be linked with vocation. In other words it represents what you are supposed to do in life depending on your natural personality. They may become oppressors but not necessarily be comfortable with it. If they really want to be free, Paulo Freire suggests that “the oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption” (54).

Another way to see this whole concept is from an educational point of view. The oppressed suffer from narration sickness. This is also known as the banking method of education. This is the concept of memorizing and repeating. In other words, you memorize what you are told without having the right to object or discuss anything. Once again, this is the definition of brainwashing. As mentioned in chapter two of this work, the solution to this issue is dialogue. Just like in society, the oppressors should discuss with the oppressed before taking any decision and reflect on their actions. The same thing applies to the oppressed. In fact, reflection is really important before taking action. For example, the oppressors can also be seen as extraverted people. They never admit that they are wrong, nor will the oppressed admit it, even if it is clearly the case. This can also be applied in education to students who do not want to admit that they didn’t study enough.

To summarize, it’s important to realize that we live in a world that is directed by oppression. In fact, two options are possible; either be an oppressor or be the one that is oppressed. As mentioned in this summary, there are many ways to describe their role in society: “The oppressed are afraid to embrace freedom; the oppressors are afraid of loosing the freedom to oppress”(46). Seeing how the youth generation is growing, we can assume the possibility of rebellion, which can lead to more oppression in the future.

 Works Cited

Bentley, Leslie. “A brief biography of Paulo Freire.” Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed, Inc. Dec. 1999. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Foulcault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, Panopticism. 1975. Pantheon Books. PDF file.

Freire, Paulo. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1968. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. PDF file.