Well …. not exactly. Paulo Freire, that great Brazilian educational thinker died in 1997, just as the World Wide Web was emerging in the Western world. So Freire didn’t actually live to see the power and potential of social media, or the impact blogging would have on education. But what would he have said about blogs if he had been witness to the participatory web in all its present glory? Here is my interpretation of some of his ideas, drawn from his most celebrated book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, and presented in six key points as they might apply to the art of educational blogging.
1) Respond to reader comments with humility. Freire wrote: “…dialogue cannot exist without humility. Dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning… is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?” (p. 71). This is not just a message for educational bloggers. It is a message for teachers everywhere. How can we stand there in a self proclaimed position of enlightenment, and view our students (or audience) as being in a state of ignorance? This is hubris of the first order. And yet that is what happens in many classrooms across the world every day, because that is often how teachers are trained. It is also acknowledged that many teachers teach in the same way they themselves were taught. In a blogging context, it is easy to be offended when an adverse comment is received on your blog. You may be tempted to respond aggressively, to ‘put the other person right’. Often though, good learning occurs when we consider the views of others. Even if we don’t agree with the views of other people, it is good to consider them, to evaluate their meaning and contemplate alternative perspectives. Dialogue is what blogging is really about.
2) Don’t be afraid to speak out. Freire counsels: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” It’s clear that there is a lot of inequality in the world, and some of this exists within the world of education. Schools are not perfect, and there is no education system in the world that has it completely correct. There is no better place for speaking out against injustice, or exposing inequalities than a popular blog site. It’s better than owning a newspaper. People will read what you have to say if you have something interesting to speak about. So use your blog to speak out on behalf of those who can’t speak out for themselves.
3) Use blogs to circumvent regulated learning. Students who blog quickly realise that they can explore knowledge for themselves. They can become independent learners. Freire was critical of the banking approach to education, where teachers regulate learning: “The teacher’s task is to organise a process which already occurs spontaneously, to ‘fill’ the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers constitutes true knowledge” (p. 57). When a learner starts to blog, they start to think for themselves. They have to consider an audience of more than one (teacher and essay writing) and they are required to be masters of their own journey. In another sense, blogging can subvert traditional education in another way. The dialogue that can ensue from blogging is often more valuable than the act of writing on the blog. Quadblogging and the 100 Word Challenge are just two of the school based blogging projects that are making a real difference for learners by providing them with a guaranteed audience every time they blog.
4) Read other people’s blogs and make comments. The act of seeking out alternative perspectives and views in itself will sharpen the reader’s thinking and cause them to question received knowledge. Freire says: “… it is indispensable to analyse the contents of newspaper editorials following any given event. ‘Why do different newspapers have such different interpretations of the same fact?’ This practice helps develop a sense of criticism, so that people will react to newspapers or new broadcasts not as passive objects of the ‘communiques’ directed at them, but rather as consciousnesses seeking to be free” (p. 103). Alongside newspapers and news broadcasts we can add blog commentaries. Blogs are places where people can express their opinions and offer their interpretations, and these are the new street corners where individuals have their conversations. Engaging with knowledge in this way will liberate the mind and help develop critical thought.
5) Use blogging to support thinking. Often, abstract thoughts remain abstract unless they are externalised in some concrete form. Traditionally, writing has been used as a means to crystallise thinking, because as Daniel Chandler says “In the act of writing, we are written.” Freire writes that “In all the stages of decoding, people exteriorise their view of the world” (p 87) which implies that in order to understand our personal reality, we need to first bring our thoughts out into the open. Blogs are public facing tools that enable their owners to externalise their thinking in a way that is open for scrutiny. In the act of public writing, we expose our ideas and begin to understand our own thoughts more clearly.
6) Use blogging as reflection. Reflection is an important part of learning, and is a skill that must be developed if it is to lead to successful outcomes. Reflection is also the key to personal liberation. Friere argues that: “Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building” (p 47). Reflection means active participation in learning, and blogging is a very powerful tool to support this process.
Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
Photo by Steve Wheeler