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.