Pedagogy of the Oppressed…Freed…or Entitled?

This week involved reading excerpts from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Freedom.

There are two nicely contrasting quotes which I think highlight a key issue as the classroom has begun to modernize.

“….it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.”

“…The teacher who thinks “correctly” transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.”

Many of us will agree, progressiveness in the classroom makes for a wonderful experience when executed well. Many have likely experienced the repercussions of  authoritative instructions on a student’s creativity.

In my opinion, we live in a generation of entitlement. On a college campus, if you do not have a smart device, access is likely not far out of reach. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had instructors make comments like “Kids these days…” and roll their eyes. I’ve also had many classes with an anti-technology policy. I think for too long entitlement has been viewed as a negative by product of technology, rather than an asset in the classroom. In a generation where there is so much innovation that nothing is innovative, I wonder, how to we not only leverage that to our advantage, but adapt it to our teaching style all while maintaining a relevance to the course?

Theatre and Education of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed is a set of theatrical forms derived by Augusto Boal in the 1960s. According to Boal, the human “was a self-contained theatre, actor, and spectator in one.” This means that humans have the remarkable ability to simultaneously take action and observe themselves in action. This idea removes the transnational nature of the performative arts and dissolves the barrier between artist and audience or in this case, performer and observer.

The roots of Theatre of the Oppressed include economics, philosophy, ethics, history, and politics. Theatre of the Oppressed exists as a form of social activism and public dialogue that fosters discussion between the audience and performer. In many cases, this framework recognizes the role of audience AS performer and the role of the performer AS audience. In this context, the act of theatre is a form of social and political commentary that engages people in discovery, critical reflection, and dialogue through the process of liberation.

Boal’s techniques include using images, sounds, and words through a series of games meant to draw attention to various forms of oppression through dialogue and interaction. The major branches of Theatre of the Oppressed include: Image Theatre, Forum Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Newspaper Theatre, Rainbow of Desire, and Legislative Theatre. While I could spend time digging into the each of the branches, that is not entirely the point of this blog. If you’re interested, there is a wealth of easily accessible online resources. Instead, the point is to draw connections between Theatre of the Oppressed and the work of Paulo Freire with the understanding that the relationship between teaching and performing is so incredibly close.

Boal’s work was heavily influenced by educator and theorist Paulo Freire. It’s easy to see the correlation between Freiere’s work in critical pedagogy and Boal’s work in Theatre of the Oppressed. In the Foundations of Critical Pedagogy, Freiere describes teaching as a political act arguing that teachers, “should embrace this dimension of their work and position on social cultural, economic, political, and philosophical critiques of dominant power at the heart of the curriculum” (p. 70). Both Ferire and Boal operate by recognizing that oppression is a system of control that forces individuals to adjust to, and accept the world around them and inhibits creative power. Critical pedagogy forces practitioners to recognize the role of teacher and student is not a subversive relationship but a fluid one. The same can be applied to audience and performer as previously mentioned in the work of Boal. This type of work examines the importance of education and the importance of artistic expression as a form of survival. At the heart of this discussion is the idea that oppression is a result of the imbalance of power. Both education and artistic expression are tools that when properly employed have the ability to shift power by providing commentary and critical understanding to the world as we perceive it to be, not as we are told it exists.

The relationship between Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Theatre of the Oppressed is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, there are several organizations and academic journals that specialize on the topic. It just goes to show the intrinsic nature the arts have with the human condition. Where there are learners there are teachers and where there are teachers there are artists.

“Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain” – Aristotle

“Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.” –Alexis Carrel

TO Tree English 400

Are the students active or object in the classroom?

I read that Ira Shor, a professor at the City University of New York, believed that the role of students should change from the object to active. (

I love his idea! I always hated to be an object from others. Though this reflects my personality, I think that a constructive classroom must have an active atmosphere for the students. They need to sense that their roles are very important in the classroom and if they do not participate in the class, they missed a major part of their life!

