Oppressed? Liberation Through Dialogue!

With the AZ special election (including Prop 123) right around the corner next Tuesday May 17, I have been amazed by the frenzy of discussion and busyness accompanying this important state decision. People seem to agree that education needs more funding–but disagree about solutions. As I watch everyone scramble around with so much at stake, I feel a little bit powerless at times. I’ve been thinking about Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In Chapter 4, Paulo Freire describes some strategies that oppressors use to keep the people busy, disorganized, divided. Sure, Freire was writing about liberating non-literate people in Brazil–and it might be a stretch to call educators in Arizona “oppressed”–but there are some things in Freire’s work that make me raise my eyebrows. If there are powerful people trying to divide us on purpose (and I believe that there are), I think Freire has some insight that will make you raise your eyebrows, too.

According to Freire, one method of creating ongoing oppression is a strategy called “Divide and Rule” (Chapter 4). Here is an abbreviated* excerpt:

“As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power…Accordingly, the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity…It is in the interest of the oppressor to weaken the oppressed still farther, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them…One of the characteristics of oppressive cultural action…is the emphasis on a focalized view of problems rather than on seeing them as dimensions of a totality…And the more alienated people are, the easier it is to divide them and keep them divided. These focalized forms of action…hamper the oppressed from perceiving reality critically and keep them isolated from the problems of oppressed women and men in other areas.”

Sound like something you are witnessing in the dialogue around you? Are we being divided by current issues? Are we isolated by differing opinions? As Chris Marsh wrote last month, divided we will fall. It seems to me that educators (and those who care about education) are being divided and kept very, very busy with focalized problems that keep us from unifying about bigger issues. I heard that most school districts had no choice but to create multiple budgets depending on whether Prop 123 passes or fails. Talk about being divided and kept busy! The bigger issue here? Funding for education in Arizona. And we need to unify.

If we are in fact oppressed, Freire has advice for us: “The harmony of the oppressed is only possible when its members are engaged in the struggle for liberation…Unity and organization can enable them to change their weakness into a transforming force with which they can re-create the world and make it more human.” If this is a battle, we need to understand the tactics of our enemies and make our own plans to protect, preserve, and restore the education we believe Arizona children deserve.

Freire writes about liberation through dialogue, and that’s exactly what I think we should do. Right now, everyone is talking about schools and school funding. Here are my thoughts: Don’t spend your time telling others whether to vote yes or no about Prop 123. Instead, tell the stories about the need for funding of your school(s)! Tell stories that will stick with them as they read or watch information about Prop 123 and make their own educated decision. Stories about kids in schools are what matter. Tell the stories about the supplies you don’t have, the extra students you do have, the dramatic cuts you have seen in your local school, the vacant positions (or long term subs!), the working conditions, and the exhausting lengths that you and your administrators have taken to keep classrooms running without the funding kids deserve. Make sure to mention how these cuts have affected the kids–and keep the focus there. If someone asks you about salaries, don’t be fooled into talking about how much money you make and don’t make. Instead, talk about how salaries affect staff retention, how staff retention affects school culture, and how disruptions in school culture negatively affects student learning over time. Yes, take them there. Keep the focus on the kids. It keeps us all unified in our goal to make things better for children. Having common goals makes us strong. Really strong.

Together, we need to unify with one voice demanding funding for education in Arizona. And after all the votes are cast, don’t let the dialogue stop there. Keep the momentum going in the community so that improved school funding can become a reality. Also, don’t miss the “Unity after Prop 123” rally that is being organized to bring us all together to discuss next steps for education in our state. #nowitstarts

*Note: I reduced the text a bit for brevity’s sake, but you can find the entire Chapter here: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon2/pedagogy/pedagogychapter4.html or purchase this wonderfully interesting book in a local/online bookstore)

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