Weiler - v.61 n'o.4'[email protected] Harvard Education...

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Unformatted text preview: - flarvardlithicational - v.61 n'o.4'pp.449~474' . @1991 Harvard Education Publishing Group ' I Freire and a Feminist Pedagogy of Difference KATHLEEN WEILER In this article, Kathleen Weiler presents a feminist critique that challenges traditional Western knowledge systems. As an educator, Wetter is interested in the implications of this critique forhoth the theory and practice of education. She begins with a discussion of the liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire and the profound importance of his work. She then questions Preire’s assumption of a single kind of experience of oppression and his abstract goals for liberation. A feminist pedagogy, she claims, ofi‘ers a more complex vision of liberatory pedagogy. Weiler traces the growth of feminist epistemology from the early consciousness raising—groups to current women’s study programs. She identifies three ways that a feminist pedagogy, while reflecting critically on Freire’s ideas, also builds on and enriches his pedagogy: in its questioning of the role and authority of the teacher; in its recognition of the importance ofpersonal experience as a source of knowledge; and in its exploration of the perspectives of people ofdifierent races, classes, and cultures. We are living in a period of profound challenges to traditional Western epistemology and political theory. These challenges, couched in the language of post-modernist theory and in postcolonialist critiques, reflect the rapid transformation of the economic and political structure of the world order: the impact of transnational capital; the ever more comprehensive integration of resources, labor, and markets; the pervasiveness of media and consumer images. This interdependent world system is based on the exploitation of oppressed groups, but the system at the same time calls forth oppositional cultural forms that give voice to the conditions of these groups. White male bourgeois dominance is being challenged by people of color, women, and other oppressed groups, who assert the validity of their own knowledge and demand social justice and equality in numerous political and cultural struggles. In the intellectual sphere, this shifting world system has led to a shattering of Western metanarratives and to the variety of stances of postmodernist and cultural—identity theory. A major theoretical challenge to traditional Western knowledge systems is emerging from feminist theory, which has been increasingly influenced by both postmodernist and cultural-identity theory. Feminist theory, like other contemporary ap- proaches, validates difference, challenges universal claims to truth, and seeks to create social transformation in a world of shifting and uncertain meanings. In education, these profound shifts are evident on two levels: first, at the level of practice, as excluded and formerly silenced groups challenge dominant approaches to learning and to defini- tions of knowledge; and second, at the level of theory, as modernist claims to universal truth are called into question.1 These challenges to accepted truths have been raised not only to the institutions and theories that defend the status quo, but also to the critical or liberatory pedagogies that emerged in the 19605 and 19703. Feminist educational critics, like other theorists influenced by postmodernism and theories of difference, want to retain the vision of social justice NOTICE: THIS MATERIAL MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT LAW (TITLE 17 U.S. CODE) ' 295 296 .Revisioning Curriculum in Higher Education ' and transformation that underlies liberatory pedagogies, but they find that their claims to uniVer— sal truths and their assumptions of a collective experience of oppression do not adequately address the realities of their own confusing and often tension~filled classrooms. This conscious- ness of the inadequacy of classical liberatory pedagogies has been particularly true for feminist educators, who are acutely aware of the continuing force of sexism and patriarchal structures and the power of race, sexual preference, physical ability, and age to divide teachers from students and students from one another. Paulo Freire is without question the most influential theorist of critical or liberatory educa- tion. His theories have profoundly influenced literacy programs throughout the world and what has come to be called critical pedagogy in the United States. His theoretical works, particularly Pedagogy of the Oppressed, provide classic statements of liberatory or critical pedagogy based on uniVersal claims of truth.2 Feminist pedagogy as it has developed in the United States provides a historically situated example of a critical pedagogy in practice. Feminist conceptions of education are similar to Freire’s pedagogy in a variety of ways, and feminist educators often cite Freire as the educational theorist who comes closest to the approach and goals of feminist pedagogy.3 Both feminist pedagogy as it is usually defined and Freirean pedagogy rest upon visions of social transformation; underlying both are certain common assumptions concerning oppression, con— sciousness, and historical change. Both pedagogies assert the existence of oppression in people's material conditions of existence and as a part of consciousness; both rest on a view of conscious-' ness as more than a sum of dominating discourses, but as containing within it a critical capacity— what Antonio Gramsci called ” good sense”; and both thus see human beings as subjects and actors in history and hold a strong commitment to justice and a vision of a better world and of the potential for liberation.