Functional Pragmatics and Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Their Similarities and Chances for Teaching

Scientific Essay, 2022

19 Pages



1. Introduction – The Contradiction

2. Functional Pragmatics – The Similarities to Freire‘s Theory

3. The Contradiction’s Solution

4. The Chances for our Teaching
4.1. One Chance – Using Functional Pragmatics in Teaching
4.2. One Example – Functional Pragmatics and Literary Texts
4.3. Conclusion


List of Figures

1. Introduction – The Contradiction

“Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-students contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 45; emphasis in original)

With these words Paulo Freire throws the classical ideas of teaching overboard. Instead of teachers having the leading role in their classrooms, being the ones in control of their students, Freire wants teachers to step down from their podium and get on eye level with the students. How can we do that? How can we actually teach and get the content of our teaching into our students’ heads without being superior? Is that actually possible and worth trying? Why should we even do that?

As a revolutionary Brazilian educational theorist in the 1970’s Paulo Freire outlines the answers to these questions very clearly in his work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. One of his basic arguments is that “World and human beings […] exist in constant interaction.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 24). Teachers are certainly aware of this fact, but hardly no one realizes the consequences which result from that.

2. Functional Pragmatics – The Similarities to Freire‘s Theory

Konrad Ehlich and Jochen Rehbein founded in the 1970‘s the Functional Pragmatics, a method for analyzing linguistic activities. They themselves and other scholars have used this method over decades to understand the function of language in various areas and/or contexts better (see REDDER, TRAUTMANN, LARCHER, BÜHRIG; SCHLICKAU etc.). Functional Pragmatics “theoretically reconstructs what the functions of the various linguistic objects as sign, sentences, text, discourse and conversation are in interlocutors' everyday linguistic activity.” (cf. EHLICH, 1999/2007: 25). Ehlich and Rehbein used their Functional Pragmatics specifically to look at classroom communication. Within their work they examined two different discourses when it comes to classroom communication: Lehr-Lern-Diskurs (Teaching-Learning-Discourse) and Unterrichtsdiskurs (classroom discourse) (cf. EHLICH, 1981/2007: 136-137). Within the results of their work the “teacher-students contradiction” Paulo Freire refers to is already visible. Ehlich and Rehbein recorded within the analysis of various classroom interactions that in both classroom communication types (Lehr-Lern-Diskurs and Unterrichtsdiskurs), there is a divergence in knowledge between the students and the teacher (op. cit.). According to them the teacher takes the role of the all-knowing, while the students take the part of being willing to get new knowledge (op. cit.; VOGT, 2009: 203). The only difference between those two classroom communication types is the willingness of the students to accept this divergence in knowledge and the different roles that derive from that (op. cit.). In the Lehr-Lern-Diskurs the students accept these conditions and therefore admit themselves that (a) the teacher is the all-knowing, (b) that they have a lack of knowledge and (c) that they are willing to fill their lack of knowledge (op. cit.). On the contrary, in the Unterrichtsdiskurs the students show no commitment to admit any of these conditions and therefore, would rather prefer not sitting in the classroom and/or feeling forced to learn what, in which way and why the teacher tells them to (op. cit.).

So, Ehlich and Rehbein already examined in their research on classroom communication these classical, standard parameters of teaching which Freire calls the “teacher-students contradiction”. Within these two different classroom communication types it is obvious that the students are always the ones being hierarchy subordinated by the teacher. Freire describes the students as the ones being oppressed (cf. FREIRE, 1970: 43-46). He describes in his work how the so called “banking method” of teaching further “[…] stimulates the contradiction through the following attitudes and practices […]:

(a) the teacher teaches and the students are taught:
(b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
(c) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
(d) the teacher talks and the students listen – meekly;
(e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
(f) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
(g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
(h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
(i) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
(j) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.” (FREIRE 1970: 46).

