“Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.”
— Paulo Freire
Years ago, reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed started me on the line of thinking that has led to the central scholarly interests I hold today. In particular, I found an interesting connection between chapter two–in which the goal of empowering students to be “re-creators” of their own worlds is described. This struck me as reminiscent of a favorite passage of mine from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories,” where Tolkien discusses the process of “Sub-Creation” as a transformative intellectual act. This refers to the process of creating fictional worlds along the lines of Tolkien’s concept of mythopoeia, or myth-making, and I will review the process more thoroughly when I come to that text. As a creative writer, the idea stuck with me, and then I encountered Freire. I thought, then, that if Sub-Creation explores the possibility of freely developing worlds–realities–through fiction, surely there might be some link to the practice of re-envisioning and transforming one’s own world. This connection continues to inform my thinking as I proceed through my current reading lists.
Questions and Answers
1. Considering Adichie’s description of being unable to perceive herself as included in a particular community until she had seen herself welcome there, how can we use Johnson’s pleasure-oriented “renegade rhetoric” to create a more inclusive academic community that encourages students to be active, engaged participants rather than feel academics are a toil inflicted upon them?
Freire is not centrally engaged in the question of pleasure, but there is undoubtedly a kind of renegade thinking central to his text. A central theme of Pedagogy of the Oppressed deals with breaking from traditional (oppressive) systems used to maintain extant power structures, instead encouraging students to seize agency in spite of a system that would rather they remain passive cogs within the wheels of the social machine. Therefore, applying Johnson’s renegade rhetoric seems quite compatible with Freire’s ideas. If by taking an approach that will be inclusive, even pleasurable, we may invite students to step from “pseudo-participation” to the “committed involvement” that Freire calls for. Thus, using Johnson’s method can help students enter into the sort of work that Freire calls for. They can, as it were, work hand-in-hand. One example of such is using creative writing–Tolkien’s Sub-Creation–to bring students into the practice of composition, which I have observed holds great appeal for many of them.
2. In the text, identify a specific community that is discussed. What role does inclusion in and engagement with that community play in forming an identity (both as an individual and as part of said community) that serves to facilitate the goals of liberation and critical consciousness as put forth by Paulo Freire and bell hooks?
This question is a bit of a ringer, considering that Freire’s is the work in question. The key community here, certainly for my own purposes, is the classroom. Freire’s most famous contribution is perhaps his critique of “banking” education in favor of “problem-posing” education, a structure designed to empower students quite directly. The entire goal of the teacher in this scenario is to present challenges to the students rather than taking the position of all-knowing authority, which invites the students to be treated as serious participants in classroom and community rather than simply as vessels to be “filled” with knowledge by the teacher. An important note here is that liberation and critical consciousness are not something to which students can be “won over,” but they must instead be participants. It is through the action of the student, not the teacher, that awareness is achieved and thus that liberation becomes possible (95). This is also evident in Freire’s discussion of “decoding,” which I will address below.
3. How can seeking to orient toward pleasure and satisfaction as pedagogical modes be designed to specifically address the concepts of varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and the highly varied backgrounds (personal, cultural, academic) of students?
This, of course, is one area where bell hooks has been critical of Freire. His work has not always been oriented to all populations of students. However, this does not mean that his methods cannot be used to orient to varied individuals. Describing the process of “decoding,” Freire writes that “the participants externalize their thematics and thereby make explicit their ‘real consciousness’ of the world” (115). That is, by using certain codifications to test the limits of students’ awareness, they can move beyond previous limitations in order to achieve a more “real” (as opposed to merely potential) consciousness. While Freire’s “codifications” were usually sketches or pictures, what is to say that this kind of symbol could not be adapted, used as a “way in” for various student populations, learning styles, backgrounds, etc.? The key here, it seems to me, is orienting to and focusing on the task of how to adapt this concept of “codifications” as keys–keys to opening the way for students into the critical consciousness (perhaps not an end, but a vital pursuit) that we hope for them to achieve.
4. What can we learn about learning, both as students and teachers, by studying the ostensibly enjoyment-oriented concept and practice of “play”? What connects pleasure and play—enjoyment and engagement—to learning, cognition, and individual development?
I’m not really inclined to think that Freire offers much direct connection, here. However, this brings me back to considering his “codifications.” By considering ideas such as those of Raph Koster, perhaps the idea behind the “codifications” can be identified with the concept of play. Play, as Koster defines it, is the practice of learning, which is built upon the fundamental processes of the brain–specifically, its facility for pattern-making. As I examine other texts relating to the concept of play and pleasure, I will have to keep an eye out for what ideas they might offer that could coincide with Freire’s notion of “codifications” to see if they cannot be turned to similar applications or situations.
5. In considering the concept of “inclusion,” how can a focus on student pleasure and engagement in academic pursuits serve to address fundamental questions of complex exclusion and divided identities? Consider this discussion in terms of a borderland, such as discussed by Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera. Students’ language is a kind of homeland for them, a place they have long occupied; what divisions and exclusions are we asking them to navigate (within and without) by asking them to learn to write and use language “correctly” without including their own pre-existing language—their own territory, as it were—into the process?
Freire definitely wants to work within students’ existing frameworks. This seems to be where his idea of “codifications” hinges–it necessitates confronting them with symbols they will both understand and find relevant. This is why it seems to me that this concept–codifications–may be an important key to understanding the way that certain forms of playful thinking–such as creative writing or Tolkien’s Sub-Creation–might be used to achieve Freirean goals. However, the selection of these codifications and the attitudes turned toward the students–to say nothing, of course, of which students are welcomed–presents the problem of division and exclusion. Simply by asking students to enter into any system, any formalized education, we ask them to leave behind their own territory to some degree because we are asking them to play on our field instead of theirs. Our goals are privileged, and theirs must be accommodated. If we can work to facilitate students bringing more of themselves and their own goals into the classroom–as Freire might advocate–then perhaps this can become a problem that we do not simply ask students to navigate. Instead, in the Freirean problem-posing tradition, perhaps it can become something that students and teacher collectively negotiate?
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2000. Print.