The Most Revolutionary Act

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Creating Schools that Facilitate Change

Posted By on February 21, 2013


Paulo Freire

This is the fifth of a series of guest posts by Dr Danny Weil from an article (World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?) he originally published in Daily Censored.

In this fifth section Dr Weil presents the other side of the “standards” debate, by briefly outlining “radical pedagogy,” a freedom-affirming approach to education that facilitates inquiry, discovery and social change.


Critical Pedagogy and the Progressive Post-Modernist Position

By Dr Danny Weil

“The problem of education in its relation to the direction of social change is all one with the problem of finding out what democracy means in its total range of concrete applications: domestic, international, religious, cultural economic and political.  …The trouble… is that we have taken democracy for granted; we have thought and acted as if our forefathers had founded it once and for all.”- John Dewey (Democracy and Education, 1997 p 357-358)

Unlike cultural conservative, economic conservative, and neo-liberal notions of education, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernism, as pronounced and defined by Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), attaches a completely different and contrary meaning and purpose to education.  For Freire and his progressive post-modern contemporaries, education is not an impartial act, but a conscious political act of freedom and love aimed at subjective exploration, self-reflection and should be grounded in an ethical format that embraces human beings, their historicity and their search for emancipation.  Much like W.E.B. DuBois, who early commented that the role of education “is not to make carpenters out of men, but men out of carpenters (DuBois, The Education of Black People, 1924, p50-54),” Freire envisioned education and its goals as the eradication of human exploitation, the abolition of human manipulation, the elimination of avarice and greed, the rejection of insipid individualism devoid of individuality, and the rejection of racial, class and sexual discrimination and exploitation—not capitalist competitiveness.

Freire himself was very clear in this regard:

“My point of view is that of ‘the wretched of the earth’, of the excluded (Freire, ibid, p22).”

Radical pedagogy believes that teacher preparation must not be married to training, but instead should be attached to a search for personal and social meaning within historical and contemporary understanding.  And, they believe that knowledge can never be conveyed or transmitted as mere facts and information, but must be invented and reinvented through discursive inquiry and a problem-posing curriculum that seeks to help citizens make sense of their cognitive and emotional lives and the world within which they live.

This does not mean that these post-modern theoretical positions do not think that basic skills are important or shouldn’t be taught; post-Formalists argue it is how they are taught, the context within which they are taught, and how they are incorporated in the service of enabling the human being to think and act critically.  Teaching skills in the context of reasoning, where emotional intelligence and rational thinking are reconnected in the pursuit of intelligent activity orchestrated and incorporated in the service of a problem posing curriculum that is based on inquiry and discovery, is much different than teaching skills in rote isolation along with indoctrination in the form of culturally legitimized facts disconnected from meaning.

Where conservatives and neo-liberals attempt to regulate the world of students through standardization, indoctrination and the removal of discourse and autonomy, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernist educational claims assert that education must be interested in the consciousness of human beings and a determination to help them “read the world” through interaction and dialogue (Freire).  Post-formalism would advocate teaching ethics without indoctrination, where students are encouraged to forge their thinking skills in the fires of controversy and critical scrutiny.  Again, Freire states this position clearly:

“Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted human beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.  The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity (Freire, as above p77).”

Radical Pedagogy, Progressive Post-Modernism and the Education Critique of Standards and Assessments

“Let us view understanding not as a state of possession of knowledge, but one of enablement.  When we understand something we not only possess certain information about it but are enabled to do certain things with that knowledge” David Perkins  (Smart Schools 1995)

As pointed out earlier, for radical pedagogues and progressive post-modernists who embrace democracy and the need for a democratized self as the focus of education, schooling must be linked to what it means to be human.  Currently, with preparation in school tailored solely for preparation for work; this preparation for work is sold to the public as preparation for life.  Radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernist positions disagree vehemently with this predication and posit the contrary; that preparation in school should be for preparation for life; and preparation for life will, by its very nature, enable students to be prepared for the exigencies of work.  Certainly rational production is a necessity for human endeavors, but a critical and democratically committed citizenry, they argue, is much more capable of rational production than an unconscious manipulated citizenry grafted onto corporate agendas only.  They argue that schools should be centers for utopian thinking, laboratories of wonderment, and environments of inquiry available to all students.  Yet, unfortunately, amidst all the talk of educational reform, progressive post-modernists argue that schools are still seeped in the past and thus can do little to help children create and invent their future or the future of society.  Because of their emphasis on education as liberation, progressive post-modernists have constructed powerful critiques of economic conservative, neo-liberal and cultural conservative arguments for education and educational standards.

 (To be continued.)

Dr Danny Weil is a public interest attorney who has practiced for more than twenty years and has been published in a case of first impression in California. He is no longer active as a lawyer but has written seven books on education, has taught second grade in South Central LA, PS 122, taught K-1 migrant children in Santa Maria, California and Guadalupe, California, taught in the California Youth Authority to first and second degree murderers and taught for seventeen years at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, CA. in the philosophy department. Dr. Weil holds a BA in Political Economics and Philosophy, a multi-subject bilingual credential in education (he is fluent in Spanish) and has a PhD in Critical Thinking. He is a writer for the Truthout Intellectual Project.

photo credit: ricardoromanoff via photopin cc


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