Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Philosophy of Paulo Freire

by sunny kulathakal

Renowned educationist Paulo Freire has said that for the creation of a new world order, it was necessary to remove many of the handcuffs of mankind adding that this is possible only through practical education.

Freire made this remark during an interview he gave during his visit to Bangalore to speak on “Whether Education is torture or liberation” at an All India seminar organised by the Ecumenical Christian Centre.

Paulo Freire hailing from Brazil is a renowned educational activist, working at international level to bring in a revolutionary change in the educational front by mooting a new educational system helpful for lakhs of people to overcome their problems in life and convince the mankind of the realities of life.

There were emotions of a truthful approach and sincere commitment explicit in the words of Freire who had to gone through a series of bitter experiences of agony and starvation ever since his birth in 52 years ago in utter poverty. He put those who have caused the degeneration of education as an instrument to safeguard vested interests in the stand of the accused during his talk. He became very much emotional while presenting his educational concepts and philosophy which got evolved from his own experiences.

The Silence

Freire was of the opinion that it was due to the ignorance and lethargy of the have-nots that the social and political dominance existing in several parts of the world is growing uncontrollably. He termed this phenomenon which he came to discern through his close mingling with the poor as the “culture of silence”. He says that education is acting as a medium in the perpetuation of this culture.

Even those who do not cent percent agree the effort of Paulo Freire to introduce educational system in a new perspective in the nation building process by synthesizing the different aspects of the philosophies of Sartre, Monshear, Eric Frome, Louis Althusier, Mao, Martin Luther King and others as correct or practical will not say that there is no relevance at all in bringing in changes in the existing educational system.

His revolutionary ideas relating to educational system happened to become popular beyond the boundaries of Brazil. His educational agenda awakened many in Latin America and acted as a motivating force to engage in meaningful nation building process.

Paulo Freire who pointed out that the people of Brazil were still reeling under the exploitation of the ruling class despite the fact that it was now 150 years since the country managed to free itself from the yoke of Portuguese colonial rule added that the source of his wealth of experience was the exploited lot of his country.

“My knowledge of education was not gained just by reading. It is the sum total of my direct taste of a variety of agonies”, he said. Recalling the agonizing memories, he continued his exciting story:

“I was born in a middle class family in the most difficult area of my country. This gave me the opportunity to face many a tough challenge. I used to closely watch each and every movement of my fellow countrymen. The economic recession of 1929 virtually ravaged my family. I was so young at that time. We could only helplessly watch poverty and starvation playing havoc with our family. I have closely come to know what hunger really means and what the emotional upsurges at the height of hunger are. We all feel hunger through knowing whether we need to eat or not to eat. I could understand more about those experiences today than what I could in those days. Though I could understand the “geography” of my hunger and the flora and fauna around me during those days, I was not much unaware of the geography of the text books. I was more inclined to truly know the existing realities. I didn’t have the craze to secure a degree. I was studying in a secondary school at the age of 16-17. I never used to waste a single moment. Even when I was outside the school I was engaged in directly learning about the existence of myself and my fellow beings. I still continue to be the same boy having a practical and probing mind”.

How much the agony of others influences him could be understood from his narration of what he saw when he landed in Mumbai for the first time. A humanist to the core, Freire who felt sympathy for the condition of the people he saw sleeping on the pavements said:

“What I saw there were not human beings, but their shadows. Is it because of being lazy their condition has become like this? Never; it was the existing social set up that has landed them in such a situation. Since I have dedicated myself to such people, I feel that I could identify myself with them more than anybody else.

Freire who was well aware of the possibility of using education either to enslave people or emancipate them has devised an unusual literacy scheme meant for the illiterate. As a result of this, many who have become literate enough to read and write started to view their social situations in a critical angle. It was in a thesis prepared for his PhD, Freire introduced his educational philosophy for the first time. He gave final touches to the philosophy while he was working as a professor in a Brazilian University and working among the illiterates later. The authorities were in panic at his revolutionary philosophy. It also led to his imprisonment in 1964. Fryer who was let out after 70 days went to Chile. There he was engaged in some UNESCO activities for five years. Thereafter he worked as consultant of the Harvard University’s School of Education. He is at present working as the advisor to the World Council of Churches.

Freire has authored several books and essays in Portuguese and Spanish. His books titled “Pedagogy of the oppressed” and “Cultural action for freedom” have been translated into English.

In the educational philosophy of Freire who believes that people teach each other through the society as medium, there is no distinction between teacher and student. A person is both a student and teacher at the same time. “If some one claims that he is a professor or a scholar, I will definitely disagree with it. Knowledge is not a package which one could distribute to anyone and anywhere without difficulty”, he said and went on to quote Socretes who said “the one and only thing I know is that I don’t know anything”. He is fully aware of the fact that he is engaged in the process of learning through teaching and teaching through learning.

Learning is not just blurting words nor reproducing some words and phrases after by-hearting the same. According to him what needed over and above just reading and writing is critical reflective thought.

Banking Education

The viability of his educational scheme will be clearer if one listens to what he has pointed out about the existing teacher-student relationship.

The teacher is just conducting a narrative process while the student is just acting the role of a listener. Even if the summary of the narration might be about values or life experiences within the framework of realities, it usually will be a frozen and lifeless style. Freire who established that this kind of education suffers from “Narration sickness” describes the same as “banking education”. What guides the teachers is the notion that they are entrusted with the responsibility to fill the students with the summary of the narrative relating to various subjects.

In fact such summaries will have the least relationship to the realities. It will be a gush of words that are empty. Those hollow words will not be capable to hold in it the solid realities in its fullest sense so as to help the students to make use of it in their practical life. One major handicap of narrative teaching is that the focus given to the pronunciation of words is not given to the transformation power of the words. Because of this the students engage themselves in the process of just by-hearting the information they scribble while hearing the narration. The students are liable to reproduce in whatever manner as demanded by the teacher who has deposited the same in the “never drying” vessel which is the student. Viewed in this angle education has come down to just a depositing system. The students are just submissively accepting what all the teachers deposit in them without any reciporcal understanding, synergy of ideas or mutual Communication.

Freire who opined that education has lost its direction due to its inability to bring in creative transformation has mooted the idea of “Problem posing education” as an alternative to the present “Banking education”. He believes that this alternative system of education will help a person to critically analyse things beyond the mask of apparent realities, become creatively active and effectively face the challenges of day to day life.

When problems affecting students come up one by one in the world the students will inevitably have to take them as challenges. When each challenge becomes integrally linked to the total life situation, it would be impossible for the students to view them just philosophically. The very awareness that the knowledge they have imbibed has a bearing on their daily life will motivate them to accept new challenges and form new ideas. In turn this will make them work with more dedication.

Sunny 46-the culture of education

No comments:

Post a Comment