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Words Have Power: Assassination Classroom as a Teacher-student of Pedagogy of the Oppressed



Literature has always been the major contributor to humanity’s journey for meaning and communication. Using fiction as the safe space to explore possible worlds, society has explored a plethora of interpretations using the elements of fiction. Nevertheless, fiction as a category is not attached to literary works only; it also opens up a space for other forms of media like animation. Which in turn implies that one could use the same elements of fiction in literary analysis to make connections between a work of fiction and ideas presented by other texts. In other words, a fictional context could provide us with the opportunity to examine theoretical frameworks and pedagogies at work by doing a close analysis of these works of fiction including animation. An illustration of this argument can be found between Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the anime adaption of Yūsei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom where Freire’s critical pedagogy is applied in a fictional context. Hence, a close analysis of the animated text in Assassination Classroom is needed in order to understand how it interacts with Freire’s pedagogy and its implications on readers and how they make meaning.
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Words Have Power: Assassination Classroom as a Teacher-student of Pedagogy of the
By: Juan A. Colon Norat
Literature has always been the major contributor to humanity’s journey for meaning and
communication. Using fiction as the safe space to explore possible worlds, society has explored a
plethora of interpretations using the elements of fiction. Nevertheless, fiction as a category is not
attached to literary works only; it also opens up a space for other forms of media like animation.
Which in turn implies that one could use the same elements of fiction in literary analysis to make
connections between a work of fiction and ideas presented by other texts. In other words, a
fictional context could provide us with the opportunity to examine theoretical frameworks and
pedagogies at work by doing a close analysis of these works of fiction including animation. An
illustration of this argument can be found between Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and
the anime adaption of Yūsei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom where Freire’s critical pedagogy
is applied in a fictional context. Hence, a close analysis of the animated text in Assassination
Classroom is needed in order to understand how it interacts with Freire’s pedagogy and its
implications on readers and how they make meaning.
Different authors and scholars have implied that fiction is transforming the reader’s
identity through interaction with the texts that they read. Neil Gaiman gave a lecture on literacy
where he fostered the idea that reading fiction “forces you to learn new words, to think new
thoughts” and that “we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading”
(Why Our Future Depends on Libraries). Gaiman’s call for action is advocating in favor of
children’s freedom of reading preferences and the importance of libraries and their uses for
readers. However, this calling also implies that reading transforms the reader because it allows
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him/her to “feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know” and “when you
return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed” (Why Our Future Depends on
Libraries). These assertions reveal that works of fiction have an influence in our reality as well as
the potential to shape our perspective and knowledge. The reader of fiction is not a passive
subject when acquiring meaning from the text that he/she is interacting with. Readers are
constantly interacting with texts as they read since each new line of text and/or scene for visual
media transforms the text as it develops a story.
On the other hand, scholars like Jack Zipes have discussed extensively about the social
and political role of fairy tales and has commented that they “serve a meaningful social function,
not just for compensation but for revelation. The worlds projected by the best of our fairy tales
reveal the gaps between truth and falsehood in our immediate society” (Winnipeg Art Gallery).
In essence, he is explaining that readers of fairy tales are able to use the elements of fiction to
make connections which will make them aware and subversive of subtle inequalities and
discrimination in our society. In another book he published, he articulated that “stories help us
navigate ourselves and locate ourselves as we interact with others in our endeavor to create ideal
living conditions”. Zipes’ claim reveals that society is in a perpetual state in search for their
identity as they establish themselves. Also, this argument describes how the influence of fairy
tales in society exemplifies another text of fiction in which its influence extends outside its
In addition, Jerome Bruner, a research university professor known for his contributions to
cognitive psychology and educational psychology seems to stand in a similar ground with both
Gaiman and Zipes regarding the negotiations of meaning by readers since he explained that:
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Narrative fiction creates possible worlds - but they are worlds extrapolated from
the world we know, however, much they may soar beyond it. The art of the
possible is a perilous art. It must take heed of life as we know it, yet alienate us
from it sufficiently to tempt us into thinking of alternatives beyond it. It
challenges as it comforts. In the end, it has the power to change our habits of
conceiving what is real, what [is] canonical. It can even undermine the law’s
dictates about what constitutes a canonical reality. (Making Stories 94)
Ultimately, these authors and scholars uncover that it is only through “an element in a
structured relationship whose other elements include external reality and the producer/reader”
that readers are able to discover meaning (Fiske 3). In other words, the previous arguments serve
to claim that in order for any text of fiction to have any meaning with the readers, he/she must
interact with the text using the elements of fiction as their “structured relationship”. Using the
elements of fiction like theme, characterization, plot, dialogue, conflict, symbol etc. allows the
reader to approach a text of fiction with a common framework that it can use to communicate
ideas with other readers. John Fisk defined this process of communication as belonging to the
“school of semiotics” which focuses on “how messages, or texts, interact with people in order to
produce meanings” (Fiske 2).
