Becoming Fully Human: Education as Transformation in the Writings of C. S. Lewis and Paulo Freire

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The early life of Lewis also has parallels with the life of Freire. For Lewis, the death of his mother when he was nine was a supreme emotional loss that may have influenced his adoption of an atheist stance during his years as a student. Some critics have argued that it was ultimately Lewis’ perception that God refused to heal his mother of cancer that spurred his adoption of atheism as much as his tutoring by William Kirkpatrick. At the age of eighteen, Lewis would write in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, “All religions, that is all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention” (qtd. in Green and Hooper 48). Indeed, Lewis’ later acceptance of God and Christianity was also reconciliation with the God who did not intervene in his mother’s illness. The reconciliation is more powerfully shown in The Magician’s Nephew, when Digory asks Aslan to help his dying mother:

But please, please– won’t you—can’t you give more something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking on the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) such great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tear compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. (168)

Clearly, childhood trauma had a major impact on both Lewis and Freire, causing them to find a life work that answered the issues brought up by this intense suffering in childhood. This trauma was the start of their calling to influence their world for the better, and to examine how education needs to be a central component of our humanization.

Before showing a way for education to be humanizing, both Freire and Lewis expound on the dehumanizing tendencies of our culture. Freire experienced hunger and poverty as dehumanizing. Dehumanization occurs when those who are in the dominant class do not value the humanity of those they oppress. He says, “For the oppressors, ‘human beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are things” (Freire 57). Freire notes how we dehumanize the oppressed and can remain blind to their needs by our terms of reference, calling them “those people,” or “ the blind and envious masses,” or “savages,” or “natives,” or “Subversives” who are “violent, barbaric, wicked, or ferocious” (56). I see similar terms given to others today, including the terms “sub-groups” or “thugs.” When one human can see another as a non-living entity, both the oppressor and the oppressed are dehumanized—and humanity is on the road to abolition. Lewis agrees as he says in The Abolition of Man, “Once we killed bad men, now we liquidate unsocial elements” (74). Continuing his argument, Lewis warns his readers about the dehumanizing effects of science: “Man’s conquest of himself means simply the rule of the conditioners over the conditioned human material [whom Freire would call the oppressed] the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present laboring to produce” (75).

In the crux of his text, Lewis notes what happens when humans do not value the humanity of others, “They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all; they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest as proved to be the abolition of Man” (64).

Both Freire and Lewis realize that the power to control others not only strips the oppressed of humanity, it dehumanizes the oppressor as well. Freire says, “Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human” (44). Lewis calls this pattern of dehumanization a Magician’s Bargain: “Give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls” (72).

Both Lewis and Freire offer an antidote to the dehumanizing forces in our culture: the reform of education. In Lewis, this is indicated initially in the extended title of his book, The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. As for Freire, after he expounds upon the necromancy of oppression, he offers a powerful solution in the methodology of education. This methodology affirms the personhood and value of the student through authentic dialogue between the student and teacher, who both seek answers to problems based on the felt needs of the students.

According to Freire, humanization only comes through dialogue. He says, “Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world” (88). Dialogue is explained using Martin Buber’s I–Thou Relationship. Freire explains:

In the dialogical theory of action, Subjects meet in cooperation in order to transform the world. The anti-dialogical, dominating I transforms the dominated, conquered thou into a mere it. The dialogical I, however, knows that it is precisely the thou (“not-I”) which has called forth his or her own existence. He also knows that the thou which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an I which has in his I its thou. The I and the thou thus become, in the dialectic of these relationships, two thous which become two I’s. (167)

Freire explains this complex ontology more simply, “I cannot exist without a non-I. In turn, the not-I depends on that existence” (82). Similarly, Lewis notes, “The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself.…While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation” (79). Affirming the human essence of the other in dialogical relationship is key to achieving full personhood, full humanity. Thus, education must affirm the I–Thou relationship to be humanizing.