Today there are over 60 hate groups in California alone – including racist skinheads, white nationalists, holocaust deniers, neo-nazis, and Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Surprised?
When President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address in 1893, equality left out women, African Americans, indigenous Indians, and many other groups on the outskirts of society. In the United States today, a recent survey shows that more than 6 in 10 latinos says discrimination is a “major problem”; a woman is beaten every 18 seconds; African Americans are arrested in significantly higher numbers for marijuana possession even though statistically they use the drug less; affirmative action continues to be necessary, we have yet to have a female president, and over 932 active hate groups exist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
For all the strides we’ve made, the 21st century has only made baby steps towards a sociocultural revolution that recognizes all people as equal.
What can be done to take us to the next level? What does a humanistic approach to equality in our time look like?
Paulo Freire, a leading expert on multiculturalism, suggests that it starts in school.
Freire’s theories look at America’s educational institutions as being the source of the proliferation of sexism, racism, and injustice thus– the breeding ground of hatred, inequality and oppression. He tackles the “banking concept” of education—that promotes teachers as active distributors and students as passive recipients of knowledge and information. Freire sees this as the beginning of oppression, the beginning of accepting pathological forms of power and control patterns in society; thus the beginning of sexism, racism, and bigotry. Tainted knowledge.
To counteract this, we need to cultivate a “critical consciousness.” Empowerment is the nucleus of what makes a critical consciousness approach work. Freire’s theory is presented in its entirety in Pedgogy of the Oppressed, and Educating for Critical Consciousness.
In transformative action, Freire’s theory proposes a stage theory involving–
1) Dialogue—the beginning of a hopeful process involving the identification of generative themes. Themes that focus on societal representations of self-images belonging to certain ethnicities, genders, classes and races that becoming inherently self-limiting. Systematic questioning of self and by other form the basis of this stage
2) Reflection—involves a “group process” of critical thinking and unveiling of the root causes of enigmatic problems. Group process focuses on the “hows” and “whys” involved in discriminatory patterns in society.
3) Action: challenging “limit situations” involving barriers to transformative action and working toward individuation and self-differentiation from societal problems. Thus, taking personal responsibility by way of eliminating self-blame and other barriers.
Ending systematic discrimination based on gender, class, race, and ethnicity begins with transforming America’s tainted educational system.
The good news? This is already being done in some corners of society. Montessori schools, originated by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female medical doctor focused on the natural process of educational development by way of experiences in the educational environment. Teachers are seen as “environmental adapters”; thus classroom modifiers, that work in a non-obstructive manner in “following the child” promoting social interaction and individual personality development. Montessori education rejects the “banking concept” notion of education where teachers impart and students receive bodies of knowledge that are polluted by societal prejudice.
Beyond a shadow of doubt, tremendous work remains to re-educate an entire society who continually marginalizes and oppresses its people. As President Lincoln reminded us in national cemetery centuries ago, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…”
– Liz Schreiber