The Inaugural Session of the Postgraduate Discussion Group ( Moray House): A Short Reflection on the Thoughts of Paulo Freire
Launched by myself as a way of engaging with a broader set of learning materials and resources than those listed in course handbooks on my part-time MSc Education programme at the University of Edinburgh, this discussion group, though created primarily for my classmates and programme cohort, invites students (both postgraduate and undergraduate) at Moray House School of Education to come together to watch a single or series of short video clips from YouTube before considering how the ideas and content discussed relates to our studies, our experiences, and professional practice. Established with as initial six-week programme, the group will consider, in turn, ideas from Brazilian Educator Paulo Freire, political theorist Hannah Arendt, Henry Giroux (Director of the McMaster Centre for Research in the Public Interest), Martha Nussbaum (Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago), Ira Shor (City University of New York), and Akwugo Emejulu (Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick) – a programme which I produced alone in order to get the group up and running. It is hoped following this initial six-week run, that the group will become self-sustaining with participants designing the subsequent programme to be used for the second semester (starting January 2018), with members offered the opportunity to step forward to introduce and situate the video clips into their historical and political context for the benefit of those less familiar with the theorists or content. For those interested in the group and able to participate, I would encourage you to search for the ‘PG Discussion Group (Moray House)’ on Facebook. This short entry is an account of my own response to the first of three clips of Paulo Freire from during that first session (Thursday 2nd November 2017).
The video, titled simply ‘Paulo Freire – An Incredible Conversation’ featured an interview with Freire from 1996, recorded at the World Conference on Literacy, organised by the International Literacy Institute, Philadelphia (USA). During this discussion, Freire describes himself as a “curious being”, stating that in questioning himself, his motives as an educator, and the way in which he engaged with others, he concluded that to best participate in the educational process he required the “virtue of tolerance” (describing tolerance as an “ethical duty”) so as to be able to connect with and relate to others. Freire examines the “impossibl[ity] to think of language without thinking of ideology and power”, going on to suggest that whilst the individual must question “cultivated” language (that is the language of the authorities and the powerful) it is essential that students learn this “dominant pattern” and way of speaking. Though he describes the way the learner speaks and thinks as “beautiful” in its own right – validating the position from which student commences the learning process, (be they an adult learner, primary school child, etc), he stresses that “the more the oppressed people […] grasp the dominant syntax, the more they can articulate their voices and their speech in the struggle against injustice”.
In reaching this conclusion, Freire is suggesting that we must learn to articulate ourselves in two manners (a duality) – both in our own way of being, of thinking, and acting, yet there is also this secondary need and perhaps even an unofficially mandated requirement that to merit the respect necessary for validation when engaging in processes and dialogue with authorities (those in positions of power) we must learn to speak as they speak, be able to mimic the language of the universities, and harness it, reshaping it for our own needs, challenging the powerful and the dominant in terms that they understand. Though this places a great burden on the learner (‘the oppressed’), it is arguably the unfortunate reality that to be considered ‘valid’ by our own kind, our communities, and our social class, that we are forced in this way to, at times, abandon an integral part of our identity when challenging forms of dominance and oppression. In doing so, we risk distancing ourselves (willingly or unwillingly) from our own communities and becoming seen ourselves as ‘the other’ as we seek to navigate between two distinctly separate worlds of language.
The video, ‘Paulo Freire – An Incredible Conversation’, is available on YouTube at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFWjnkFypFA