I started this series on the Mechanics of Indoctrination forever ago. One month-long vacation and a cross-country move  later and I am finally ready to finish it. Before I conclude it today, let’s do a brief recap.

In Part I, I used one of my own experiences from the Naval Academy to highlight how indoctrination takes place. No one has to stand at a chalkboard and teach you the rules of your particular environment, instead you glean the rules from the people and situations — the context–around you. In Part II, I discussed how this indoctrination process is related to racism:

Maybe that seems like I’m reaching a bit, but replace racism with body image. Aren’t we conditioned – indoctrinated even—into thinking that one body type is more attractive than another? What bodies are presented in the Annual Victoria Secret Lingerie Show each year? Or on all of the life-sized billboards in Times Square? Can you say thigh gap?

Do we not constantly give outcry at the lack of “real body images” and the heavy use of photoshop in print ads? Do we not decry the “unrealistic body expectations for women” and the skinny models of fashion week? Don’t we cheer whenever Dove presents their “real body image” campaign?

Why would the conditioning process for racism be any different?

In Part III, I introduced Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (POTO) and his theory of bankable knowledge. I also distinguished indoctrination from education.

In his seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere refers to this concept (that I am calling indoctrination) as “bankable knowledge” (though he discusses it within the confines of the education system). You are a passive receptacle and someone else is “depositing knowledge” into your account. The “process of bankable knowledge teaches a standard curriculum as a narrative of “fixed” truth that often requires rote memorization with little relation to reality” (hello Reef Points).

It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them. ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

I explored POTO even further in Part IV and discussed how our education system contributes to our views of racism:

Freire posits that we learn the specific rules and patterns of our society via an education system that transfers knowledge from an “expert” person to a passive “ignorant” person. This “bankable knowledge” type of education either

functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity (what I am calling Indoctrination) or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Chapter 2.

So now that we know the process of indoctrination, maybe we even recognize our own bankable knowledge or perhaps our indoctrination has broken through to our consciousness, what do we do? This is the question that I have been consistently asked. What next?

I’d say it’s a two-fold approach.

1. Learning/reflection:

Freire defines the result of a banking education as “narration sickness.”

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated account. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teachers. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teachers she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.

You don’t need an instructor to learn. You don’t need me (or the Republicans, or liberals, or your mother) to tell you how to think. Instead of searching for some other person to “narrate” the truth to you — figure it out for yourself. There are plenty of resources to help you learn, but you must do the work to figure out what you believe.

Adrienne Rich said it best in her commencement speech at Douglass College in 1977 (you should read it in its entirety):

The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction. “To receive” is to come into possession of: to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true. The difference is that between acting and being acted-upon.

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.

Don’t just take my (or anyone’s) word on these things. Think them through for yourself. It is crucial to your own development and understanding.

2. Praxis.

This is a word that you may have never heard of. In its simplest form it means: thoughtful committed action. It’s what happens when you take all of those things that you’ve learned (all the theoretical concepts like justice and love and humility) and you put them into practice (or rather, praxis). Praxis allows you to get off of the sidelines. You are no longer a passive spectator, but a participant who acts on, interacts with, and changes the world around her.

I can hear some of you still saying: This seems too easy. Just think about it and then do something? That’s it? You wrote this whole series just to tell me that?

Pretty much. Perhaps it doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a difference. I’ve seen it in my own life as I’ve become more vocal — more committed to praxis– about racism.

Maybe others of you are chomping at the bit: Yes, yes, action. But what do I do??

The truth is: I can’t answer that for you. How you decide to act has everything to do with where your talent and skills lie and even your calling. I am a writer and communicator so I write and talk about racism. Maybe you march in protests, or provide water to protesters, or run for office, or draw insightful cartoons, or write your local representatives, or start a hashtag to bring awareness to an issue, or use your body as a shield against police brutality.

I don’t know what you, specifically, are meant to do, but do something you must.

Godspeed to you in whatever action you choose.

2 Comment on “Praxis Makes Perfect

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