Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Design Theory For Our Future

Pierce Otlhogile-Gordon, Ph.D.
9 min readOct 4, 2020

We need new ways to think about transforming the world. Fortunately, the path was trailblazed half a century ago.

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Does going to school make you feel empowered?

Think back to the last time you were in a classroom.

We’re not talking about when you walked across the stage, or the few times in your life you used your education at your job. I’m talking about those morose times in a lecture hall, learning about whatever topic you’ll forget at the end of the semester.

Let’s go back. Actively sitting in the seat, listening to a professor, taking quizzes and tests, going to office hours (if you’re that kind of overachiever), Today, sitting in front of the Zoom, How did it make you feel?

Honestly, I haven’t.

Full disclosure: I’ve always been good at school. I don’t get sweaty and anxious during tests. I feel comfortable asking questions and sitting in front of the classroom. If I HAVE to, I can memorize the topics at hand, and I love helping other people through the text they might have missed. But, I have to admit: I’ve never felt empowered by the learning process.

No matter how well I did, school always felt like a circus where I couldn't find the ringmaster. We learned what we were told, we accomplished the assignments, we sat down, shut up, and obeyed. Looking back, I realized I had no role in deciding what — or how — I wanted to learn.

That’s why when I actually entered a class centered around design pedagogy, where we could decide what problems we wanted to solve, I was forever transformed. We can critique so many things about design education — but I have to remember the first time I felt a morsel of control over what I learned — and did — inside a classroom. I’m not the only one: of all the workshops, classes, and consultations I’ve led, the control people have over what they create makes the experience more memorable, more permanent, and more valuable.

I’m not the first person to think about how the fields of design and education make welcome bedfellows. There are countless pedagogical thinkers — both through history and pushing the envelope today — who unpack why design methods have when educating the world: Papert