Russ Mayne’s Review of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This is an abridged version of my previous post. 

In his review of Friere’s  “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in EFL Magazine, Mayne gives 4 criteria for assessing what he calls “education themed books”

  1. Interesting and original ideas
  2. Information about research into teaching
  3. Clear, well written prose
  4. Brevity

He goes on:

The first thing I noticed about the Pedagogy of the Oppressed was that it is entirely conjecture. …. the entire work is a collection of one man’s opinions about teaching with a few nods to famous political and intellectual figures. Freire does not present educational research nor talk about the research of others.

Mayne fails to appreciate that Pedagogy of the Oppressed is not about empirical research; rather, it’s about how education should be organised in society. Thus it belongs in the realm of political philosophy, along with books on liberal education by Godwin, Kropotkin, Dewey, Russell, Illich and Goodman, for example. These classics don’t discuss reports of studies giving empirical evidence to support this or that hypothesis, they discuss the educational practices which recommend themselves as a result of an examination of philosophical questions, political principles, and ethical values.

At one point, Mayne seems to appreciate this when he says: 

it is perhaps more accurate to describe the book as a political text which discusses pedagogy than a pedagogical text which discusses politics.

I agree. The consequence is that Mayne is judging it by the wrong criteria and that his characteristic concern for “evidence” is misplaced.  When he says

…  Freire’s ideas about revolution are as evidence free as his ideas about education. Thus when he states “the earlier dialogue begins, the more truly revolutionary will the movement be” is nowhere supported by data,   

he’s applying the wrong yardstick – such statements should not be judged by the amount of supporting data offered in support of them. 

In his final section “Marxism”, Mayne says: 

Freire makes no attempt to hide his admiration for Marx …  the word ‘critical’ in Freire’s sense is not teaching learners to be independent thinkers who come to their own conclusions. Rather it is about making ‘the oppressed’ aware of their situation so that they will act in changing it through ‘Praxis’.

He continues, relying on Singer (2018) Marx: A very short introduction,

Marx’s history was Hegelian rather than scientific. He saw it moving inexorably toward some noble aim. The ‘end of history’ was communism. Marx ‘scientifically’ foretold it and Freire’s pedagogy is intend as the midwife of the final revolution.

As a matter of fact, Marx’s history was not Hegelian, and he didn’t see it as moving inexorably toward some noble aim. The communism Marx spoke of had nothing in common with Lenin’s, and Marx did not scientifically foretell the end of history. And I can’t recall Freire claiming that his pedagogy was intended as the midwife of the final revolution. Still, some of Mayne’s criticism is surely right. For example, in my opinion, Mayne is right to criticise Freire for not condemning leaders like Lenin, Guevara and Mao Zedong for atrocities which were carried out on their orders; the book suffers from the over-use of Trotskyist jargon; and Freire took too deterministic a view of how the contradictions of capitalism would unfold.

Nevertheless, Mayne’s review of Pedagogy of the Oppressed makes no attempt to summarise its main points or to give any fair or balanced assessment of it. Freire himself was not doctrinaire, or the kind of bigoted zealot Mayne’s remarks imply. He was deeply religious and deeply committed to his literacy projects. His book has been an inspiration to teachers working in some of the poorest parts of the world who have taken up Freire’s call for an approach to education which engages with those who have been marginalized and dehumanized by oppressive regimes. His banking metaphor of education is powerful precisely because banking is so closely associated with capitalism. 

To return to Mayne’s complaint that 

the word ‘critical’ in Freire’s sense is not teaching learners to be independent thinkers who come to their own conclusions. Rather it is about making ‘the oppressed’ aware of their situation so that they will act in changing it through ‘Praxis’, 

Freire was indeed trying to make those who he saw as oppressed aware of their situation, and he certainly hoped that they would act to change it, and this is Freire’s main – very considerable – contribution. Before the 1964 coup, Freire did a great deal in his literacy programme to improve the education of millions of the poorest people in Brazil.  Furthermore, Freire’s work has inspired hundreds of thousands of teachers world wide to take a liberal approach to education, and has contributed to the critique of mainstream education in advanced capitalist countries.

Mayne’s review makes too little effort to appreciate where Freire’s work is coming from, or to recognise Freire’s contribution to discussions about the philosophy of education and its political ramifications.    

References 

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education. NY, MacMillan.

Godwin, W. (1793) An enquiry concerning social justice. 

Goodman, P. (1966) Compulsory Miseducation. NY, Random house.

Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society. Penguin.

Kropotkin, P. (1902) Mutual Aid. London, Freedom Press.

Russell, B. (1924) On Education. London: Allen & Unwin.

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  1. Pingback: Fried Freire - A response to Russ Mayne - Decentralised Teaching and Learning

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