Brutal Blues merely playing catch-up: Pedagogy of the oppressed

One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Pedagogy of the oppressed
So the People’s Elbow, after a laborious few years of launching personal vilification and wave after wave of personal attack, has found a messiah. Hallelujah.


This messiah, Brendan Bolton, is credited with all sorts of world-changing behaviour. As is Stephen Trigg. “This is an honest-to-God reinvention. It’s a reinvention began with asking that most fundamental of questions: “Why does the Carlton Football Club exist?””
But this is honest-to-God hooey.


Leaving aside the “Brutal Blues” branding exercise (ahem Bloods, Shinboners, every-other-ragtag-groupthink imposed by an over-charging consultant), anyone with half an interest in other people, relationships and getting along, will have noticed recent changes in the dominant paradigm around teaching, parenting and instruction.

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In parenting, the change manifests in books such as “Children are people too”, by child psychologist Dr Louise Porter, becoming de rigueur. “Children need our compassion the most when they appear to ‘deserve’ it the least.”
Less punishment, more understanding. Less instruction, more negotiation. The building of a shared vision of a shared future. Whether that future be the realisation of an independent functioning adult in society, or a short walk to the neighbourhood playground, representing the only leaving of the confounded house in which you’ve been cooped up all day. It takes conversation and it takes empathy and it takes time.
“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In teaching, the student-centred model of learning and teaching has blossomed. That is a misnomer, of course, because a teacher is still leading the learning. However, in this model, the teacher leads from behind. Students create understandings, create meaning, create reason, based on their own circumstances. The teacher provides opportunity. Less Trunchbull, more Miss Honey.
One seminal work of teaching philosophy at the vanguard of the New Way was written by Brazillian educator Paolo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Portuguese: Pedagogia do Oprimido).

Wikipedia (regrettably, as all of my books are presently stored in sealed cardboard boxes):
“It proposes a pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student, and society. It was first published in Portuguese in 1968. The book is considered one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy.

“Dedicated to what is called “the oppressed” and based on his own experience helping Brazilian adults to read and write, Freire includes a detailed Marxist class analysis in his exploration of the relationship between what he calls “the colonizer” and “the colonized”.

“In the book Freire calls traditional pedagogy the “banking model” because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggy bank. However, he argues for pedagogy to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge.”


“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Pedagogy of the Oppressed caused an education revolution. It is a work seeking to raise the circumstances of the downtrodden. It decried the old “empty vessel” model of learning and teaching, in which a student needed merely to be filled with facts, by a knowledgeable other, as oppressive. For who was this ‘other,’ and what were their prejudices?
A brief explanation is given here (Source:
So S Trigg asked “why does the Carlton Football Club exist”? There should be no surprise in this. It is surely the sort of question every CEO asks of their company, every human asks of their circumstances. Understanding is surely at the heart of what is to be human. (Why am I here?)
“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
In the not-too-distant past, we would see most coaches shouting at players, yelling, gesticulating, somehow believing that their behaviour was helping the shared cause. Fear can be a strong motivator.
We see columnists and supporters sail into players (and coaches) too.
But a more enlightened spirit sees those behaviours as futile, and even damaging, to a shared future.
“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Reading the fawning over Carlton’s “process” and the idea of the coach sitting with the players in an auditorium environment, I was confused. This is standard practice in parenting and teaching. Why should it not be in coaching, too? In fact, I think it is standard practice in coaching. Diploma of Education is almost a prerequisite for coaching these days.
The approach of building a shared understanding, taking the time to understand someone else’s viewpoint and avoiding conflict/ vitriol/ blame/ hostility is not new. It happens every day at primary schools all over the country. It happens at Under 10 gymnastics down the road every Monday afternoon. The fact that it took Carlton this long to discover is mindboggling.
“It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘rejects of life.’ It is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Force is used not by those who have become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated them.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed




ADDENDUM: Greg Baum coincidentally today writes in The Age of this teaching miracle

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thought-provoking piece Dave and as an educator for the last 20 years, I too become bewildered at the lack of pedagogy demonstrated in coaching, not just AFL. I really believe Nathan Buckley could benefit from some of these ideas. He is leading and guiding young men yet feels that it is not his job to motivate them?

    I’ve found that teaching is roughly 50% knowledge transfer/sharing and 50% theatre. If you can’t engage students they generally will switch off. Bolton is getting the Blues to listen, learn and apply. Nothing new here as Parkin did something similar back in 1995.

