Reflections On Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Martin-Baro’s Role of the Psychologist, Prillitensky’s Value-based praxis in community psychology (And Personal Reflections On Things I Consider Important)

While much has been said and much has been written about scientific objectivity and, in the case of my experience in local television journalism, much has been said regarding journalistic objectivity, sometimes quite passionately to the detriment of the local issues being discussed.  Both have their place, but I have never really understood why there isn’t a middle ground to analyze the needs of objectivity in relation to the needs of the community and the activism necessary to improve the work of both.  The scientific objectivity is recent within the study of sociology, psychology, and the classes that I participate in on Saturday mornings.  The journalistic objectivity is not new but while I was immersed in it, I always saw the false integrity (even without my awareness of the propaganda) in claiming objectivity while accomplishing no community improvement.   This objectivity vs. productive involvement is something that has also interested the readings’ authors as well, and I am glad that it has because I have wondered if I had been the only who has been puzzled by this.

Freire takes on this dichotomy to analyze the oppressed vs. the oppressors.  Other than the unique situation of the oppressed and the dictatorship of 1960s Brazil and the unique ways that subversive music produced (In the case of music specifically, Gilberto, Jobim, and Os Mutantes, for example, were part of an underground movement protesting the dictatorship while seeming to follow the strict dictates of the regime.), I see little difference in the ways that the oppressed of the world are reacting and rebelling against their respective oppressors, even in the United States where the economy continues to create more poverty and more apathy in the economically oppressed and the rich, respectively.  However, in the case of the oppressors, there may have been an element of humanity present when Friere originally wrote.  I see few elements of humanity in any present day oppressors unless there is humanity in apathy.

Additionally, like the monarchies, fascist, and “democratic” regimes of the past (communist regimes, included), the oppressors oppress with the consent of the majority.  Without that consent, there would be no oppressor and no oppressed, and there would be no regime.  This is what may excite and what may terrify an oppressor regime.  Once the oppressed realize this consent, Friere sees them waking to learn the pedagogy that facilitates their liberation, at least from the current oppressor.  I find a particularly intriguing correlate between the indoctrinating educational propaganda of Friere’s time and country and ours is that both did not and do not know they are oppressed. Let me at least explain the latter of the United States.  The vast majority of the U.S. public school systems and some private (K-12 and some universities, though here I am being generous) program students with propaganda that is not designed to teach them to think for themselves and ask questions, difficult, not innocuous ones.  They are designed to teach students to do what they are told, follow the status quo, and do what they are told.  Friere had to overcome this to teach the oppressed how to free themselves and each of us has to teach future generations the same.  It is almost as if the Thomas Jefferson quote should become a maxim to live by everywhere, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

While Friere analyzed the situation of the oppressed from a position of pedagogy, to teach the oppressed how to evolve beyond the present oppression, Martin-Baro analyzes the same from a position of an involved psychologist-scientist immersed in an oppressed environment to aid in its liberation rather than just studying it (much in the same way that I refused to remain objective during my employment at the TV station) from the outside.  He makes this statement in contrast to the accusations of a dispassionate psychologist elite devoted to the social elite to help them with their individual problems while ignoring the problems of the oppressed and wider society.  I see this more as a social psychological activist who is directly engaged in improving his or her immediate environment and, thus, society in general.  In Martin-Baro’s case, it was the pressing need of revolutionized and militarized South America. The current United States is not in exactly the same pressing need, but it is a correlate need when economic forces continue to oppress most of us.

While there is pedagogy involved with Martin-Baro’s approach to reach oppressed individuals to teach them to reach beyond their present moment of oppression, I see an evolutionary process that teaches the oppressed to think for themselves and reach an individual evolution that incorporates head, heart, and hand to join others through a process of what he calls coincientizacion. This coincientizacion is a transformative collective and societal process to assist each person in understanding their historical place in society and create an autonomous future.  While he concedes this isn’t the sole job of the psychologist, he admits that it must be done in concert with others to transform society.  That must be done here in the US as well or the creative minds that are working in isolation will be isolated even more and the economic, creative, and spiritual oppression will continue.

Prilleltensky brings together his value-based praxis that joins personal, relational, and collective wellness to achieve productive social and community results rather than ineffective results tested in isolation, action rather than just discussion.  He places a particular emphasis on values, and while I implicitly included mutual values (with the oppressed) above, he discusses values specifically in this context as a series of concepts that are essentially morals of one sort or another.  This is something I see as a necessary antecedent to collective and community evolution and improvement if the community psychologist-activist’s values are in line with the community, or at least can distinguish between their values and the values of the community and prevent theirs from interfering with the community in question.

Prilleltensky uses this collective framework to analyze the social framework of policy that supports the individual in Canada and the United States leaving the care of children to the individual and the family solely with no community or collective support for family leave.  Whereas, in several other countries, the community is responsible for raising its collective children, promoting family wellness and the prevention of child abuse.  At this revelation of how value-based praxis operates, I am reminded of some ideas, that First Nations took responsibility to raise all of the children in their tribes, that children in minority (and perhaps other) communities, at least in the past, took responsibility for raising and looking out for all of its children, and that there is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child.  There is hope for the future but not as government, media, and sexist propaganda are collectively and currently promoting the way of life in this country.


Frieri, P. (1998).  Chapter 1.  Pedagogy of the oppressed, (25-51), New York:  Continuum.

Martin-Baro, I. (1994).  The role of the psychologist.  In A. Aron & S. Corne (Eds.)  Writings for a liberation psychology  (33-46).  Cambridga, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Prilleltensky, I. (2001).  Value-based praxis in community psychology:  Moving toward social justice and social action.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 5, 747-778.

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