Taking into consideration the previous arguments, one could make the assertion that
works of fiction have a profound influence on readers and their process to produce meaning and
how these texts shape society. Hence, one could infer that works of fiction would have a similar
profound influence in other texts whose aim is to shape human consciousness like Freire’s
Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The reason being that due to the theoretical background of Freire’s
pedagogy it is implied that this text is meant to interact and negotiate meaning with the reader. If
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his pedagogy is intended to “liberate” human consciousness from oppression then one could
make the case that this text should have similar traits of making meaning as those of a reader. Ira
Shor describe Freire’s pedagogy as:
“Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface
meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional
clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning,
root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action,
event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass
media, or discourse.” (Empowering Education 129)
Shor unearths the essence of Freire’s pedagogy while also revealing its overt intention to not
only shape human consciousness but to urge his “teacher-student and student-teachers” towards
shaping society with their liberation. This call for action resembles the same approach to
Gaiman’s call for action in his lecture about the importance for libraries and how they shape
society. In addition, Freire’s pedagogy also resonates with Fisk’s description of the reading
process as an exchange and production of meaning since it fosters dialogue between individuals
in order to be engage them in “the struggle for their liberation” and asserts that “in the struggle
this pedagogy will be made and remade” (Freire 48). These declarations by Freire bring to light a
very distinctive feature of a reader in his work because one of Gaiman’s arguments about readers
of fiction is that it transforms the reader. Which means that a reader interaction should not only
transform the receiver but there should be an exchange of ideas which influence both individuals
in their interaction with each other and the text. These affirmations call for the consideration of
Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as an active reader who can exchange meanings with other
texts like animation.
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In order to make the argument that animation can exchange and produce meaning with its
audience, one would have to question how “literary” is digital media, whether it can be “read”
like a text, and what benefits does it bring to the learning environment. When reflecting on the
definition of “What is Literature?”, Cullers mentions how “works of literature come in all shapes
and sizes and most of them seem to have more in common with works that aren’t usually called
literature than they do with some other works recognized as literature [sic]” (21). In which case
we could make the case that digital media can be defined as “literary” despite the fact that it
contrasts the prevailing notion of literature which favors print exclusive works.
The strongest criteria which defines the feature of “readability” for a literary text is the
competence of the text as a resource which creates meaning for the reader. Nealon and Giroux
make the case that “reading or interpretation is not primarily a matter of forming or reinforcing
personal opinions but rather a process of negotiation among contexts. What texts mean, in other
words, has everything to do with the contexts in which they are produced and read” (23). Hence,
their point supports the view that digital media literary texts can be read and interpreted by
readers which create meaning through exploration of these texts, similar to the standard view of
printed literature. Which in turn implies that Freire’s pedagogy as an active reader could interact
and negotiate meaning with animated texts. “Animation is a leading tool for blurring the
distinction between reality and representation, often through its blending into other forms of
media” (Greenberg). In addition, Greenberg expands his point by pointing out that “animation is
a text aimed at producing meaning, shared by both the producer and the reader”. Understanding
how animated texts can interact, negotiate and exchange meaning with Freire’s pedagogy could
reveal other interpretations about how theoretical texts can become active readers of these works
of fiction.
