Conscientização and Curriculum Reform: Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Paulo Freire’s groundbreaking work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, identified how education can either entrench or elevate societal views regarding oppression. He sounds a clarion call for educators to not only “reflect upon their previous state of silence,” but to break this “culture of silence” by addressing these uncomfortable realities in education (Shore, 1993, p.24; Lucio-Villegas, 2009, p. 1).
Definition of Conscientização
One of the key terms used by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed is “conscientização.” In my exploration of the term, various authors utilized English-ized translations of the word as “consciousness raising” (Smith, 1976) or “critical awareness” (Iddings, McCafferty & da Silva, 2011) or “conscientization” (Lucio-Villegas, 2009, p. 3). Freire (1970) himself defined the term at one point as the “deepening of the attitude of awareness characteristic of all emergence,” (though to say this definition is helpful is perhaps to be Panglossian).
To fight against what Wurzel (1988) called “the universal phenomenon of appraising the environment according to one’s own experience and cultural background,” Freire used conscientização to connote not just a surface-level, ethnocentric consciousness of issues but a deepening awareness of the differences and flaws in human perception. Freire also made clear that for progress to be made, conscientização must be more than “mere subjective perception of a situation” but “action” that “prepares men for the struggle against the obstacles” (Freire, 1970) that results in “the dehumanization of both the oppressor and the oppressed” (Wiseman, 2013).
Conscientização and Curriculum Reform
My Deaf Culture teacher at Brigham Young University applied the principle of conscientização in her course by presenting not just information about the general Deaf community (consciousness) but by teaching us about the characteristics of the oppressor and the oppressed and sparking deep conversations regarding our role in overturning ableism (consciousness-raising). As a Deaf woman, Professor Eldredge had taken her own experiences with oppression and studied leading research on the impact of oppression on both the oppressed (Deaf) and the oppressor (hearing).
In one of her lectures, she pointed out that oppressed groups are apt to show “ambivalence, self-deprecation, distrust of own peers, horizontal violence, passivity...fatalism, guilt, [belief in the] invulnerability of the oppressor” and “fear of freedom” (Eldredge, 2011, pp. 94-99). These characteristics most certainly lead to apathy and low-achievement in school. For this reason, educators (and all stakeholders) must give precedence to conscientização.
As Freire (1970) makes clear, conscientização leads to action and does not happen on accident. Because it is an active and not passive process, curriculum must purposefully incorporate principles of conscientização for both teachers and students. I discussed earlier in this paper that education can either entrench or elevate societal beliefs so it is the responsibility of curriculum reformers to diligently and consistently prioritize higher ideals in the curricula the world adopts. (Especially when considering how resistant to curricular change some entities can be.) Afterall, if raising awareness is not designedly addressed in school, where else can it be routinely addressed and assiduously applied? Where else will these students, these future world leaders, learn how to “prepare...for the struggle against the obstacles” (Freire, 1970)?
Is Conscientização the Correct Term?
I personally know the difficulty in trying to identify the perfect term for an abstract or yet unaddressed idea. The term conscientização conotes more than a distant cognizance of issues and in this way I feel the term is appropriate. However, although he attempts to make clear that the process of consciousization involves action, that as “humankind emerge[s] from their submersion” they must “acquire the ability to intervene,” the term itself implies to me too much passivity to match its definition (Freire, 1970). A rising awareness of issues is not an end-all solution but simply the first step in the process so a term like conscientização that means “consciousness-raising” is incomplete and superficial.
Freire coined the term conscientização as a way to communicate the idea of raising (and adopting) consciousness of societal ills. While the term itself is, in my perspective, lacking depth, the idea behind the word must be incorporated into all curricula. It is only when conscientização is actively and consistently embraced by educators and students can oppression be reduced and, one day, dismantled completely.
Eldredge, B. (2011). Deaf Culture: What is Oppression? Lecture presented in Utah, Provo.
Iddings. A. C. S., McCafferty, S. G., & da Silva, M. L. T. (2011). Conscientização through graffiti literacies in the streets of a São Paulo neighborhood: An ecosocial semiotic perspective. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(1), 5-21. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ910961
Lucio-Villegas, E. (2009). Paulo Freire: A beginner’s guide. Concept, 1(1). https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/162673762.pdf
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). Routledge. https://libcom.org/files/peter-mclaren-paulo-freire-a-critical-encounter-1.pdf
Smith, W. A. (1976). The Meaning of Conscientizacao: The Goal of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy. Massachusetts University. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED171651
Wiseman, A. (2013, April 18). Human Rights: Frieres (sic) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Part 2. [Video.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yQgvEjACuQ
Wurzel, J. S. (1988). Multiculturalism and Multicultural Education. [PDF.] In J. S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward Multiculturalism: A Reader in Multicultural Education (pp. 1-13). Intercultural Press. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED415791.pdf