How Does Education Liberate? How Does Education Oppress?

In Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes about education as a tool of oppression. His main point is that teachers are narrators who only “lead students to memorize mechanically the narrated account.” This type of education turns students into containers who need to be “‘filled’ by the teachers.” He discusses the type of education where a teacher says something and the student writes it down and memorizes it. This is a form of oppression, Freire argues, because in this scenario, knowledge is a gift from those “who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing,” which is “projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression.”

Bell Hooks writes about the type of education that can be liberating. She writes that the point of teaching is “not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.” She discusses that Freire’s work inspired her to approach teaching in a different way than the “assembly-line” approach and writes about classrooms in which teachers acknowledge connections between ideas learned in university settings and those learned in life practices, and that this type of education can empower students.

The answer of how education can liberate and oppress explicitly lies within the type of education. The type that Freire discusses can absolutely be considered oppressive. This type of oppressive education has been present in my academic life, specifically in science and math classes in high school, where the teachers wrote things on the board and I was responsible for memorizing them. Some teachers even ruined the subjects that I actually enjoyed, such as history and english, through the way that they taught them, as if we students are containers that need to be filled up with their knowledge. These were exactly the types of classes in which I ended up learning nothing at all and wasted my tame, and were in my eyes the lowest form of learning. I have also, fortunately, been in the liberating learning environments that Books discusses. These are the classrooms where the teacher or professor does not set the learning environment in a way that suggests he/she solely holds all of the knowledge. — These are the classrooms where everybody sits in a circle and discusses and debates things like politics, activism, and social justice — The things that cannot simply be memorized.

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