Critical Pedagogy, Pedagogy for Human Rights Education
Haggith Gor

This article was published in Deniz Tarba Ceylan, Gürol Irzık,

HOW ARE WE EDUCATED? -International Symposium on Human Rights Education and Textbook Research

-The History Foundation , Istanbul, Turkey,2005

The History Foundation endeavored to examine all common textbooks used in the education systems and evaluate their attitudes toward human rights. It is a unique and courageous  work that could serve as a model for educators in different countries. The contributors, researchers, teachers, students and authors of the History Foundation produced a participatory educational model that could be exported to all countries that are concerned with human rights and peace education. This collective endeavor demonstrates well critical pedagogy in action. It contains the essential elements of critical pedagogy: concern for equality of marginalized groups, action for social change, relevance for the researchers and students, democratic relationship between academicians, educators and students and many more. The project increases awareness of human rights and thus changes reality and improves it, it integrates research, creation of knowledge and active initiatives to transform people's life. This way it sets an example of academia that doesn’t hide in an ivory tower, but one that maintains a dialogue with the different constituents of society; teachers, politicians, media etc.  

    What is critical pedagogy? Critical pedagogy tries to examine how educations relate to issues of equality and inequality, discrimination, human dignity, freedom and social justice. It is a pedagogy that studies racism, sexism, classism, body ablism (discrimination against people with disabilities) and other forms of prejudice as portrayed and learnt in education, it questions the stratification of children through education and it tries to offer alternatives for a more just and equal education. 

My childhood years passed in Beer Sheva which was an immigrant town in the southern desert part of Israel. In my class there were children who came from 10 different countries, and spoke different languages such as Persian, Polish, Arabic, Romanian, Hungarian, Greek etc. I was the only native born Israeli who spoke fluent Hebrew, and I had blond straight hair. My teachers liked me, they clearly favored me over the other children, who were my friends. The sense of the unfair treatment stayed with me for a long  time, the understanding of its biased nature, came later. 

Critical Pedagogy is a pedagogy of questions. It poses questions such as who benefits from the existing textbooks. Who are the losers? If Human Rights is absent from textbooks, or is violated, who gains from this situation? Who is interested in maintaining the ‘status quo’ and who will benefit from changing it?

Paulo Friere says that every education is political education. Many schools educate for obedience and disciplined acceptance of the existing social order as a natural given - this unquestionably serves the ruling elites.

The education systems produce people who do not realize how the education stratifies them socially according to the groups into which they were born. We are not tuned to see how the education system preserves the same unequal, unjust social order. Critical pedagogy tries to give a voice to marginal groups. It tries to change the point of view from which we are used to look at different social phenomena. It focuses on power relationships between different groups and how power is used. It offers to replace the oppressive existing education with education that is more equal, fairer, and just. Critical Pedagogy is an education process that humanizes the learners and empowers them, it is an education that widen  the horizon and opens the eyes of the students to see their social environment and encourage them to act to change it for the better.

Paulo Friere a Brazilian educator and philosopher (1921-1997) led a literacy campaign amongst poor peasants in Brazil and later in Chile and in Africa. He saw the oppression of the peasants their passivity and fatalism as a political means of control used by the elite. He used literacy education to raise the consciousness and political awareness of the peasants so they can change their world. His methods are now valued and followed all over the world.

His success became threatening to the regime and in 1964, after the military coupe,  Freire was put in jail for his "subversive" activities. He was incarcerated  for70 days in prison and then exiled to Chile where he led a similar literacy campaign. In 1970 he presented his theory in Harvard University USA and was then offer there a teaching position but he chose to move to Geneva and work with the World Council of Churches assisting educational programs of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa.
In 1979 Paulo Freire was invited by the Brazilian government to return from exile. He accepted a position at the University of Sao Paulo. In 1988 he was appointed the Secretary  of Education of the City of Sao Paulo - a position which made him responsible for guiding school reforms in two-thirds of the nation's schools.
   Frire believed that traditional education is oppressive it treats the learners as if they are empty bank accounts, waiting passively for money to be deposited in them. He called it the “The banking method”. He believed that it dehumanizes the learners since students are not taught to think but are conditioned to accept unquestionably what is poured into their minds. Traditional education teaches obedience, passivity, fatalistic view of the world, and acceptance of the existing order without questioning, without thinking.
It creates human beings who acccept the unjust order of their society and
feel powerless to change it. Freire believed that the existing social order is unjust, an historical creation of people and can be therefore transformed by people. He argued that the existing order comprises of groups that are oppressed and groups that are oppressors. He believed that the oppression dehumanizes the oppressed and the oppressors alike. The process of dehumanization is an historical phenomena and not an inherent fate, it is a result of an unjust structure that can be changed.