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In his work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that if we are able to recognize our
humanity then we are able to become aware of “dehumanization, not only as an ontological
possibility but as an historical reality [sic]” (43). Which implies that humanization is a process
which has been constantly affecting society. However, he expresses that dehumanization is not a
permanent state but rather the result of a dehumanized society who has been raised in a culture
that “engenders violence” (44). It is the execution of this violence which gives rise to Freire’s
interacting concepts of “the oppressor” and the “the oppressed”. Depending on which side of this
violence an individual is standing; Freire creates a division between oppressor and oppressed
since “violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as
persons-not by those who are oppressed, exploited and unrecognized” (55). With his pedagogy,
Freire’s aim is for the oppressed to liberate themselves by achieving humanization through
reflection and action to change their social reality and to liberate the oppressor in order to “bring
into the world this new being: no longer oppressor nor longer oppressed, but humans in the
process of achieving freedom” (49). Freire’s reasoning behind the previous statement is that
human beings are incomplete individuals who are conscious of their own incompletion and
should strive towards that completion by humanizing themselves and their oppressor (43).
Traditional teaching methods involve the use of lectures and demonstration of material to
students whom are expected to passively receive knowledge from the teacher. Paulo Freire refers
to this as the “banking method of education” (72). He explains how the banking method creates
an oppressed environment for the students in which their critical thinking is refused due to the
oppressive nature of such an environment. In response to this method, Freire also postured the
“problem-posing” method of education where both teacher and students work together in
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dialogue in order to find solutions to a problem through the use of critical thinking and dialogue
in order to support each other’s liberation as “teacher-student and students-teachers” (80).
Assassination Classroom is an anime adaptation from Yūsei Matsui’s manga of the same
title which follows the lives of an alien teacher and his students whom are tasked with
assassinating him after he declares that he will destroy the planet earth at the end of the school
year unless one of his students manages to execute him first. The students named this alien
teacher as Koro-sensei due to the word “Koro” translating to English as the word: “Kill”. The
students are given ammunition which is harmful only to Koro-sensei and knives made of the
same material in order to terminate their teacher. If they succeed in killing their teacher they will
be rewarded with ten billion yen. However, this alien teacher can easily reach a Mach 20 speed
which makes him almost invulnerable to most conventional means of assassination.
Assassination Classroom portrays Freire’s main concepts of oppressor and oppressed
through the characters of Koro-sensei and Gakuhō Asano, the principal of the Kunugigaoka
Junior High School which is the fictional setting where most of the plot takes place. Asano has
established an academic system which promotes social discrimination towards the students of the
classroom with the lowest grade known as the “E Class” or “End Class” (Assassination
Classroom). The reasoning behind this overt discrimination is that “if a handful of students is
discriminated harshly against, the majority will work harder fueled by pressure and a sense of
superiority” (Assassination Classroom). In addition, further analysis of the anime reveals that
these educators not only represent the oppressor and the oppressed but make use of the banking
method and problem-posing education respectively.
Freire remarks that the banking method projects “an absolute ignorance onto others, a
characteristic of the ideology of oppression” (72). Which in turn suggests that is what he referred
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to when he pronounced that revolutionary leaders make use of the “‘educational’ methods
employed by the oppressor” since the banking methods has been labeled by Freire as being part
of the creed which the oppressors make use of (68). Taking into consideration that Koro-sensei
and Gakuhō Asano stand as the symbols of the oppressor and the oppressed then it makes sense
that according to the active role as a reader that Freire’s Pedagogy of The Oppressed plays in
analyzing Assassination Classroom both of these educators make use of the pedagogies which
are characteristically of their goals as educators. The duality between these characters’
pedagogies was made evident by another character called Tadaomi Karasuma who noted that
Principal Asano was “masterful at educating his students” because he was aware of his students
strengths and weaknesses and also commented that he is “exceptional at teaching and motivating
them” which prompted him to remark that it reminded him of someone else (Assassination
Classroom). His next inquiry reveals that he was referring to Koro-sensei and authenticates the
duality of educational goals with Principal Asano: “how can the two of them be so different as
educators? The contest of leadership between these two. I’m a little interested to see how it goes”
(Assassination Classroom).