    The corporate mindset still distrusts education, seeing it as too theoretical/impractical. Hopefully this will change in coaching when successes like BB help orchestrate a re-think in approach. I like what Freire has to offer and have applied it in practice along with the work of Carl Rogers and arguably the earliest and still greatest teacher of teachers, Aristotle: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”
    Well played ER.

  2. Earl O'Neill says

    A lot of stuff to mull over in that piece, thanx.
    We oughta nickname you ‘Swampy.’

  3. The People's Elbow says

    Jesus, where’s the levity…? Although I must say, you really knocked the shit outta that straw man.

  4. Tony Robb says

    He is leading and guiding young men yet feels that it is not his job to motivate them?

    Phil I was listening the Chris Anstey the other day and he was of the belief that it isn’t his job to motivate players. If getting a game was not enough motivation to give it your best then nothing a coach says will change them. Bucks must be of the same mind


  5. John Butler says

    Passionately argued, E Reg, and from my limited understanding of educational theory, soundly based. But I’m afraid the phrase straw man was my first reaction, also.

    You obviously have a bug up your arse about some aspect of this in relation to Carlton/Bolton/Elbow, but I’m struggling to see any real point emerge here.

    That Carlton is only playing catch up in on what should have been regarded as many basic competencies? Well, derrrr.

    That Bolton hasn’t actually revolutionised coaching/teaching as we know it? I’m sure Bolton would be the first to agree.

    As for taking pot shots at Steven Trigg’s CEO-speak, well that barrel will never run out of fish. I’ve taken the odd shot myself. But in Carlton’s case, it was an organisation that very badly needed to ask itself why it existed. Whatever Trigg’s sins against philosophic debate, he is at least trying to bring process to a club that had arrogantly regarded itself above such matters.

    To move discussion away from the Carlton context, there’s a much more profitable discussion here in regard to how slowly and reluctantly the football world has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern teaching world. Sadly, that’s not the article you wrote.

    Still, I can hardly blame a Collingwood man for wanting to give the Blues a whack. We’ve rarely passed on reciprocal opportunities.

  6. Richie and Eddie says

    Does this mean Gabe Kotter would make a better coach than Barrassi?

  7. Andrew Else says

    I had three thoughts on TPE’s piece:

    Firstly, it was magnificent to see an Almanacker published in The Guardian. Very well deserved too.

    Secondly, despite it being well researched, well written, funny and colourful, I didn’t particularly enjoy it and struggled to finish it. This was because it was pro-Carlton.

    Thirdly, it seems Litza has taken on Robbie Walls’ mantle of proclaiming a new wave at Carlton that will inevitably lead to a string of premierships, only for the Blues to be comfortably rolled by a battler days later.

    The Blues should really be commended though. After pretending there was a process required to select the senior assistant coach of one of the best teams in history they then produced a feature film detailing in (I can only assume to be) excruciating detail the many and varied reasons why they’d be unlikely to win a game in 16. Tanking a pre season game to Essendon only lowered expectations further. Predictions were so dire that a bumbling loss to Richmond in rd1 was seen as an almighty effort.

    Now they’ve won 6 games and next thing you know Andrea Bocelli has a tentative booking for a Royal Parade Motel on the first Sunday in October.

  8. E.regnans says

    G’day all,
    Thanks for choosing to invest your time.
    Where’s the levity?
    It’s in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

    TPE, JB you both reference “straw man”: I take it to mean a logical fallacy of appearing to refute an opponent’s argument while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by the opponent.
    Well- I guess the argument TPE put was that BBolton and STrigg are directly responsible for a wonderful new, inclusive, loving, liked and winning Carlton.

    But we should remember that none of us knows anything about what goes on in a footy club. There are so many variables and personalities and lives intersecting that to proclaim the Bolton appointment as a good one can only really be done in hindsight. Neither the process nor the Bolton are an irrefutable answer.
    Other clubs use processes, too.
    Melbourne followed process when they appointed a senior assistant with regional footy club experience and a Dip Ed as coach. And what is Mark Neeld’s legacy now?

    Process is one thing to celebrate, but it doesn’t ensure success, just as a direct-appointment messiah doesn’t ensure failure. (What is success? What is failure?)

