Shirts (Still) for Democracy
December 1, 2013
GAU still has several shirts available for new members. The words “Democracy in Education,” and “Education for Democracy,” feature prominently on the back.
As we suggested before, our members chose those words for a reason.
Philosopher and educator Paulo Freire wrote in Education for Critical Consciousness that people in his home country of Brazil could really only “learn democracy through the exercise of democracy; for that knowledge, above all others, can only be assimilated experientially.”
Freire decried the dominant banking model of education that posits learners as mere deposit boxes for information as a flawed framework for understanding. And it is a dangerous notion for democracy.
“More often than not, we have attempted to transfer that knowledge to the people verbally as if we could give lessons in democracy while regarding popular participation in the exercise of power as ‘absurd and immoral,’” Freire wrote, stressing the necessity of having courage to dialogue with people about their right to participate in decisions affecting them.
Freire admonished the “educational practice which failed to offer opportunities for the analysis and debate of problems, or for genuine participation; one which not only did not identify with the trend toward democratization but reinforced our lack of democratic experience.”
GAU aims to embody a critical and democratic public pedagogy. That is, critical in the sense we strive for self-reflection. We embrace education that leads people “to take a new stance toward their problems—that of intimacy with those problems, one oriented toward research instead of repeating irrelevant principles,” as Freire articulated. “An education of ‘I wonder,’ instead of merely, ‘I do.’”
In the same vein, the democratic nature of our union pedagogy is two-fold.
First, it is a popular mode of participation organized in such a way that members participate fully in internal decision-making processes.
Second, it is a democratizing power. The union does not seek the sort of power-over characteristic of anti-democratic institutions that privilege some at the expense of others, hurting people in the process and holding back the inherent power-to (potential capacities) of those involved. Instead, GAU tries to advance GA power-to, and in turn seeks to liberate the University’s potential.
But that potential cannot be maximized solely via gifts from above. Potential has to be realized in practice – through praxis, a dialectic of democratic action and critical reflection.
When expounding upon “education versus massification,” Freire invoked a similar theme with respect to a twentieth century pro-democracy uprising in Brazil.
“I was convinced that the Brazilian people could learn social and political responsibility only by experiencing that responsibility, through intervention in the destiny of their children’s schools,” he wrote, “in the destinies of their trade unions and places of employment through associations, clubs, and councils, and in the life of their neighborhoods, churches, and rural communities by actively participating in associations,” and other engaged groups, as Freire explained.
In our contemporary context, GAU aspires to be one such group.
But to be sure, the union has no monopoly on knowledge. Nor are we the sole proprietors and purveyors of “conscientização,” which is what Freire called the process of achieving critical consciousness.
“Never had I believed that the democratization of culture meant either its vulgarization or simply passing on to the people prescriptions formulated in the teacher’s office,” Freire explained, putting a finer point on a position similar to ours.
The union does not act over and apart from assistants, treating them as passive objects. Rather, GAU recognizes all GAs as subjects immersed in a historical reality that is not always democratic, not always just and not always conducive to a formative democratic culture within — or outside of – the University.
We strive for a process of public pedagogy that problematizes our experience, and empowers all GAs to grasp our shared situations as objects, critically reflect on them and decide democratically how to transform those structural circumstances for the better.
As a testament to the above approach that GAU aims to embody, we thought it a nice gesture to makes shirts to cover our bodies featuring these ideas, expressed with images and the written word, to remind us all to read the word and the world, as Freire put it. The shirts represent those ideas so necessary for democracy that the union puts into practice in the process of democracy.
GAU Communications Committee
If you would like to sign up to become a member and receive a shirt, or if you are a current member who would like a shirt, please contact GAU. We still have several shirts left, so act now while they last. Current members and GAs who sign up to become members can get a t-shirt at the next Happy Hour. If members would like more after we run out of shirts, please send us new design ideas!