Reading For Revolution

All of the presently available alternatives to the American public school system (private schools, charters, vouchers, home schooling, online, and even “unschooling”) are all predicated on elitism. It is hard to know what Paulo Freire would think of the public school system in the U.S. today, but I am quite confident he would be highly critical of the above mentioned alternatives.

Freire was a Brazilian educator and philosopher best known for his “critical pedagogy” and his influential work, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Freire worked in adult literacy in some of the poorest areas of Brazil, and for a time was imprisoned for his work. He believed that literacy was the key to the oppressed class taking back their power from their oppressors, the ruling class.

I believe there is now in the U.S. under an impending Trump presidency an opportunity for urban public schools to become centers for revolution in the tradition of Paulo Freire, a chance for us to teach “reading for revolution”. The curriculum for this reading program would emerge from a framework of class warfare. Students at underserved schools would be taught the complexities of the systems that have created the inequalities they experience at home and school. Then literacy would be offered as a way to combat that inequality.

The goal would not be to teach urban students to despise their suburban counterparts. After all, suburban students are not their oppressors (although suburban white flight parents with their “school choice” may be). But no doubt some animosity would arise along the way, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Unfortunately, many urban schools lack the resources and/or environment necessary to host this kind of revolution. Too often, these schools spend much of the academic day addressing the very challenges of inequality created by the system, leaving little time for something like meaningful reading. It can be very difficult for a student facing hunger, homelessness, and the like to see the importance of reading.

And too often, teachers use an antiquated system of grades to coax students into reading. Reading must become a higher cause than receiving a grade. Students must learn the paths to their own liberation and then be loosed to read (and write) their way out of oppression and become stakeholders in a true revolution of the people.

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3 thoughts on “Reading For Revolution”

    1. The ability to read is definitely at the root of power. When I was going through school in a rural Ok town, the only book we were required to read in eighth grade was To Kill a Mockingbird, and that was actually the only book we were required to complete as a group because in the high school curriculum we only read excerpts, or did individual book reports, and our school had no required reading list. When I think of all the great works that I didn’t get exposed to, I feel quite cheated, but I was a straight A student from a well educated family so my experience was surely better than others around me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m really excited to see you write this blog Aaron. Your perspective is very valuable and one that needs to be heard.

        In responding, I’m going to try out a technique I was taught at AMBS (yes, no, yes) in the hopes of furthering the conversation in a good way.

        So in that spirit… I want to strongly affirm your idea that urban public schools could and should become centers of revolution.

        I’ve seen a tiny taste of the possibility of Frierian education in getting to hear about the work of our mutual friend Rachel Jackson. She sought to implement many of the ideals of Freire when she taught English composition at Seminole State College, with students from mostly lower class economic backgrounds (often working multiple jobs and sometimes raising kids) and of mixed racial/ethnic heritage (majority rural white young adults, but significant numbers of African American and Seminole Indians). She sought to get her students to write about their life experiences and to reflect on why their situation was the way that it was. She then took that same approach into a prison (where she taught classes for a time) and most recently in the Kiowa community in Anadarko as part of the Clemente Humanities program (http://www.clementecourse.org/), in which she co-taught English composition classes alongside a Kiowa elder.

        Anyway in all of those situations, I’ve heard her tell some pretty cool stories of students who have found their voice in this context, and who began to see that their stories were worth telling.

        So… as a history educator, I think you have some tremendous opportunities. History is such a springboard into so many powerful areas of reflection.

        As to the issue of public vs. private vs. homeschooling vs etc… every individual child and family faces different challenges and no one size fits all (especially a quirky kid like ours), but as long as teachers like you have the freedom to actually teach, it would be a terrible mistake IMHO for social justice minded folks to throw in the towel and abandon engagement with public schools, be it by teaching, volunteering, lobbying, etc. And for some folks it will be by being a parent too, but I’m not convinced that is the only way of positive engagement.

        So keep up the good work and keep on blogging!

        Liked by 1 person

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