In Paulo Freire’s seminal work on critical pedagogy, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire states “[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.” During the talk “Making Education More Equitable” with Dr. Cottom and Dr. Shedd, it was impossible not to hear the echoes of Freire’s immortal words throughout the conversation. As proponents of critical pedagogy and of equitable education, be it as students or educators, we are all very much aware of the transformative nature of education, be it as a tool for conformity or radicalization. Many of us value education for the latter, as a method to better recognize and dismantle the unjust institutions and machinations in place that serve solely to disenfranchise the underprivileged. The talk with Dr. Cottom and Dr. Shedd revealed much of the infrastructural fragility within many educational institutions, be it the stratified re-entry process of COVID-19, or the vast disparities in funding for schools.
To paraphrase Dr. Cottom, we must reframe the national discourse on higher ed, retrain our tongues and our minds to think and speak of higher education as a collective necessity and societal good, as opposed to a tool for individual social mobility, as even the most well-meaning individual can often do. Again, to reference Dr. Cottom, when a system works, it works. Many of us are critically unaware of the indoctrination process inherent to our capitalist system, and refer to education as a means to escape our current stratum of privilege, or lack thereof. We become unwitting participants of injustice, perpetuating the same system that initially denied us the privilege we coveted. Dr. Cottom’s words are deeply resonant and profound for a few reasons, not the least of which being the agency it gives all of us to incite change. The praxis of social justice work can take on many forms, such as public protest and community organizing, but it can also be as subtle as changing one’s own mindset. Even reframing the context one views themselves, as well as their own society, is in itself a revolutionary act, perhaps the first that one must perform.