Numerous of these attitudes and practices overlap with the results of Ehlich’s and Rehbein’s analysis, and others are consequences of the characteristics of the classroom communication types they defined. Freire goes even further saying that “Education is suffering from narration sickness. The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless static, compartmentalized, and predictable. […] His task is to “fill” the students with contents of this narration […]” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 44). This is an aspect that might be seen in Ehlich’s and Rehbein’s research as well in regard of the Lehrerfrage (teacher question). Ehlich and Rehbein elaborate that a teacher question is not a real question (cf. EHLICH, 1981/2007: 144, 146-147, 148-149). Their condition for a real question is a lack of knowledge that an inquirer wants to get filled (op. cit.). However, the teacher is not asking questions in the classroom based on a lack of knowledge (op. cit.). The teacher uses questions as a teaching strategy to get the students “involved” and “thinking” (op. cit.). Freire even argues that within the use of strategies like the teacher question, the teacher “[…] justifies his own existence.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 45), because otherwise the students won’t follow the teacher’s plan, class content. At this point the teacher implies that the students can’t learn anything without him/her and that they are dependent on the teacher (op. cit.).

3. The Contradiction’s Solution

We might ask at this point what is actually the problem, because teaching “worked out” for decades with these two classroom communication types recognized by Ehlich and Rehbein. The clue question is “How do we define successful teaching?”. Freire talks about “authentic education” here (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 82), meaning that students learn through education to become capable of “[…] reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 25). So, in his opinion the key of successful teaching is to educate students how to become humans that “[…] produce social reality […]” (op. cit.). According to Freire classroom communication types like the ones described by Ehlich and Rehbein, are not part of authentic education. These types promote oppression of the students, giving them no space to incorporate their own opinions, but rather learning to fit in and align with the teachers’ leading role. As Freire puts it “[…] oppression is domesticating.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 25). So, if we define successful teaching as turning students into independent, reflective and acting humans in this world, the problem in the classical standard teaching is obvious and the needs of dissolving the “teacher-students contradiction” to get the students out of the role as the oppressed too.

“It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 30).

This quote is not implying that teachers don’t have to do anything to solve the problem. There are three key steps Freire outlines to get there as a teacher:

The first and fundamental one is that teachers have to trust their students (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 34). Freire argues that there is no dialogue, reflection and real communication without any trust. Teachers with no trust “[…] will fall into using slogans, communiqués, monologues, and instructions.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 40) and are back into the classical standard teaching. It might look different on the surface, but the “teacher-students contradiction” is still present and there is no eye level interaction between teacher and students (op. cit.).

The second key aspect is reflection. As described before reflection is a consequence resulting from the teachers’ trust in the students. Freire refers to Lukács saying that “Reflection, which is essential to action, is implicit in Lukács’ requirement of “explaining to the masses their own action,” […]” (FREIRE, 19070/2017: 27). Freire also outlines that we need “[…] reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 25). So, understanding what each of us (teachers and students) actually do we need reflection and only within our understanding we can learn (op. cit.), which leads us to the third key aspect:

Communication. Without communication there is no reflection and therefore no true education (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 66). Freire says: “In order to communicate effectively, educator […] must understand the structural conditions in which the thought and language of the people are dialectically framed.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 69). It means that teachers have to listen to their students trustfully, share their knowledge and thoughts with them, get into a real interaction to understand their opinion and standpoints. To refer to the Functional Pragmatics and Ehlich’s and Rehbein’s results of their research: It includes that teachers have to ask their students real questions to fill their lack of knowledge about their students’ point of view.

These three key aspects can also be found in Kumashiro’s four pillars of pedagogy. Dr. Kevin Kumashiro refers here to Paulo Freire and his work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” as well (cf. KUMASHIRO, 2021):

The first pillar includes to name the tensions and contradictions. It implies to have a deep understanding of the problem, to name it and to talk about it from your own point of view, telling your own story about it. This involves the necessity of communication as outlined above in the third aspect of Freire’s key steps. In regard of teaching, the teacher’s trust in the students is essential here too. This trust forms the foundation of the students’ confidence to communicate their stories.

The second pillar comprises to dive into the contradictions. According to Kumashiro Education is either conformity or freedom, but not both. So, this involves reflection and verbalizing the reflection. It encloses different perspectives to collapse and the necessity of diving deeper into the root of contrasting points of views, than rather aligning to single point of view.

Within the third pillar it is essential to create counter stories. This pillar sort of forms the root of the contrasting perspectives examined in pillar two. In schools i.e., history is always told from one point of view, but how does the other side look like? How do other humans experience past and present? So, here in this pillar the teacher’s trust in the students’ counter stories forms the basis for the reflection process. It gives teachers and students the chance to see from another point of view and get a different perspective and insight.

“Bending the arc” (KUMASHIRO, 2021) is the last pillar of the four. It includes an understanding that is been transferred to present, or rather transferred to make a change in present, to transform as Freire puts it (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 19, 25).

