I came across a book this morning that I've been thinking about lately but haven't read for years - Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire. In fact, I used to mark on the inside covers of books the date that I read them and this one is marked March, 1983. But it's one of those books that really made an impression on me - and, as I said, I still think about it. Lately though, my thinking has taken a turn - I think not so much about the "pedagogy of the oppressed" but the "pedagogy of the OPPRESSOR". How do WE - the affluent, privileged, entitled, global minority - learn how to be oppressors? How do we perpetuate structures and systems that continue to grant us privileges while consigning millions and even billions of our "neighbors" to abject poverty?
Here's a quote from a review of Freire's original writing:
The method of learning of Paulo Freire requires that students do more than simply reproduce the words that already exist. It requires that they create their own words, words that allow them to become aware of reality in order to fight for their own emancipation. Without this, some people acquire a kind of naive consciousness in which they are aware of their situation but don't make any effort to change it; they take a conformist stance and consider their situation something normal, even to the point of supporting it themselves. Other individuals construct their own reality and liberate themselves from oppression, only to go to the opposite extreme and become the antithesis of what they were fighting against.
Now - read that quote again, thinking not of the oppressed but of the oppressors. I'm thinking especially of this line:
...some people acquire a kind of naive consciousness in which they are aware of their situation but don't make any effort to change it; they take a conformist stance and consider their situation something normal, even to the point of supporting it themselves.
Ouch! I have been troubled by this thought for months and maybe I've even tried to express it before in one of my postings. The thing is, what if - deep down - I know that I can be opposed to the injustices that have accumulated over the years to allow me to enjoy the enormously privileged way and style of life I have - but that my opposition is really no threat to my comfort? I can speak out against injustice, and yet still enjoy its fruits.
I had an email yesterday from a colleague who lives and works in Kenya. He mentioned a conversation he had with a Kenyan pastor about books. The gist of it was, this pastor has to save and save in order to be able to afford to buy a book - no extravagant book allowance for him! Once he's got the book, it's a cherished thing. My mind went to my appetite for books which has resulted in bookcases full (overflowing!) with books, many of which I haven't had the time (or inclination) to read. I buy books spontaneously. I love books. I always INTEND to read them, but seriously, am I ever going to read ALL of the books I've bought? It may seem like a small thing, but for me it's an indication - one of many - that I have a long way to go in debunking the pedagogy which allows me to sit amongst the oppressors.
By the way, if this hits a nerve with you and you'd like to do something about it, I've got a suggestion. Canadian Baptist Ministries has partnerships around the world and one of our strategic drivers is leadership development. I've met some of the leaders who have had access to opportunities through CBM's commitment to leadership development. They are an inspiration. Interestingly, when it comes to giving though, way more people prefer to give goats and chickens and rabbits than books or funding for continuing eduction. Interesting, eh? Why is that?
Well, here's a link if you want to look into this further: http://www.cbmin.org/cbm/leadership-developme. Giving for leadership development in a developing country may not seem like much but for the person on the other end, and for those whose lives he or she will ultimately touch, it's a big deal. Maybe some day the oppressed and the oppressors will sit down together and learn from one another and MAYBE, when that day comes, we will have the courage to create a new order... or at least to live with dignity in the midst of the present order, whatever it may be.