What can the poor teach us? Yes, I know and truly believe that the poor teach us about God, ourselves, and our relationships with others, resources, and the environment. But would you pay to take a course taught by “the poor?”
A lot of us who chose “human services” as a profession would have said “yes” when we first read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Father of critical pedagogy (which means teaching), Freire challenged educators to learn from the oppressed—to the point of relearning that which was thought already learned. He also challenged all of us to recognize that underlying the traditional “value-free” education process were a set of values that were de-humanizing. The quest of the educator, according to Freire, was “to fight alongside the people for the recovery of the people’s stolen humanity.”
When human service work is done with a similar awareness and attitude, it is truly transforming. When it’s combined with the lessons and experiences documented in Pedagogy of the Poor, a short but insightful book by Willie Baptist and Jan Rehman (and recently featured in Organizing Upgrade), societal transformation can be hastened.
Baptist has played the role of an intellectual among the poor for years. Raised in Watts during the racial uprisings of the 1960s, he threw himself into grassroots activism on race and class issues and has emerged with an economic and social critique that could be shared for the price of tuition. Instead, he shares it with others who are poor, old and new, in the fight to recover his and their stolen humanity through the Poverty Scholars Program http://bit.ly/ov7BQB.
He now shares it with us. Along with Jan Rehman and a creative literary structure, he uses his direct experience and the tools of social science to critique, act, reflect, and share–and invites us to enter the same process wherever we work or live. While the market price of admission is $28.95 (Amazon), the true price is to see the poor or persons who are poor– clients, customers, patients– first as agents of the societal change we seek. It’s also the heart of human rights—and a small cost for the learning and re-learning that all of us desperately need.