From Pedagogy of Despair to Pedagogy of Hope

Posted November 30th, 2011 by Albert DeCiccio Ph.D., Provost, Southern Vermont College

That the Brown decision helped desegregation efforts in the1950s and to successes socially and in education we must view as significant.  That, in the last twenty-odd years, Supreme Court rulings and the inability of the federal government to fund desegregation programs at adequate rates have encouraged the resegregation of public schools we must view as frightening.  Instead of integration and its material, social, and intellectual abundance, we have been left with a scarcity principle that has resulted in the following: 

  • Unequal opportunities and unequal educational outcomes;
  • Unlikely access to our nation’s prosperity for persons of color;
  • Higher high school dropout rates for persons of color;
  • Lower graduation rates for persons of color;
  • Less qualified teachers and support personnel as a result of lower wages;
  • Fewer teachers of color as role models in public schools;
  • Assigning students of color to lower-level programs as a result of tracking;
  • Assigning whites to higher-level programs as a result of tracking;
  • Honors or college preparatory classes not normally offered to students of color; and
  • Placing students of color in special education and also identifying them as behaviorally difficult.1 

Eric J. Cooper, President of the National Urban Alliance (NUA), points out that, currently, in America, we practice a pedagogy of despair, particularly for persons of color.  Such a stance is marked by the following:  

  • Lower quality curriculums, larger class sizes, and fewer technologies and science/language laboratories;
  • Overcrowded classrooms and rundown buildings for schools populated by persons of color;
  • A lack of basic supplies as well as antiquated school books and materials;
  • Inequities in staffing, student assignment, and transfer options;
  • Concerns about school safety and violence;
  • Testing that relegates persons of color to lower-achieving classes;
  • Learning measured by standards erected by whites;
  • Questioning discouraged; and
  • Testing mastery praised.2 

I advocate a pedagogy of hope, which can promote empowerment.  It is a problem-posing pedagogy in which learners become teachers and teachers become learners—face to face in commons, in centers, classrooms, or in parlors in the clouds to which everyone contributes and in which everyone participates.  By practicing such a pedagogy, as Freire maintained, people “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 71). 


1 Eric J. Cooper provided several of these observations in his keynote address for the Life After Brown Conference at Eastern Connecticut State University.

2 Cooper provided several of these observations as well in his keynote address for the Life After Brown Conference.


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