Sunday, 21 August 2016

Who is Paulo Friere?

The dialogic methods of education needed clarification while reading the Skillful Teacher by Brookfield (2015). When doing a search for the term, I came across the name Paulo Freire. I became interested in his “pedagogy of oppression” and “pedagogy of hope”. I have not read the books but the snatches I have read about his theories do intrigue me.
While in the Yukon a couple of weeks ago I came across a phenomenon that disturbed me. Just 20 km apart from each other in a remote part of the Yukon were two towns. One was obviously a European mining town with a lot of resources, beautifully manicured lawns and flowerbeds. The second was a Dene town, the resources seemed lacking when we went into the store and the warnings about public alcohol abuse were labeled everywhere. When I recounted the disturbed feelings I had about the differences between the towns, a colleague of mine brought up the writings of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972). It came up in this conversation about his work in a discussion about the social determinants of health and learning or literacy.
Smith states, “Paulo Freire was able to take the discussion on several steps with his insistence that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with each other.”(2012, Para. 2). Brookfield quotes Freire in his book on pg 24, “ students want their teachers to be authoritative not authoritarian.” (Horton & Freire, 1990 as cited by Brookfield, 2015) Both these statements have made me curious about the educator and revolutionary. I have never read Freire's books and would probably look at his later writing, Pedagogy of Hope (1995) but the article by Mark Smith wrote about the importance of Freire's contribution to education and social justice intrigued me.
Smith’s article describes both contributions and critique of Paulo Freire; I will focus on the contributions you can look at the article for the critiques. Besides Freire’s focus on dialogue, his other contributions included the idea of praxis (action) because of respectful dialogue in community and social contexts (Smith, 2012).
The third statement about Freire was his desire to have people understand the power dynamics within the process of learning and educational systems, especially the understanding of how the oppressed in a society are taught (Smith, 2012). When I think of this I remember the first nations boarding school issue in Canada. I would propose that the Dene town in Yukon is still part of the culture that experiences the “pedagogy of oppression”. In one of the nursing texts that I use in my collaboration classroom, the authors of How to Nurse speak about the critical lenses that examine the power dynamics of health care access and care (Doane & Varcoe, 2015). Using the lenses of critical feminist, postcolonial, and post-structural we can look at the interpersonal power dynamics that occur in all relationships (Doane & Varcoe, 2015, p.63). As with nursing, teaching is done with a perspective or a lens, I think Freire would have us look through those same lenses to understand who is privileged and why in the education system.
Freire’s fourth and fifth contribution, according to Smith, deal with informal educators. Freire wants educators to be aware where the learning is situated (Smith, 2012).  He uses metaphor often drawing upon Christian references to help informal (and I suggest formal) educators to look at their teaching experiences. I think formal educators also need to be very aware of the situation of their classroom and of learners' experience brought to that situation.
It is the dialogic, social action, and social understanding of power that most intrigues me about Freire’s pedagogy. Dialogue is an integral part of teaching whether in online discussions or face-to-face interactions. Secondly, an interesting perspective to look at education is that of social action, why are we teaching if not to promote active change through critical reflection? And thirdly, through the recent readings of I have come to see the value in understanding social power and how that affects relationships on all kinds of levels in nursing as well as in teaching. Teaching and learning are done in the relational context of groups of individual people, who bring a diversity of perspectives, experiences, and understandings of power. Freire might state that it is this power that can lead to a different pedagogy for the oppressed than the “normal” society, something we need to be aware of. I look forward to reading more about Paulo Freire and his work when I have more time.

Acknowledgment: The image of Paulo Freire is by chhhh/ It is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Doane, G. H., & Varcoe, C. (2015). How to nurse: Relational inquiry with individuals and families in changing health and health care contexts. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 
Freire, P. (1995) Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum.
Smith, M. K. (2012). Paulo Freire: Dialogue, praxis, and education. Retrieved August 20, 2016, from

Other resources about Paulo Freire are listed in Smith's blog and the following is a video of an interview with Paulo Freire:

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