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  • Destiny Yarbro

Can Education Further the Oppression of Minorities?

I feel like each philosophy is a lens in which to view education, especially in the case of Paulo Freire’s "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed." I highly agree with his idea that education provides the environment to “question existing knowledge” and “reflect upon their previous state of silence” with teachers being the problem posers and students being the problem solvers (Shore, 1993, p.24; Wiseman, 2013, part 1).

History of Suppression in Deaf Education

I remember first coming across the idea of education being used to further oppression when I began studying Deaf education at BYU. My Deaf professor re-iterated the long, harsh history of sign language and culture suppression in her lecture “What is Oppression?” in our Deaf Culture course. (I’ll share an overview of her “Capsule of American Deaf History” slide here since I think it’s fascinatingly relevant to “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and thus a worthwhile discussion topic but feel free to skip over if you’d like.)

  • “Golden Age” (1817-1880) 43% of teachers in Deaf schools are Deaf. Near complete acceptance of sign language and deafness as an accepted diversity in society.

  • “Dark Ages” (1880-1960) Alexander Graham Bell, a huge proponent of eugenics, tauts oralism at the Milan Conference and completely bans sign language in schools in many countries. Only 7% of teachers are Deaf. Students who do not speak are labeled oral failures and forcibly refrained from any language as a result.

  • “Coming Out” (1965-1985) ASL is finally recognized as a language, but not accepted or allowed in the majority of Deaf schools. The debate is English versus American Sign Language.

  • “Speak Out” (1985 - now) Deaf community finally has their civil rights movement with the protest at Washington D.C. and at Gallaudet University. Gradual belief that ASL is needed by students. Bilingual / Bicultural Education is starting to take hold (Eldredge, 2011, 94-99).

Balance of Power Between Oppressor and Oppressed

My professor then taught us about oppression; that “the oppressor is on a balance scale with the oppressed; if one is high economically, socially, or in power, it’s because the other is low.” (Eldredge, 2011, 94-99). She spoke of how schools, especially after “the Dark Ages” are more apt to promote the view of the majority which affect oppressed groups in ways such as “ambivalence, self-deprecation, distrust of own peers, horizontal violence, passivity...fatalism, guilt, [belief in the] invulnerability of the oppressor...fear of freedom,” etc (Eldredge, 2011, 94-99). She did not bring up Freire, but she spoke of how education can be used to push back against ethnocentrism, “the universal phenomenon of appraising the environment according to one’s own experience and cultural background” (Wurzel, 1988). Her class was the first in which I truly took the time to understand the roles and byproducts of an oppression society; that it resulted in the “dehumanization of both the oppressor and the oppressed” (Wiseman, 2013, part 2).

"Education Is Politics" or Education Influences Politics?

One of Freire’s underlying points is that “education is politics.” I feel like this is an extremely narrow view, especially when we view the diversification of schooling through charter, private, technical and other schools. While I agree that as teachers we cannot “proclaim [our] liberating dream and the next day be authoritarian in [our] relationships with the students,” I relate more to the social reconstructionist perspective that education is where social improvement can occur but in a wide-variety of ways, not just politics (Shor & Freire, 1987, p. 46). Yes, like Freire said, education can either promote or limit positive social change, but to view education as simply another avenue of politics is degrading and limiting in scope.


Eldredge, B. (2011). Deaf Culture: What is Oppression? Lecture presented in Utah, Provo.

Jordan, Adam. (2016, March 3). Horace Mann’s Impact on Education. Retrieved September 21, 2020 from

Shor, I. (1993). Education is Politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. [PDF.] In P. McLaren & P. Leonard (Eds.), Paulo Freire: A critical encounter (pp. 24-26). London: Routledge. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Shor, I., & Freire, P. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: dialogues on transforming education. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers

Wiseman, A. (2013, April 18). Human Rights: Frieres (sic) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Part 1. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from

Wiseman, A. (2013, April 18). Human Rights: Frieres (sic) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Part 2. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from

Wurzel, J. S. (1988). Multiculturalism and Multicultural Education. [PDF.] In J. S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward Multiculturalism: A Reader in Multicultural Education (pp. 1-13). Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from


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