December 21, 2021
Contributions of Paulo Freire´s Toucht to Democracies´ Strengthening
The Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE) has taken up Freirean thought and pedagogy as one of its main foundations for the struggle for the human right to education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout the year 2021, in which the centenary of Paulo Freire is celebrated, CLADE has promoted and participated in various activities that recall the legacy of the Brazilian educator, and for the month of September in particular articulated the project “Freire’s legacy and the construction of democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: experiences, reflections, alternatives”.
This article seeks, as the closing activity of the project, to highlight the connection of Freirean thought with the promotion of democracies, in opposition to the authoritarian tendencies that are advancing in our continent, specifically in the field of education, curtailing academic freedom and reducing the very purpose of education. The violation of human rights is expressed in the criminalisation of student and teacher movements,
in the most recent repressions in Colombia and Chile, as well as in the official measures taken in Brazil, reinforced by the so-called “gender ideology” and the “School without a Party” and “Don’t mess with my children” movements.
These manifestations, aggravated in the pandemic period, are signs that invite us to urgently deepen all efforts to defend democracy, strengthen social movements in defence of rights and freedoms, the human right to education and the accompaniment of transformative proposals.
There are multiple perspectives from which it is possible to highlight Freire’s legacy in the context of the global crisis we live in, in which his relevance becomes evident and also urgent. Perhaps his greatest life lesson for the present is that “the struggle does not end, it reinvents itself” (Freire, 2003), a truth that has been expressed with great force in 2021 with multiple dialogues, writings, testimonies, experiences, mobilisations, art and meetings around the world, on the occasion of the celebrations for his 100th birthday.
His life and work are intimately linked to Latin America’s social history, today threatened by the alliance of the neo-liberal agenda with conservative forces. In a special way, his contributions are linked to the history of Latin American education and the multiple practices closely connected to the awakening of the peoples, to the recreation of their cultures, to their political and organisational formation. Paulo Freire transcends his time, with a legacy that does not stop and that, on the contrary, is recreated. “Paulo Freire, more than ever” (Kohan, 2020).
Paulo Freire (Recife, 1921 – Sao Paulo, 1997), known worldwide as the ” 20th century pedagogue” (Araújo, 2011), contributed to outlining the agenda of the “other” Latin American education of the 21st century (Torres, 2001). From very early on, he was familiar with poverty in Northeast Brazil, a reality that would become a fundamental nourishment for his reflections, fed in permanent dialogue with various currents of contemporary thought. Freire “subsumes, recreates and overcomes the influence of Marxism, Existentialism and Phenomenology” (Araújo, 2011: 822), defining a philosophical and methodological conception that combines ethical, political, pedagogical and aesthetic dimensions.
His fundamental work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written in Chile from 1967 to 1968, begins with the following dedication: “To the uprooted of the world and to those who, discovering themselves in them, suffer with them and struggle with them” (Freire, 1973). Considered to be the most radical pedagogical proposal thought from the Third World, Freire emphasised in this work the ideas that every educational process is a political process and that dialogue is the essence of this process and the meaning that educational action must have for both the educator and the student (Vale, 2005).
After fifteen years accumulating experience in the field of Adult Education, Freire promoted, from the Movement of Popular Culture in Recife, the “Circles of Culture”, making public, more than half a century ago, the central theses of his major work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1973:98), the same theses that resonate today, full of meaning and inspiration for the future:
– “Instead of exclusively expository classrooms, dialogue.
– Instead of speaker teacher, debate coordinator and cultural animator.
– Instead of learner with passive traditions, the group participant.
– Instead of idealising contents of reality, generative themes, critical-creative discussion of reality.
– Instead of training people to simply adapt, train social agents of change“.
From an existential perspective, some contemporaries close to his life and his educational work explain the dynamic of life in which his ever-present thinking was woven, in close connection with the experience of praxis and his commitment to life:
“Paulo Freire is a thinker committed to life; he does not think ideas, he thinks existence. He is also an educator: his thought comes into existence in a pedagogy in which the totalising effort of human “praxis” seeks, in its interiority, to become “the practice of freedom” (Fiori, 1973, p.3.)
“(…)It is very difficult to talk about the ideas that gave rise to Paulo Freire Method, because they are very simple (and some people need to complicate them). In fact Paulo Freire does not even have a definitive pedagogical theory. He has an affection and a practice. That is why it is difficult to theorise about it, without living the practice that is the meaning of this affection. That is why it is easy to understand what he has spoken and written when one starts from the experience of commitment practice, which has been his belief rather than his theory” (Brandao, 1986, p. 102).
“Universality of Paulo Freire’s work stems from this alliance among theory and practice. It is therefore a vigorous way of thinking (…), it thinks about reality and the action over it, it works theoretically on the basis of it. Methodologically, it is a thought that is always up dated”. (Gadotti, 1996:77)
It has been recognised that with his proposal, continually reconstructed in front of new realities, Freire went beyond ‘critical pedagogy’, inasmuch as he takes it up and recreates it in a dialogue based on reading the specificity of the multiple social contexts where educational activity takes place (Mejía, 2012). For this reason, several biographers and thinkers of his work testify that due to the originality of his pedagogy, “he remains unclassifiable” (Gadotti, 1996: 78), or that “his concepts do not fit into slogans” (Puigrós, 2021). What has happened – clarifies this Argentine thinker and politician – is that from developmentalism, but also from Latin American progressivism and the left, there has been a reification and reductionism of Freire’s ideas; for example, the former has taken him as if he were just another method, taking away the transforming political element.
Freire’s contribution has been to produce a new imaginary of education, to start thinking about it in a different way, with ideas related to the pedagogical link, non-bank education, openness to dialogue, recognition of the knowledge of others and transformative links towards the future (Puigrós, 2021). For the director of Paulo Freire Institute, in the 1980s and 1990s, Freire’s contribution constituted “a watershed in relation to traditional political-pedagogical practice. From there, and in collaboration with other critical theories, numerous theoretical and practical perspectives were designed in different parts of the world, impacting many areas of knowledge” (Gadotti, 1996:76). His thinking acquired an international and transdisciplinary dimension, and from the point of view of an educator he contributed with his humanist-internationalist vision.
Political and utopian nature of education
Freire’s understanding of the intrinsic political-pedagogical nature of education has been a cross-cutting theme in his thinking throughout the different stages of his life. From this perspective, he thought of education as a political act, as an act of knowledge and as a creative act.
In his Letters to Guinea Bissau (1979) with accounts of the experience of accompanying the process of reorganising education after the colonial liberation struggles, Freire acknowledged that his efforts had been aimed at “an increasingly critical understanding of the political and ideological character of adult literacy in particular, and of education in general” (p.17). He referred to the need to unveil and understand the multiple relations of adult literacy and post-literacy (…) with production, with the objectives contained in the overall project of society, and of the relations between literacy and the education system of the country.
Illiteracy was a political question and not a strictly linguistic or exclusively pedagogical or methodological problem (Freire, 1990). Methods and techniques are at the service of (and in coherence with) a given theory of knowledge put into practice, which, in turn, has to be faithful to a given political option” (Freire, 1979, p.18). That is why he clarified in his letters: “(…) we never took adult literacy in itself, reducing it to a purely mechanical learning of reading and writing, but as a political act, directly associated with production, with health, with the regular system of education, with the global project of society that we were trying to achieve” (Freire, 1979, p.21).
Back in Brazil, in his experience in public management, at the head of the Municipal Education Secretariat of Sao Paulo, from 1989 to 1991, he maintained as a central principle the struggle for a quality public school for all (“popular public school”), inspired ” by a certain utopia that involves a certain cause for the creation of a less discriminatory, less racist, less sexist society; a more open society that serves the interests of the popular classes, always unprotected and minimised”. (Gadotti, 1996: 103)
Under this understanding, educational practice and its theory cannot be neutral, since there are always at stake projects of society and education with interests and purposes: “the relationship between theory and practice is one thing in an education oriented towards ≪liberation≫, and quite another in an education whose objective is ≪domestication≫” (Freire, 1990:38). The intentionality of educational practice, which makes it always transcend itself and pursue a certain dream, a utopia, does not allow for neutrality” (Freire, 1993, p. 87).
Liberation as an objective of education is based on a utopian vision of society and the role of education, which should allow a critical reading of the world. For Puigrós (2021), the concepts of “imaginary” and ” unprecedented viable” have an enormous political charge, an enormous challenge for educators to see that there are many paths that can be opened up, many ways of approaching education, which are unprecedented and viable, but which must be imagined. Freire said that it is possible to go beyond utopia.
Dialogic and participatory pedagogy for a radical democracy
From a new understanding of the pedagogical relationship, Freire proposed overcoming the authoritarian transmission of content with a critical dialogue in which educator and student learn in a horizontal relationship, recovering the knowledge of all, and contributing to educate together in a process of mutual and permanent training for the transformation of the world.
The participation of the learner in the process of knowledge construction was not only more democratic, but also proved to be more effective (Gadotti, 1996). In this understanding, both learners and teachers are transformed into critical researchers and, for this purpose, they can reappropriate tools such as action research, participant research and the systematisation of experiences, which promote the generation of knowledge from the social and political action of oppressed populations. Popular Education in its long history in Latin America has promoted these practices, based on the contributions of Freire and Fals Borda, since the 1960s, enabling a synthesis and mutual influence to increase both the level of effectiveness of transformative action and the understanding of reality (Fals Borda, 1978). The common knowledge produced from everyday life and different types of local knowledge produced from cultures is recovered. This methodological proposal is inserted into the framework of the construction of social power with forms and procedures that allow it to build empowerment through education, and to generate a new sense of public democracy. (Mejía, 2012: 92).