I remembered that some of my teachers had tried to motivate the students to show up in the class by some rules, for example, they had stated that the participation in class is 10% or even 20% of the total grade. I am sure that the students show up with this type of rules, but we should evaluate its efficiency. They may be in the class but they check their social network accounts like Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

So, how can we motivate the students to be more active in the class? How can we reconstruct the relation between the teacher and students?

I have an idea that may work and it is worthy of mention. We may randomly select the students to present a brief lecture about the last session in a few minutes at the beginning of each session. This may help them to feel as a teacher and they think that they are teaching the course. I know that some instructors ask the students to present some contents of the course but I do not like this method of motivation. Because the students are not familiar with the topic and they may feel disappointed. Instead, we may teach them and ask them to review the materials and develop more details about it. It may work better and motivate them to deeply think about the course. Additionally, they feel that they are leading the class and it changes their mind about the atmosphere of the class.

In the last session, Professor Nelson asked the student to read their peers’ syllabus and criticized it. This is exactly an appropriate method of motivation. All students feel that they are grading his/her peer and learn more about another syllabus. Another positive point in this course is that the students must comment other blogs. They need to read other blogs and think about them then write a logical and meaningful comment. Both these methods are perfect ways to engage the students in the classroom.

Finally, I believe that the students should feel that they are learning an important topic in the class and if they miss one session they may lose a major knowledge. To create this perception, the teachers should use innovative methods of teaching and recreate their relations with students via social activities out of the class.

Raising of critical thinkers: it is harder than it looks

This week’s readings about critical pedagogy may prompt some of you to apply those teachings in your current and future classrooms. Except that I have been trying to raise my kids to be critical thinkers and it is harder than it looks.

I always try to make time to explain to my kids every thing that I am doing, why I am doing it and what would happen if I don’t do it. I  try to give them the choice of doing something or not doing it. I  travel as much as possible with them, widening their views on existing cultures so they can question how the world works and start a dialogue. Most of all, I respect the choices they make and their individuality.

I cannot begin to articulate how challenging and tiring that way is.  My oldest (six and a half) has developed a keen sense of logic and sometimes his arguments make more sense than mine and I have to adhere to his requests. And my younger one (there and a half) is completely independent, he wants to do everything himself and sometimes wants to make decisions for us.

On days when I am not completely overwhelmed, I can appreciate that I am raising critical thinkers who will not take matters at face value but rather question and validate their choices. But, on the other hand, it takes so much work and time to keep up with them, being the guide rather than the enforcer of rules.

Needless to say, I appreciate Freire’s approach to education and rejecting the “banking system” and all it takes is a conscientious shift on our behalf from automated teaching/learning to eternal seekers and givers of knowledge.

Teaching like a flashcard? Memorize, Recite, Repeat

The reading this week for class were very informative. The analogy of students being the “receptacles” that the teachers must “fill” from the Paulo Freire text really caught my attention. I have never really heard of the “banking” concept before. It made me think back to all the days, I spent memorizing word for word bullets off PowerPoint slides and writing down each key statistic to reproduce on the test. This definitely limits creativity, transformation, application, and knowledge.
Teaching should be conversational! Much like a strategy used for health counseling called motivation interviewing, the conversation should be two-sided and should be facilitated or guided by the instructor. Taking an authoritative approach where there are no connections between instructor and students will suppress creativity and damage the learning environment. Asking for questions, allowing for discussion, and opening the floor to all types of learning will allow for an opportunity for student success. Is there a place though for directness, memorization, and recitation? Is a traditional “banking” education model a foe to the progression of teaching education? What is the correct mixture of “banking” information and application?



Bank balance

In reading the excerpt from “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, I am again in throes of processing such sensational pedagogical writing. My problems are: (1) the gross generalizations are laughable, and with many of the writings and discussions in such vein, I would like to see the data to back up claims that most educators are “Narrators” depositing information in “banks;” and (2) this movement seems much more apropos to our current K-12 system, as it is mandated by governmental regulation.

