When education doesn’t liberate

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In Santa Maria Tzejá, the village described in my book, there was a time before the village was destroyed in 1982 by the Guatemalan army when the state sent a pair of abusive male teachers to the village’s school.  People thought they were probably soldiers passing as teachers.  Whatever their background, they were abusive.  One day a girl named María was in her math class when the teacher said students would get whipped with a stick for every mistake they made that day.  María made 13 errors.  He offered her one option, “Where would you like the blows to hit you?”  She said, “All over my body.” The memory of that day pains her to this day, now that she is a teacher in the village with a very different teaching style.  But it is obvious that a steady diet of that kind of treatment over time would condition students to be submissive in class and to have low self-esteem as learners.

     When someone in power over you treats you like you are worthless—and you feel it often enough with no, or not enough, contrasting messages, you come to take that as your image of yourself.  You then are “hosting,” or internalizing, that negative image another or others hold of you and taking it as your view of yourself.  This internalized oppression can spring from a number of sources: an abusive parent, spouse or teacher—or a dominant race, gender, sexuality. or  social class.  Whatever its source, it is dehumanizing and diminishes the quality of life of all involved, oppressor and oppressed alike.
     Historically, to the extent that the indigenous received any schooling at all, it was calculated to separate them from their “barbarian” languages and culture.  Clearly, education itself can be oppressive, as this description suggests.  Even today in much of Guatemala and elsewhere in the world, it is not uncommon for teaching to be delivered by individuals who speak most of the time in a domineering way in an atmosphere defined by disciplinary control.  In such classrooms students learn to be quiet, submissive and lacking in initiative and self-confidence.  In other words, they internalize what is a kind of oppression that teachers inflict on them.  Such education can be rightly called, “education as the practice of domination.” (Paulo Freire)
    SMT’s kind of liberating education understands how damaging internalized oppression can be and works to prepare students to grow up as free from it as possible.  One indicator of that was in last week’s blog which described the “harvest of freedom” of SMT students who are working in important ways for social justice.  More of what happens in the classroom will be the subject of future blogs.
Seeds of Freedom: Liberating Education in Guatemala, my book that I am happy to introduce in this weekly blog, is now available in paperback.  See my “Seeds of Freedom” Facebook page to order.
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