The Pedagogy of Poor: Seeking Emancipative Options

Oppression exists and it possible for the oppressed to liberate themselves.  Oppression is dehumanising. This is why all humans seek emancipation. While oppression has several complex causes, Paulo Freire teaches that there is kind of education system that is oppressive and legitimates oppression.  In a pastoral year dedicated to the poor while we celebrate the jubilee of our Catechetical centre, it would be import to discuss emancipative ways of teaching/leaning pedagogies.  Most often oppressive regimes of education are undemocratic and remain firm at the service of exploitative status quo.  Participative learning is circular and not linear.  It is non-hierarchical as well as rhizomatic. It takes problem posing as starting point of education. Such pedagogy is called critical theory of education. It follows the 13th theses of Karl Marx that seeks to change or transform reality and not just explain it.  This would mean that we not only need radical transformation in the classroom teaching but we require a Copernican revolution in the habits of thinking.  It demands a new sensibility that leads us to explore new forms of emancipative rationality.  This reflection is urgent and vital in a market driven education at time of neo-liberalism in a digital age.  The political right celebrates neo-liberalism but nothing seems to be right about their education policies. Right is about recovery of the lost golden past while the left is laden with hope for a future. The right prides in the achievements of the past, the left views potentials and promises of the future.  We can see that our country is sinking into the deep ocean of conservatism of the right while at the same time holding on to neo-liberalism. This is why reflection on critical pedagogy is an attempt to light a candle in the dark. In this study, we shall try to understand market driven education and seek an emancipative pedagogical options. Reflecting on it, this study tries to examine pedagogies at work in our Sunday school and propose   pedagogy of the poor as emancipative  mode of discipleship

Education Scenario in India

We cannot think that the right that is leaning backward to tradition and forward to neo-liberalism is a monolith. But on the educational front, we can observe that disciplining of the pupil to fit into the glorified tradition and nation takes the first seat. We have to face today epistocracy of tradition that challenges of modern science while at the same time making tall claims that its several breakthroughs were already known to Indian seers of yester years. India is fast racing to produce its own reverse version of what is greeted as two thirds society where less than one thirds of our people are becoming affluent and the rest are fast descending into poverty. Our democracy and our education are taken over by the corporate. Already a war of neo-liberalism  against higher education is building up in our society.  The large scale cuts in the budgets of higher education and human resource development have led the futures of the poor to become disposal and social Darwinism has become the order of the day. Social Darwinism has sharpened our caste and religious divides and has rendered it impossible to mobilize resistance and undermined solidarity.  Hence, we need to imagine new pedagogies to respond to our precarious condition. Pedagogy as moral and political practice can offer us modes of designing the emancipation from the chains of neo-liberalism.

The Pedagogy of Neo-liberalism

We find ourselves tapped into a neo-liberal moment.  It has brought education under siege.  Universities have instrumentalized themselves in the language of the market and lost the language of life and justice. Education now is for sale. Education is privatized, market driven and have become a profit making enterprise. Higher education is converted into an adjunct of corporate power and values. Universities are defunded, tuitions fees are sky rocketing and the students have been reduced to passive consumers of knowledge.  A culture of positivism has evaded the teaching/ learning process. It simply produces conformism and constricts thinking.  Hence, it is an assault on thinking itself. We seem to have lost a language of linking power to justice. Hegemony produced and maintained through knowledge, production, circulation and consumption suits the power equations of our society.  Critical thinking and dissent are suppressed by power and might as never before. Nationalism and majoritarian religion/ culture have become an ideological of hegemony.   Ideological hegemony, a concept taught by Antonio Gramsci manipulates our consciousness and shapes daily experiences and behaviour without any coercion. There is a constant effort to subdue our temples of learning and bring them under the influence cultural hegemony which then can be used to reproduce the political as well as economic power of the elite.  It becomes a cultural capital that renders us think that the dominant elite is socially legitimate. We seem to have lost our critical consciousness and have become cogs in the wheels of the empire of the dominant elites in our society.  Neo-liberalism produces a discontent but controlled society.

