Popular Education-Addressing Social Inequalities

“Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.” – Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The tenets of popular education are well-defined in Friere’s most famous work, and although educators in El Salvador may not have had direct access to Pedagogy of the Oppressed the education system they developed was in line with his proposed pedagogy. The term “popular education” loses some of its meaning when interpreted into English, but as Villasboa explains, in Spanish the word ‘popular’ also can be translated to “from the populous” or “the base of people.” Popular education first developed out of desperation and necessity during the civil war in El Salvador when resources were scarce and involved those with a little bit of education, teaching what little they knew to those with less education; thus it was an education from the people. However, popular education also developed as a way to awaken the political consciousness of campesino who struggled together to fight to end the oppression and violence that the oligarchy and military used to control the less fortunate in El Salvador.

While some Americans in the United States may take their education system for granted, the US possesses one of the best education systems in the world. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the US is also the number one economic, military, and political power in the world. A solid foundation in education tends to create a solid system of democracy and economic strength in a nation. Although my pre-graduate education was not in the US it was in Australia, another developed and strongly democratic nation, and I attended a private high school and graduated from college. Even within my own country and the US, I can conceive of my privileged access to education and how the quality of education almost dictates one’s socioeconomic status.

Frederick Douglass’ narrative was particularly insightful to me in understanding how the simple act of learning to read can open someone’s mind beyond just reading to pursuing freedom and justice. The early colonists of this country denied slaves education as a form of control, just as the oligarchy in El Salvador denied their own people access to education. Working in a Historically Black College, I have seen first hand that while the US is a great democracy it is not yet a democracy for all. African Americans and other minorities in this country are behind economically, politically, and socially and it seems to be sub-standard education that keeps them this way.

The tenets of popular education would certainly bode well in redressing some of these inequalities. Minorities are seriously under-represented in politics in all levels of government and so their education is not being given the attention it deserves. These groups need to become more politically aware so that they can work to correct indifferences that exist in American society and popular education is one such method for doing so. I think the main difference between minorities in the US and El Salvador is that the campesino were the majority of the population. However, I feel repression was to a greater degree in El Salvador than it is here and so there is hope that education could redress disparities between minorities and wealthier populations. It is truly a momentous task but education, specifically popular education, seems like the most logical path to redressing some of the biases and prejudices that have developed towards US minorities for decades.