Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2014)

Opening Words

We are surrounded by a pragmatic discourse that would have us adapt to the facts of reality. Dreams, and utopia, are called not only useless, but positively impeding. (After all, they are an intrinsic part of any educational practice with the power to unmask the dominant lies.) It may seem strange, then, that I should write a book called Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

But for me, on the contrary, the educational practice of a progressive option will never be anything but an adventure in unveiling. It will always be an experiment in bringing out the truth. Because this is the way I have always thought, there are those who dispute whether or not I am an educator. It happened recently in a meeting at UNESCO in Paris—I have been told by someone who was there. Latin American representatives refused to ascribe me the standing of educator. At least I was not an educator as far as they were concerned. And they criticized me for what seemed to them to be my exaggerated “politicization.”

They failed to perceive that, in denying me the status of educator for being “too political,” they were being as political as I. Of course, on opposite sides of the fence. “Neutral” they were not, nor could ever be.

On the other hand, there must be countless individuals who think the way a friend of mine, a university professor, thinks. He came looking for me. In astonishment, he asked, “But Paul . . . a Pedagogy of Hope in the shameless hellhole of corruption like the one strangling us in Brazil today?”

The fact is that the “democratization” of the shamelessness and corruption that is gaining the upper hand in our country, contempt for the common good, and crimes that go unpunished, have only broadened and deepened as the nation has begun to rise up in protest. Even young adults and teenagers crowd into the streets, criticizing, calling for honesty and candor. The people cry out against all the crass evidence of public corruption. The public squares are filled once more. There is a hope, however timid, on the street corners, a hope in each and every one of us. It is as if most of the nation had been taken by an uncontainable need to vomit at the sight of all this shamefulness.

On the other hand—while I certainly cannot ignore hopelessness as a concrete entity, nor turn a blind eye to the historical, economic, and social reasons that explain that hopelessness—I do not understand human existence, and the struggle needed to improve it, apart from hope and dream. Hope is an ontological need. Hopelessness is but hope that has lost its bearings, and become a distortion of that ontological need.

When it becomes a program, hopelessness paralyzes us, immobilizes us. We succumb to fatalism, and then it becomes impossible to muster the strength we absolutely need for a fierce struggle that will re-create the world.

I am hopeful, not out of mere stubbornness, but out of an existential, concrete imperative.

I do not mean that, because I am hopeful, I attribute to this hope of mine the power to transform reality all by itself, so that I set out for the fray without taking account of concrete, material data, declaring, “My hope is enough!” No, my hope is necessary, but it is not enough. Alone, it does not win. But without it, my struggle will be weak and wobbly. We need critical hope the way a fish needs unpolluted water.

The idea that hope alone will transform the world, and action undertaken in that kind of naïveté, is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism. But the attempt to do without hope, in the struggle to improve the world, as if that struggle could be reduced to calculated acts alone, or a purely scientific approach, is a frivolous illusion. To attempt to do without hope, which is based on the need for truth as an ethical quality of the struggle, is tantamount to denying that struggle is one of its mainstays. The essential thing, as I maintain later on, is this: hope, as an ontological need, demands an anchoring in practice. As an ontological need, hope needs practice in order to become historical concreteness. That is why there is no hope in sheer hopefulness. The hoped-for is not attained by dint of raw hoping. Just to hope is to hope in vain.

Without a minimum of hope, we cannot so much as start the struggle. But without the struggle, hope, as an ontological need, dissipates, loses its bearings, and turns into hopelessness. And hopelessness can become tragic despair. Hence the need for a kind of education in hope. Hope, as it happens, is so important for our existence, individual and social, that we must take every care not to experience it in a mistaken form, and thereby allow it to slip toward hopelessness and despair. Hopelessness and despair are both the consequence and the cause of inaction or immobilism.

In limited situations, beyond which lies “untested feasibility” alone1—sometimes perceivable, sometimes not—we find the why of both positions: the hopeful one and the hopeless one.

One of the tasks of the progressive educator, through a serious, correct political analysis, is to unveil opportunities for hope, no matter what the obstacles may be. After all, without hope there is little we can do. It will be hard to struggle on, and when we fight as hopeless or despairing persons, our struggle will be suicidal. We shall be beside ourselves, drop our weapons, and throw ourselves into sheer hand-to-hand, purely vindictive, combat. Of course, the element of punishment, penalty, correction—the punitive element in the struggle we wage in our hope, in our conviction of its ethical and historical rightness—belongs to the pedagogical nature of the political process of which struggle is an expression. It would not be equitable that injustices, abuses, extortion, illicit profits, influence peddling, the use of offices and positions for the satisfaction of personal interests—all of these things that make up the reason for which, with justifiable anger, we now struggle in Brazil—should go uncorrected, just as it would not be right for any of those who would be judged guilty not to be severely punished, within the limits of the law.

