Education is not only an important part of a person’s life but also a fundamental part of social life. As such, it should theoretically ensure that people enter adult life not only with sufficient knowledge and skills to succeed in their chosen vocations but also properly acculturated to the norms prevalent in their society. Using the ideas developed by Paulo Freire, Jeff Duncan-Andrade criticizes the conformist approach to education as a mechanical transfer of skills and information with the ultimate goal of succeeding in the job market. Instead, he proposes education that aims for personal and societal liberation by teaching the students to think critically rather than eagerly reenact preset social patterns. He delivers a convincing argument by showcasing how the existing education systems view learning as simple memorization of preset answers cementing the existing power structures instead of prompting the students to question them.
A crucial part of Duncan-Andrade’s argument on the development of critical thinking as an essential prerequisite of personal liberation is his critique of existing education systems. As the author notes, traditional or ‘domesticating’ education views the process of studying as a means to an end. Rather than a value in its own right, studying is something that one has “to suffer through to get a degree,” secure a better-paying job, or achieve other gains external to education itself (Duncan-Andrade 157). However, critical thinking enables students to ask the question of why they are studying in the first place – and, by doing so, eventually, formulate life goals not dictated by the established socioeconomic system. This is Duncan-Andrade discusses his approach to answering the question of “Why do we have to learn this?” at such length (157-158). The author demonstrates how critical thinking allows transforming the question from the reasons to study to one’s goals in life. By doing so, he links it to the fundamental freedom of choosing one’s fate – and, in this respect, his connection between critical thinking and personal liberation creates a convincing argument.
To evaluate Duncan-Andrade’s argument regarding critical thinking and societal liberation, one also has to take a closer look at how he criticizes the socioeconomic foundations of education. As mentioned above, domesticating education views a process of studying as a means to an end – namely, assuming a better position within the economy to secure more resources for one’s consumption. Essentially, it focuses on understanding the rules of the economic system and training rigorously to succeed in it due to playing by these rules. However, Duncan-Andrade specifically points out that the best this approach can do is to allow underprivileged students “to go from exploited to exploiter” (157). This part of his argument is closely related to Freire’s fundamental assessment that education is fundamentally political and inextricably linked to relations of power (Shor 27). By codifying the process of studying as a way of learning the rules of the economic game, domesticating education effectively removes the question of whether these rules are any good or who should enact them. Hence, the central premise of Duncan-Andrade’s argument is that domesticating education cement existing structures of power and oppression.
This foundation allows the author to expand the argument on the value of critical thinking in education as a way toward societal liberation. In contrast to domesticating education discussed above, liberating education aims to enable students to question answers rather than answer questions (Shor 26). Within Duncan-Andrade’s argument, it means, among other things, questioning the preset rules about how society should operate. Instead of perceiving the rules of the economic game as something given and fundamentally unchanging, this approach provokes the students to question it critically and consider possible alternatives. It certainly does not mean that students would immediately come up with an idea of a better socioeconomic system, much less have the power to act upon that understanding. However, the point of the augment is not that education focused on critical thinking automatically guarantees societies with a greater degree of liberty and democratization but, rather, that domesticating education essentially prevents such an outcome. In this regard, Duncan-Andrade’s argument is also fairly effective by highlighting the results of using the education system as a vehicle for cementing existing socioeconomic structures to secure them against possible change.
In short, Duncan-Andrade provides a fairly effective argument for critical thinking as an essential part of education aiming to facilitate personal and societal liberation. By nothing that only critical thinking may enable people to question preset social patterns, he points out that it is crucial for independently deciding what one wants in life, which is the most fundamental liberty. Similarly, since domesticating education focuses on learning the ‘rules’ of the socioeconomic game instead of questioning them or considering the possible alternative, it effectively cements and secures preexisting power relations. Admittedly, Duncan-Andrade does not demonstrate that liberating education will, with any degree of certainty, lead to greater societal liberation. Still, he is fairly convincing in showing how domesticating education essentially negates this possibility.
Duncan-Andrade, Jeff. “To Study Is a Revolutionary Duty.” Dear Paulo: Letters from Those Who Dare Teach, edited by Sonia Nieto, Routledge, 2008, pp. 154-163.
Shor, Ira. “Education is Politics: Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy.” Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, edited by Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard, Routledge, 1993, pp. 25-35.