'Conscientization' passes for education: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development at work

Educator Paulo Freire – who was deeply influenced by the socialist Antonio Gramsci[i] – came to the United States in the late 1960s after he was exiled from Brazil for “bolshevizing the country.”[ii]  
 
In the U.S., he spread his educational theories to many of the era’s foremost progressive activists, among them Saul Alinsky, and coined the term conscientization or consciousness-raising to “describe authentic education.”  By this, Freire meant that it was not enough to teach people to read or write but that they must also be taught to participate in the political process, with issues framed through the lens of Marxist analysis, particularly the notion of class struggle.  Right education, he believed, leads to action and right action leads to the creation of a socialist world: “authentic praxis seeks permanent transformation of the social structure.” [iii]
 
A concrete example of this was provided at a 1995 workshop in Chicago, at which one presenter explained his use of “popular education” in work with the homeless.[iv] He explained that when he brought homeless people together for discussions, they would initially blame their condition on alcohol and drugs. But when he “pushed the discussion further,” they came to see for themselves that most of them had been displaced from the industrial sector (and/or veterans) and then turned to drugs and alcohol in despair.
 
“Popular education” – conscientization – taught these people that it wasn’t their fault they were homeless or addicts.  They were victims of a corrupt system that they had to fight.  They were, in other words, re-educated to work for “systemic change.”
 
Nearly twenty years later, these “educational” theories are just as valuable to progressive social reformers.  In 2009, nine participants in a Freire-based language program were studied to see how, as a result of the program’s pedagogy, their attitudes changed about various social values and issues.[v] 
 
“According to Freire (1970), the highest stage of learning is conscientización, which refers to the awareness of social problems to the point of intervening to change them….The oppressed concientizado stops expecting that the solution comes from the oppressors and works toward resolving the problem. And the oppressor concientizado listens to the wisdom in the oppressed, rather than ignoring their voice or imposing what he/she thinks is the solution.”[vi]
 
Who are the oppressors and who the oppressed in this situation?  The study presumed that the university students, because of their relative privilege in being native speakers and better-educated, were “oppressors” and the immigrants they tutored in English were “oppressed.”
 
 
(Paulo Freire)
 
The study’s authors found most participants developed new language skills, made friends, conducted lengthy and meaningful cross-cultural discussions, and broke down negative stereotypes about one another.  These are genuinely valuable accomplishments.
 
However, there are political positions being promoted, as well.  This particular Intercambio drew its “community participants” from Centro Romero, “a community-based organization located in the city’s Edgewater community that provides adult education and a range of other services to more than 3,000 Latino clients a year. Intercambio is part of the “Bringing it Home” immersion program, which is made possible by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education…”[vii]
 
Centro Romero says that its “interrelated programs include adult education, women's empowerment projects, legal assistance, and youth learning and leadership development as well as special projects such as Community organizing and HIV/AIDS Outreach and Education.”[viii]   
 
“Women’s empowerment” includes fighting for “reproductive rights” such as abortion and contraception access.[ix]  
 
“Community organizing” includes getting people out on the streets to protest immigration reform legislation that would have strengthened “immigration enforcement, including extending a fence along the Mexican border and severe punishment for those who aid undocumented workers.”[x] 
 
“Community organization” also includes membership in One Northside[xi] which is, in turn, a “partner” with the Alinskyian behemoth United Power for Action and Justice (UPAJ).[xii]   
 
“Adult education” includes “civic engagement” – such as targeting “Republican-dominated congressional districts” for, ahem, “political change.”  “Blocked from direct electoral participation, many local immigrant-led groups concentrated on direct-action politics such as mass demonstrations at local government meetings.” [xiii]
 
It’s a free country.  These interrelated groups can – and do - promote pretty much whatever they like.  The trouble is that they are also “bolshevizing” the Catholic Church[xiv] who support them for their legitimate, humanitarian work of helping immigrant populations (without reference to documentation) while winking at the political elements accompanying it.
 
“Conscientization” produces socialists, not citizens.   
 
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing among Religious Bodies.'
 
NOTES
 
[i] Paulo Freire, “We Make The Path by Walking,” ed. by Bell, Gaventa, and Peters, Temple University Press, c. Highlander Research and Education Center, p. 36-38.
[ii] Drick Boyd, “Pedagogy for the Reign of God: A Theological Perspective on the Educational Philosophy of Paulo Freire,” Eastern University Working Paper, 8-9-07.
[iii] Denis E. Collins, S.J., Paulo Freire: His Life, Works and Thought, New York: Paulist Press, 1977.  The quote is from p. 68, where Collins is distilling Freire’s thought from About Cultural Action, pp. 121-134.  For more information about Freire, see Block’s Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing among Religious Bodies.
[iv] 25th Anniversary Campaign for Human Development Conference, Chicago: “Popular Education Methods” workshop, Sunday, August 27, 1995.  Presenters were: Kathy Howell of South Carolina United for Action and Grassroots Leadership, John Donahue (a former priest who described himself as having gone to South America to evangelize where he fell under the influence of Paulo Friere, among others) of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and Nelson Carrasquillo of Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricola.
[v] Lucia d’Arlach, Bernadette Sanchez, and Rachel Feuer, “Voices from the Community: A Case for Reciprocity in Service-Learning,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Fall 2009. 
[vi] “Voices from the Community…,” p. 7.
[vii] “DePaul University Steans Center , winter 2005, pg 2.
[viii] Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights listing of coalition “partners:” http://icirr.org/our-partners
[ix] Mariame Kaba, Project NIA and the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls & Young Women, “Reproductive Justice and Violence against Girls,” 2010.  Identifies Centro Romero as one of  “13
Local Organizations Offering Reproductive Health Services and Reproductive Justice Advocacy,” p. 13.
[x] Democracy Now, “Over 100,000 March in Chicago to Protest Immigration Reform Bill in One of Biggest Pro-Immigrant Rallies in U.S. History,” 3-14-06.
[xi] One Northside website, member listing: http://onenorthside.org/7-2/members
[xii] http://onenorthside.org/7-2/accomplishments Both ONE Northside and UPAJ have received Catholic campaign for Human Development grants. 
[xiii] Judith Boruchoff (and others), “Latino Immigrants in the Windy City: New Trends in Civic Engagement,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2010, pp 11, 16.
[xiv] Both ONE Northside and UPAJ have received Catholic Campaign for Human Development grants (for example, in 2013, see: http://www.archchicago.org/news_releases/news_2013/news_131118.html). 
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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