‘ These ideals have powerfully influenced teachers and students in a wide range of educational settings, both formal and informal. But in action, the goals of liberation or opposition to oppression have not always been easy to understand or achieve. As universal goals, these ideals do not address the specificity of people’s lives; they do not directly analyze the contradictions between conflicting oppressed groups or the ways in which a single individual can experience oppression in one sphere while being privileged or oppressive in another. Feminist and Freirean teachers are in many ways engaged in what :5 Teresa deLauretis has called " shifting the ground of signs,” challenging accepted meanings and relationshipsthat occur at what she calls “political or more often micro political” levels, groupings that “produce no texts as such, but by shifting the ’ground of a given sign. . . effectively intervene upon codes of perception as well as ideological codes."5 But in attempting to challenge dominant values and to "shift the ground of signs,” feminist and Freirean teachers raise conflicts for themselves and for their students, who also are historically situated and whose own subjectivities are often contradictory and in process. These conflicts have become increasingly clear as both Freirean and feminist pedagogies are put into practice. Attempting to‘irrrplement these pedagogies without acknowledging the conflict not only of divided consciousnessmwhat Andre Lorde calls "the oppressor within us”—but also the conflicts among groups trying to work together to name and struggle against oppression—among teachers and students in classrooms, -* or among political groups working for change in very specific areas—can lead to anger, frustra— tion, and a retreat to safer or more traditional approaches .5 The numerous accounts of the tensions of trying to put liberatory pedagogies into practice demonstrate the need to reexamine the assumptions of the classic texts of liberatory pedagogy and to consider the various issues that i have arisen in attempts at critical and liberatory classroom practice? As a White feminist writing and teaching from the traditions of both critical pedagogy and - feminist theory, these issues are of particular concern to me. in this article, I examine and critique . the classic liberatory pedagogy of Paulo Freire, particularly as it is presented in Pedagogy of fit ' Oppressed, his most famous and influential text. I then examine the development and practice 0 , feminist pedagogy, which emerged in a particular historical and political moment in the United-f States, and which as a situated pedagogy, provides an example of some of the difficulties puttin ' these ideals into practice and suggests at the sametime some possible theoretical and practica directions for liberatory pedagogies in general. I argue that an exploration of the conflicts and; concerns that have arisen for feminist teachers attempting to put into practice their visions of ' 7 Listening to Dissenting Voices 297 =___._,‘fe_minist pedagogy can help enrich and re—envision Freirean goals of liberation and social firpgress. This emerging pedagogy does not reject the goals of justice-the end of oppression, and ' ' ___1iberation——~but frames them more specifically in the context of historically defined struggles and __ ails for the articulation 'of interests and identity on the part of teacher and theorist as well as trident. This approach questions whether the oppressed cannot act also as oppressors and ’ : challenges the idea of 'a commonality of oppression. It raises questions abOut common experience ‘ asasource of knowledge, the pedagogical authority of the teacher, and the nature of political and pedagogical struggle. Pedagogy of Paulo Freire if -' -Freire’s pedagogy developed in particular historical and political circumstances of neocolonial- 3' ism and imperialism. As is well known, Freire’s methods developed originally from his work with "'.'._'peasants in Brazil and later in Chile and Guinea-Bissau.8 Freire’s thought thus needs to be grinderstood in the context of the political and economic situation of the developing world. In f Freire’s initial formulation, oppression was conceived in class terms and education was viewed in the context of peasants’ and working people’s revolutionary struggles. Equally influential in ' L -Freire's thOught and pedagogy were the influence of radical Christian thought and the revolution- _ ary role of liberation theology in Latin America. As is true for other radical Christians in Latin America, Freire's personal knowledge of'extreme poverty and suffering challenged his deeply felt Christian faith grounded in the ethical teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Freire’s pedagogy is thus ' 3 founded on a moral imperative to side with the oppressed that emerges from both his Christian faith and his knowledge and experience of suffering in the society in which he grew up and lived. Freire has repeatedly stated that his pedagogical method cannot simply be transferred to other ' settings, but that each historical site requires the development of a pedagogy appropriate to that setting. In his most recent work, he has also addressed sexism and racism as systems of oppres— sion that must be considered as seriously as class oppression.9 Nonetheless, Freire is frequently read without consideration for the context of the specific settings in which his work developed ' and without these qualifications in mind. His most commonly read text still is his first book to be published in English, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In this classic text, Freire presents the epistemo- logical basis for his pedagogy and discusses the concepts of oppression, conscientization, and dialogue that areat the heart of his pedagogical project, both as he enacted it in settings in the developing world and as it has been appropriated by radical teachers in other settings. Freire organizes his approach to liberatory pedagogy in terms of a dualism between the oppressed and the oppressors and between humanization and dehumanization. This organiza- tion of thought in terms of opposing forces reflects Freire’s own experiences of literacy work with the poor in Brazil, a situation in which the lines between oppressor and oppressed were clear. For 'Freire, humanization is the goal of liberation; it has not yet been achieved, nor can it be achieved so long as the oppressors oppress the oppressed. That is, liberation and humanization will not occur if the roles of oppressor and oppressed are simply reversed. If humanization is. to be realized, new relationships among human beings must be created: Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.” The struggle against oppression leading to humanization is thus utopian and visionary. As Freire says elsewhere, "To be utopian is not to be merely idealistic or impractical but rather to engage in denunciation and armunciation."“ By denunciation, Freire refers to the naming and analysis of existing structures of oppression;by annunciation, he means the creation of new forms of relationships and being in the world as a result of mutual struggle against oppression. Thus. Freire presents a theoretical justification for a pedagogy that aims to critique existing forms of oppression and to transform the world, thereby creating new ways of being, or humanization. 