The first episode of the anime is titled “Assassination Time” and quickly establishes
Koro-sensei as the symbol of the oppressed through the plot of the anime since he is in charge of
education the infamous students of the “E Class” or “End Class” who have been deemed as the
“rejects that failed to keep up at this famous prep school” (Assassination Classroom). Freire
mentioned that in order for the oppressed to transform the world they must acquire
apprenticeship from other oppressed in order to liberate themselves from their oppressor since it
is the oppressed themselves who can understand the need for liberation from an oppressive
society (45). In which case, Koro-sensei can be seen the oppressed individual who is teaching his
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oppressed students in order to humanize them. Nevertheless, content area education is just one
part of the humanization process which Koro-sensei imparts to his students. As the title aptly
suggests, assassination plays a big role in the struggle for liberation and it is through it that Koro-
sensei gains the opportunity to humanize his students. The earlier statement brings an implication
into play regarding the students of each educator and it is that if Koro-sensei is humanizing his
students with problem-posing education then one could reason that the students themselves
represent the oppressed individuals which Pedagogy of the Oppressed refers to. Hence, by the
same logic, one could assume that Principal Asano’s students have a similar analogy with their
educator thereby representing the oppressors.
Koro-sensei’s role as an oppressed individual is suggested by the manner in which his
students perceived him at the beginning of the anime when he started as their teacher. The
“Assassination Time” episode is quickly introduced with Koro-sensei passing attendance and
dodging an ambush by his students which consisted of a barrage of bullets. Despite the fact that
his students acknowledge that Koro-sensei is a good teacher, they are still engaged in the act of
assassination as a method of securing their future with the ten billion yen reward. Freire voiced
that when the oppressed attack their comrades “they are indirectly attacking their oppressor as
well” (62). The oppressive nature of the “End Class” can be seen through the subjective
experience of the students which have been conditioned undergo social discrimination in the
school environment. Nagisa Shiota, a student from the “End Class” illustrates this point further
when he expresses that Koro-sensei is unable to recognize him as an individual due to the fact
that if he is being hunted by several countries it means that they recognize his power. As Nagisa
reflects on these thoughts, a mental image is shown to the audience where Nagisa reminisces on
how his teacher and friends ostracized him when he was admitted to the “End Class”. He
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concludes the reflection by stating that he might have a chance to kill Koro-sensei because he is
unable to “see” him either. The implication behind these contemplations is that Nagisa perceives
Koro-sensei to have a similar ideology to that of his teacher and friends who blacklisted him
after his admittance. These implications reveal that Nagisa’s outlook on Koro-sensei at that
moment was that of an oppressor. Hence, one could infer that the rest of the “End Class” has a
similar notion of Koro-sensei as well. Therefore, one could make the argument that when the
students of the End Class attack Koro-sensei at the beginning of the episode, they are doing it by
looking at him as an oppressor instead of an oppressed. In addition, these arguments also
ascertain the claim that Koro-sensei’s students are portraying the oppressed individuals as “their
perceptions of themselves as oppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of
oppression” (45). Thus, Nagisa is not able to become aware of the oppressive nature of his
environment and instead deems himself as an incompetent individual which strengthens his role
as an oppressed subject in Assassination Classroom.
Since Koro-sensei has already been identified as an oppressed subject, it is expected that
he will make use of problem-posing education in his attempt to humanize his students; an
endeavor which he commits through his own assassination. During the episode titled “Assembly
Time”, a timid and introverted student by the name of Manami Okuda approaches Koro-sensei
and requests that he drink different types of poison she had concocted using her skills in
chemistry. Okuda revealed that the reason behind her straightforward approach to assassination
was due to the fact that she was not “good at surprise attacks” like the rest of her classmates.
Afterward, Koro-sensei accepts her request and proves her assassination attempt was in vain.
