In the essay "Perspectives on the Struggle for Freedom in Education" by Freire and Macedo,the authors illustrate the numerous aspects of literacy and its importance in the struggle for social justice.Literacy, with its myriad definitions and its ability to define a culture lies at the core of education and the way we view the world around us. In the essay "Perspectives on the Struggle for Freedom in Education" by Freire and Macedo, the authors illustrate the numerous aspects of literacy and its importance in the struggle for social justice by placing it in the context of colonialism and oppression. The meaning we attach to literacy, and the purpose that we give it, can either facilitate a discourse on social justice, history, and cultural inclusion, or be a limiting factor that pronounces and perpetuates a system of hierarchy and dominance.The essay explains the highly contrasted difference between the history of the African nations and the literacy taught in the schools that were dominated by the Portuguese colonists since their rise as a sea and trading power. The authors point out the African backlash against an education system that had been established by the colonists and the resulting negative impact on literacy. Literacy carries with it much more than just the language. It provides the historical color and national identity of the population. The struggles of a people against oppression, invaders, or a colonizing force cannot be placed in the language of the colonizers. In the African colonies, all remnants of Portuguese history, geography, culture, and colonial ideology were purged from the literacy in an effort to create a school system with an African mentality (p.194). Still, once a language has reached dominance it can be destructive to eliminate all traces of it when there is no alternative for replacement. This is equivalent to an African-American that rebels against the dominance of the white culture, but is left with no adequate language, and little literacy, for self-expression.
The problem of developing literacy pedagogy, measuring literacy, and developing a school curriculum, is based on the contentious and interpretive definition of 'literacy'. The English speaking developed countries have held a traditional view that a student must be 'well read' to be successful in academics. This often meant reading standardized texts based on English classics or the writings of Greek and Roman philosophers. These texts have little relevance to a multicultural classroom setting where history, social class, and culture play an integral part of education. In the lower grades, the educational system will set a goal of 'literacy' and use a standard that requires the basic ability to read and write in the dominate language. This helps assure that the students are able to perform the most rudimentary tasks that will confront them in the world, such as reading an apartment lease or a job application. This minimal definition does little to elevate the student's awareness or impel them to advocate for social change.
Whether we define literacy as a basic tool for economic survival, a talent that gives us self-fulfillment and entertainment, or a vehicle for social change, our definition will become its ultimate use. If an Hispanic immigrant is to understand their history, culture, and their place in the society of America, it must be taught in their native tongue. Teaching these important cultural aspects of a people in a second language will lead to dilution and suspicion. Freire and Macedo argue that, "The failure to base a literacy program on the native language means that oppositional forces can neutralize the efforts of educators and political leaders to achieve decolonization of the mind" (p.198). A cultural group cannot understand the struggles of the American Farm Workers, the Civil Rights movement, or the Feminist movement if the literature is provided by the white male dominated power structure. This instruction must be given in the native tongue, with their vernacular, language, and slang. Defining literacy with any other, and more simplistic definition, will limit the students' understanding of the world and their own self worth.