Monday, September 5, 2011

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Chapter One Summary

Pedagogy of the Oppressed—Paulo Freire
© 2011
Translation by Myra Bergman Ramos

Chapter 1

Humanization and Dehumanization
Freire weaves the concept of humanization throughout the majority of chapter 1.  Humanity includes qualities that make us human such as understanding, freedom, and integrity.  Freire stresses the point that not only do people need to demonstrate those qualities toward others, but also toward themselves. He mentions that in order to recognize humanization, we must also acknowledge dehumanization.  With dehumanization, a person’s humanity has been stolen; thus that person has become oppressed. For oppressors, to be is to have and constant control over the oppressed is what they need to have. People who oppress others see these oppressed people as things or objects, not humans to be treated with integrity. Oppressors also feel the oppressed are in their situation because they are “lazy” and ungrateful to the generous overtures offered by the elitist class.
However, Freire also recognizes that those who steal the humanity of others are themselves dehumanized through “an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors” (p. 44).  As the oppressors engage in oppression, they violate the rights of others and they themselves also become dehumanized. To restore the humanity of both, the oppressed must struggle to change their situation but must not become oppressors in the process.

Oppressed become Oppressors?
Why don’t the oppressed do anything to change their situation?  Freire mentions the feeling of the “fear of freedom” (p. 46) that many of the oppressed possess.  This fear prohibits the oppressed from being proactive regarding their situation partially because they have adopted the guidelines of their oppressor.  Freire goes on to state that “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly” (p. 47).  The oppressed have become accustomed to the structure of domination of the oppressors and have become resigned to it. In order to overcome the oppression, the oppressed must work together. Freire points out that the oppressed “prefer the security of conformity” (p. 48) over the action needed to pursue liberation.  That is where the need for pedagogy—learning a new strategy to overcome the injustices frequented upon them and others like them—is necessary. 
However, the caution of the oppressed of becoming oppressors is emphasized by Freire in that oppression is what has been modeled for them as a structural situation. Identifying with those who keep them subjugated, the oppressed risk not changing the structure of the situation for all oppressed but working to liberate only themselves.  This individualistic focus will do nothing to change the cycle of oppression.

Where to begin to liberate the oppressed
            Freire’s text offers some aspects of what should occur in order to free the oppressed.  He stresses that a pedagogy must be forged with the oppressed and not for them.  According to Freire, the central problem is that the oppressed must participate in the development of the pedagogy of their own liberation.  As long as the oppressed view the process of liberation through the structure of how their situation is currently organized, they cannot contribute to the pedagogy of change.
There are two stages to this humanist and libertarian pedagogy in which the oppressed must participate. The first is to recognize the structure and its components of oppression and to commit to the transformation of the structure.  So as not to maintain the model for which the structure has been originally created by oppressors, the oppressed must confront their perception of their world.  They must surmount their fear of freedom and begin to be proactive about changing the components of oppression for all, not just individuals. The second stage, once the reality of oppression has been transformed, involves relinquishing the pedagogy so that it becomes a pedagogy for all people in the process of permanent liberation. Once the “expulsion of the myths created and developed in the old order” (p. 55) has been enacted, the oppressed can begin to embrace freedom. These two stages are essential to Freire’s theory because “as long as the oppressed remain unaware of the cause of their condition, they fatalistically ‘accept’ their exploitation” (p. 64).
            Freire details how the development of pedagogy should progress.  He states that reflection is essential to action.  One must first reflect upon and ponder the circumstances in which one finds him or her self.  The action taken must be carefully considered for all people who will be impacted by this pedagogy.  The progress should involve dialogue and avoid violence in any fashion. Action and dialogue must come from the oppressed with consideration of oppressors who may recognize and align themselves with the pedagogy.  Again, there must be proceedings in which liberation is the focus and not the possibility of the oppressed becoming the oppressors.


  1. It seems, in this country, that many people don't even recognize their oppression. You said that Friere defined oppression as one group having control over another. Who is oppressing whom? How do we recognize oppressors? If the oppressors suffer also, how can they be shown that they are oppressors in a way that liberates them and doesn't just evoke their deeper entrenchment in their ways?

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  3. That is what he tasks the reader with determining. All of those questions are part of the first step and require much reflection, and discussion on the part of the persons developing the pedagogy. Who do YOU find to be the oppressor? How do YOU think oppressors should be handled?

  4. If we are discussing education, I find it difficult in finding the oppressors. It's easy for me to see marginalized groups of students or impoverished communities from which students come as the oppressed. The closest oppressors would then be supervisors or parents or teachers of students. However, as an educator, it's easy to see administration and school districts as oppressors of teachers. Unfortunately, this turns into a cycle because administrations are oppressed by state departments which may feel oppressed by lack of funds that should be provided by the tax payers (conservative/liberals/others) who are too individualistic to want to put their earned money into education because there are so many other things that need to be payed for (healthcare, armed forces, etc), and they too are necessary. Are individuals forced to oppress themselves because of the system?