Many scholars and educators joined Paulo Freire and and many adopted his critical pedagogy. Academicians like Giroux, Mclaren, Apple and Shore added important analysis of how curricula are used to stratify children, how the hegemony of knowledge is oppressive and how the normalization of ideas serves to oppress.  Others wrote about teachers being oppressed by curriculum imposed on them, standardized tests, paternalism of male administrators etc. Feminist scholars such as Cathlyn Wieler, Jennifer Gore, and bell Hooks, criticized Freire and critical pedagogy for ignoring the oppression of women and for using patriarchic language and concepts in his writings.

Freire argued that any curriculum, that ignores racism, sexism, the exploitation of workers, and other forms of oppression , supports the status quo.

Paulo Freire and his followers offer dialogical education where learner and teachers discuss and explore issues that concern them on equal terms. Teachers and students alike question reality, think and reflect on subjects of their concern. He advocated the mapping reality with the active participation of the learners of any age, to question it and to think how to improve it. The activity of mapping the reality leads to and stimulates thinking about advantaged and disadvantaged groups in society.

The process of creating curriculum through dialogue and exploration of the reality in order to act on changing it is empowering one. It connects the individual to his/her own powers and also the group to their strength and richness of working together.

 Enabling learners to have control and influence over their studies is a reflective process where being critical, questioning and researching applies also to the self and the group, who are part of society. Freire wrote about the humanistic role of the oppressed to liberate themselves and their oppressors. The liberation process is not a reversal of the roles, whereby the oppressed become the oppressor and vis versa. This situation may happen because often the oppressed internalizes the oppression and start believing that it is an inevitable natural social order. A structural change is needed, rather then the reversal of roles that would continue to maintain the same unjust structure. Freire introduced liberating education through dialogue, through looking critically at the reality and by re-creating the knowledge and new consciousness that lead to activism toward social change.

Liberating education stimulates critical thinking, enhances and sharpens reflection on reality, observation, analysis, identification of interests and planning for change. It rejects and opposes inequality and, human rights violation as natural fact of life. Such education is relevant to the learners, is interesting rigorous and is meaningful.

I would like to outline here a few examples from different parts of the world of educational projects that were influenced by critical pedagogy and aimed with some measure of success to bring about a small change to the social structure.

The Medical School of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, a unique has developed a unique ingenious successful program for preparing medical doctors. The program was designed to address the acute shortage of medical doctors in the remote peripheral areas inhabited mostly by poor peasants . The urban conurbations in the Philippines are blessed with modern western medical services but the sparse rural areas often do not have local physicians and other medical services. The few physicians that work at the periphery frequently  have communication problems with the local population due to a class and culture alienation. Normally people that need medical attention approach doctors only when experiencing sever distress when little could be done for them. Even in the urban areas there is a growing brain drain., Many young doctors are taking the US medical exams in order to take up lucrative positions in the USA. The University of the Philippines in Quezon City initiated a program that trains doctors to work in the rural area where medical services are scarce. The program is based on Freirian theory and has at its center the goal of bringing about a social/political change in the medical services structure. Traditionally the admission requirements for a medical degree were, high grades and proficiency in English, it gave advantage to the privileged students from the middle and upper classes. This selection process was replaced by a process that prefers those applicants that receive the  recommendation of the local community. The local communities are invited to put forward their most brilliant and committed young men and women and their acceptance is determined largely by that wight of the recommendation of the local community. The program itself containes community medicine, diagnosing in basic condition, without high-tech expensive medical equipment, cultural understandings and communication skills. After three years at the university medical training the students are sent to their communities to build a health project that would advance the medical services of the community and address its needs. This replaced the traditional exams - the community satisfaction of a student initiative and service is his/her passing grade. The program succeeded to produce doctors that serve their communities, 95% of the graduates return to their home residence and practiced there. Because its structure and political nature the program did not prepare the students to take the US medical license exams and emigrate to the States. It also enhances the motivation, and political ideological consciousness of the students and it creates the will to repay the community that sponsored  the physician’s studies . This model has already been duplicated in other South East Asian countries.  

Another interesting educational project is being conducted at the Ateneo de Manila University in Manila where students from the faculty of law under the Center for Human Rights are sent by the university to conduct workshops for para legal practicionairs at poor urban neighborhoods and rural areas, where they train community activists in human and constitutional rights and how the legal system can protect them. They teach members of disenfranchised communities what are the relevant laws and their legal rights. The people, who get para-legal certificate work as legal advisors and supporters in their community, helping people to claim their rights. The law students who study at the university in formal authoritarian methods were prepared to conduct culture centers and apply critical pedagogy in their workshop. They conduct dialogues with the members of the group, they formulate and map the political situation with their group members and actively explore with them their rights. The inquiry into human rights is done via their political life experience,   A woman I met who got this training told me that one day her son disappeared, neighbors said that some armed people took him, they thought that they were undercover policemen. When she inquired at the police station she was told that the police did not detain  him. She knew that the law says that they have to report to the family every person they hold. So she went from one police station to the other from one prison to the other, everywhere she was told he was not there, and called him by his name. She went round and round the prisons compound and shouted his name, assuming he would recognize her voice. At one police station he answered, so she knew he was there, though the police denied it. She returned to that police, knowing that they hold him illegally, she threatened them with a complaint of violation of her son's rights. They were scared by her knowledge of the law and released him immediately. 

In Sao Paulo at the time when Paulo Freire was the Education Secretary of the city he established a "soup school" for street children. Many children in Sao Paulo have no homes, they live on the street and their daily struggle for survival is difficult and cruel. What can education offer them when their existential problem is food? Freire established food distribution  houses that provided food to street children. For that purpose the leaders of the children's streets gangs were invited, they were given a short  cook lesson each time they came, and a supply of basic food products needed to feed their gang. They have been tasked with going to their peers and teach them to cook and sharing the available supplies. Thus they learnt something each time and act as leaders and teachers to other children. The subject matter and contents of the lessons were  developed according to their life, in the context of issues that were relevant to their reality. The teaching and learning then took place in the meeting places of the children and was done by their elected leaders. 

In Israel we initiated a project sponsored by the Ministry of Education and the Association of Community Centers to teach dropout Arab youth reading and writing. In this project we trained teachers to teach in Freirian methods. Rather then teach the ABC they discussed with the youth their real life, the politics that rule their existence as Arab youth in Israel. The teachers wrote up the personal and political stories of the youngsters and this writings served as texts for them to read. Remarkably they mastered in 3 month reading and writing. Their self esteem was strengthen and they continued to study to  complete the elementary and high school curricula and sit the exams. This non traditional  teaching done in the context of their individual and group real lives, struggles and frustrations enable them to use their talents to learn to read and write in a very short time. Thus the project afforded them the right and opportunity to education, a right which they have been deprived from for many years.

The promotion of critical pedagogy is the promotion of the case of human rights and education for a culture of peace. Critical pedagogy is subversive pedagogy as it strives for structural social change. Its principal objectives are the creation of awareness for human rights, the rejection of violation and discrimination against different segments of population. Like Human Rights, critical pedagogy is universal and maybe applied everywhere. Any other country that may adopt in future the Turkish model of examining the violation of human rights in textbooks, is likely to reach the same conclusions as issues of class, gender, race, ethnism, ablisim, etc are common to most countries.

Therefore critical pedagogy, a dialectic un-restful pedagogy is the pedagogy of human rights since it promotes critical social thinking and a challenge to automatic obedience and submission. Yet critical pedagogy is bound to create tensions between values of Human Rights and nationalistic ideas that put ideals of state's values higher then citizen's well being, national security priority and  the perceived rights of the collective higher then human right that each and every  individual is entitled to.

The struggle to change text books is a very important struggle, it needs to be followed with the change of teachers’ attitudes. Raising teachers’ consciousness is invisible Sisyphean task. Good texts are very important, yet they cannot bypass the teachers. There are no teachers’ proof curricula. Critical thinking and social awareness must be part of teachers’ preparation to compliment the wonderful initiative of endorsing Human Rights Schools.