Is the relationship of access to education and reduction of poverty a direct one? It’s often posed as such. “Get a good education – get a good job.” Sounds simple, no? But, as all too many of my contemporaries have experienced, and as those entering today’s depressed market are experiencing, it simply isn’t true. For many, it’s “Get a good education, get a good job, lose a good job, lose your home.” or “Get a good education, get no job.”

Forty years ago, Paulo Freire would have posited another use for education: consciencization.

“It was Freire’s great achievement in his pedagogy to instill within those trapped within the confines of limited situations the need to gain consciousness of the root structures by which they were bound. For, by becoming literate in the limitations imposed upon people by the structures of experience, Freire felt that people would become dialectically aware of the possibilities such structures also veiled. Acting upon the world in a manner in accordance with our dreams is then part of the process of unveiling social structures, naming oppressive power regimes, and fostering future possibilities.”

Thus comments Richard Kahn in his 2006 article, “Paulo Freire and Eco-Justice: Updating Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the Age of Ecological Calamity” (The Freire Online Journal, 2006, Vol. 1, Issue 1: UCLA Paulo Freire Institute). What envisioned is a change in the way a human being interacts with her/his environment. An education provides the individual with critical faculties with which to understand their reality. Education is the first step on the ladder of systemic change. Unfortunately, too many of our own schools and colleges still perpetuate the mythic connection between education and wealth/success. Rarely do we admit to the bestowal of racial or class privilege that is the more robust predictor of escape from / avoidance of poverty once the educational variable is stabilized.

So, what to do? A few suggestions:
>>make social analysis a common form of professional development for all Vincentian teachers;
>>don’t be afraid to “politicize” the classroom;
>>study Freire’s methods and evaluate curricula.

Educational access will only be a way out of poverty for the majority of Americans when a cadre of critical, politicized citizens take their education and describe solutions to the economic and social inadequacies of our current systems. Doing, as Hart describes above, “…unveiling social structures, naming oppressive power regimes, and fostering future possibilities.”

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