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Aspirations for Freirian Classrooms

Aspirations for Freirian classrooms – lessons for teaching and learning

Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ of the mid-nineteen seventies espoused an emancipatory philosophy which he conceived in the nineteen-fifties and -sixties. He recognised the academically ‘unfranchised’ Brazilian proletariat as being cognitively disempowered and hence rendered mute and by an education system that was dialogically deprived. The unidirectional deposition of knowledge by teachers resulted in the cognitive alienation of learners that resided in their muteness. Reflective practice was anathema for learners and teachers alike. Freire diagnosed that his people would remain forever critically voiceless within their poverty if teaching was not replaced by education. He deemed the engagement of teachers with learners, and learners with teachers through

Freire diagnosed that his people would remain forever critically voiceless within their poverty if teaching was not replaced by education. He deemed the engagement of teachers with learners, and learners with teachers through dialogic exchange as the remedy for liberating minds and for developing conscientised learners. Freire’s educational philosophy of emancipatory education through dialogic praxis, and his unintentionally semiotic literary methodology for eliciting classroom dialogue, resulted in the self-actualisation of many of his students, and their cognitive and social emancipation. Freire’s philosopy and methodology is more relevant in South Africa today than it has ever been in terms of its value for transforming education – for envisioning classrooms of the future. As South Africans we should strive for an education system that promotes the conscientisation of all our people, teachers and learners.

Freire diagnosed that his people would remain forever critically voiceless within their poverty if teaching was not replaced by education. He deemed the engagement of teachers with learners, and learners with teachers through dialogic exchange as the remedy for liberating minds and for developing conscientised learners. Freire’s educational philosophy of emancipatory education through dialogic praxis, and his unintentionally semiotic literary methodology for eliciting classroom dialogue, resulted in the self-actualisation of many of his students, and their cognitive and social emancipation. Freire’s philosopy and methodology is more relevant in South Africa today than it has ever been in terms of its value for transforming education – for envisioning classrooms of the future. As South Africans we should strive for an education system that promotes the conscientisation of all our people, teachers and learners.

Freire’s philosopy and methodology is more relevant in South Africa today than it has ever been in terms of its value for transforming education – for envisioning classrooms of the future. As South Africans we should strive for an education system that promotes the conscientisation of all our people, teachers and learners.

Conscientisation presupposes thought which presupposes language, and its vocabulary. Without the words that constitute concepts we have no capacity to engage at any meaningful cognitive level to enquire, critique or contest what we are taught. And this largely, from my mathematics vantage point, is where our learners find themselves. Our pedagogies are procedural and our expectations of our learners, therefore, cannot exceed a rote reproduction of fallible knowledge. As teachers, if we cannot expound a concept with an appropriate and exact language peculiar to the content then we indulge, sometimes inadvertently, in deceiving our learners. It results in a depositional pedagogy that is responsible for muting learners because they do not have the words with which to think or the language with which to become engaged in the process of education. Our charges trustingly receive contaminated knowledge that finds little cognitive resonance that ultimately renders them mute. Education requires of teachers their devotion and dedication to firstly emancipate themselves from their traditional perceptions of what teaching is about and secondly to relinquish the impoverished models of teaching which they witnessed and inherited while seated and facing their own youthful chalkboards. The reciprocity of the teaching-learning interchange stimulates engagement and conversation, and opportunities for learners to ponder content and question meaningfully.

Ours is a vocation – a service to humanity that requires the growing of a rapport that facilitates mutual trust between teacher and learner to ask questions that provoke thought and debate meaning. Our learners so often have the answers to the most searching of questions. We need to ensure that what we say means to our learners exactly what it means to us. Teachers and learners are equal participants in the educative process – we learn and teach each other. The implications are that we need as teachers to cultivate a humane mood of caring in our classrooms. We need to grapple with our subject content to the extent that nothing about what we teach is mysterious or intimidating. We need to learn how to ask questions that even challenge us. We need to develop our agency – and in critical realist terms challenge the status quo as revolutionised change agents.

So it is the imbibing of knowledge, internalising it and making it the cognitive threads of our corporeal fabric that moves us towards our self-realisation. Our classrooms need the invigorating contributions of its singular and collective minds. And the responsibility falls to our teachers to strive for cataclysmic metamorphoses.  Students in initial teacher education programmes need to be nurtured in the development of their potential agency and their subject prowess – ingredients that will breathe life into learning. And as classrooms become crucibles of teaching and learning so our teachers and learners will find their lost voices – and a confident identity. There will be time for questions, and time for answers. Life will take on new meaning where poverty will be one stepping stone closer to heaven, closer to the dream each one has for realising the freedom of knowing who they are and the aspirations they hold.

We need to hold dear the Freirian philosophy of education where dialogic classrooms provide for authentic conversations about who and what we are, teachers and learners alike. To be free to experience what it means to be heard and understood, and free to question until our minds are satisfied. We should never underestimate our charges, never be afraid of their questions. We must challenge them beyond the height of their potential. And to achieve this we must always remember that our expectations of our learners are directly proportional to our understanding of what we teach.

 

Dr Pete van Jaarsveld

Lecturer in the Wits School of Education

University of the Witwatersrand

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