Rethinking the notion of knowledge construction meant, in turn, rethinking the notion of power and, therefore, the notion of democracy and citizenship (Torres, 2001), with the central objective of building a project for a fair and supportive society
Educational action for democracy
Citizenship has been understood as the appropriation of reality in order to act in it, consciously participating in favour of liberation, in solidarity, since “men liberate themselves in communion” (Freire, 1973). Every human being can and needs to be aware of his or her situation and of his or her rights and duties as a person.
Consistent with this challenge to society as a whole, Paulo Freire argued that it is not only in school that people learn, thus broadening the scope and forms through which education for transformation is exercised. From his earliest writings, he considered school to be much more than the four walls of the classroom, an approach that is current in the knowledge society (Gadotti, 2008), since the “school space” has expanded through virtual channels, with technology playing a leading role. The new learning spaces (internet, TV, social networks, social organisations, churches, companies, family space) have extended the notion of school and the classroom. However, in the context of the global pandemic, “platform capitalism” has imposed itself, says Puigrós (2021), introducing the accent on a “banking” educational relationship, which replaces interaction and the link with standardised content and devices. The problem, he adds, is who are the owners, who hegemonise the field of production, distribution, sale and use of technologies.
Freire also broadened the meaning of education, since school is not only a place to study, but also to meet, converse, confront others, discuss, make politics (Gadotti, 2008), in short, to train in citizenship for democratic societies. For this reason, he recommended the importance of “developing learners’ awareness of their rights, as well as their critical presence in the real world” (Freire, 1990:36).
In order to strengthen educational work for democracy, Freire made it a condition that it should be carried out “with” the learners, stimulating a critical reading of reality. He added to this the development of the autonomy of the subject, solidarity (collaboration), decision making, participation, social and political responsibility and the affirmation of differences under symmetrical conditions. (Araújo, 2011).
José de Souza (2010) has stressed in this regard that Freire’s ‘critical pedagogy’ has contributed to the formation of citizens aware that the transformative power lies in the question that liberates, and not in the answer that imprisons them to existing, non-negotiable horizons and paths. The question liberates towards negotiable horizons and towards the construction of one’s own paths to reach them. This pedagogy also practices the deconstruction and decolonisation of answers whose historical origin, political intention and epistemological consequences reveal their irrelevance for the rural world.
Why did the right choose Freire as an enemy?
In the context of the authoritarian tendencies that are being experienced on the continent, Paulo Freire’s ideas and educational proposals have been the object of prohibition and persecution in Brazil by conservative forces, from the government and society, as well as teachers and schools that promote his thought and practices have been persecuted. These authoritarian and anti-democratic expressions are not neutral or apolitical, but on the contrary, as Freire himself warned (1973), their promoters “know very well what they are doing and where they want to go”. In his study “A Radiografia do Golpe”, Jessé de Souza (2016: 49) pointed out that “the obscuring of the genesis of social processes serves the political interest of rendering invisible the causes of inequality and social injustice” (…), of preventing us from looking at the roots, from questioning ourselves with autonomy (…)”.
Recognised in 2012 as “Patron of Brazilian education”, Freire has been valued as an example of thinkers who have inspired “ethical indignation and epistemological disobedience” (José de Souza, 2010), on behalf of the oppressed against a system of oppression, exploitation and violence. Their pedagogical ideology constitutes a model completely opposed to the neo-liberal agenda imposed on Latin American education in recent decades, in contradiction with the spirit of the universal right to education and the recognition of free and mandatory public education (Torres, 2001).
Daniel Cara, professor at the Faculty of Education of the University of São Paulo and leader of the National Campaign for the Right to Education in Brazil, explains that Freire is not accepted by the extreme right precisely because his philosophy does not admit indoctrination; the sectarianism of authoritarianism prevents the recognition of a truly liberating pedagogy of autonomy, of hope (DW/Brazil).
But Freire himself explained at the time (1973:37) that the “fear of freedom” is not only present in the oppressed, but is also present in the oppressors, in a different way. “In the oppressed, the fear of freedom is the fear of assuming it. In the oppressors, it is the fear of losing the freedom to oppress”. There is also a fear of the humanities, by specialists in education for economic growth, Nusbaum (2010:46) notes, since “the cultivation and development of understanding is especially dangerous in the face of obtuse morality, which in turn is necessary to implement economic growth plans that ignore inequality”. Finally, Puigrós (2021) has pointed to the delegitimisation of public education and teachers as one of the strongest instruments of the corporations interested in the education market. An attempt to discredit teachers, to show them as useless, as a burden for the state, preventing teachers from continuing to transform themselves into someone who produces new knowledge in dialogue with students.
To conclude, a message written at the time by his friend and fellow campaigner Moacir Gadotti:
“As a planter of the future, he will always be remembered
because he left us roots, wings and dreams, as an inheritance.
As a creator of spirits, the best way to pay homage to him is to reinvent him”.
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