Indeed the Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In December 2011, CoDev coordinated a Canadian teachers’ delegation to Colombia. In the following article BC Teachers’ Federation provincial executive member Rick Guenther writes of his experiences during the delegation.

Colombia Delegation Nov 2011 - Ademacor MonumentI can only begin to imagine life as a union leader in which I regularly receive reports of murdered colleagues, frequently receive death threats, and require the constant presence of armed bodyguards. Yet this is the reality of many people, particularly trade unionists, in Colombia.

While various rebel groups, government forces, and paramilitary groups have been engaged in violent struggle for decades, most of the oppression of union and human rights activists has been perpetrated by the paramilitaries who do their dark work in complex, and for me, poorly understood, relationships with government officials and powerful business interests.

While violence is an inescapable theme in a country beset by civil strife, there clearly exists hope for a truly civil society reflected in the work carried out by many individuals and groups.

During a recent trip to Colombia to attend an Education International (EI) congress our CoDev delegation had opportunities to meet with many people to discuss education and human rights issues and to hear stories. Colombian teacher leaders summarized the effects of violence on their members but they focused more on enthusiastically describing BCTF supported initiatives to develop “pedagogical circles”. These authentic professional learning communities work to improve teaching through action research and philosophical reflection on the fundamental purposes of education. Hearing praise for BCTF contributions to these efforts reaffirms my belief and pride in the international work that we do.

Colombia Delegation November 2011 - AdemcorWe met with Domingo Ayala, president of ADEMACOR, the teachers’ union in Córdoba province. At least 95 ADEMACOR members have been assassinated since 1985, with 20 of those occurring in the last three years. Most murders were a direct consequence of the victims’ professional and community service.

Domingo has lived with death threats for 20 years and now is accompanied 24 hours a day by two armed bodyguards provided by the government.

The theme of intimidation was mirrored by the stories of Sergio, president of the faculty association at the University of Córdoba, who described the takeover of the university by the paramilitaries a few years ago. During that time, murders of faculty, staff, and students were used to exercise control of the university and suppress any opposition to the paramilitaries. Sergio also lives with bodyguards.

We also met Alirio from the CAJAR human rights lawyers’ collective, an organization leading the struggle to bring human rights violations to light, to prosecute and convict the violators, and to secure reparations for victims. He too lives with death threats and armed bodyguards.

The Hollywood horror movie details in the stories we heard could easily be passed off as exaggerations or inventions. However, as Alirio explained, amnesty laws that provided reduced sentences for paramilitary leaders who confess their crimes encouraged detailed descriptions of human rights abuses that corroborate the testimony of witnesses.

Psychologists tell us that when we are distant from situations, we tend to intellectualize circumstances more than when we directly face them. While I was “familiar” with statistical information regarding the troubles in Colombia, hearing first-hand narratives and wondering at the courage and commitment of those who seek the improvement of human rights was transformational.

What amazed me is the fact that, in spite of the personal dangers they face, these people continue their normal duties, as well as work for improvements in human rights and a more just society. Not surprisingly, the teachers whom I met believe that education is the key. This is indeed the pedagogy of the oppressed.

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