In either case, the instructors I know–both K-12 and at the university level–actively work against the stereotypical approaches of instructor-student dynamics in the classroom. I am well aware of how impressive my friends and acquaintances are, and I’m optimistic that this approach is more widespread than we give credit.

The excerpt is only chapter 2 from the book, so I am curious to read the rest and gain a broader perspective of the narrative. It’s a bit much to choke down much of what Freire writes in somewhat isolation–such as, “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.”1 In regards to this specific quote, I am also curious to know more about the time and place Freire is drawing from, because to apply this to 21st century pedagogy in the US seems far-fetched at best. While I am the first to criticize and call for the retraction of Common Core, I in no way think it is an exercise of domination over students/citizens.

Again, how does this apply to the university? The banking concept, at least, can apply pretty readily, but is it prevalent (as many would have us believe)? I would like to see data on that. I cannot think of an instance in my university studies in which student participation and contribution in the classroom was discouraged. Of course content must be given, and often in a lecture method. It is here that I come back to a common argument of mine in that half of a student’s education (if not more) is dependent on student responsibility. If the student needs more than what is given, approach the professor.

The practical reality of the University is that we have thousands of incoming students every year, and thousands of outgoing graduates, all with the goal of earning a degree that all but guarantees a given knowledge-set bestowed on the student. Instructors are in the position of making sure adequate and appropriate information is given and received in the classroom. There are going to be plenty of instances of banking this knowledge, and plenty of instances of going beyond merely lecturing to the student (dependent on the instructor, the students, class size, and material, among other variables).

Freire’s philosophical approach makes for a good read, and is certainly passionate, but I look forward to more practical approaches in aiding the learning process.


Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed.New York: Continuum Books, 1993.

We have different history textbooks

I was sent to the National Taiwan University in the summer of 2012 as a visiting student for six weeks. I did some cool research on micro fluids in NTU, met some nice friends and had a good time. All in all, I love Taiwan and the time there.

One thing I had wanted to do and did do with my friends there was to go to a book store and check out the history textbooks — sounds crazy and dumb? No. For those who don’t know, here is the thing: there were two Parties in China during and shortly after the Second World War: the Communist Party and Kuomintang. They cooperated with each other during WW2 but started a civil war immediately after the WW2 victory. Then Kuomintang was defeated by the Communist Party and moved to Taiwan. “Legitimacy belongs to the victor”. So in the history textbook in mainland China, the Communist Party is the major force in the war of resistance against Japan. But, I had been hearing the rumor that the history textbook in Taiwan, of which the content is determined by Kuomintang, is different from ours, and said that Kuomintang is actually the leading power to defeat Japan (which, to be honest, I believe is the truth). So, we were curious and went to a bookstore to find out — and it is true! The description tongue and the “facts” written are very different from ours.

Just one simple example in my life of how curriculum is related to power. A more generalized and extreme example can be found in 1984, George O’well’s famous novel. And that’s ONE reason why we need critical pedagogy.

Power to the students

What caught my attention most in the work of Paulo Freire is “respect for what students know”—that is, taking advantage of students’ prior knowledge to learn more than is possible when a supposedly all-knowing professor dictates. I really love this perspective, given my disillusionment with academia and the ivory tower and my pro-blue collar/trade school/indigenous knowledge mindset (Did I mention I want to teach community college? Or just be one of those food critics that gets paid to eat a bunch of food? That’s a thing, right?). Although I have not yet been responsible for teaching a semester-long course, I have led several lectures and labs. I always make an effort to access this existing student knowledge by asking questions in a conversational manner during the lecture (e.g. “Have you ever noticed that…”). Similarly, I like to know where the students are from to tie in examples of natural features near their corresponding homes (e.g. “Who here is from the Piedmont? You’ve probably seen how…”). Note: following the microaggression theme from my last blog post, I ask this of pretty much everyone because I find it interesting; most of the time I actually hope you will be from somewhere different, because the hydrology might be distinct there. I copied this technique from some of my favorite professors because it made the subject matter more approachable and familiar to the students. I always felt a sense of ownership or authority on a given topic that related to me in some way, as if I already knew more than I thought I did. This tactic can be successful in all fields, but I find it especially easy to incorporate in hydrology. Water is all around us, unless maybe you are from a desert (which I would find out by asking where you are from), so we can tap into those subconscious observations to discover that most of us probably know a good deal about hydrology.

