I’ve been re-reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed for May’s installment of Radical Book Club, and one thing that keeps striking me is how it’s understood that young people find the educational establishment to be part of “the enemy” in the text.  In fact, in the foreword to my edition, Richard Shaull writes, “the young perceive that their right to say their own word has been stolen from them, and that few things are more important than the struggle to win it back.  And they also realize that the educational system today — from kindergarten to university — is their enemy”  (New York, 2006: 34).

I’m conflicted about this idea.  I don’t think that the educational system is my enemy — at the very least, the educational system is a surmountable obstacle, or maybe a system of surmountable obstacles.  I’ve written before about my deep-seated reservations about entering academia as a research and teaching professional as well as a minority, but I also realize that there are few places in this world where I can fit in the way I can fit into a work and social environment quite like the academy.  And maybe it’s a testament to my ability to seek out and find communities that are more flexible, open-minded and critically aware on both a professional, personal and pedagogical level, but I get the feeling that the times are changing.

Yet I wonder if I would be saying these things if I hadn’t gotten involved in the Program on Intergroup Relations.  Looking back on the past four years, a lot of the people whose ideas and empathy I have valued the most I have met through IGR.  The bulk of the development of my critical consciousness — from a generalized sense of outrage and alienation when I arrived here to ideas coherent enough that I’m working on a small book about it — took place with other IGR folk, whether in class settings or while talking on our own.  Once you get that kind of process going, it’s hard to stop it.  I wonder if I would feel the same way about the philosophy department, or if I would just be more angry and in kind of a smoldering frustration that is hard to put a name to.  I certainly doubt I’d be able to put a name to the things that frustrate me about the philosophical discipline of ethics, for example.

It’s hard to say — because, just as Shaull turns around and immediately points out, “there is no such thing as a neutral educational process” (34).  So, at the very least, I was given the tools to examine the education that I was given under pretenses of neutrality.  The sanctification within the academy of IGR is a big step forward, and my experience with progressive professors like Jennifer Wenzel has made me hopeful that we can’t assume anything.  I don’t think that, as part of the educational system, these sorts of people constitute part of “the enemy.”  Moreover, I can imagine that applying progressive pedagogy to my teaching this fall will separate me from “the enemy,” as well.  I certainly don’t consider myself “the enemy,” and I hope I never do!

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