On Pedagogy of the Oppressed

There were many things I enjoyed about Paulo Freiere’s teaching philosophy. I too despise what he terms banking-education, however, in a review of what Freiere offers as an alternative, I find myself asking a number of questions about what seem to me to be some gross assumptions. For this blog I have responded to some quotations from his writing:

“Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.”

Absolutely. Education has, perhaps, always been about indoctrinating subjects with only the option to adapt and assimilate into a “world of oppression.” Virginia Woolf lays this out inĀ A Room of One’s Own. Peiere doesn’t mention capitalism, but why not replace the term “world of oppression” with it? This brings the institution into the manifold of oppression. ALL major universities in the US harbor enormous hedge funds. The word university never appears in this sample of writing.

“Because banking education begins with a false understanding of men and women as objects, it cannot promote the development of what Fromm calls “biophily,” but instead produces its opposite: “necrophily.”

While life is characterized by growth in a structured functional manner, the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things. . . Memory, rather than experience; having, rather than being, is what counts’ The necrophilous person can relate to an object — a flower or a person — only if he possesses it; hence a threat to his possession is a threat to himself, if he loses possession he loses contact with the world. . . . He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life. (Fromm)

What Fromm is doing here is reducing a thing to its effects, to the ways in which a thing externalizes itself. As Graham Harmon puts it in Immaterialism, Fromm, “rather than treating objects as superficial compared with their ultimate tiniest pieces, one treats them as needlessly deep or spooky hypotheses by comparison with their tangible properties or effects.” For Harmon, not thinking in objects runs the risk of either reducing a thing to its internal relations or parts (my DNA, cells, bacteria, what material tissues of which I am made) or to its effects, its externalizations, how I act on the world.

“The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own.”

Jacques Ranciere’s theory on universal education is a bit more radical. He tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, who was confronted with the dilemma of teaching students a language foreign to them without having a common language between himself and his students with which to begin. He spoke French, and they spoke Flemish. Jacotot gave his Flemish students a book in French, and with no explication they began to learn to write in French. Over time the sentences got better with no superfluous guidance from the professor! Ranciere’s theory replaces teacher with father, and communication with mother tongue. He refers to the way babies learn mother tongues with absolutely no explanation. Friere’s theory leaves intact the institutional position of the teacher, the explicator.

Diversity and stuff

I recently read an essay by Anna Agathangelou, M. Daniel Bassichis, and Tamara Spira called, “Intimate Investments: Homonormativity, Global Lockdown, and the Seductions of Empire.” Their basic thesis is that as new groups, such as the LGBTQ community, gain territory in their fights for rights, we should not be so gleeful in their victories without a much deeper criticality. The valence of power within these configurations of new rights and privileges, according to the authors, obscures the reproduction of capitalist values and neoliberal practices.

Notions of privatization, for instance, were at the core argument “dubbed the Pricacy Project,” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in their campaign to relinquish anti sodomy laws in Texas. They also analyze a 2003 advertisement featuring Keith Bradkowski, who testified before the U.S. senate using the argument that the terrorists of the 9/11 attack who killed his partner targeted him as an American, not a gay man. True, but the authors point out the Heteronormative logic behind Homonormalization (removal of sodomy laws, legalization of gay marriage). The ad features a white man, who pays his taxes, thus engendering him as an ideal citizen protected under the law through private property and private rights. According to the authors: “Through the stress on monogamy, devotion, and a relationship constrained within the bonds of privacy and propriety, the ad participates in demonization of all other forms of sexual expression, practices, and relationships … heteronormative logics are refueled in the production of the good gay subject” (Agathangelou 126).

All this refers to subject formation. The authors are concerned with how capitalist and neoliberal forces squeeze subjects into consent, demobilization, and rationally segmented demographics. The logics at work grant privilege to some (white) members of the gay community, while by default excluding bodies of color. This demobilizes gay communities and puts them at odds with each other by making complicit a fraction of the community at the cost of the rest of it. So diversity is great, but we must always be weary of shiny new rights at the cost of newly re-marginalized groups created out of the very winning over of said rights.