Exile and the Prophetic: A (Jewish) pedagogy for/of the oppressor

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

It’s coming down to the wire, just a few more days, before traveling into Innsbruck for a couple of days, then home.  Last weekend in Innsbruck for the day, tourist haven, with the inevitable diminishment of tourist and those who profit from tourism.  Even justice-oriented tourism is more or less a rip-off of everyone involved.  Like the mountains of plastic used in my organic food market at the Cape.  Escaping the system isn’t possible.  Even the pagan rites that surround us here, however displaced, are tainted.

Last night was integrative seminar night.  Gathered were the thirty-five or so students, the administration and the teachers.  All of us seated in a circle, of course.  It was a three hour marathon of confession and accusation, mostly referencing the lack of group cohesion or purpose.  From my angle everyone is already way too close here. 

Critical thought doesn’t come via huggies all around.  Sometimes you have to take thought straight up.  If you’re knocked to the canvas, look around, get your bearings and get back up.  A helping hand is appreciated.  It shouldn’t be expected.  It can’t be mandated.

Emmanuel Levinas on the prophet: “Asceticism, like the training of a fighter.”  Boxing images, since I was one for a few fights in my youth.  I was carried out of the ring several times when my come in, duck out, Muhammad Ali style, was met with a country cracker’s jolting upper cut.  Then, in my big chance, I caught a kid more my size, stunned him, but as my coaches yelled for me to finish him off, I studied his face, thought of his being – and my previous experiences – and let him stand.  So much for my boxing career.

Asceticism – we don’t want to revert to the monastic life full-stop.  Yet without the monk in all of us, where do we find the solitude required to think and care for others.  Like the training of a fighter – referring, of course, to the long and lonely dawn runs of boxers, movie-style.  Really, though, if you can’t see life as a long distance marathon with a lot of aloneness, you can’t weave the threads you were born with into a whole.

Even then the whole is fragmented.  I know this well. 

This brings me to the search for definitions and respect the students want from me.  Last night, too, the students had their chance to speak their piece to their teachers, which is always fascinating how students spin their story into yours.  In general, the students expressed a great sense of gratitude to me, heartfelt and moving.  A few started with the “You didn’t always listen to me” routine which can be interpreted it as “I am your equal and my views are on the same level as yours.”  Anyone in their right mind knows this isn’t the case and doesn’t work in a teacher-student relationship unless you dumb everything down to the minimum.  More or less becoming asceticism with a hug – without the training of a fighter.This isn’t asceticism at all.

Like this morning when the large group had the floor, explained Theatre of the Oppressed and Theatre for the Living, all good and important, but then began with trust, splitting into groups, with one person in the center, trusting the group to catch you before you fell.  If the truth be known I left after the first exercise.  There’s a borderline between participation and sanctioning exercises when we should be thinking.

AWOL – it happens when I think I just can’t stand another minute.  This doesn’t mean it all doesn’t fit the program.  I am trying to fit – sometimes.

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the inspiration for the Theatre of the Oppressed.  “Conscientization” – critical consciousness – the term that Freire used to distinguish from the “banking model” of education.  The problem and the solution.  Freire thought that the social domination of race and class are embedded in the conventional educational system.  This promotes a “culture of silence” that eliminates the “paths of thought that lead to a language of critique.”

Freire’s point is that language and education carry the forces of oppression and liberation within them.  It all depends on method, intent, and political vision.  Is education used as a reinforcement of the unjust status quo or a tool for liberation, since education is never neutral.

Romero again.  In the beginning he saw the Church as neutral, then as a negotiator, ending with a sense that Church had to side with the poor.  In his journey, Romero underwent a process of conscientization.  In other words, he underwent the process of de-colonization.  He de-colonized his Christianity.  He de-colonized himself.

Conscientization, Jewish-style.  We haven’t had Jewish peasants for eons.  The banking style of education has never been central to Jewish learning.  Nonetheless, we have a culture of silence.  Our language is no longer a language of critique.  On the issue closest to us, Israel/Palestine, without forgetting Holocaust remembrance, our pedagogy is saturated with thinly disguised themes of dominance and empire. 

Pedagogy of the (Jewish) Oppressor.For Dummies. The Idiot’s Guide to.(Jewish) Conscientization. The needed primer for Jewish education/discourse?

Richard Shaull commenting on Freire:  “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Apply this to Holocaust discourse, our export within the United States and beyond, as in, the integration of the victims of the Holocaust into the logic of the present American/Israel empire system to bring conformity to it.  Or by developing a critical understanding of how the Holocaust has come to function, it becomes the “practice of freedom,” the means which Jews learn to deal critically with Israel and discover how to participate in the transformation of Israel/Palestine.

Conscientization, another word for the Jewish prophetic in education. Without a Jewish name?

Pedagogy of the Prophetic. Pedagogy of the Prophets. Similar without being the same.  I do not believe that everything comes from below.  Or that the crystallization of oppression emanates from the oppressed – only.  Liberation theology doesn’t (really) operate like that anyway, since the educated priests were the conduit for the people’s awareness.

The prophet comes from and within conscientization.  Is an instrument for conscientization.  Theoretically speaking the prophet is an open circle of communication about justice and meaning.  Educating the people Israel and others about the (in)justice fault line that cannot be crossed without consequences.

Prophet pedagogy today, critical consciousness without God-talk.  On earth as it is in heaven.  Or on earth as it should be on earth.

Primers of Jewish education.Critical consciousness. Curriculum to be created by. Educational effort to be sponsored by– ADL? Tikkun?  J Street?

When these are our alternatives, you can see how deep colonization is.  And how difficult Jewish – decolonization – is.

We don’t have the Vatican to blame.  However, we have our own (Jewish) Vaticans, don’t we?

For now, the need for Pedagogy for the Oppressor?  Whoops, we already have one.  How about Pedagogy of the Oppressor. As in a deconstruction of the (Jewish) oppressor’s discourse?

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Prof. Ellis, You wrote: Romero again. In the beginning he saw the Church as neutral, then as a negotiator, ending with a sense that Church had to side with the poor. I am interested to know more about Bishop Romero and his views, especially whether they changed. I have not… Read more »

If there’s more than one vatican, are they such? Sort of like a corporation compared to a partnership?