GLL – on critical consciousness and transformative education

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 3 – Part 1: Critical Consciousness

Keywords: Critical Consciousness, Freire, Laszlo, Macroshift, enactivist orientation, transformational orientation

Link to blog

Link to forum

Discuss the relevance of “critical consciousness” as a dimension of transformative adult education. Why is critical consciousness a necessary dimension of transformative adult education


Freire’s ideas offer a valid approach to transformative adult education although they often sound too dichotomous (see my previous comments). Freire supports the transition to a new epoch in which oppressed people will eventually enjoy the benefit of just-for-all participatory democracy. His ideas remind me of Ervin Laszlo’s Macroshift, which describe the kind of all-encompassing change that occurs at certain points in human history.

I believe that epochal transformations may also happen independently from people’s actions, and that people are not necessarily able to control such epochal shifts. We can – however – try to understand the processes, so as to feel less “victims” and more “participants”.


Freire’ relies on critical consciousness to rid society from oppression. As suggested in the quotes above, education plays a pivotal role in such process. It seems to me that what Freire proposes sounds like what many have called “critical thinking skills.” Freire’s approach is however more political, possibly entangled in the contextual conditions of his time and place.

Nevertheless, I believe that his ideas are valuable as a platform for transformative education.

For this course I have looked at other sources outside of the provided readings, only to find out that the ideas around transformative education emerge as an interconnected web of thoughts. Freire talks about active participation, which reminds me to the concept of Active Citizenship we discussed earlier in the course. Freire’s idea of critical consciousness is not unlike what others have written on transformative education, in particular Merizow’s “Transformative Learning Theory” advocating a societal emancipatory change achieved through individual transformation. Lena Wilhelmson believes that “perspective transformation leads to a revised frame of reference, and a willingness to act on the new perspective.”

In a web-like, holistic, interdisciplinary fashion, these ideas resonate with Intercultural Communication discourses on transcending constrains in our current mind frame, and reconstructing dominant narratives through dialogue and self-reflection.

I believe that the complexity found in transformative adult education requires a systems-thinking approach. It is very interesting for me to notice how many of the discussions we had in the past provide a broad framework for understanding these issues. To conclude this post, I believe Freire’s approach fits into a radical orientation to education. In order to implement societal and personal transformation, we can move on to a transformational orientation (as suggested by Merizow), and eventually transcend the political aspect that still pervades Freire’s writings through a highly participative enactivist orientation that states that “learning cannot be understood except in terms of co-emergence: each participant’s understandings are entwined with those of other participants, and individual knowledge co-emerges with collective knowledge.” (Fenwick, p. 49)

Like in Freire’s advocacy for the emergence of a new era, enactivist educators “can provide feedback loops to a system as it experiments with different patterns leading out from disequilibrium,” (Fenwick, p.50) the system breaking point sometimes heralds the start of a paradigmatic macroshift, as suggested by Ervin Laszlo.


Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at

Wilhelmson, L. (2002) On the Theory of Transformative Learning, In Bron, A. & Schemmann, M. Bochum (Eds.) Social science theories in adult education research (180-210) Studies in international adult education, v. 3. Münster: Lit Verlag.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr Laszlo’s Macroshift check out the suggested links:



Anita wrote:

I agree. Fenwick (2001) identified some critiques of the criticial resistance orientation to adult education:

  • the repressive potential in boundaries (e.g., monolithic “dominant ideology” that is manipulative and evil, mass of passive, homogeneous non-critical victims)
  • the need to examine our positions as the “good liberator”, our right to impose grand visions for people’s lives, or to essentialize, simply, or problematize people’s experience
  • the focus on power

and I think these apply to Freire to some extent.

Helga Wrote:

While we are debating theory, it might be useful to look at actual results of intervention programs. Friere tried to transplant his ideas to Guinea Bissau without taking into consideration the social differences between Brazil and that African country.

“in 1980, the Department of Adult Education of Guinea-Bissau declared the following:

We could say that literacy in the years 1976 to ’79 involved 26,000 students and the results were practically nil.

(This statement was taken from a government document dated at Bissau, November 8, 1980. A military coup took place on November 14, 1980. Frank Tenaille, Las 56 Africas (México: Siglo XXI, 1981), p. 134.)”

My comments:

Thank you Helga and Anita for your strong reminders!

Yes, while we are sitting here discussing poverty and education, with a cup of coffee steaming on the table, people out there – many of them! – are feeling the blunt of modern days’ politics of exclusion. In my case – from my rented space in one of the richest places on the planet, surrounded with all kind of examples of wasteful habits and capitalist mismanagement and exploitation – I fee ill equipped to approach issues of survival that sound and look so alien to the world I live in. I can, as we all do in these forums, discuss those issues, maybe hoping that something at some point will change, although it is clear that my term papers are not going to provide for safe shelters and food for anyone.

