How do they do it? Liberating Educators in the Classroom. Post #1

“Liberating education” has a nice sound to it, but what actually happens in the classroom?  As you read about it here, how does it compare with your experience of education?  Your comments at the end of the post are most welcome.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s start with the big picture.  Consider Paulo Freire’s* masthead challenge, “Education as the Practice of Freedom!”  His clear opposite of that was “Education as the Practice of domination.”  You may remember María Hernandez, a Santa María Tzejá teacher, from an earlier blog post.  (pictured left) As a child she was a student in a classroom in SMT shortly before the Guatemalan army burned the village to the ground.  The teacher at that time was likely a soldier acting as a teacher who told students they would get a swat of a stick for each error they made in math that day.  She made 13 and his one option for her was where she would like him to hit her.  She said, as she told me about this searing experience, “All over my body.”  In that class hers was an extreme experience of Education as the Practice of Domination.  The central notion of that kind of miseducation is teacher dominance of the students, whether by, as in this case, corporal punishment or, more usually, by the authoritarian, oppressive practice of the teacher talking all the time to students who are expected to be submissive and quiet.

María is now herself an excellent teacher in SMT working in the Education as the Practice of Freedom mode. Referring to her own teacher training in the village from a progressive Roman Catholic agency, she said, “Ah, in this professional training the methodology emphasizes participation.  It isn’t like it was before when the teacher talked and talked all the time.  This new approach involves students in creating their own work to hand in to the teacher, acting as a facilitator.”  She went on to talk about her experience in the training program when the staff, acting in the role of facilitators “gave us material, but each of us had to analyze it, put it in our own words and draw from our own research to answer questions they put to us.  This made me think about how I had to work with my students.”
As a teacher-student herself in that training class she felt respected and challenged to do her best and was encouraged, but not coddled in the process. The teaching staff expected and stimulated rigorous preparation.  She, found she was growing into a sense of freedom—not freedom in the sense of doing what you please free of all constraints, but rather freedom as living in an oppression-free, growth-producing atmosphere.
More on life in the classroom in future posts.
*Paulo Freire, who died in the late ’90’s, was an extraordinary Brazilian educator.  He developed his theory and practice in working with peasants who had had no education and thought of themselves as having no status in society.  He went on to become a leader in the “popular education” movement in which educators worked with people who had never had the opportunity to develop confidence in their own ability to change the society that oppressed them.  In the education they received they were stimulated to organize to challenge authorities to improve their lives
This is one in a series of posts to introduce my book, Seeds of Freedom: Liberating Education in Guatemala, now in its paperback edition from Paradigm Publishers.

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