However, he also suggests that they meet after school to work on a poison that will be effective
on him. Later on, Okuda discloses that the reason why she was admitted into the “End Class” is
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because she does not “know the right way to phrase things” or how to express her “feelings as a
person” (Assassination Classroom). Her words reveal a fatalistic impression of herself as unable
to communicate with other people. Then, Koro-sensei hands her a homework assignment to
produce an effective poison for killing him which is later discovered to be a formula for
bestowing fluidity to his body, which gave him a higher flexibility of movement and thus making
a harder target. Surprised by the upshot of her actions, Okuda questions Koro-sensei as to why he
deceived her; to which Koro-sensei replies that “having the verbal aptitudes to deceive other is a
vital part of assassination” and that poison, as an assassination tool, is wasted if the opponent can
take advantage of the one “offering” the poison. However, he also adds that one day her
contributions to science will help a lot of people, at which point she will have to “explain things
clearly to as many possible” and there she should develop her language skills in order to “poison
two birds with one vial” (Assassination Classroom). By discussing the benefits of
communication to Okuda, Koro-sensei was able to uproot her fatalistic impression of her own
communication skills and humanized her through the act of assassination. It is through this
exchange of ideas that Koro-sensei exemplifies the use of problem-posing education since Freire
asserts that it “embodies communication”. In addition, Freire also remarks that “liberating
education consists in acts of cognition”, which means that by changing Okuda’s resigned
perspective, Koro-sensei was able to liberate his student by driving her to reflect and take action
to transform her world; Freire refers to this reflection as praxis.
On the other hand, Principal Asano functions as the foil character for Koro-sensei since
he embodies the oppressor as well as the banking method of education. Firstly, he portrays his
role as the oppressor by generating the situation in which the “End Class” students find
themselves in. The academic system which promotes the use of social discrimination as a
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deterrent for academic failure was establishes since according to him “people develop the most
when they have someone to look down upon” (Assassination Classroom). However, his role of
oppressor is established when he realizes that Nagisa as a student from the “End Class” stood up
to other students that were part of the main school classrooms. Afterwards, he subtly demands to
Koro-sensei to keep his students in line so that the existing state of affairs can remain the same.
An event which resonate with Pedagogy of the Oppressed as it explains that such an intervention
which might change the status quo would not convenient for the oppressor and instead it would
be favorable for “the people to continue in a state of submersion, impotent in the face of
oppressive reality” (52).
Secondly, just like Koro-sensei, it is expected that as Principal Asano embodies the
oppressor, he will make use of the banking method in order to educate his students. As the
manager of his school, it is assumed that he has authority over the pedagogies and educational
policies used and implemented in Kunugigaoka Junior High School. Hence, it is through his
instructions and management of the school environment that the banking method of education is
portrayed. During the episode titled “Test Time”, the school was going through their mid-term
exams and in order to gain an advantage over the “End Class” students that were being schooled
effectively by Koro-sensei, Principal Asano provided all of the students with additional coaching
with the exception of the “End Class”. Eventually, it is revealed that there were question items in
the mid-term exams that were more complex than the “End Class” expected to have in their
exams due to the fact that the scope of all subjects was broadened. When Karasuma questioned
the school for an explanation, a teacher replied by stating that there was an error of
miscommunication and that “the last-minute cramming abilities of our students is simply another
thing we test” (Assassination Classroom). This principle of mechanically memorizing
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information echoes with Freire’s description of the banking method that which informs that “the
teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize,
and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to
students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits” (72). By revealing the
depositing nature of Principal Asano’s method of education, Assassination Classroom establishes
him as an embodiment of the oppressor which makes use of the banking method of education.
In order to produce meaning and communicate our reading experiences we have used
literature and fiction as our tools to convey our understanding of these texts. However, the goal
of all the previous arguments has been to expand the view that the reading experience does not
belong only to the subject which reads the text. Theoretical texts which aim to transform human
consciousness like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed can actively perform a reading
analysis of other unconventional texts like Assassination Classroom. It is through these reading
experiences that one has to question whether other theoretical texts could expand our
interpretations of fictional texts and how it shapes them back. This inclusion of theoretical texts
as lenses that develop our interpretations of fiction texts support our never-ending journey to find
meaning in the world around us.
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Fiske, John. Introduction to Communication Studies. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1990. Questia.
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Freire, Paulo. "Pedagogy of the oppressed 30th anniversary edition translated by Myra Bergman
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