    My feelings about recent Carlton articles has nothing to do with my Collingwood allegiance and rather more to do with everyday nastiness that pollutes much of the reason and thinking. There’s no need for it. There’s a good chance that it does harm to others and the writing is wonderful and creative without it.

    Andrea Bocelli – love it.

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Not sure if I agree with you about the ‘nastiness’ ER. Take away the irrational and raw emotion that comes from fandom and we are in danger of losing a spontaneity that can make for compelling writing. Some of my ‘outrage’ in my rant pieces is stylised, some isn’t. I often wonder which parts are real and which are the result of engaging in the pantomime. The feelings of powerlessness are real enough. Humour is subjective, but I mostly find myself chuckling after reading Litsa’s pieces.

    Confronting the shadow is not always conducive to life-affirming positivity, reason and clear thought. It takes more courage to write these pieces than you give credit for here ER, because we grapple with stuff that isn’t easy to digest and ultimately express. Read between the lines, there’s always something happening that our blind spots do not allow us to process. Cheers

  10. Wonderfully written ER. And beautifully constructed. Blues fans are currently like a balloon that’s slowly being filled with water.

    The first paragraph and quote is quite brilliant. To me it articulates plenty of what’s wrong with our modern dialogue. No one can demand respect, it must be earned.

  11. E.regnans says

    G’day Phil – I don’t see potshots from behind a keyboard as being quite in the courageous camp.
    But in the piece above I was trying to encourage thought.

    There’s a narrative around town that B Bolton is some kind of revolutionary genius. A professor. A player-whisperer. But the closer reality is that many people work in this was every day: all self-aware teachers will do this. Some with “success” Some without. (It’s so complicated). As you know. There is nothing new or revolutionary in it.
    Probably all self-aware people will question and look for reason.
    Confront the shadow or not, That’s fine.
    I often wonder what has caused a person to write the things they do.

    Dips – thanks. Lots to think about delivered by Freire.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Didn’t your thread take a ‘potshot’ from a keyboard at a fellow Almanacker?

  13. E.regnans says

    I’m not claiming courage, Phil.
    And nor is it a potshot, either.
    I happily disagree with “fellow Almanackers” fairly often.
    I merely got to thinking.
    “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”
    – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

    I’m underwhelmed with the lack of thought and discussion (generally) around teaching.
    And I thought this cause-and-effect football-club-employs-a-teacher narrative was too much.
    That’s my opinion.

    It’s no small thing to gain publication in the Guardian, as Patrick Skene has done with his historical cultural anecdotes. Well done Litza.
    I think there is room for a closer look at teaching practice and how it can best be used in clubs (as JB seems to suggest above). I remain very surprised to think that clubs aren’t all over this by now.

  14. The People's Elbow says

    I don’t feel I need to defend my piece, but having written the thing, I do feel in some way qualified to say that I hardly think it paints Brendon Bolton as a “revolutionary genius”. In a thousand word piece, only 100 even touched on the teaching bit. And given this piece was in the context of Carlton (again, context is everything), I thought my time would be best spent sitting down and speaking with people at the Club (you know, because ultimately they are the people experiencing it), rather than reaching for the works of dead Latin American academic. Also, you said “remember that none of us knows anything about what goes on in a footy club”… well, that’s kind of why I asked them. For them it represents a significant change… a re-fking-invention even (again, context).

    And oh yeah, I framed it as “part of the small-talk currency at Carlton”, not as a fking thesis (happy for you to chalk that one up as a “potshot”).

    Anyway, I could give a rusty fk who likes the piece and who doesn’t, but when the editor of this website brushes off a body of work (160-odd pieces) as “a laborious few years of launching personal vilification and wave after wave of personal attack,” then maybe the Almanac isn’t for me.

    Elbow out.

  15. “Elbow out”? Sounds like pre-season training drills at Hawthorn.
    Say it isn’t so. I don’t want to have to trawl through all the bleeding heart, trendy crap on the Guardian website to read your wit and wisdom.

  16. Hang on, what’s happened here?

    Not the outcome I was hoping for.

    An Almanac proprietor cannot be all things to all people. It does your head in.

    I’ll leave it there.

  17. Carlton fan says

    Litza, your 160 odd pieces over these years have lifted my spirits more than anything the Blues did out on the park. Never took your stuff as vilifying, just mischievous. Hope this piece doesn’t go on to curb your enthusiasm.

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