It will not do—it is not a valid argument—simply to admit that none of this is a “privilege” of the Third World, as we sometimes hear it suggested. Yes, the First World has indeed always been an example of scandals of every sort, always a model of wickedness, of exploitation. We need only think of colonialism—of the massacres of invaded, subjugated, colonized peoples; of the wars of this century, of shameful, cheapening racial discrimination, and the rapine that colonialism has perpetrated. No, we have no monopoly on the dishonorable. But we can no longer connive with the scandals that wound us in our remotest depths.

What cynicism—just to take one example among dozens—that certain politicians should seek to conceal their doings from their constituents (who have an absolute right to know what is done in Congress and why), and defend, with puritanical airs, in the name of democracy, some right to hide out in a “secret ballot” during a presidential vote of confidence! Why hide, unless there is at least some minimal risk to one’s physical well-being? Why is concealment solemnly dubbed the “purity,” “honorableness,” “unassailability” of the president? Let these politicians have the dignity to assume responsibility for their option. Let them come right out with their defense of the indefensible.

Pedagogy of Hope is that kind of book. It is written in rage and love, without which there is no hope. It is meant as a defense of tolerance—not to be confused with connivance—and radicalness. It is meant as a criticism of sectarianism. It attempts to explain and defend progressive postmodernity and it will reject conservative, neoliberal postmodernity.

The first step I shall take will be to analyze or speak of the fabric, the texture, the very strands, of the infancy, youth, and budding maturity in which Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I “revisit” in this book, came to be proclaimed, first in oral form and then in writing.

Some of these strands, these threads, will end with my exile, into which I go with a soul steeped in history—the cultural marks, memories, feelings, and sentiments, doubts, dreams that never got off the drawing board but were never abandoned—and longings, of my world, my sky, the tepid waters of the Atlantic, the “improper language of the people, the correct language of the people.”* I arrived in exile, and reached the memory I bore in my soul of so many intertwined threads; there I came to be marked and stamped by new facts, new knowledge, and these wove new experiences, as in a tapestry.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed emerges from all of this, and I shall speak now of that book—of how I learned while I wrote it, and indeed, of how, while first speaking of this pedagogy, I was learning to write the book.

Then, in a second step in this present book, I shall return to Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I shall discuss some of its stages, and analyze certain criticisms leveled against it in the 1970s.

In the third and final step in this book, I shall speak at length of the threads and the fabrics whose essence, as it were, was Pedagogy of the Oppressed itself. Here I shall practically relive—and basically, shall actually be reliving—and as I do so, rethink, certain special moments in my journeys through the four corners of the earth, to which I was carried by Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Perhaps, however, I should make it clear to readers that, in taking myself back to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and in speaking today of the tapestry of my experience in the 1970s, I do not intend to wallow in nostalgia. Instead, my reencounter with Pedagogy of the Oppressed will have the tone of one who speaks not of what has been, but of what is.

The facts, the debates, the discussions, the projects, the experiments, the dialogues in which I shared in the 1970s, all bearing on Pedagogy of the Oppressed, seem to me to be as current as do others to which I shall refer, of the 1980s and today.

I should now like, in these opening words, to thank a group of friends, in Brazil and abroad, with whom, even before beginning to work on this Pedagogy of Hope, I held conversations about this project, and from whom I received such important encouragement:

Ana Maria Freire, Madalena Freire Weffort, Maria de Fátima Freire Dowbor, Lutgardes Freire, Ladislau Dowbor, Celso Beisiegel, Ana Maria Saul, Moacir Gadotti, Antonio Chizzotti, Adriano Nogueira, Márcio Campos, Carlos Arguelo, Eduardo Sebastiani Ferreira, Adão J. Cardoso, Henry Giroux, Donaldo Macedo, Peter Park, Peter McLaren, Ira Shor, Stanley Aronowitz, Raúl Magaña, João Batista F. Pinto, Michael Apple, Madeleine Groumet, Martin Carnoy, Carlos Torres, Eduardo Hasche, Alma Flor Ada, Joaquim Freire, Susanne Mebes, Cristina Freire Heiniger, and Alberto Heiniger.

I should also like to express my thanks to my wife, Ana Maria Freire, for the excellent notes appended here, which clarify and anchor important elements in my text. Superscripts in the text refer to her numbered endnotes at the back of the book. Asterisks, on the other hand, refer to footnotes at the bottom of the page.

I am likewise aware of my indebtedness to Suzie Hartmann Lontra, who so patiently and devotedly proofread the typescript with me.

Nor must I omit to express my gratitude to Werner Mark Linz, for the enthusiasm with which he has always discussed this project with me, whether face-to-face or in our correspondence—that same enthusiasm with which, twenty-four years ago, he read the manuscript of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and published it.

Finally, to Marcus Gasparian, one of the finest and most sensitive publishers in Brazil today, I send a brotherly embrace and a “Thank you very much” for the taste with which he constantly discussed with me what would come to be Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Paulo Freire

São Paulo

January 1994

* Manuel Bandeira, “Evocação do Recife,” in Poesias , 6th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1955), p. 191.