The Culture of Positivism

The culture of positivism came to us on the back of Science and technology. Here we are using the term positivism in a loose sense and do not wish to attribute it to any specific school. Culture of positivism is an ideology of hegemony that is afflicting our educational system in an age of neo-liberalism.  Culture of positivism gives legitimacy to kind of knowledge production and transmission that is occurring in our temples of learning. Although it is based on the logic and rationality of natural sciences, it does not always use it to provide legitimacy to disciplines that discipline our students.  This means the air and arrogance of the culture of positivism is enough to legitimate any knowledge enterprise. Thus pseudo-sciences are often taught with a scientific flair in our country. The recently held Science Congress in Jallandar  is moment where neo-liberal education become visible.    The mocking of stalwarts like Sir Issac Newton, Albert Einstein and proposal of obscurant ancient knowledge as science is visibilizing of the climax of neo-liberal moment that we have reached in our country.  The fact that we are fast loosing the critical and argumentative dimension of the ancient Guru-kull and are stepping into dogmatism with a hybridized ancient knowledge packaged as science demonstrate that the pedagogy of neo-liberalism has come full circle for us.  We can easily discern how the culture of positivism undermines the formation of critical consciousness. This blinds the majority  to  fact of transfer of the wealth of the nation into the hands of the dominant elites while  it feeds on identity issues like Mandir/Masjid, Ghau Mata, Love Jihad,  urban-naxals.  The cultural of positivism unfortunately does not provide any insight into how oppression masks into that which we hold as noble and glorious.

Knowledge Power Relations

Knowledge and power are intimately related. Power is constructed and maintained through socially engineered knowledge. Hence, to bring power back to the people in our country we have to examine the knowledge power relations. Knowledge and power relation can be employed for domination or emancipation.  This is why we have to understand knowledge, power and ideology relations.  All knowledge is interest laden and not neutral.   It can mystify reality and strangulate critical thinking and obstruct social commitment.  Today with neo-liberalism, we have a steady corporatization of the university.  The content that is taught in our university is one that is based on the corporate needs and not one that is designed to improve public life.  Education has primarily become a means to reproduce the social values, skills and practices to maintain the corporate order that has come to dominate our society. Thus, knowledge and the classroom is commoditised and put on sale.  The old mantra ‘publish or perish’ is now replaced by the neo-liberal formula that says ‘privatize or perish’.  This has blurred the dividing line between democratic values and market interest. With several research areas being funded by the corporate, pro-industry knowledge production has taken centre stage. Our universities are no longer spaces of John Deweyian vision of building skills to practice democracy. The attack on the universities was visible with the turmoil in several central universities and reached its climax in JNU imbroglio.  Thus, higher education in our country is simply carrying forward the logic of capitalism and that of  perennial casteism.

Building Spaces of Possibilities

We have the challenge to convert our educational space into spaces of possibilities where students are enabled to take their position in our society from the position of empowerment and not subordination to dominant interest.   Our educational practices are to be equipped to produce new modes of critical interrogation. This means they have to overcome the politics of silence that is at work today and let the student find their voice.  Schools and institutions of higher learning cannot be left to become means of social regulation to serve the status quo and maintain oppression. Hence, we have to scrutinized various discourses that are at work in our teaching/ learning modes that operate in our system of education. Discourse is a technology of power and acquires concrete expression in the knowledge that constitutes the formal as well as hidden curricula of our education system. Understanding of this link between power and discourse is vital to develop critical pedagogy as it provides insight into as well as enable us to examine how ideology is inscribed into forms of educational discourse through which educational practices are ordered and constituted.  This means we need to devise means of student participation in the teaching/ learning process. It is a challenge to convert our students from passive learners to active learning communities. Our education thus has to become space of learning.  As teaching may not produce learning, we may have to devise problem posing method of Paulo Freire to stimulate students into the learning process and transform our education process into a cultural action for freedom.

Seeding Emancipative Cultural Politics  

We have the challenge to break the alliance that our educational institutions have with the market. We need to find a way to dismantle these  relations of subjection, suffering dispossession, disposability of the poor. Like Paulo Freire, we hold that education is our best ally to bring about this change and resist the oppression unleashed by the neo-liberal policies which are unfortunately mindlessly adopted by our Governments.  Today, our main stream culture has dropped its pretence of civility and we have become tolerant to abuse and even lynching to protect what we deem as sacred. Our tolerance of otherness is no longer a cherished value and hate every other has become the order of the day.  We seem to have embraced a social ugliness with deceiving sense of standing up for our nation and religion.   Monstrosity has become main stream. The crushing of dissent as well as lack of debate about the state of higher education is symbolic of our submission to the neo-liberal order.   Hence, our schools and institutions of higher learning have to become terrains of contestation. This will let our schooling become emancipative sites of cultural politics.  The fundamental principle of critical pedagogy teaches that schooling for self or social empowerment is ethically prior to questions of epistemology or to a mastery of technical or social skills that are primarily married to the logic of the market. This recovery of ethics as first can only take place in solidarity with the subordinated and the marginalised groups.  This would mean that we will have to deal with what Frere calls ‘the culture of silence’ that animates our educational strategies.