Kumashiros four pillars of pedagogy give us a model here of how to implement Freire’s three key steps more precisely. It also points out that the dynamic is dissimilar compared with the two classroom communication types, the Unterrichts- and Lehr-Lern-Diskurs. To both roles, teachers and students, act on the same level without anyone being superior. If someone would put her-/himself in a superior position within this scenario, the dynamic would stop at once and would switch back into one of the two classroom communication types. Also, the divergence of knowledge is still present in this dynamic here, but in an altered way. In the Unterrichts- and Lehr-Lern-Diskurs the teacher is the all-knowing and the students are either willing to accept and conform with that or not. Now here no one is the all-knowing. This dynamic is rather characterized by the teacher’s and students’ acceptance that (a) everyone knows something. It also implies that there is an acceptance from both, teachers and students, that (b) they are lacking of knowledge and (c) that they are willing to fill their lack of knowledge through the exchange of perspectives with others, either with the teacher and/or other students in class.

So as outlined above, Freire presents “[…] the solution of the teacher-students contradiction […]” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 45) by altering the two classroom communication types (described by Ehlich and Rehbein) in a way that all classroom participants “[…] are simultaneously teachers and students.” (op. cit.; emphasis in original). The question still is how this altering looks like practically in more detail? The following paragraph gives more insight here.

4. The Chances for our Teaching

To reference to the beginning of this article: We might be aware of the fact that “World and human beings […] exist in constant interaction.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 24), but are we acting according to this on all levels, even in our teaching? As this articles outlines as seen from this perspective, we need to question the classical standard way of teaching and embrace the consequences that result from constant real interaction in our classroom: “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogues with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 53).

4.1. One Chance – Using Functional Pragmatics in Teaching

There are probably many ways to get there as a teacher. However, while Ehlich and Rehbein, besides numerous other scholars, used Functional Pragmatics exclusively to analyze language, to reflect and understand its use within theoretical constructs, why not implement it in the classroom itself?

“As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. […] Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action […] There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 60; emphasis in original)

Even Freire states that with word, both reflection and action are included. Consequently, there a great value in taking a closer look at word(s). As earlier shown in this outline in regard of classroom communication, Functional Pragmatics has the chance to reconstruct “[…] the functions of the various linguistic objects […]” (cf. EHLICH, 1999/2007: 25). Especially with regards to language learning classes, literary texts can be used as analysis corpora for the Functional Pragmatics, and therefore take a closer look at language and its function. Literary texts have the advantage of being set in a social, historical context, carrying a message from the author to the outside world within the actual time period (cf. DOBSTADT, 2011: 8; MÜLLER, 1998: 727-737; MÜLLER-PREISERT, 2005). In relation to the above cited statement of Freire on the two dimensions of word, he argues further that “There is no history without humankind […]” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 103; emphasis in original). He implies that history is made by humans and therefore includes action, specifically words, language (op. cit.). So, literary texts can have the effect of so called ‘co-intentional education’ (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 43), because they can engage critical thinking on historical events and opinions within the actual time periods (cf. DOBSTADT, 2011: 8; MÜLLER, 1998: 727-737; MÜLLER-PREISERT, 2005). Students and teachers can go into an interaction on literary texts, exchange opinions, views as well as own experiences to identify or distance themselves from messages and/or contents of the literary texts (op. cit.). As Freire argues: “Every thematic investigation which deepens historical awareness is thus really educational, while all authentic education investigates thinking.” (FREIRE, 1970/2017: 82). Using the Functional Pragmatics to analyze literary texts in the classroom has the added advantage of looking at and reflecting on linguistic activity within historical context, or as Freire puts it within social reality produced by humans (cf. FREIRE, 1970/2017: 25). Both, students and teachers, gain insight into how language functions, reflect on it, its resulting actions from it, and therefore use this understanding and knowledge for their own linguistic activity.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Functional Pragmatics and Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Their Similarities and Chances for Teaching
University of Hildesheim  (Interkulturelle Kommunikation)
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Functional Pragmatics, Funktionale Pragmatik, Konrad Ehlich, Jochen Rehbein, education, language, literary texts, pedagogy, approach, learning
Quote paper
Samantha Joanna Marzinzik (Author), 2022, Functional Pragmatics and Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Their Similarities and Chances for Teaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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