Today I was doing some web search on the concept of Ubuntu. I came across a video of Nelson Mandela.  Soon after that, I found a pamphlet that brought back, with awakening intensity, all the drama that does not transpire in the kind of intellectual discussions we are having. Here is an excerpt:

“They always want to talk for us and about us but they must allow us to talk about our lives and our struggles.

We need to get things clear. There definitely is a Third Force. The question is what is it and who is part of the Third Force? Well, I am Third Force myself. The Third Force is all the pain and the suffering that the poor are subjected to every second in our lives. The shack dwellers have many things to say about the Third Force. It is time for us to speak out and to say this is who we are, this is where we are and this how we live. The life that we are living makes our communities the Third Force. Most of us are not working and have to spend all day struggling for small money. AIDS is worse in the shack settlements than anywhere else. Without proper houses, water, electricity, refuse removal and toilets all kinds of diseases breed. The causes are clearly visible and every Dick, Tom and Harry can understand. Our bodies itch every day because of the insects. If it is raining everything is wet – blankets and floors. If it is hot the mosquitoes and flies are always there. There is no holiday in the shacks. When the evening comes – it is always a challenge. The night is supposed to be for relaxing and getting rest. But it doesn’t happen like that in the jondolos. People stay awake worrying about their lives. You must see how big the rats are that will run across the small babies in the night. You must see how people have to sleep under the bridges when it rains because their floors are so wet. The rain comes right inside people’s houses. Some people just stand up all night.”

There is more. Read on if you want at:

As you see, the global web connects us in interesting and powerful ways, allowing us a glimpse into otherwise hidden aspects of others’ experience.

Participating in this course has been good and very interesting. Nevertheless, I cannot hide my discomfort when I open the Pandora box of “the world problems” and realize how powerless I feel. We talk about transformation, and we debate whether Merirow’s or Freire’s ideas would work better. It all seems so irrelevant when we stare real-life cases in the eyes.

Ubuntu to everyone!



3 Responses

  1. Hi Oscar,

    I’m curious about the very notion of “transformative education” (TE). Are the students of TE teachers informed up front that they are there to be transformed?

    My experience of TE practitioners so far is that they have an agenda of transforming students into thinking the way the teachers think, while the students have their own unique agenda of gaining specific knowledge and skills that the teacher does not care about. In other words, it seems to me that students think they are buying knowledge and skills while TE teachers have this other political agenda and the students are mere fodder for that political agenda.

    The remarkable assumption of TE practitioners is that they think they are sufficiently wise that they can and should transform others. I’m surprised that anyone would sign up to be transformed by some stranger.

    To me University is for knowledge and skills for students to use as they see fit, not for personal growth or saving the world, or anything like that.

  2. Hi Martin,

    Thx for your comments. You are certainly raising an issue that is not to be underestimated. I notice two assumptions in your post. First, that educators have an agenda, and second, that learners only want “skills”. I believe that there is need for contextualization.

    Elsewhere in the website I called the issue you brough up ” Confessional education ” (you can search the site to find relevant posts), which is defined by Usher and Edwards (1995) as “practices such as journaling, life planning, self-evaluation, portfolios, and counseling that are commonly associated with experiential learning.” They believe that people become “objects of scrutiny” as they follow their educators’ advice on issues of identity definition. (Fenwick, 2001, pp. 41-42)

  3. I wrote that students enrol in uni for KNOWLEDGE and skills, not just skills. Spreading good knowledge will empower students and improve the world.

    You wrote in another post: “Following this orientation, educators could act as promoters of transformation processes. According to Merizow (1991), this approach leads “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world.” by “bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them.” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 13)”

    I would be happy to do that if the teachers did it first. But the fact that the teachers see the world in political terms proves to me that they haven’t questioned their own assumptions. There’s a lot more going on than politics. For example, human potential is unfolding, evolution is happening, nature is taking its course.

    It seems to me that “transformative education” is okay if that’s what the student is seeking and everything is made explicit upfront. But that’s not my experience. My experience is that you start a course, feel something is wrong, then gradually discover the teacher is a TE teacher. That’s unethical because you haven’t been warned upfront. I’ve looked at other courses run by TE teachers and they don’t warn students that the teacher’s plan is to transform your way of seeing the world. I doubt that many people would enrol in uni for a “transformation in [their] way of viewing the world”. Only someone with a lot of self-doubt would enrol and trust someone pushing this agenda.

    I think the normal approach to improving education is to spend more money on it, improving accessibility, and increasing options. Then you can trust the individual’s own taste and natural flowering to evolve themselves and humankind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: