Education as Liberation

On this Facebook page, theologian Miroslav Volf has been outlining a series of twenty points he uses to guide his political decisions. The twenty issues he discusses are:

0. Christ as the Measure of all Values
1. Freedom of Religion (and Irreligion)
2. Education
3. Economic Growth
4. Work and Employment
5. Debt
6. The Poor
7. The Elderly
8. Unborn
9. Healthcare
10. Care for Creation
11. Death Penalty
12. Criminal Offenders
13. World Hunger
14. Equality of Nations
15. War
16. Torture
17. Honoring Everyone
18. Public Role of Religion
19. Truthfulness
20. Character

One of these points that I think gets left out often when discussing politics from a theological perspective is education. Education as liberation is a powerful idea that holds a lot of potential for societal progress and effective political reform, though it seemingly is a subject that has largely been given up on in this country due to the fiscal cliffs that politicians are driving us toward.

A good book to read on the idea of education as liberation is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. In it he identifies the ways traditional pedagogy (the “banking” system of education as he calls it) only serves to reinforce the status quo and amplify the gulf between the upper and lower classes; the banking system of education merely deposits knowledge in lieu of teaching critical thinking. He says:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively  with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

The competition for prestige, success, and power is the underlying rubric of today’s society, and since schools merely reflect the values of society, change is needed by using education to promote values like mutualism and cooperation instead. This may seem a tad bit naive and idealistic given the current state of the education system today and its culture of high-stakes testing, thus making it difficult to envisage such a drastic shift in paradigm ever actually transpiring, but to disregard Freire’s insights because of its impracticality is also quite tragic.

Friere also makes some quite naive remarks concerning communism, Mao, Castro, and Lenin, though he is no apologist for such movements. In fact, despite Freire’s unenthusiastic view on capitalism, this book actually ended up being banned in communist countries, which I think was due to the author’s critical view of the commies and their top-down pedagogy (i.e. brainwashing). Irrespective of all this, none of the author’s naivety detracts from his key thesis of how education can aid in human liberation from oppression.

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