Wink (2005) describes critical pedagogy as a way for people to become aware of their own contexts and their respective roles within those contexts. Critical pedagogy calls for people to name their reality in their own terms, to reflect critically upon those terms, and then act upon the resulting knowledge (Wink, 2005; Freire, 2002). This process provides the formula for true empowerment because “until each of us owns our own power (negotiates our own identity), we cannot be a part of empowerment” (Wink, 2005, p. 172).
In addition, Wink (2005) puts forth an interesting observation that, “to empower is not a transitive verb; it does not take a direct object. Think about it: if you say that you empower someone else, who actually controls the power” (Wink, 2005, p. 115). The fact that there is no object in the verb to empower indicates that a people can only find out what their power is through the process – name, reflect critically, and act. This process allows people to navigate their own contexts through their own terms and understandings. The way is through naming, reflecting, and then acting over and over again until people understand their own role in creating their own reality. When a person does not, and has not ever, been an agent in the creation of his or her own reality, there is no power.
Power differentials and more importantly, resolving them, is at the core of Freire (2002). This work discusses a group of peasants who lived outside of a large city and, “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 and response were practically impossible” (Friere, 2002, p. 30). This submersion created an oppressive situation because, “any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression” (Freire, 2002, p. 55). The way that the rich maintained their power was through prescription of what the peasants within this community could or could not do or say. Freire (2002) says that, “one of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness” (Freire, 2002, 47). The mental state created by oppression and its main tool, prescription, is a living death. In terms of addiction, twelve-step groups tend towards powerlessness between the person and the substance. In other words, the substance has power of the individual.
Also, these people had no options or opportunities to see beyond their miserable situation. The subject of Freire (2002) was “a person who does not perceive himself or herself as becoming; hence, cannot have a future to be built in unity with others” (p. 173). However, in order to disrupt the living death, those who live under a powerful leader’s prescribed reality must have enough within themselves “to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform” (Freire, 2002, p. 49). These limits are nothing more that temporary constraints. A real leader is a humanist and, “a real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust” (Freire, 2002, p. 60). Finally, Freire (2002) states, “the fulfillment of humankind as human beings lies in the fulfillment of the world. If for a person of the world of work to be totally dependent, insecure, and permanently threatened, if their work does not belong to them…it ceases to be a fulfilling pursuit and becomes an effective means of dehumanization” (p.145). What “owns” means in this context is that a person cannot know the meaning of the work he or she performs and is dehumanized in this lack of ownership. The opposite of this statement is that work that an individual owns is liberating, and therefore, truly empowering.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum International.
Wink, J. (2005). Critical pedagogy: Notes from the real world. Boston: Pearson.