“Pedagogy of the Oppressed”: Teaching, Learning and the Immigrant Experience Part III

Jacques Fleury
Spare Change News

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through
the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world,
with the world, and with each other.”
Paulo Freire

In my previous articles, I explored the teaching techniques and ideologies in Paulo Freire’s book: “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” a text celebrated for its influence on education worldwide. Freire’s book focuses on the idea of the classroom experience wherein the teacher is omnipresent and dominant and the student is trivial and passive. I recalled my years in an all-boy Catholic school in Haiti and how the teachers dictated sonorous text to the students, who then simply recorded the information without question. I mentioned the idea of deliberate forms of memorization as a way to demonstrate basic comprehension of the material taught to the students. I compared my educational experiences in Haiti to my experiences in American schools, and described how I began to learn critical thinking skills at my American high school and college. I also discussed my method of combining the memorization model I learned in Haitian schools with the more practical model I was exposed to in America, whereby I came to understand the real-life critical implications of the memorized text.

Having learned how to learn by combining memorization and application while assimilating U.S. customs, now I was faced with other learning influences. At the very core of it were social influences. The social factor did not affect me much at all in high school, but once it came time for college, things changed for the better; hence another type of learning began. Instead of textual learning, it was contextual learning within the social framework of the times. Sometimes, I would walk into a college classroom, and there would be nothing but Caucasians, including the professor. They would just sit there, staring at me, their eyes at times menacing and challenging as if waiting for me to prove myself as a black, foreign-born student. I perceived them to be thinking, “I have seen all I need to know about your kind in the evening news, so now it’s up to you to change my mind.”

But what they did not realize was that they had a limited view of people of my ethnicity. They didn’t realize the magnitude of their ignorance. I think that opportunities are always available for people to learn about other cultures. However, people have to make that choice, to learn about others or to remain ignorant and complacent in this great American land of freedom and opportunity. I’ve made an effort to learn about the American culture — is it too much to ask for the same from you, regarding my Haitian culture or the multitude of cultures living here in the U.S.? Hence, I had to learn to cope with prejudice and racism in both academia and in the wider social sphere. Some people here in America, minorities included, prefer to go on being ignorant, so that they can continue to feel socially superior to others. And the thought of being deemed inferior to anyone incited me to achieve and excel beyond my perceived limitations, through tireless study both independent and formal.

At first, I was timid about being an overachiever. Why stand out even more? Why not fly under the radar? I believe that life burns brightly, like a firefly, but only for a short time. Therefore, why not shine as bright as you can, while you still can? Why not excel to the fullest? I was fearful of repercussions, such as other people’s jealousy and envy. But I decided not to let that be a hindrance to my thirst for knowledge. My hard work eventually paid off when I was nominated as one of the top three finalists for class valedictorian in college, and was consequently inducted into the international honor society and made the national dean’s list.

During my time here in the U.S., I have unfortunately come to realize that blacks and foreigners are perceived to be less intelligent than whites, but I believe that everyone has their own unique brand of intelligence. I worked as a tutor in college, and the majority of the influx of students who were seeking help were white. I would greet them and offer assistance, at which point the white students would excuse themselves and essentially never return. The stress of being discriminated against for being a black immigrant and being perceived as dumb could have hindered my learning experience, but it did not; it only compelled me to work that much harder. However, I won’t ignore the fact that it did influence my own development as a student.

I had to draw on spiritual as well as ancestral strength in order to learn to develop as an educated person. Many obstacles may come my way, but if I can see them as part of the learning process and not as a deterrence to it, I will reap the maximum benefits of what life has to teach. I no longer feel intimidated by the idea of not being able to “memorize” the lessons as I did in Haiti. Nor do I feel insecure in the social learning environment, where my capabilities might be questioned. Having learned to be more practical, I have now put it all together. The collective experiences of Hatian Catholic schools and American public schools, all having their own brands of social and cultural influences, have contributed to or have influenced my development as a student.

Having familiarized myself with Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” I now have renewed academic energy and a restless curiosity about the world in which I live, while learning from the practical interactions and intellectual collusions with my fellow human dwellers. I now know that combining memorization of facts along with critical inquiry — in order to draw practical real-life conclusions — proves to be the most effective form of pedagogy for me, and for the betterment of humanity in my opinion; that is, if we expect to actively shape our society rather than just passively live in it.

JACQUES FLEURY’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe and available at www.lulu.com. His CD “A Lighter Shade of Blue” with the folk group “Sweet Wednesday” to benefit Haiti charity St. Boniface is available on iTunes. Contact Jacques at: haitianfirefly@gmail.com and visit him at: www.facebook.com/thehaitianfirefly.

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