Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Countering Dehumanization through Education

Education for Paulo Freire is a process of humanization, meaning making humans more human. The effort of humanization must be actualized to counter the process of dehumanization. The education consistently advocated by Freire is humanistic education, which is a part of the philosophy of humanism. It is this philosophical current of humanism that Freire aspires to, where humans are seen as the subjects or primary agents in education. This humanistic concept always centers on understanding human beings and their values. The principle of humanity must always be upheld, with no room for inequality. Freire draws heavily on and is indebted to the philosophical ideas of Karl Marx, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Antonio Gramsci, and Jean-Paul Sartre, especially concerning the philosophy of education he developed.

Freire was an educationalist, theologian, and humanist thinker from Brazil. He was born into a middle-class family in Recife in 1921. During his youth, the Great Depression of the 1930s severely affected the global economy, especially the American continent. Freire grew up in poverty and hunger, experiences that later influenced his concern for poverty. This experience became the driving force behind Freire’s conceptualization of education. Drawing from his empirical experiences in his local environment and the daily challenges of oppression he faced, Freire developed an educational concept that critiqued the prevailing models of education worldwide up to the present day.

Freire’s educational concept, now known as the problem-posing method, aims to understand reality. This educational method encourages individuals to become aware of their surroundings and condition as subjects. In this approach, learners are directed to engage with the issues in their communities. Freire viewed humans as beings capable of transformation, and, according to him, they must be positioned as subjects. As subjects, humans can change the reality of the problems they encounter. Conversely, humans who merely adapt are considered objects.

Teacher’s Role in Understanding and Engagement

The problem-posing method is not conducted through a dichotomy of teacher-student activities, where the teacher is in a state of “understanding” and “narrating.” A teacher who truly “understands” prepares projects well and engages in dialogue with the students. The teacher does not see the object of understanding as something they own but rather as an object of reflection for both themselves and the students. Likewise, the students are not just passive listeners. They are idealized as critical seekers of answers in dialogue with the teacher. The role of the educator employing the problem-posing method is expected to create a sense of togetherness with the students, where the knowledge at the level of beliefs (doxa) is replaced by actual knowledge at the level of science (logos).

Freire also uses the problem-posing method to criticize the concept of education he refers to as the “banking” style of education. The education treats the teaching-learning process as a depositing activity, where the students act as depositors and the teacher as the depositor. The students merely receive and store what the teacher imparts to them, and there is no dialectical process between the teacher and students. Freire sees this banking-style education as the birthplace of ideologies of oppression.

Universal Nature of Humanization

In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire extensively addresses the issue of humanism. According to Freire, humanization is a universal problem of human life. For him, humanization must be seen as a fundamental issue, an inevitable spirit. Humanization is the process of making humans more humane. Additionally, the effort of humanization is an essential part of the resistance against dehumanization. Dehumanization is countering humanity or depriving individuals of their human dignity.

In Freire’s view, both humanization and dehumanization are natural choices. However, these two choices are highly contradictory. Freire states that humanization is inherent to human nature, while dehumanization is a deviation from the true essence of being human. Dehumanization can occur due to the deprivation of humanity within society. According to Freire, humanity does not happen independently or as a given; instead, it is a process that must be pursued.

Ontological Essence

Freire emphasizes that humans are born as fighters, and their ontological essence is to fight for humanization. Sooner or later, individuals will become aware of the contradictions between humanization and dehumanization, including the contradictions in the education system. In the concept of education for the oppressed to liberate themselves from oppression, Freire seeks to remind society of the importance of education. The substance of Freire’s educational thought lies in his view of human beings and their world, which he then transforms into the world of education, resulting in an alternative education model, shifting from an oppressive model to a liberating one.

Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a form of social and humanitarian responsibility, where he felt the need to fulfill his role as an “organic intellectual.” Nearly all of Freire’s works are dedicated to education that liberates and serves the interests of the global community, particularly the oppressed. Some of these works include Education for Critical Consciousness, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Pedagogy of Hope, and Pedagogy of Freedom. The common thread that unites his works is critical consciousness as the driving force of cultural emancipation. To liberate the oppressed, struggle is necessary, as freedom is not a gift from the heavens but a result of the struggle. Education must engender societal awareness, which is expected to bring about transformative environmental change. Freire refers to this awareness as critical consciousness.

It is important to note that Freire identifies three forms of human consciousness:

  1. Magical consciousness, where the lack of equality in society is seen as a natural process, inevitable and beyond human control because it is believed to be the will of God. People are unable to perceive the connections between various factors.
  2. Naive consciousness, where society is aware of and understands the social issues present in its environment but is not fully capable of providing solutions.
  3. Critical consciousness, which signifies maturity in interpreting problems. In the stage of critical consciousness, society recognizes the system as the source of its problems.

Education as a Catalyst for Transformation

In the book Education as the Practice of Freedom, Freire writes that to move from naive consciousness to critical consciousness, we cannot rely on others, let alone obediently accept their decisions. We must liberate ourselves and courageously confront social reality to eliminate oppressive practices. Freire emphasizes that education can bring about this process. Society must be aware of the dynamics of oppression and domination. For Freire, education for the oppressed is a tool to enable the community to critically understand that they can be both the oppressed and the oppressors. This contradiction is something that must be acknowledged.

The solution proposed by Freire is not a push to establish a new state where there is no oppression or the oppressed. Instead, he suggests that humans prepare themselves to engage in the process of fighting for freedom by transforming their perceptions. These perceptions need to fuel motivation to achieve freedom. Freire’s perception resembles the concept proposed by Marx, where objective social conditions do not exist by chance but are a product of human actions. Therefore, transforming reality or oppression is a historical task for humanity.


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