Freire and Education

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Photo: Paulica Santos, flickr

Photo: Paulica Santos, flickr

By: Antonia Darder

(Excerpt from the book’s preface)

It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Freire and Education was intended to provide a systematic analysis of Paulo Freire’s work. Over 100 scholarly books have been written specifically about Freire’s philosophy, pedagogy, and his life. Instead, the book speaks to the ways in which Paulo Freire’s work has personally influenced my life and my scholarship in education. The hope is that this contribution to the literature can help young scholars, in a larger way, to understand that the forces of our lived histories and personal proclivities are seldom absent from the theorists we choose to follow or, for that matter, those we disavow.

As such, we all bring a different perspective to the table about their work and contributions.  In many ways, it is precisely these differences, in our reading, interpretations, or reinventions of Freire, for example, which can move us towards developing a greater sensibility of what it means to live a critically intellectual and socially democratic life, as an embodied phenomenon of consciousness and struggle—a phenomenon where a multiplicity of perspectives must find a common place to anchor; and a common place to anchor that retains the capacity to hold the multiplicity.

Moreover, I did not set out here to provide the definitive reading of Paulo Freire and his contributions to education, but rather to share with you the manner in which his writings have illuminated my life practices and my thinking, as a working class, educator of color in the United States, who has actively struggled, in a myriad of ways, to overcome the impact of my colonization and disempowerment, as a Puerto Rican woman born within U.S. colonialism and reared as a child of the diaspora. Yet, it is not an autobiography, but rather an analysis of solidarity, in mind, heart, and spirit, with one of the most powerful and revolutionary educational philosophers of the twentieth century—who was also an important emissary of hope and possibility.

Freire-&-EducationTrue to Freire’s words, my scholarship has deliberately entailed a tireless effort to transform “the weakness of my powerlessness” into “a force capable of announcing justice.” And as such, this is a very particular perspective, told through the power of Freirian thought.  Similarly, I trust that each person, who has been influenced by Paulo Freire’s work, no matter their history, also has their own story to tell.  In my case, I seek to tell a story of Freire’s work, anchored within the dialectics of his critical philosophy and pedagogy, while simultaneously grounded culturally, politically, economically, and ideologically within my own revolutionary praxis of love, dignity, and class struggle.

As mentioned earlier, much has been written about Paulo Freire over the last four decades. Scholars have focused on many different aspects of Freire’s idea and his pedagogy.  Often the emphasis has been on Freire’s articulation of dialogue and its relationship to a problem posing pedagogy, the dynamics of the oppressor-oppressed dialectic, issues of banking education, or a rationale for understanding literacy as an emancipatory force that must be well-situated in the lived histories of the people. In addition to these philosophical concerns, Freire also spoke to critical questions tied to the transformation of consciousness (or conscientizaçao) and leadership, which are less well discussed. Nevertheless, these are also significant to both educational and community practices committed to the struggle for social justice, human rights, and economic democracy.

Hence, I sought to articulate the manner in which Freire’s writings contributed to educational and community efforts related to my own development as an activist-scholar and given the moment in history when the book was first released.  That is, I have worked to contextualize Freire’s early work within the revolutionary struggles that were waged during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the book first began to circulate in progressive teacher and community circles in the U.S. Given my personal history as an impoverished and colonized subject, my desire is to link Freire’s work to the larger struggles of communities of color, in response to a long history of patriarchy, racism, and economic apartheid, placing importance on the spirit of consciousness and its impact on the transformation of material and social life.

Through this effort, I invite readers to consider Paulo Freire, the man, humanist, educator, and revolutionary intellectual of faith and love, as I came to understand him—not with reverence or idolatry, but rather as a human being, like each of us, who lived his life committed persistently to the emancipation of the most disenfranchised and to the reinvention of education—beyond the repressive forces and furtive violence of education under capitalism.  Whether he accomplished this task or not is not my concern here for I do not believe that Freire considered his work with an endpoint, but rather a contribution to the long historical struggle for human emancipation. As such, this book entails my dialogical engagement with Freire’s ideas, anchored in my cultural understanding, politics, and lived history as a Boricua. It is from this vantage point that I attempt to engage with those Freirian ideas that most speak to my work, in an effort to be true to Freire’s intent—that we engage, extend, and reinvent his pedagogical treatise in ways that are genuinely organic, salient, and empowering to our own lives and practice, both as individuals and communal beings.

So the book was not born from the typical objective and distanced epistemological gaze of the traditional theorist, but rather from an engaged, contextual, and relational dance of identifying, knowing, and experiencing in the world. Moreover, I leave the task of intellectual judgments and analytical cutting to those more erudite scholars, who feel fully equipped to lay down such claims. Rather, I seek to illustrate humbly how Freire’s practice exemplifies the courageous spirit of determination and restless grappling with complexities that must fully permeate our conscious efforts to transform the politics and practice of education in this country and abroad.  And by so doing, honor Paulo Freire’s soulful intent: I hope at least the following will endure: my trust in the people, and my faith in men and women, and in the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love.

Antonia Darder, Ph.D holds the Leavey Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Leadership at Loyola Marymount University and Porfessor Emerita at UIUC. Her work focuses on issues of culture, social class, pedagogy and inequalities.

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The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by La Respuesta magazine. We encourage dialogue, debate, and learning in order to forge stronger, healthier Boricua communities and to strengthen alliances across social difference.