Respect for students’ prior knowledge is also critical from a multi/interdisciplinary standpoint. For example, a hydrology or geomorphology course would be essential for a wildlife biologist studying salamanders, but I would also be curious about the hydrological processes these students observe in their line of work (perhaps salamanders congregating near zones of cooler water upwelling in the summer, and where those areas might be?). Or, I would be interested to learn more about water rights from a political science or pre-law student. However, in order to capitalize on what students know, we must first know something about the students. As I mentioned, asking where students are from is one good question, but inquiring about fields of study and extracurricular interests also provides opportunities to connect with the course content and make the material relevant to each individual.

Maybe this is understood or assumed in the work of Freire, but I would add the modification to his model of informed problem-posing rather than simply problem-posing. I am still scarred from a few discussion-based graduate seminars that I guess attempted to get at this problem-posing format. For these seminars, we would read a few peer-reviewed articles, which were always really complicated and archaic and often written by renowned researchers. The professors wanted the students to entirely take charge of the discussion and talk about what was wrong with the paper, what we would do differently, etc. These are great questions and, theoretically, a fine set-up for a graduate-level class. Small problem: despite careful reading, we often did not understand the papers well enough to have this sort of discussion (like, “I think they do something with a sediment sample at some point”). I should clarify, I do believe that being able to work through complex articles that may not be in our area of expertise is an essential skill for graduate students to develop. However, the end result that I witnessed in these purely student-led classes was random babbling and tangents, and I did not feel like I came away with any more knowledge. Incidentally, I have taken really great graduate seminars that also involved reading and discussing articles. The professors in these classes still encouraged student-based discussion but created some structure by providing necessary background on the subject or interjecting with their own questions. At least in my experience, this model was more successful. While I like the problem-posing technique that draws on pre-existing student knowledge, professors should not completely step back, but rather teach concepts and suggest tools that can help solve these problems. I think that students do not normally use their prior knowledge in the classroom because they develop tunnel vision (“I always have to use this equation to get this answer”) and do not necessarily know they are allowed to do anything else. I feel that small prompts and reminders that students should use all of their intellectual resources to tackle a problem, as opposed to just the ones presented in class, can go a long way.

And in honor of my last blog post…

From the journal of a “miserable child”

Last Fall, while I was talking to my parents on the phone, describing my experiences as a student at Virginia Tech, I asked my mother if she had ever imagined I would pursue a doctoral degree. She said (and I kid you not), “Nope, you were such a miserable child in grade school, I never would have thought you would be interested in higher education!”

She was 100 percent correct because in “grade school” I really was a “miserable child”. I was not a miserable child by nature, it just happened in grade school. While reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed where Paulo Freire describes the “banking education” model, I chuckled because it took me back to grade school. I can say I have lived through each one of those bullet points Paulo Freire stated – hence the misery. My parents were always be surprised that I got fantastic grades in any subject that had a “practical” attached to it (basically part of the course during which I had to do a hands-on application of the knowledge gained in the theory class) versus a purely theoretical subject. I absolutely loved the subjects with a practical component because they helped me apply what I had learned in class to solve the problem at hand. The curiosity of how something I read in a book would translate into a real life scenario was inspiring to me. It was the ‘active’ that I was drawn to instead of the ‘passive’ as we read about in the Pedagogy of Freedom article.

