Paulo Freire’s questions for educators.

Paulo Freire’ questions for educators.

In my last post in which I shared the notes I made on my reading of Freire’s book Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I mentioned that at the end of Chapter 4, on p.124, Freire listed the problems and questions that educators and education must always continue to seriously consider, discuss and address. Here is the quote in full.

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“What seems to me to be unconscionable, however, today as yesterday, would be to conceive—or even worse, to practice—a popular education in which a constant, serious approach were not maintained, antecedently and concomitantly, to problems like: what content to teach, in behalf of what this content is to be taught, in behalf of whom, against what, and against whom.

  • Who selects the content, and how is it taught?
  • What is teaching?
  • What is learning?
  • What manner of relationship obtains between teaching and learning?
  • What is popular knowledge, or knowledge gotten from living experience?
  • Can we discard it as imprecise and confused?
  • How may it be gotten beyond, transcended?
  • What is a teacher?
  • What is the role of a teacher?
  • And what is a student?
  • What is a student’s role?
  • If being a teacher means being superior to the student in some way, does this mean that the teacher must be authoritarian?
  • Is it possible to be democratic and dialogical without ceasing to be a teacher, which is different from being a student?
  • Does dialogue mean irrelevant chitchat whose ideal atmosphere would be to “leave it as it is to see if it’ll work”?
  • Can there be a serious attempt at the reading and writing of the word without a reading of the world?
  • Does the inescapable criticism of a “banking” education mean the educator has nothing to teach and ought not to teach?
  • Is a teacher who does not teach a self-contradiction?
  • What is codification, and what is its role in the framework of a theory of knowledge?
  • How is the “relation between practice and theory” to be understood—and especially, experienced—without the expression becoming trite, empty wordage?
  • How is the “basistic,” voluntaristic temptation to be resisted—and how is the intellectualistic, verbalistic temptation to engage in sheer empty chatter to be overcome?
  • How is one to “work on” the relationship between language and citizenship?”

It is almost 30 years since Freire wrote these words, and more than 50 years since Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published. Despite this, Freire’s questions remain relevant and still have the power to challenge the current Brazilian government – see Why is the Brazilian Right Afraid of Paulo Freire?

Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. My Notes

In this book published in English in 1994 (originally in Portuguese in 1992), Freire revisits the ideas he first published in his radical text Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1968, which was translated from Spanish to English in 1970. At the time of writing Freire was living in exile in Chile, hence writing in Spanish. He was considered a subversive by the Brazilian government of the time, and his legacy remains a contentious issue in Brazil today (Why is the Brazilian Right Afraid of Paulo Freire?)

Pedagogy of Hope, offers little that is new, other than that hope is essential to a pedagogy of the oppressed. Rather, in this book Freire reflects on his original ideas, attempts to answer his critics, clarify his thinking, and share his experience of working with oppressed groups across the world in the intervening 25 years.

These are my notes, chapter by chapter.

Opening Words

In these opening words Freire introduces the idea of a pedagogy of hope and why it is important

  • Freire’s writing is an experiment in bringing out truth.
  • Hope, he says, is an ontological need, an existential concrete imperative, which demands an anchoring in practice.
  • Hope is necessary but not enough. Just to hope is to hope in vain.
  • We need critical hope the way a fish needs unpolluted water.
  • We need a kind of education in hope.
  • Hopelessness and despair are both the consequences and the cause of inaction or immobilism.

Chapter 1

In this first chapter, Freire gives us some background to the origin of his ideas on progressive education

  • Freire originally trained in law, but swopped to education, researching the relationship between schools, families and punishment.
  • He found a difference in the relationship between authority and freedom in cities and rural fishing villages. In the latter children had more freedom and were punished less.
  • Freire believed in the democratisation of the public school and noted that Piaget argued for a dialogical, loving relationship between parents and children in place of violent punishments.
  • Freire began to realise the importance of class, context, and knowledge of the living experience of the oppressed.
  • But he thought that a more critical understanding of the situation of oppression alone does not liberate the oppressed.
  • Freire lived in exile in Chile for four and a half years. Here he discovered the importance of enabling the popular classes to develop their own language for a pedagogy of hope, and a respect for cultural differences and context.

 Chapter 2

Here he reflects on the process of writing Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the criticisms levelled at his writing

  • For Freire, education needs to be radical, utopian and progressive.
  • In this chapter he describes his process of writing Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the importance of speaking his ideas out loud, his collaborative way of working whilst in exile in Chile, and how his friends helped him.
  • Friere writes at length about metaphor and beautiful writing saying ‘Language’s esthetic moment, it has always seemed to me, ought to be pursued by all of us, including rigorous scholars. There is not the least incompatibility between rigor in the quest for an understanding and knowledge of the world, and beauty of form in the expression of what is found in that world.’ p.61
  • He also discusses reading and how to read; reading requires time, patience, sensitivity, method, rigor, determination, and passion for knowledge.
  • Throughout the book he repeatedly draws our attention to the importance of beginning with the educands’ ‘here and now’ and ‘knowledge of living experience’.
  • An educator must be consistent, patient, tolerant and humble. Teaching is a creative and critical act, not a mechanical one.
  • There is always a risk in education. Education is always political and directive.
  • In this chapter, Freire also discusses, responds to, and defends himself against the criticisms  that have been made of his work, principally sexist language, arrogance and elitism.

