Freire sees education as useful not just for individual growth, but also for achieving social change. To expand on this point, he discusses social change as a necessary tool to achieve freedom and overthrow oppression. Within Freire’s framework, systems of oppression try to prevent radical social change so that they do not lose power. Nevertheless, social change has the potential to maintain or overthrow oppression, depending on what methods people use to enact that change.
The primary goal of oppressors is to prevent the oppressed from enacting social change. The methods that oppressors use to maintain their power (“anti-dialogical action”) can block social change both before and while it happens. One of these methods is “Divide and Rule”: oppressors create internal divisions and rifts among oppressed people to keep them from organizing together. When the oppressed feel isolated or alienated from each other, they are much less likely to fight for change. Freire cites “community development projects” as an example of this in practice: when government agencies only focus their projects on small geographic areas, they separate the problems of one area from the problems of another area. This hinders the people in both areas from seeing that their problems are connected.
When oppressed people begin to understand their conditions and demand freedom from their oppressors, the oppressors use “Manipulation” to create the illusion of change. Freire uses the example of “pacts,” or formal agreements between oppressors and groups of oppressed people: agreements like these can mislead the oppressed into thinking that the two conflicting groups are cooperating. In reality, oppressors determine the agreement’s content, and may not even follow it—which means that the oppressed still do not have any power in the exchange.
However, even if radical social change does occur, it does not necessarily liberate the oppressed. A military coup, for example, does not liberate people because it does not rely on dialogue with those people to succeed; rather, coup leaders simply replace the oppressors’ interests with their own interests. Similarly, populist leaders claim to work in the interest of the oppressed, but see themselves as a part of the oppressive system. Because they do not seek to change the material conditions that oppress people, their work is less useful for meaningful social change.
Even revolutionary leaders, those who want to change the oppressive system for the people, sometimes use oppressive methods to create social change. When a leader has trouble gaining the support and trust of the oppressed, they may manipulate or dominate the oppressed to create a unified movement. However, Freire argues that this domination cannot create significant social change: because it doesn’t empower people to seek change for themselves, it prevents them from achieving freedom.
Throughout the text, Freire talks about education and revolution with equivalent vocabulary. The educational models Freire posits (the “banking” model and “problem-posing” model) map onto his discussion of “anti-dialogical” and “dialogical” cultural action. According to Freire, “anti-dialogical action” (like the “banking model”) is a set of tools that oppressors use to divide and conquer the oppressed. “Dialogical action,” on the other hand, is used by revolutionary leaders to organize and empower the oppressed, much like problem-posing education.
Freire also constantly compares revolutionary leaders to educators: both roles carry an obligation to make people aware of the oppressive system in which they live, while helping them become invested in a common struggle for freedom. And just as a “problem-posing” education makes all participants into both students and teachers, revolutionary leaders have to see themselves as part of the oppressed—they must struggle with people, and not for them.
Freire makes this comparison to show the importance of liberating educational methods in the fight to overthrow oppression. To create lasting social change, oppressed people have to change how they think about their society—and this critical awakening can only happen by changing how people are educated. For Freire, every aspect of society should be directly aimed at empowering oppressed people.
Maintaining and Overthrowing Oppression ThemeTracker
Maintaining and Overthrowing Oppression Quotes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed
This volume will probably arouse negative reactions in a number of readers. Some will regard my position vis-à-vis the problem of human liberation as purely idealistic… Others will not (or will not wish to) accept my denunciation of a state of oppression that gratifies the oppressors. Accordingly, this admittedly tentative work is for radicals.
…The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself…the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.
While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves.
Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.
Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”; for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated.
Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world.
Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why?
To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.
Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical.
One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.
The starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people. Utilizing certain basic contradictions, we must pose this existential, concrete, present situation to the people as a problem which challenges them and requires a response…
The revolution is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity. This solidarity is born only when the leaders witness to it by their humble, loving, and courageous encounter with the people.
Prior to the emergence of the people there is no manipulation (precisely speaking), but rather total suppression. When the oppressed are almost completely submerged in reality, it is unnecessary to manipulate them. In the antidialogical theory of action, manipulation is the response of the oppressor to the new concrete conditions of the historical process.
In cultural invasion it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes.
The role of revolutionary leadership…is to consider seriously, even as they act, the reasons for any attitude of mistrust on the part of the people, and to seek out true avenues of communion with them, ways of helping the people to help themselves critically perceive the reality which oppresses them.
...Organization requires authority, so it cannot be authoritarian; it requires freedom, so it cannot be licentious. Organization is, rather, a highly educational process in which leaders and people together experience true authority and freedom, which they then seek to establish in society by transforming the society which mediates them.