Drawing just a little more on my experience of teachers growing up, whenever I saw a grade school teacher outside the context of the classroom, they seemed so nice…they even smiled! In the classroom however, they were these magnanimous personalities that I never formed a connection with. In contrast, I have known and connected with some educators over the years (mainly during my graduate schools) who I respect and admire not just due to the fact that they facilitated my education and helped me learn, but also because they cared about my learning…not their teaching but my learning. They made me aware of things I needed to know but did not expect me to repeat verbatim what they had said. They were patient with me and that just made all the difference. These educators, as I would like to address them, helped me realize that learning was not cramming and regurgitating, learning was organic if the conditions surrounding the attempt to learn were conducive.

How can I apply this to myself when I am standing in the shoes of an educator?! I really liked the video in which Paulo Freire says “…the virtue of tolerance, it is through the exercise of tolerance that I discover the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things with different people. Being tolerant is not a question of being naïve…it does not demand from me to lose my personality.” Thus, as an educator, I would have to develop the ability of being patient, learn how to teach in a fashion that is conducive to the learning of the individuals in my class, of wanting to learn with them and for them and in the process not forgetting who I am as an educator and what I bring to the table to facilitate and create that learning environment.


Paulo Freire evaluating my Syllabus!

It was really interesting to me to have a look at Paulo Freire’s point of view about how education should be like or what is called “The critical pedagogical practice”. Unfortunately, throughout my learning experience both in school and in college, I’ve never taken a class that truly applied Freire’s ideas and recommendations. I remember that we students were all passive receptors receiving knowledge from the “Oracle” or what we call the “teacher” without the ability to express ourselves and think critically. The result is just we “store” whatever knowledge is thrown on us from the teacher to spit it out in the exam and that’s it. The disaster is that most of us now after 10 years or so doesn’t remember what these classes were about! This is not the true goal of education and we as educators should avoid this “passive” approach of teaching. For me as a future educator, I don’t want to fall into the trap that most of my teachers fell into when I was student. For this reason, I will try now to evaluate my Syllabus draft from the previous week in the light of Freire’s approach about “Critical Pedagogy”.

My course is a project/activity based course that teaches junior level computer science students the fundamentals of commonly used data structures and algorithms in the field. This course is programming intensive, accordingly, most of the focus should be on giving the students hands on practical experience. For this reason, 60% of the grade is dedicated to programming projects that allows the student to experience how to write programs for real. I see that this part of the syllabus is linked directly to Freire’s point about “empowering students to be critically engaged and active participants in society” as they are writing their own programs that can help organizations and businesses in managing and manipulating the tremendous amounts of data they generate daily. I believe this to be a direct connection between the student and the society in which students are actively engaged in developing solutions for the welfare of the society.

I also devoted 20% of the course grade to participation. I want to listen to the students and make them active within the class. This satisfies Freire’s point “The importance of dialogic exchange between teachers and students, where both learn, both question, both reflect and both participate in meaning-making“. This way, the student will find the tribune from which he can share his ideas with his classmates and the teacher and become an influential part of the knowledge creation process. This also satisfies Freire’s point “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge“. Part of the participation grade is for creating activities for the students to do in class. This gives the student the opportunity to be more creative and to be an effective agent in the knowledge design process as he is the one who creates the activities for the class.

The final part of the grade is dedicated to assignments. The main purpose of these assignments is just to ensure that the student has Grasped the required conceptual fundamentals so that he will be able to do the projects and the activities. These are True/False, Fill in the blanks, simple programming, and MCQ. They are designed to test the student understanding of a particular concept not his ability to memorize the concept. Since the course has no exams so I believe there will be no need for students to memorize, but they learn the concepts to apply them in the projects and activities. This aligns with Ferier’s point “Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end . . .fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community.  They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of personal value“. The course is carefully designed to avoid any means of memorization and focus mainly on practical hands on application.

Finally, I believe that the syllabus will do a good job in applying Ferier’s approach of critical pedagogy as it satisfies some of the points that Ferier stressed on.

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