What if I told you trying to eliminate poverty through “education” is bullshit? Part II | AmericaWakieWakie
“[T]he interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them,” for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated.”
— Paulo Freire
Earlier this week a child entered into a classroom blankly painted white. The child did as usual, slumping into a wooden, creaky desk dusted with the etchings of hundreds of kids whom before had sat there and, like her now, had grown bored with the lessons of the day and resorted to teaching themselves the art of pencil-sketching. Only upon the lead breaking into the grooves of the desk did she look up from her station, a moment of interest in the world around chased away by the droning-on of authority telling her to listen.
This is the story of countless youth in classrooms across America. It is a story of teachers too, the story of how they and their administrators have claimed hegemony over knowledge, thereby castrating their very ability to educate anyone let alone themselves. It is a story of why when education is framed within an oppressive system it cannot develop into liberation because it is not OF the people, it is FOR the people… to consume and regurgitate, to make us instruments of our own oppression — to control us.
How does capitalist “education” control us?
“[A]ll the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
— Capt. Richard Pratt, U.S. Army
The most powerful weapon to destroy a people’s resistance is to erase their history. Colonial powers learned this early on in their conquest of indigenous peoples, that if they could control the narrative of a people’s history, or erase it altogether, they could then control the thought process by which people would exist and come to know the world.
And so the process of “teaching” a complex system of normalized indoctrination began; that is, the task of erasing the histories of millions of peoples, creating instead a pseudo-monolithic whole by dismembering or compressing a thousand narratives into one. Expanded to all of America’s oppressed peoples, this has meant the exclusion or tokenizing of our stories to ensure our ways of thinking and knowing are weeded out, or marginalized in one way or another, because they do not (have never) conform(ed) to colonial standards.
Thus, today a single value system remains dominant: A philosophy of knowing derived from logical and mathematical treatments of people, which holds the exclusive source of all legitimate knowledge as that which can be measured empirically. In the hands of oppressors this philosophy of knowing objectifies people, dehumanizing them into “things” to be analyzed and (based off that analysis) dictated to the when, what, why and how of living. It presupposes itself as the authoritative avenue by which ALL people could ever legitimately know or operate in the world.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire explains:
“The one who is doing the [dictating] defines himself and the class to which he belongs as those who know or were born to know; he thereby defines others as alien entities. The words of his own class come to be the “true” words, which he imposes or attempts to impose on the others: the oppressed, whose words have been stolen from them. Those who steal the words of others develop a deep doubt in the abilities of the others and consider them incompetent. Each time they say their word without hearing the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding. They can no longer live without having someone to give orders too. Under these circumstances, dialogue [and authentic learning] is impossible.”
No room for knowledge that is introspective, intuitive, or a system by which we may come to truth through collaborative experiences, is acknowledged because it would relinquish power to the oppressed. Within such a framework, what is valued as accepted “education” within institutions represents a single method of pedagogy — what Paulo Freire called “the banking concept of education” — with a curriculum and ways of knowing which reflect only those prescribed by our oppressors.
Here, Freire expounds on oppressive ways of “teaching”:
“[The banking concept of education] turns [students] into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teachers. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teachers she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat… [T]he scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”
In the banking concept of education, truth and knowledge are wholly represented by the teacher; whom themselves submit to “a philosophy of knowing derived from logical and mathematical treatments of people, which holds the exclusive source of all legitimate knowledge as that which can be measured empirically.” In this instance, unbeknownst to most educators, they facilitate oppressive ways of knowing by objectifying their students, “dehumanizing them into “things” to be analyzed and (based off that analysis) dictated to the when, what, why and how of living.” They presuppose themselves as the authoritative avenue by which their students could ever legitimately know the world.
This is the educational paradigm of capitalism. In it any ideas that strengthen the institutionalization of it are good and valued, ingraining it in people’s minds as the entire possible spectrum of education that there is, while any ideas that are introspective, intuitive, or humanizing are shunned as ineffective/inefficient because they or their results cannot be quantified.
The World is Our Classroom & We Are Each Other’s Teachers
“We can legitimately say that in the process of oppression someone oppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates some else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other.”
— Paulo Freire
It is oxymoronic to think education can serve any aim as noble as the elimination of poverty when it itself is a vessel of our oppression.
Through the banking concept of education we are told by those authoritatively assigned as our “teachers” — inside and outside classrooms — what to think and how to think it. We are taught to be good, subordinate servants. Perhaps most of all, and most debilitating to us, we are conditioned to love our oppressors and to blame ourselves for the systemic problems we face.
Can’t make rent? Get a second job. Still not enough? Should have gone to college. Did go to college? Should have gone to a better one. Went to a fantastic university? Should have avoided loans. Born into poverty and couldn’t avoid them? Too bad, should have been born rich.
No solutions ever actually emerge because they were never meant to. Capitalists know this. Finding solutions would mean actually dismantling the education of oppression and attacking poverty where it is born — in the hands of the rich.
It would mean realizing classrooms themselves are arbitrary inventions to serve oppressive ways of knowing the world. It would mean seeing each other as the fully complex beings we are and abandoning a system that assumes most of us are incapable of learning, that some of us must fill the rest with our own truth while erasing theirs. It would mean refusing the methods of our oppressors, understanding the best, most authentic way for us to understand ourselves and the world is through and with each other.
(Read Part One of This Series Here)