- Teaching with Pensive Images:Rethinking Curiosity in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Often when I am teaching philosophy of education, my students begin the process of inquiry by prefacing their questions with something along the lines of "I'm just curious, but . . . ." Why do we feel compelled as teachers and as students to express our curiosity as just curiosity? Perhaps there is a slight embarrassment in proclaiming our curiosity, which, in its strongest formulation, appears to be too assertive, too aggressive, or too inappropriate to speak in public in front of others. In this sense, curiosity is itself problematic, something to be slightly ashamed of. Or are we afraid that our teachers and our classmates will think that our questions are motivated by something more than mere curiosity? The assumption here is the exact reverse of the former argument. Here it is curiosity that is innocent, naïve, and pure while all other possible motivations for asking questions are somehow perverse or tainted by questionable assumptions or ulterior ends.
While the problem of confronting "just curiosity" is of general concern, it forms the epistemological question driving Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. If there is a philosophy of mind in Freire's work, it must begin from a careful analysis of curiosity as the central cognitive process that either enables or disables critical consciousness raising. To begin to understand Freire's work, and how he poses his project against just curiosity, we can follow two lines of investigation. Recently, the work of Daniel Cho has problematized the ontological dimension of Friere's analysis of curiosity.1 For Freire, we are all born with "spontaneous curiosity,"2 which is then either transformed into "epistemological curiosity" through critical pedagogy [End Page 27] or "anesthetized"3 by banking pedagogy. Importantly, this notion of naïve or spontaneous curiosity is inherently linked to our ontological unfinishedness. "This [ontological] incompleteness implies for us a permanent movement of search,"4 which is directed through our curiosity toward the world. If dialogic/problem-posing education raises this innately curious disposition to the level of epistemological reflection on the relation between self and world, then banking education puts such curiosity to sleep (an ideological slumber for sure) through the cognitive and affective "bureaucratizing of the mind."5 For Cho, Freire's mistake lies in his recourse to ontological arguments concerning curiosity. Cho proposes a provocative countermodel that founds curiosity in a traumatic event rather than human nature—thus shifting Freire's materialism from ontological considerations of the human to language and signification.
While agreeing with Cho in many respects, my project here takes aim at another key assumption in Freire's argument: his connection between curiosity and epistemology. In what follows, I will argue that curiosity is better located on the register of aesthetics. The implications for this shift will be examined through the work of Jacques Rancière, whose reflections on the politics of aesthetics provide us with a countermeasure to Freire's interpretation of curiosity. In the end, I propose that curiosity in any form is always implicated in politics, and that the politics of curiosity concern the distribution of the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible. It is by rethinking the relationship between curiosity and politics through both Freire and Rancière that we can begin to understand how a critical intervention into the world is not simply the unveiling of social reality through critical consciousness raising but rather is a redistribution of the sensual through perceptual alternation.
Even though I will point out certain correspondences between Freire and Rancière throughout the paper, any quick and easy homology between the two must be put to rest. Instead, we have to utilize Rancière's aesthetics of politics and politics of aesthetics in order to read Freire differently, pick up on the "pensiveness" of his writing, and in this sense become attentive to those details that are both openings and blockages for igniting our collective curiosity. My goal is therefore not to denounce Freire as an out-of-fashion revolutionary who might have had good intentions but who in the end "got it all...