Chapter two of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed reads with the same sort of urgency as any section out of The Communist Manifesto. Freire uses powerful language to deliver a sense of romance and importance to his cause, which is educational reform. Although I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had assumed his cause to be something bigger, on the grander scale of overthrowing a government or something like that. (Ok, maybe I am being dramatic but I found Freire’s style a little overwhelming).
Freire presents two systems of education: “Banking” education and the alternative “Problem- posing” education. The most important difference between the two systems is that “Problem-posing” education seeks to further “the pursuit of full humanity”(85), whereas, “Banking” education does not, and is therefore “dehumanizing” in a way that suits the interests of “the oppressors”(Pedagogy of the Oppressed 74).
Freire refers to these “oppressors” as the “dominant elites”(78) whose aim is to “change the consciousness of the oppressed”(74). “Banking education” is one method by which the oppressors are able to perpetuate the indoctrination of the oppressed “to adapt to the world of oppression”(78). All in all this theory of oppression is very moving, however, I find the presupposition of the existence of these “oppressors” the most disturbing. I can’t help but question who these oppressors are. Is there really a small minority which controls and manipulates society, “who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed”(73)?
Maybe it is just a misunderstanding. Maybe there are no “oppressors” who connive and aim to oppress the rest of us. Maybe the negative “banking education” system is just a consequence of something that was once/is necessary. The classical purpose of public education was to educate better citizens, for the sake of the city and the common good. Freire proposes a sort of education which aims at the “pursuit of full humanity”, which has a lot to do with developing the individual in direct contradiction to the classical state or the common good. So yes, the current system of education operates under a few tenets that are innately concerned with dominion but they reflect certain core tenets of our society— our society which operates under rules and allows operators within the freedom defined by those rules. Maybe our society is shifting towards the individual and the “pursuit of full humanity”, in which case an educational reform is in order. Or maybe what Freire was calling for is not just an educational reform but a complete societal shift via education. Either way, trying to reform society or to promote an educational paradigm that is incompatible with current society, is a big task.