Chapter 3

I found this chapter a bit of a political rant and a stream of consciousness. I focussed my attention on the following points

  • Freire tells us that teaching and learning should be a joy; the teacher should start from where the students are, and never under-estimate knowledge from living experience.
  • He does not mean that by starting from students’ positions that is where we should stay.
  • Starting from and respecting the local is not a rejection of the national.
  • It is more useful to talk of the oppressed and oppressor than social class.
  • There is no change without a dream, and no dream without a hope. We do not struggle without hope.
  • Capitalism is wicked. Human beings do not simply live, but socially exist.
  • We have to work with the relationship of the innate and the acquired.
  • The oppressor is dehumanised in dehumanising the oppressed. The oppressor can neither liberate nor be liberated.
  • ‘I am not, I do not be, unless you are, you be. Above all I am not if I forbid you to be.’ p.89

Chapter 4

The key points for me in this chapter were about the relationship between teaching and content. There is also a great section on p.124, which lists the problems that a popular education must address, but I have not included these here, but instead in my next post.

  • In this chapter Freire calls for the raising of consciousness, saying this is needed before change can occur.
  • It is important to engage in dialogue, to read the world and read the word, and to understand how others do this.
  • Brazil has a slavocratic past, where people learned to obey to survive, but also learned to resist and to dream.
  • Educational practice always implies a teacher, a learner, method, content, and the relationship between these.
  • There is no education without teaching of content, but who chooses the content, in favour of whom, against whom, in favour of what, against what?
  • It is impossible to democratise the choice of content (involve everyone) without democratising the teaching of content.
  • The role of educators is to bring out other readings of the world, not impose their own.
  • We need neither authoritarianism nor permissiveness, but democratic substance.
  • Dialogue between teachers and students does not place them on the same footing professionally, but does mark the democratic position between them. (see p.107)
  • It is impossible to transfer knowledge, but a teacher can make a presentation and then analyse that presentation with students. Freire questions what sort of educator he would be if he had no concern for being maximally convincing in the presentation of his dreams. But that does not mean that he can reduce everything to his truth, his correctness.
  • Students have the right to know the ‘why’ of the facts.
  • Freire puts Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) in the context of a troubled moment in history. It is important to understand the mechanisms of social conflict.
  • Education is more than the technical training of a labour force. It is an understanding of ourselves as historical, political, social and cultural beings with a comprehension of how society works.

Chapters 5 and 6

In these two chapters Freire describes his experience of meeting with oppressed groups across the world.

  • In Chapter 5 Freire tells us how, after the publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he was invited to talk to groups all over the world. In Geneva he spoke to Spanish workers who wanted to set up an alternative school (a complement to the Swiss school their children were attending), whose purpose would be to critique the Swiss education. He also met groups in South Africa, the US and Cuba. He personally experienced racism in Chicago. Throughout all this he stressed the need for unity in diversity, oneness in difference, and the need to concentrate on similarities not just differences.
  • In Chapter 6 Freire continues describing his experience of meetings across the world, again focussing on unity in diversity, but also on cultural pluralism and multiculturality. He stresses the need for a new ethics founded on a respect for differences and new human relations, and recommends a radical breach with colonialism, and a radical rejection of neo-colonialism.

Chapter 7

This is the final chapter of the book, although it is followed by an Afterword and Notes on each of the chapters written by his wife Ana Maria Araújo Freire. These seek further clarification of the points made by Freire in the book.

  • In Chapter 7 Freire turns his attention to universities saying that they should be critically engaged in the service of the popular classes, without loss of seriousness and rigor. The role of the university is to teach, to train, to research, and should seek an interdisciplinary understanding of teaching, not merely a disciplinary one.
  • He stresses again the ‘wickedness’ of race and class discrimination, and the importance of hope.
  • ‘The oppressed may learn that hope born in the creative unrest of the battle, will continue to have meaning when, and only when, it can in its own turn give birth to new struggles on other levels’. p.185
  • Finally this is a quote from this chapter that stands out for me as an educator:
  • ‘… first, the one who knows must know that he or she does not know all things; second, the one who knows not must know that he or she is not ignorant of everything. Without this dialectical understanding of knowledge and ignorance, it is impossible, in a progressive, democratic outlook, for the one who knows to teach the one who knows not.’ p.176