One of Bill Ayers’ courses at the University of Illinois includes Pedagogy of the Oppressed as required reading. Author Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist, declared:
“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.”
It turns out that the Freire book is required reading in “Raza Studies” or Mexican-American courses in the high schools in Tucson, Arizona, where students have been protesting Arizona’s new immigration law. Other required books are Occupied America by Rodolfo Acuña, a professor emeritus of Chicano studies at California State University in Northridge (CSUN), and Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist.
Occupied America, the fifth edition, includes an image of Fidel Castro on the front cover, and Castro and Che Guevara on the back cover. It refers to white people as “gringos” and actually includes a quotation on page 323 from Jose Angel Gutierrez of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), who was angry over the cancellation of a government program. He declared:
“We are fed up. We are going to move to do away with the injustice to the Chicano and if the ‘gringo’ doesn’t get out of our way, we will stampede over him.”
The book goes on:
“Gutierrez attacked the gringo establishment angrily at a press conference and called upon Chicanos to ‘Kill the gringo,’ which meant to end white control over Mexicans.”
Reviewing this material for the National Association of Scholars, Ashley Thorne commented that, “Actually, ‘kill the gringo’ meant ‘kill the gringo.’ But admitting that makes Mexicans look radical, infuriated, revolutionary, Acuña sidestepped that image and substituted it with one of browbeaten Latinos rising to overthrow injustice.”
The Arizona citizens upset about this kind of material said that they initiated an investigation into the problem back in 2007 and found it difficult to get access to the books. One activist said the concern began when parents came to be aware of violence in the schools directed against white and black children. “This investigation was undertaken to find the roots of this hate,” she told me. Another person, in turn, “told me the books in their Mexican-American classes are kept under ‘lock and key’ and the kids can’t even take them home. She said she asked to see them but they were very secretive about them and she was prohibited.”
However, the citizen activists persisted, demanding access to the books under a state open records law. The courses, after all, are taxpayer-funded. Eventually, a list of books was produced, and a controversy ensued.
The footnotes for Pedagogy of the Oppressed tell us a lot about the nature of the book. Sources include Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Mao, Herbert Marcuse, and Vladimir Lenin.
The American Educational Research Association (AERA), which Bill Ayers serves as a vice-president, includes a “Paulo Freire Special Interest Group” in his honor. AERA has more than 25,000 members, including “educators; administrators; directors of research; persons working with testing or evaluation in federal, state and local agencies; counselors; evaluators; graduate students; and behavioral scientists.”
More open than even Bill Ayers about the mission, Paula Allman wrote Critical Education Against Global Capitalism, incorporating the ideas of Marx, Freire and Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist who emphasized the subversion of Western cultural institutions such as the educational system. Allman is in the School of Continuing Education at the University of Nottingham, England. The foreword to her book is by UCLA Professor Peter McLaren, one of those on Bill Ayers’ own “blog roll” of favorite websites, and an open advocate of “Revolution as education,” the subtitle of one of his books. Allman, he wrote, was “part of a bold new group of Marxist educationalists in Britain…”
Here, McLaren is leading the charge, as Ayers tags along and gets most of the “glory.”
Bill Ayers explains to his students that Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is “a complicated and layered book that will likely take you some time and sustained commitment.” This is a book written by a Marxist for the purpose of sparking communist revolution. As the title indicates, this is a Marxist view of oppressors and the oppressed. Hence, students reading this book are supposed to come to an understanding of how various groups in society are being “oppressed.” In fact, students themselves may come to believe, under careful guidance, that they, too, are members of the “oppressed” class. Didn’t such a realization lead to the “student movement” of the 1960s, of which Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn, were prominent members?
Perhaps this has something to do with the “new SDS,” a new group of student activists being groomed by the Movement for a Democratic Society, under the watchful eyes of Ayers, Dohrn and their comrades.
The “Oppressed” in America
In the hands of a skillful “educator,” and in the context of the reading of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Occupied America, the apparent aim is to convince the Mexican-American youth that they are the victims of the “oppressors”—white society. Occupied America opens with a map of “The Mexican Republic, 1821,” showing Mexico in control of the Southwest United States. The subtitle of Occupied America, “A History of Chicanos,” sets the tone. Freire promises them “liberation” from the gringos.
There are many obvious flaws in the book, and the treatment of communist subversion in the Western hemisphere is one of them. The book examines the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s from the standpoint of the U.S. trying to maintain “North American hegemony” and the power of the “ruling elite.” President Reagan is portrayed as a fool for insisting that the Soviets and Cubans constituted any kind of threat to the region. Pro-communist groups such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) are depicted as helping refugees and countering “Reagan’s propaganda.”
But Reagan is attacked not only for resisting communist subversion. “In 1981 Reagan declared war on working families by firing 11,400 air traffic controllers…” it declares. When Reagan was elected president, “he appointed his Mexicans to offices.” (emphasis in original). The book explains that Reagan’s Mexicans were not “committed people” but “were conservative” and, for the most part, had “few links to the community.” What’s more, “resistance to bilingual education increased during the Ronald Reagan years,” it says ominously.
Despite a controversy over the use of such books as Occupied America in the Tucson, Arizona schools, the University of Arizona in 2008 co-sponsored a four-day institute with Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American/Raza Studies program that featured Peter McLaren as a keynote speaker. McLaren’s website opens with music and the face of Che Guevara on a red flag urging people to “join the revolution,” while another speaker, Sandy Grande, an associate professor of education at Connecticut College, has a website that features a Che Guevara quotation:
“The first step to educate the people is to introduce them to the revolution. Never pretend you can help them conquer their rights by education alone, while they must endure a despotic government.”
Grande’s research “has focused on critical theory and American Indian intellectualism and she has written widely on topics that include revolutionary struggle, identity, power and environmental ethics.” According to her bio, Professor Grande’s approach “is profoundly inter- and cross-disciplinary, and has included the integration of critical, feminist and Marxist theories of education with the concerns of American Indian and environmental education.” It says that she “teaches Foundations of Modern Education, School and Society, and Methods of Teaching. In addition to these courses, she has also taught courses in Multicultural Education, History of American Education, and the Pedagogy of Revolution.”
Grande, chair of the Education Department, says that “our legacy builds upon on a long list of teacher/intellectuals: Paulo Freire, Maxine Greene, Peter McLaren, Michelle Fine, Antonia Darder, Joel Spring, Michael Apple, Marie Clay, Linda Thuwai Smith, Lisa Delpit, and Vine Deloria.”
Ayers must be wondering why he failed to make the grade.
One of the leading critics of the Freire approach is Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, who points out that China and Cuba, “whose regimes Mr. Freire praised,” never reformed their own educational systems along these lines and instead have concentrated on producing more industrial managers, engineers and scientists.
It seems that Pedagogy of the Oppressed is being reserved for the capitalist countries still in need of “liberation.”
In a lengthy analysis, Stern notes that Pedagogy of the Oppressed “has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs” and that one study found that it was “one of the most frequently assigned texts” in the curricula of 16 schools of education — 14 of them among the top-ranked institutions in the country. “These course assignments are undoubtedly part of the reason that, according to the publisher, almost 1 million copies have sold, a remarkable number for a book in the education field,” he noted.
Cliff Kincaid is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an excerpt of one of his columns, which can be read in its entirety here.