Adult Education as an agent of social change
Throughout the ages, philosophers, scholars and concerned citizens alike have debated about the true purpose of education. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Paulo Freire (1995) vehemently calls for educators to accept the challenge of their profession as an agent of social change. He considers intervention in the world a necessity for both the student and the teacher and views education as the path to liberation. Freire argued that education could improve the human condition by counteracting the effects of a psychology of oppression and contributing to the process of humanization.
Freire not only argued his theoretical positions as a matter of intellectual debate but also called for practical action to follow the words. At the heart of his pedagological philosophy was a concept of the teacher who, while serving to orient and direct the educational process, also participated in the reciprocal learning interaction – the most important aspect of which was giving students dignity and respect. In this way, he challenged all students to reinvent the world and pursue their own truths. Following this,
Freire argued against teaching decontextualized skills and instead encouraged participation in the process of meaningful individual and collective change. In his call to action, he attempted to shift the focus from the patronizing solicitude of the state of accepting the present reality to a strategy for social transformation. He argued that ignoring exploitation and oppression is equivalent to supporting the status quo and thus inhibits the expansion of consciousness and liberation through social change.
One of the most impacting statements of this book reflects Freire’s commitment to education for the purpose of positive social change. Referring to Jean Paul Sartre in his emphatic plea for action, he states, “In essence, educators who refuse to transform the ugliness of human misery, social injustices, and inequalities invariably become educators who, as Sartre so poignantly suggested, ‘will change nothing and will serve no one, but will succeed only in finding moral comfort in malaise’ ” (p. xxxii).
While ‘education for education’s sake’ is a worthy pursuit, this view prompts us to reconsider the true purpose and value of the educational endeavor. Freire offered a challenge to the rather passive, albeit pervasive, view of education as a mere transmission of knowledge and instead suggested a higher purpose stretching outside the classroom and beyond the individual. Having had the luxury of always taking my freedom for granted, Freire’s ardent philosophy served as a wake-up call and a recognition of my obligation to use that freedom to help liberate others.
Freire, P. (1995). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.