For a reading group at our forthcoming study school we’ve asked the students to write a half page summary of chapter 1 of Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. But as I don’t believe in asking students to do things and not doing them myself, here’s my go. (And if you happen to be a Lincoln doctoral student, please don’t read this before the group meets. It contains spoilers!)
A great many people are oppressed, not necessarily through political repression (although that is too often the case), but through the economic and political situation in which they find themselves. In many cases the oppressors would be shocked to realise that they are playing the role that they are in fact playing. The problem is that even where they do realise it, they cannot liberate the oppressed, because they themselves are oppressed by their own situation, which also defines their understanding of the world. To put it another way, freedom from oppression is defined by what the oppressors have achieved, so that revolution is seen simply a matter of the oppressor and the oppressed simply exchanging roles, which is no true liberation. Freire’s argument is that freedom can only be achieved through action based on critical reflection by both the oppressed and oppressors on the objective situation in which they find themselves, so that they understand the nature of oppression. Rather than aspiring to the material status of the oppressor classes, the true objective of revolutionary pedagogy is to respect and value the knowledge of all. Only when the oppressed realise that their knowledge, (which arises from their experience and not from the didacticism of the oppressor), has value equal to, if not greater than that of their oppressors, can any sort of revolutionary transformation begin.