I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on the meaning of my education and what I would like to accomplish with it. Is the primary objective of an education merely a career and economic security or should there be something more? The problems of the world loom large and they’re dynamically interconnected in ways that make it difficult to isolate a single focus. The vague, unformed motivation to “make the world a better place” seems weak, even to me, although I have often uttered the phrase. There is a reason, however, that this question seems so difficult to answer. The intellectual pursuit of knowledge, of which I am privileged and extremely grateful to be able to engage in, cannot, in and of itself, provide the solutions to the problems we face.
There is a contradiction that sits right at the core of our society, and education too often serves to reinforce it:
“To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.”—Paulo Freire
This contradiction is central to understanding the underlying conditions of poverty and inequality we see in the world today. Paulo Freire penned those words in his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed about his native country of Brazil over 50 years ago. It is a testament to the power of his work that it is still so applicable to those of us living in the United States (and elsewhere) in 2011. For far too many people, poverty is a cage from which there is little hope of escape. Even though we pay lip service to the ideal of equal opportunity, reality has made of this ideal a farce.
For many years I’ve considered access to quality education to be the defining, albeit complex, solution to the problems of poverty and inequality. It was for Freire as well, although the nature of his pedagogy is fundamentally different from what we have come to expect from education. A true pedagogy engages people “in the fight for their own liberation” and cannot be imposed from without. It “must be forged with” the people and in the process it facilitates a “constant unveiling of reality.” The reality that requires unveiling at present is that our current economic system is designed to perpetuate inequality. This realization, on its own, however, is insufficient. Freire identifies the need for “praxis”; the joining of intellectual reflection with a call for action. Through this process we can transform the nature of the reality in which we live. The conditions we face are “not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order.”
For personal reasons, I feel compelled to address the issue of food insecurity, as I consider access to a (more than) adequate diet to be a fundamental human right. This is why I have sought out Dr. Chappell and his work and I am very proud to be affiliated with the Agroecology lab at WSUV. With the number of people in the United States suffering poverty conditions reaching a 50 year high (according to the recent U.S. Census bureau report) food insecurity is a battle to be fought right here in our own community. However, the solution to the problem of food insecurity, as well as the larger issues of poverty and inequality, will not be found in any class that I take. I believe, as did Freire, that the solution will be found when we engage in mutual dialogue and action with those who are suffering the most in our community. Together we can invoke “an act of creation” that is able to transform the world.