298 Revisioning CurriCulurn in Higher Education Radical educators throughout the world have used Pedagogy of the Oppressed as the theoretical justification for their work. As an eloquent and impassioned statement of the need for and possibility of change through reading the world and the word, there is no comparable'contempo- rary text.12 But when we look at Pedagogy of the Oppressed from the perspective of recent feminist theory and pedagogy, certain problems arisethat-Inay reflect the difficulties that have sometimes arisen when Freire’s ideas are enacted in specific settings. The challenges of recent feminist theory do not imply the rejection of Freire’s goals for what he calls a pedagogy for liberation; feminists certainly share Freire's emphasis on seeing human beings as the subjects and not the objects of history. A critical feminist rereading of Freire, however, points to ways in which the project of Freirean pedagogy, like that of feminist pedagogy, may be enriched and re—envisioned. From a feminist perspective, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is striking in its use of the male referent, as usage that was universal in the 19605, when this book was written.“ Much more troublesome, however, is the abstract quality of terms such as humanization, which do not address the particular meanings imbued by men and women, Black and White, or other groups. The assump- f tion of Pedagogy of the Oppressed is that in struggling against oppression, the oppressed will move toward true humanity. But this leaves unaddressed the forms of oppression experienced by j, different actors, the possibility of struggles among people oppressed differently by different " groups—what Cameron McCarthy calls "nonsynchrony of oppression.”14 This assumption also presents humanization as a universal, without considering the various definitions this term may bring forth from people of different groups. When Freire speaks of the oppressed needing to fight the tendency to become “sub—oppreSSors,” he means that the oppressed have only the pattern of oppression before them as a way of being in a position other than the one they are in. As Freire writes, “Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.”15 What is troubling here is not that “men” is used for human beings, but that the model of oppressor implied here is based on the immediate oppressor of menu-in this case, bosses over peasants or workers. What is not addressed is the possibility of simultaneous contradictory positions of oppression and dominance: the man oppressed by his boss could at the same time oppress his wife, for example, or the White woman oppressed by sexism could exploit the Black woman. By framing his discussion in such abstractterms, Freire slides over the contradictions and : tensions within social settings in which overlapping forms of oppression exist. _ This Usage of "the oppressed” in the abstract also raises difficulties in Freire’s use of experi- ence as the means of acquiring a radical literacy, “reading the world and the word.” At the heart of Freire’s pedagogy is the insistence that all people are subjects and knowers of the world. Their political literacy will emerge from their reading of the world—that is, their own experience. This reading will lead to collective knowledge and action. But what if that experience is divided? What if different truths are discovered in reading the world from different positions? For Freire, education as the practice of freedom "denies that men are abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world. . . . Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the World without men, but men in their relations with the world."16 But implicit in this vision is the ' assumption that, when the oppressed perceive themselves in relation to the world, they will act together collectively to transform the world and to move toward their own humanization. The nature of their perception of the world and their oppression is implicitly assumed to be uniform for all the oppressed. The possibility of a contradictory experience of oppression among the oppressed is absent. As Freire says: ' Accordingly, the point of departure must always be with men in the "here and now,” which constitutes the situation within which they are submerged, from which they emerge, and in which they intervene. Only by starting from this situation—which determines their percep- tion of it-ucan they begin to move.” ' The assumption again is that the oppressed, these men, are submerged in a common situation of oppression, and that their shared knowledge of that oppression will lead them to collective action. _ Central to Freire's pedagogy is the practice of conscientization; that is, coming to a conscious- ness of oppression and a commitment to end that oppression. Conscientization is based on this common experience of oppression. Through this reading of the world, the oppressed will come to ' Listening to Dissenting Voices 299 knowledge. The role of the teacher in this process is to instigate a dialogue between teacher and student, based on their common ability to know the world and to act as subjects in the world. But the question of the authority and power of the teacher, particularly those forms of power based on ‘I the teacher's subject position as raced, classed, gendered, and so on, is not addressed by Freire. =j.'-'_There is, again, the assumption that the teacher is "on the same side" as the oppressed, and that as teachers and students engage together in a dialogue about the world, they will uncover together the same reality, the same oppression, and the same liberation. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the teacher is presented asa generic man whose interests will be with the oppressed as they mutually 1 “discover the mechanisms of oppression. The subjectivity of the Freireanteacher is, in this sense, i _- what Gayatri Chacravort'y Spivak refers to as “transparent.”13 In fact, of course, teachers are not é; abstract; they are women or men of particular races, classes, ages, abilities, and so on. The teacher ‘ . will be seen and heard by students not as an abstraction, but as a particular person'with a certain " defined history and relationship to' the world. In a later book, Freire argues that the teacher has to _' '. aSSume authority, but must do so without becoming authoritarian. In this recognition of the . teacher’s authority, Freire acknowledges the difference between teacher and'students: The educator continues to be different from the students, but, and now ...
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