An oppressive leader or teacher will have as his followers or students people who believe that life is a living death.  When a person does not see life as a mission to fulfill, “he or she is a person who does not perceive himself or herself as becoming; hence, cannot have a future to be built in unity with others” (Freire, 2002, 173).  The term, “becoming” is operative is this statement.  Any person who does not see a potential for becoming something will act as though the whole point of life is simply to await impending death.  A person who holds this view of life more than likely never had a choice in developing a sense that he or she could accomplish something, they learned otherwise, “rather than being encouraged and equipped to know and respond to the concrete realities of their world, they were kept submerged in a situation in which critical awareness response were practically impossible” (Friere, 2002, 30). There is no option, as Joan Wink defines, “to name, to reflect critically, to act” (Wink, 2005, 22) in environments where life is defined and action is prescribed for people, either students, or employees, or any other type of follower.

If it is true that a person in the form of a leader or a teacher can create an environment where his followers are not allowed to think for or about themselves, then it stands that education is an issue of power.  This power differential is further reflected in practices such as tracking.  Jeannie Oakes defines tracking as “the process whereby students are divided into categories so that they can be assigned in groups to various kinds of classes” (Oakes, 2005, 3).  This process of division is in keeping with Freire’s analysis, “it is in the interest of the oppressor to weaken the oppressed still further, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them. This is done by varied means, from the repressive methods of the government to the forms of cultural action with which they manipulate the people by giving them the impression that they are being helped” (Friere, 2002, 141).  Tracking is simply dividing students so that power can remain in the hands of the dominant culture.  Tracking has as its advocates either people who want their children to be a reflection of their own power or people who believe tracking helps students who are lower performers (Oakes, 2005).  Either way, it is clear through this practice that thinking critically is a privilege in a society that does not want its lower classes to become aware of their own conditions.

Further, the values that a leader or teacher profess often reflect the value of individualism.  Shor discusses this value as disempowering, “my students learned that they should face their future and the dominant power in society alone, counting only on their personal power to make their way forward or to sink from bad breaks or their own fault.  This sink-or-swim individualism helps disempower them while keeping power and wealth in those few who already have it” (Shor, 1992, 61).  The reason that this individualism is disempowering is that people who have never learned to live critically are not aware that the circumstances of their lives are often systematically imposed upon them, either through educational limits or economic limits that exist as a result of those educational limits.  The system was stacked against them, yet an individualist faults him or herself for his or her own failures.  They never learned to see the realities that they had to face.  The dominant value system becomes internalized; schools (or other learning environments), pass this mythology onto students in subtle ways and that individual mythological structure diffuses any responsibility on the dominant culture.

It becomes clear, then, that power and the means of getting power is at the heart of all learning/educational environments


Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  Continuum International: NY.

Oakes, J.  (2005).  Keeping Track: How schools structure inequality Yale University: MA.

Shor, Ira (1992). Empowering Education: Critical teaching for social change.  University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Il.

Wink, J.  (2005).  Critical pedagogy:  Notes from the real world Pearson:  Boston, MA.