We Fight, We Love (or Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in a Context)

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose8 Comments

altoalaguerraDenise Oliver-Velez, who commented in my last blog about the Young Lords anniversary and reunion gathering, said something poignant that educators like myself should take heed to in their quest to educate underprivileged and underserved children in this country (of any color). The average age of a Young Lord in the Young Lord Party’s prime was about 17 years old, the youngest 12. While many of the people I’ve encountered who consider themselves activists came to this new consciousness around college, the people of that generation were already starting free breakfast programs, starting a liberation school, taking over hospitals, cleaning out (and subsequently burning) piles of garbage, all in the name of self-sufficiency and making sure the people of that neighborhood had their needs met. Come to think of it, most of the groups people in this country consider radical / revolutionary started with young people.

The lack of information about these historical groups in our present-day curriculi demonstrates how those who’ve written the history books care less about the empowerment of our students and more about keeping them docile and complacent. While some may dispute the merits of taking over a church or bringing AK-47s to guard your people (I’m not one of them), these young people at the time brought services to the people that our generation and beyond took for granted. They helping bring along those basic, socialist services, and they didn’t stop there. As they got older, they graduated into more far-reaching work, like the heads of unions, broadcasters, university professors, and politicians. In other words, these young people continue to be effective contributors to society as a whole.

In turn, as a teacher, I find it disingenuous that teachers really don’t believe in the potential of our youth. Those very kids who are so-called thugs and vagabonds are really intelligent, energetic young folk who need a chance at really making a difference in naming and transforming their worlds. While many of our students need that tough love, and a no-nonsense attitude, we must also prepare them to become active and responsible citizens for their own neighborhoods so they can become self-sufficient. Our test-ready notions of reading and arithmetic without any holistic child-building almost begs our future generations to become what our society calls delinquents and social lepers.

If we as teachers either work against building up students or stand to the side while it happens, we’re complicit in this. Paulo Freire, of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed fame, gives us a question to think about:

Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.

That’s really where I stand. While I think too many educators are far too touchy-feely-save-the-world-y, I also see that this as a labor of love, and an understanding that the very children I’m preparing for in a couple of weeks, that we constantly battle for, and the children who some of us literally give our hearts and minds for, NEED to be young lords of a kingdom solely under their sovereignty.

Jose, who thinks people confuse my ideals for idealism …

Comments 8

  1. Hola Jose,
    Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was one of the books we used in political education classes (PE) for cadres and community.

    We have been purposely left out of textbooks. Not just the YLP, and the BPP but a host of other movements, and grass roots groups in our most recent history may as well have not existed. The burden then falls on good teachers to make up for the lack and take up the slack.

    I have students read Howard Zinn’s Peoples History of the United States, for starters.

    Glad I found your blog. Am now subscribed.



  2. Yes. Those questions form part of the reasons why I have a hard time planning for a school year before I meet the kids I will be working with – students need to be involved in designing what they need to learn about. And we need to show them the kindness that allows this to happen.

  3. Exactly what I’ve been thinking: some “teachers really don’t believe in the potential of our youth”…

    I work w’ folks who think poorly of the kids/parents/community – such distaste they have. It doesn’t seem to be in them to raise our kids up; assumptions are made, no effort shown. They talk nice, but don’t do sh_t. They pat themselves on the back for working in the inner city, but then leave running at 3, talking out loud on cell about clubbing/pedicure/trip to Punta Cana /jumping in to brand new SUV with Coach bag on shoulder/let’s meet for sushi at 6. Meantime, kids wait around to be picked up, moms/dads/grandmas run up to ask questions (in Spanish), older kids hang around because there’s no place to go…

    And I can’t really get in people’s faces and tell them how to be.

    Why am I and a very small group of like-minded people so alone in schools? Things were supposed to be getting better with the years, but I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ll be serving up respect and high expectations with a side of follow my example to the young lords and ladies I serve.

  4. I can honestly say this post reflects one of the main reasons I became an educator in the first place. I am so tired of people shrugging off our young people and pretending they don’t matter. They are our future leaders and they are exactly who we need to spend time with, nurture and push so that they may realize their full potential.
    I am still fighting the good fight to have enough paperwork to work in a public school, but for now I am going to take my love of teaching to the community college level. I know I can make a difference for one of them.
    Thanks for this post.

  5. Post

    Thank you all for your thought provoking comments. A big part of me, Denise, feels like we need some sort of reading list and / or curriculum developed by people of like minds (like ours) to disseminate to those who don’t know where to start. Growing up, I didn’t have the privilege of knowing about these wonderful books and events.

    Also, we have a long ways to go before we can get everyone to make the sorts of sacrifices to our own person as well as for our students to revolutionize what we see as education now. Then again, it’s easy to get comfortable, so we all need to keep moving in a direction that helps our students.

  6. It was a gift for me at age 16 to meet some former YLP members. It’s why I cried when suddenly, in an instant, the floodgates of community love and knowledge were opened to me. I learned the story of the YL, and revolutionary thinkers before and after them and not once was I told by my elder teachers/mentors that I was too young, or not smart enough, or not ready to handle the complicated history that we carry with us and the duty we have to move that history forward.

    I’m not an “educator” in the most widely used sense of the word. I tutor young men and women of color so that yes they can do well in school pero I use radical texts and ideas in that process. It’s also part of my job as a mami. And I think that now, as more and more young people are tracked for prison and other houses of invisibility, we need to find new ways to reach them using the old lessons and texts.

  7. Post

    I did actually read about your own journey with the Young Lords and that’s really awesome. The idea of “revolutionary machismo” is an idea I struggled with too, as a 3rd person observer of that culture. Interestingly enough, in the college atmosphere, radical groups of color led by women were the norm, and so a lot of that machismo was put in check a lot. Love this line in particular:

    And I think that now, as more and more young people are tracked for prison and other houses of invisibility, we need to find new ways to reach them using the old lessons and texts.

    Too true.

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