 Enhancing Social Imagination

The effort to expand the social imagination of our society has to take the student as a vital partner in the production as well as transmission of knowledge. One of the important starting points is the notion of voice to undertake this project. To let the voice of the student speak, we will have to let the student discover how voice is an important pedagogical site. Exploring this site, the student and the teacher together can interrogate spoken and unspoken interests at work in the course content that is dished out to them as knowledge.  The concept of voice does not just provides a theoretical framework for recognising  the cultural logic that enables, contains and produces learning but also provides modes of critiquing   the  teaching /leaning strategies that animate the culture of silence.  Voice becomes a site not just find their voice, but students are enabled to discern the metaphysical, political, economic and social interests that undergird them.  The pedagogy of voice that we have taken up here will enable the student to speak and practice emancipatory politics of difference.  This does not mean that the pedagogy of voice is free from difficulties. This is why we have to critically discern the ideologies that are embedded in whatever is deemed as knowledge. This means knowledge must not just be meaningful, it has to be emancipative. Knowledge never speaks for itself. It is constantly filtered through experience, critical vernacular and mutual knowledge that students bring to the class room. Most teaching /leaning strategies disqualify this subjective knowledge and belief claims of the students. Hence, the pedagogy of voice becomes a sight that gives primacy to it and opens possibilities of critically engaging with it to transform education as a cultural action for emancipation.

Exploring Catechetical Pedagogies

In a jubilee year and a year dedicated to bring good news to the poor in our diocese, we may have to scrutinize how our pedagogies serve Christ and our faith that we live in community of faithful that we call the Church.   No pedagogy is innocent. This is why we may have to explore wither our pedagogies in the Sunday school serve the market that is driven by neo-liberalism.  Often coercive methods of social controls can be seen as being employed to manufacture motivation among our children in the Sunday school. These authoritarian pedagogies cannot turn the students into disciples of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is not a matter of teaching discipline alone.   Since discipleship chiefly happens in the community of the faithful, we have let allow the students in the Sunday school to speak and listen to each other. This pedagogy of the voice can enable us to identify discourse that embedded in anti-gospel values like caste, inordinate desire for wealth or immoral desire for bodily pleasures.  Catechism therefore cannot be simply reduced to learning formulae of faith. It is letting our faith become active in profound commitment to the Kingdom of God by serving the poor.  True discipleship animates both orthodoxy and orthopraxis. It builds a hermeneutical circle between doctrine and practice.  This is why it might be important to understand how our pedagogies in the Sunday school serve the market in an era of neo-liberalism.

Embracing the Pedagogy of the Poor

The teaching and learning strategies in our Sunday school have the challenge bring about a gospel culture encounter. We have a unique challenge to purify the market driven materialist and consumerist culture of our day.  The hegemony of the market requires a faith response. This response of faith calls us to embrace the poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ. In at time, when our culture is invaded by capitalism, which Pope Francis rightly calls the dong of the devil, we have challenge to become a Church of mercy, the Church of the poor.  This is why all authoritarian strategies employed by us are alienating the faithful from Christ and his Church. Thus, the poor become the important site of learning of discipleship. Schooling in the pedagogy of the poor, we can become authentic disciples of our Lord Jesus.   Our hope is in the Lord and hence, the counter culture that we wish to develop through our catechetical pedagogies deeply rooted in the person of Jesus Christ who is the anawim of God.  Thus, the poor become the locus of the pedagogy that we need to engage so that our discipleship becomes a catholic response to the market driven world of neo-liberalism.   It has been found that neo-liberals use wedge issues commonly known as culture wars abortion or gay rights and divide the people. We can see how politics of hate in our country is generated by a neo-liberal agenda and as Catholics; we have the challenge to develop a faith response to it. The social teachings of the Church can be a great resource to develop such a response.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao