Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2014)
Today, at more than twenty-five years’ distance from those mornings, those evenings, those nights of seeing, hearing, all but touching with my hands sectarian certitudes that precluded other certitudes, that denied doubts, that asserted a truth possessed by certain groups calling themselves revolutionary, I reassert, as is incumbent upon a pedagogy of hope, the position taken up and argued in Pedagogy of the Oppressed against sectarianisms, which always eviscerate, as well as the position I maintain there in defense of a critical radicalism.
The preponderant climate with the factions of the Left was actually one of sectarianism, which, along with rejecting history as opportunity, generates and proclaims a kind of “liberation fatalism.” Socialism is on its way . . . necessarily. Carried to its ultimate consequences, then, an understanding of history as “liberation fatalism” prescinds from the struggle, from an engagement in the creation of democratic socialism as a job to do in history. Thus, it conjures away the ethic of struggle and the fineness of the striving. I believe, or rather I am convinced, that we have never needed radical positions, in the sense of the radicalness I advocate in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as we need them today. We need them if we are to get beyond, on the one hand, sectarianisms founding themselves on universal, exclusive truths; and on the other, “pragmatic” accommodations to the facts, as if the facts had turned immutable. Each faction would have its immutability to work with—the former, or modern positions, just as the latter, or modernistic ones. Instead, let us be postmodern: radical and utopian. Progressive.
The last period of my time in Chile—to be precise, the period during which I worked in the Institute for Ways and Means and Research in Agrarian Reform (ICIRA), from the beginning of my third year in the country onward—was one of the most productive moments of my experience in exile. In the first place, I came to this organization only after having already acquired a certain visceral familiarity with the culture of the country, the habits of its peoples, and with the rifts in political ideology within Christian Democracy already clear. Then too, my activity in ICIRA was contemporaneous with the first denunciations lodged against me in and by the more radically rightist sectors of that party. These elements accused me of things I had never done nor ever would do. I always find that one of the ethical and political duties of someone in exile resides in respect for the host country.
Although the condition of exile surely did not transform me into a neutral intellectual, neither did it ever afford me the right to interfere in the party politics of the country. I am not even inclined to go into the facts surrounding the accusations against me, as the latter could easily be demolished by their utter inconsistency. However, upon being informed of the existence of the first rumor, I took the decision to write out in advance the texts of the talks I would give on the subjects on which I was to speak in the training groups. Along with becoming accustomed to writing them out, I got into the habit of discussing them, every time I could, with two great friends I worked with in the ICIRA, Marcela Gajardo, a Chilean, today researcher and professor at the Faculdade Latino-Americana de Ciências Sociais, and sociologist José Luiz Fiori, a Brazilian, today a professor at Rio de Janeiro University.
The hours we spent together, discussing discoveries, and not just my talks, talking over our doubts, wondering together, challenging ourselves, recommending readings, being surprised, being fearful, exerted such a spell on us that, nearly always, the time of day came when our conversation was the only one to be heard in the building. Everyone else had left the office, and there we were, trying to get a better understanding of what was behind a peasant’s reply to a challenge with which he had been presented in a culture circle.
With them I discussed various things I wanted to say in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I was still composing. There is no denying the good that both of their friendships did me, and the contributions that their shrewd intellects added to my mind and my work.
At bottom, in the last analysis, my time at the Instituto de Desarrollo Agropecuaria, the Ministry of Education, and the Corporation for Agrarian Reform; my serious work with their technological teams, through which I found it possible to have a rich experience almost throughout the country, with countless peasant communities, interviewing their leaders; even simply the opportunity to have experienced a life in the historical atmosphere of the time—all of this explained to me the doubts I had had that had led to my exile, deepened my hypotheses, assured me of my positions.
It was in the intense experience I was having in Chilean society—my own experience of their experience, which always sent me back in my mind to my Brazilian experience, whose vivid memory I had brought with me into exile—that I wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in 1967 and 1968. Now that that composition has “come of age,” I take it once more in hand. To look at it again, rethink it, restate it. And to do some “new” saying, as well: the text in which it is now being said again has its own word to say, as well, and one that, in the same manner, speaks for itself, by speaking of hope.
In more or less a conversational tone—in “conversation” not only with the reader now seeking a living contact with Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the first time, but with those who have read it fifteen, twenty years ago, and who, at this moment, as they read this reflection on it, are preparing to read it again—I should like to focus in on a few points through which I might be able to make a better restatement of what I have already said.
I think that an interesting point to begin with might be the actual creation, or procreation, of the book. Pedagogy of the Oppressed enwraps the procreation of ideas of course, but thereby it enfolds as well the moment or the moments of activity in which those ideas were generated, together with the moments at which they were put down on paper. Indeed, ideas that need to be argued to—which imply other ideas, ideas that have come to be restated in various “corners” of texts to which authors feel obliged to return from time to time—become generated throughout these authors’ practice, within the greater social practice of which the ideas are a part. It is in this sense that I have spoken of the memories that I brought into exile, of which some had been formed in childhood long ago, but are still of genuine importance today for an understanding of my understanding or of my reading of the world. This is also the reason why I have spoken of the exercise to which I always devoted myself in exile—wherever the “loan context” was, the context in which, as I gained experience in it, I thought and rethought my relations with and in the original context. But as ideas, positions, to be made explicit and explained, to be argued in the text, have first seen the light of day in the action-reflection-action in which we are enwrapped (as we are touched by memories of happenings in old fabrics), thus the moment of writing becomes as a time of creation and re-creation, as well, of the ideas with which we come to our desk. The time of writing, let me say again, is always preceded by one of speaking of the ideas that will be set down on paper. At least this was the way it was with me. Speaking of ideas before writing about them, in conversations with friends, in seminars, in talks, was also a way not only of testing them, but of re-creating them, of giving them second birth. Their edges could be better honed down when the thinking managed to reach written form through another discipline, another set of systematics. In this sense, to write is also to redo what has been thought out in various moments of our practice, of our relations-with; to write is as much to re-create, as much to restate what has been said previously, during the time of our activity—just as much as serious reading requires of the one doing it a rethinking of the already-thought, a rewriting of the written, and a rereading, as well, of what before being turned into the writing of the author was some reading of his or her own.
I spent a year or more talking about aspects of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I spoke with friends that visited me, I discussed it in seminars and courses. One day my daughter Madalena came to me to delicately call my attention to something. She suggested greater restraint on my eagerness to talk about the as-yet-unwritten Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I did not have the strength to abide by her suggestion. I continued, passionately, to speak of the book as if—and as a matter of fact this was true—I were learning to write it.
I shall never be able to forget something about this oral period of Pedagogy of the Oppressed—an entire address in New York, my first, in 1967.
It was my first visit to the United States, where I had been invited by Father Joseph Fitzpatrick and Monsignor Robert Fox, who is now deceased.
It was an exceedingly important visit for me, especially because of what I was able to observe in places where blacks and Puerto Ricans were discriminated against. I visited these places by invitation of educators working with Fox. There was a great deal of similarity between what they were doing in New York and what I was doing in Brazil. The first one to notice the resemblances had been Ivan Illich, who then proposed to Fitzpatrick and Fox that they bring me to New York.
In my trips and visits to the various centers the two priests maintained in areas of New York, I was able to verify, seeing them all over again, behaviors expressive of the “wiliness” or “cunning” demanded of the oppressed if they are to survive. I saw and heard things in New York that were “translations”—not just linguistic ones, of course, but emotional ones, as well—of much of what I had heard in Brazil, and was hearing more recently in Chile. The “why” of the behavior was the same. Only the form—what I might call “trappings”—and the content, were different.
There is a case, among these, which I report in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that it will do no harm to take another look at here, somewhat more extensively.
In one home, with blacks and Puerto Ricans participating in the group, the educator had a large blowup of a photograph carried in and placed on the arms of a chair. It was a picture of a street—as it happened, of the very street that ran in front of the building in which we sat. In the photo, a near mountain of garbage could be seen, piled on a corner of the street.
“What do you see in this picture?” asked the educator.
A silence ensued, as it always did, no matter where we were or to whom we addressed the question. Those present were somehow failing to recognize their own street. Then, emphatically, with false assurance, one of them came out with: “A street in Latin America.”
“But the street signs are in English,” the educator now pointed out.
Another silence, broken by another attempt to hide the painful, wounding, sorrowful truth. “Maybe a street in Latin America and we’re teachin’ English down there. Or maybe a street in Africa.”
“Why not New York?”
“Because we’re in the United States and we don’t have nothin’ like that here!” And the person speaking pointed to the photograph.
After another, longer silence, a third participant spoke up, and said, with difficulty, and painfully, as if he were relieving himself of some terrible burden: “Might as well admit it’s our street. Where we live.”
As I recall that session now, so much like so many others I shared in, as I remember how the educands defended themselves in the analysis or “reading” of the codification (the photo), trying to hide the truth, I hear again in my mind something I once heard from Erich Fromm, in Cuernavaca, Mexico: “This kind of educational practice,” he told me, in our first meeting, arranged by Ivan Illich, at which I had told him how I thought of and practiced education, “This kind of educational practice is a kind of historico-cultural, political psychoanalysis.”
He was dead right, and his words were confirmed by the statements of the educands, one by one, to the approving nods of the others: “It’s a street in Latin America . . . we’re there and we’re teaching English,” or “It’s a street in Africa,” or “We’re the US, we can’t have anything like that.” Two nights before, I had assisted at another meeting, with another group, likewise of Puerto Ricans and blacks, where the discussion was about another fine photo. It was a montage, representing “slices” of New York—more than half-a-dozen shots, one atop the other, representing socioeconomic conditions in various areas of the city, in ascending order of “decency” starting with the bottom “slice.”
Once the group had understood what the photo was supposed to represent, the educator asked the group what part of New York in the montage was where they lived. Realistically, the group might have actually lived in the conditions in the second shot from the bottom in the picture, at best.
There was silence, whispering, and opinion swapping. Finally came the group’s decision. Their place third from the top!
On the way back to the hotel, sitting next to the educator, who was driving, I continued silently to think about the meetings, of the basic need individuals exposed to such situations have—until they accept themselves as individuals and as a class, until they commit themselves, until they struggle—their need to deny the humiliating truth, a truth that humiliates them precisely because they introject the dominant ideology that sketches them as incompetent and guilty, the authors of their own failures. And yet the actual “why” of those failures is to be found in the perversity of the system.
I thought as well of the moment, several evenings before, when (with Carmen Hunter as simultaneous translator—one of the most competent North American educators, even in those early days) I spoke for the first time at length about Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I was to finalize only in the following year. And I compared the reactions of the educands on those two nights with those of some of the audience of my talk—educators and community organizers.
“Fear of freedom” had marked the reactions in all three meetings. Flight from the real, an attempt to “tame” the real through concealment of the truth.
At this very moment, as I recall these happenings and reactions of times so long ago, something else, something very much like them, comes to mind: an event at which I likewise assisted. It was another case of an expression of the assimilation and interiorization of the dominant ideology by the dominated themselves—I might even say, as I put it in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, an expression of the oppressor “inhabiting” and dominating the half-defeated body and soul of the oppressed one.
We were in the midst of the campaign for the governorship of the State of São Paulo, in 1982. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, was the Workers Party candidate, and, as a party activist, I attended some of the meetings in outlying districts of the city. I did not attend party assemblies, as I do not regard myself as sufficiently competent. These were meetings at recreational clubs or neighborhood associations. At one of these meetings, a workman, some forty years of age, stood up and criticized Lula and his candidacy. His main argument was that he could never vote for somebody just like himself. “Lula’s the same as me,” said the workman, with conviction. “He don’t know how to talk. He don’t talk the right kind o’ Portuguese to be in government. Lula ain’t had no education. He ain’t, like they say, ‘well-read.’ Look,” he went on “—if Lula won, what would we do? Think how embarrassed people’d be, if the queen o’England was t’ come here again. Lula’s wife ain’t got no rose garden to receive the queen! She can’t be no First Lady!”
In New York, the concealing discourse, which looks for some other geography in which to deposit the garbage, which was making it too plain how discriminated against the audience was, was a discourse of self-rejection. In the same way, it was a discourse of self-rejection, rejection of his class, that the workman had pronounced who refused to look at himself or to see in Lula, because he was a worker himself, a protest against the world that rejected him.
In the most recent presidential campaign, the Northeasterner who worked with us in our house voted, in the first two rounds, for Collor. She told us, with absolute assurance, that she “didn’t have anybody to vote for” who would have been a candidate favorable to her own interests.
Basically, she must have agreed with many of the elitists of this country: persons who refer to themselves as menas gente cannot imagine any of their own number being president. To say menas gente, “lesser people,” means, when all is said and done, that you are menos gente, “less people” in the adverbial sense of “less”: less completely people.
I went back to Chile. Presently I found myself in a new phase of the gestation process of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
I began to use index cards, titling and numbering each one according to what was written on it. I always carried some paper in my pockets, or even a little notepad. Whenever an idea occurred to me—regardless of where I was, in a bus, on the street, in a restaurant, alone, with someone—I jotted down the idea. Sometimes it was just a phrase.
Then in the evening, back home, after dinner, I worked on the idea or ideas I had jotted down, expanding them on two, three, or more file cards. Then I put a title on each card, and a number, in ascending order.
I started working on ideas I culled from reading I had done, as well. There were times when a statement by an author would make a light go on in my head. It would spark a series of reflections in me that might never have been a concern of the author of the book I was reading.
Other times, what one or another author would say would lead me to reflections in the same area as that with which he or she was dealing, but reinforcing some position of mine and making it more clear to me.
In many cases, the sort of thing that challenged me, and about which I wrote on file cards, were statements, or questions, either of peasants whom I was interviewing and whom I had heard discussing codifications in culture circles, or of agricultural technologists, agronomists, or other educators, whom I made sure I kept meeting in training seminars. What kept me from ever looking down on or simply belittling “common sense” may have been the always-respectful contact I had with it, ever since the faraway days of my experience in the Brazilian Northeast, coupled with the never-failing certitude within me that, in order to get beyond “common sense,” you had to use it. Just as it is unacceptable to advocate an educational practice that is satisfied with rotating on the axis of “common sense,” so neither is an educational practice acceptable that sets at naught the “knowledge of living experience” and simply starts out with the educator’s systematic cognition.
The educator needs to know that his or her “here” and “now” are nearly always the educands’ “there” and “then.” Even though the educator’s dream is not only to render his or her “here-and-now” accessible to educands, but to get beyond their own “here-and-now” with them, or to understand and rejoice that educands have gotten beyond their “here” so that this dream is realized, she or he must begin with the educands’ “here,” and not with her or his own. At the very least, the educator must keep account of the existence of his or her educands’ “here” and respect it. Let me put it this way: you never get there by starting from there, you get there by starting from some here. This means, ultimately, that the educator must not be ignorant of, underestimate, or reject any of the “knowledge of living experience” with which educands come to school.
I shall return to this subject again, as it appears to me to be central to a discussion of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and not only of the book by that name, but of the actual pedagogy of the oppressed itself.
Then came the time when I began, occasionally, to practically “play” with the file cards. I would calmly read a series of them, say, ten of them, and I would try to discover, first, whether there were any holes to fill in their thematic sequence; and second, whether a careful reading of them called forth in me or gave rise to the emergence of new topics. Basically, my “idea cards” turned into seed cards for other ideas, other topics.
Sometimes—suppose, between card number eight and card number nine—I would sense a vacuum, and begin to work on it. Then I would renumber the cards accordingly, so that they would still be in numerical sequence.
As I recall, now, all of this mechanical work—and it has its nostalgia for me—I admit that it would have saved time and effort, and been more efficient, if I had used a computer from time to time, even a little one like the one that my wife and I have today.
But thanks to that mechanical effort, once I began to write the text—in July 1967, taking the opportunity of a vacation period—in two weeks of work, sometimes working all night long, I wrote the first three chapters of Pedagogy. When that much had been typed up—which I thought would be the whole book, just those first three chapters—I turned it over to my great friend, whom I shall never forget, and with whom I always learned so much—Ernani Maria Fiori, to write the preface. When Fiori gave me back his excellent essay in December 1967, I took a few hours at home that night to read through the entire manuscript, from his preface to the last word of chapter 3, which I then thought of as the last.
The year before, in 1966, Josué de Castro,1 owner of a vanity as lush as that of Gilberto Freyre, but, like the latter, a vanity that disturbed no one, had spent some days in Santiago. One evening when he had no official tasks to perform, we sat together, conversing freely, in one of Santiago’s lovely parks, Josué, Almino Affonso, and I. Talking about what he was writing, Josué suddenly told us: “I’ll suggest a good habit for a writer to get into. At the end of a book, or article, let it ‘marinate’ for three months, four months, in a drawer. Then one night, take it out again and read it. People always change ‘something,’ ”concluded Josué, with his hand on the shoulder of one of us.
I took the risk of following his suggestion. The very night of the day Fiori gave me his text, after reading it and the three chapters of Pedagogy, I locked everything away in my “box” in my study, and left it there for two months.
I cannot deny the curiosity, and even more, a certain yearning, that the text provoked in me as it lay there, locked away, “all, all alone.” Sometimes I had a powerful urge to take it out and read it again; but I thought it would be interesting, too, to take a certain distance from it. So I restrained myself.
There in my study, one night a little more than two months later, I sat down with it a few hours to get reacquainted. It was almost as if I had found an old friend again. In fact, I read it with great emotion—slowly, without even wanting to finish it very soon—the whole text, page by page. (It would have been hard to imagine, just then, that twenty-four years later I would be doing much the same thing, several times, not with the manuscript, but with the book itself—to rethink it, to restate it.)
I did not make many important changes in it. But I did make the basic discovery that the text was unfinished. It needed one more chapter. And so it came about that I wrote the fourth and last chapter, taking advantage, now of lunch period in training seminars in the vicinity of Santiago, now in hotels in cities or towns further away, where I also went to give seminars. After dinner, I would fairly race to my room, and seclude myself there the whole night through, writing chapter 4, till early the next day, when I would begin the work of my seminar once again. I remember now that the only text that could take me away from my writing work was Antonio Callado’s excellent Quarup.
In those days I was still able to read while the car was lapping up the miles. Thus it was that, on one of my trips to the South of Chile, after taking the opportunity of highway time to spend some hours with my book, I finished reading Quarup in the hotel, filled with emotion, as the first light dawned. Then I wrote a letter to Callado, which I was too shy ever to mail. I am sorry to say that the letter was lost, along with letters written to me, when we moved to the United States in 1969.
The gusto with which I gave myself to that exercise, the task of fairly spending myself in writing and thinking (mutually inseparable in the creation or the production of the text), compensated for the lack of sleep with which I returned from trips. I no longer remember the names of the hotels where I wrote parts of the fourth chapter of Pedagogy, but I still retain the sensation of pleasure with which I read, before going to sleep, the last pages I had written.
At home, in Santiago, not rare were the times when, so involved in my work, and gratified by it, I was surprised by the morning sun stealing into the little room which I had converted into a library at 500 Alcides de Gasperi Street, Apoquindo, Santiago, and lighting it up—sun and birds, morning, new day. Then I would look out the window, at the little garden Elza had made, the rosebushes she had planted.
I do not know whether the house would still be there, and still be painted blue, as it was at the time.
I should not be able to rethink Pedagogy of the Oppressed without thinking upon, without remembering, some of the places where I wrote it, but especially one of them, the house where I lived and was happy, and from where I left Chile, carrying longings, suffering at having to leave but hopeful of being able to respond to the challenges that were waiting for me.
With the fourth chapter finally ready, I looked at the first three again and touched them up, then I handed over the whole text to a typist. Next I made several copies, which I distributed among Chilean friends, and some Brazilian companions in exile and other friends.
In the acknowledgments, when the first Brazilian edition appeared—which only became possible after the book had already been translated into English, Spanish, Italian, French, and German, due to the climate of repression in which we lived—I left out the names of some friends, as well as those of some of my companions in exile.
No one failed to come running, with his or her encouragement, plus concrete suggestions—for the clarification of a point here, for a stylistic improvement there, and so on.
Now, so many years later, and even more convinced how doggedly we must struggle lest ever again, in the name of freedom, democracy, ethics, and respect for the common welfare, we should again have to experience the denial of freedom, outrage to democracy, deception, and contempt for the common weal, such as the coup d’état imposed on us on April 1, 1964 (which picturesquely dubbed itself a revolution), I should like to list the names of all who inspired me with their word, and express to them my sincere thanks: Marcela Gajardo, Jacques Chonchol, Jorge Mellado, Juan Carlos Poblete, Raúl Velozo, and Pelli, Chileans. Paulo de Tarso and Plínio Sampaio, Almino Affonso, Maria Edy, Flávio Toledo, Wilson Cantoni, Ernani Fiori, João Zacariotti, José Luiz Fiori, and Antonio Romanelli, Brazilians.
There is another connection between Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the perverse, antidemocratic climate of the military regime that came crashing down on us with such remarkable, hateful fury, that I should like to bring out.
Even though I knew that the book could not be published here—have its first edition in Portuguese, the language in which it was originally written—I did want to get the typescript into the hands of Fernando Gasparian, director of Paz Terra, which was going to publish it. The question that arose was how to see to the safety not only of the material, but also, and above all, of the courier. At this point, in the early 1970s, we were already staying in Geneva.
I had mentioned the problem to Swiss scholars, professors at the University of Geneva. One of them, who, besides being a professor, was a national councilor, Jean Ziegler, as he was about to leave for Rio de Janeiro on an academic assignment, offered to carry the typescript to Brazil personally. I accepted his offer, since, with his diplomatic passport plus his Swiss nationality, nothing untoward would befall him. He would get through the passport check and customs without questions or searches.
A few days later, Gasparian discreetly acknowledged receipt of the material, asking me to await more favorable times for its publication. I sent the text toward the end of 1970, when the book was already in its first edition in English, or early in 1971. Its publication in Brazil, its first printing, was possible only in 1975. Meanwhile a countless number of Brazilians had read it, in foreign-language editions arriving here by strokes of shrewdness and courage. I came to know, at this time, a young North American sister who worked in the Northeast, who said that, on her return trips from the United States, she had gotten into Brazil several times with a number of copies of Pedagogy, covered in book jackets with religious titles on them. In this fashion, her friends, who worked in the outlying districts of Northeastern cities, were able to read the book and discuss it even before its publication in Portuguese.
At about the same time, I received in Geneva, hand-delivered, an excellent letter from a group of workers in São Paulo, of whom I have unfortunately since lost track. They had studied, together, a copy of the original that someone had typed out. It is a pity that so little is left of my Geneva archives. Among many a good thing that was lost, was that letter. But I remember how they ended it. “Paul,” they said, or words to this effect, “keep on writing—but next time lay it on a little thicker when you come to those scholarly types that come to visit as if they had revolutionary truth by the tail. You know, the ones that come looking for us to teach us that we’re oppressed and exploited and to tell us what to do.”
Some time after Ziegler, that excellent intellectual, had gotten the typescript into Gasparian’s hands, he, Ziegler, published a book that immediately became a best-seller—La Suisse au-dessus de tout soupçon (Switzerland: above all suspicion), in which he disclosed Swiss secrets that were altogether too touchy, especially in the area of the hidden bank accounts of a certain type of Third World folk. Ziegler wounded innumerable interests with his book, and has suffered reprisals that have been by no means easy to deal with. Recently, Jean Ziegler is being put under pressure, and major restrictions, due to the publication of another best-seller of his, in which he discusses the “laundering” of drug-traffic money. As a national councilor, or deputy, from the canton of Geneva, Ziegler recently had his parliamentary immunity restricted by his colleagues, on the allegation that he writes as a professor, a scholar, an academician, while that his parliamentary immunity pertains only to his activity in the Parliament. And so he can be put on trial for what he has written as a scholar.
In view of all of this, and mindful of the unselfish favor he performed in serving as the courier of the forbidden book’s typescript, I should like to make public here my solidarity with the great intellectual in who I see no separation between the professor—the serious, competent scholar—and the watchful representative of the Swiss people, the national councilor.
Finally, I owe one last word of acknowledgment, and posthumous gratitude: to Elza, for all she did in making Pedagogy a reality.
I find that one of the best things that any of us, man or woman, can experience in life, is a loving tenderness in our relationships, however bespattered, from time to time, those relationships may be with a lack of compassion, which simply prove that we are, after all, “ordinary people.”
This is the experience I had with Elza, on account of which, when you get right down to it, I became predisposed for a re-creation of myself under the equally unselfish care of another woman who, speaking to me and of us, writes in her excellent book of having to come to me to “reinvent things lost—” hers, with the death of Raúl, her first spouse, and mine, with that of Elza—“life, with love.”*
All during the time I spoke about Pedagogy of the Oppressed with other persons and with Elza, Elza was always an attentive and critical listener, and became my first, likewise critical, reader when I began the phase of actual writing of the text.
Very early in the morning, she would read the pages I had been writing until daybreak, and had left arranged on the table.
Sometimes she was unable to contain herself. She would wake me up and say, with humor, “I hope this book won’t send us into exile!”
I am happy to be able to record this sense of gratitude with the freedom with which I do so, without fear of being accused of being sentimental.
My concern, in this hopeful work, as I have demonstrated to this point, is to stir my memory and challenge it, like an excavation in time, so that I can show you the actual process of my reflection, my pedagogical thought and its development, of which the book is a step—just as my pedagogical thinking is actually developing right in this Pedagogy of Hope, as I discuss the hope with which I wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Hence my attempt to discover—in old weavings, facts, and deeds of childhood, youth, and maturity, in my experience with others, within the events, within the instants in the general, dynamic process—not only Pedagogy of the Oppressed as it was being gestated, but my life itself. Indeed, it is in the interplay of the fabrics of which life forms a part that life itself wins meaning. And Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an important moment of my life—my life of which the book expresses a certain “instant”—demanding of me at the same time that I demonstrate the necessary consistency with what I have said in it.
Among the responsibilities that, for me, writing sets before me, not to say imposes on me, there is one that I always take on. Already experiencing, as I write, the consistency obtaining between my written word and my speech and my deeds, past and present, I likewise come to experience the importance of intensifying this consistency, all through the course of my existence. Consistency, however, is not paralysis. In the process of acting-and-thinking, speaking-and-writing, I can change position. Thus my consistency, still as necessary as ever, comes about within new parameters. What is impossible for me is inconsistency, even recognizing the impossibility of an absolute consistency. At bottom, this quality or this virtue, consistency, requires of us an insertion into a permanent process of search, demands of us patience and humility, which are also virtues, in our dealings with others. And at times, for any number of reasons, we find ourselves lacking these latter virtues, which are fundamental for the exercise of another: consistency.
In this phase of the resumption of Pedagogy, I shall be seizing on certain particular aspects of the book, whether or not they have provoked criticism down through the years, with a view to explaining myself better, clarifying angles, asserting and reasserting positions.
Let me say a little something about language: about my taste for metaphor, and about the sexist mark I left on Pedagogy of the Oppressed—just as, before that, on Educação como prática da liberdade. It seems to me not only important, but necessary, that I now do this.
I shall begin precisely with the sexist language that marks the whole book, and of my debt to countless North American women, from various parts of the United States, who wrote to me, from late in 1970 into early 1971, a few months after the first edition of my book had come out in New York. It was if they had gotten together to send me their critical letters, which came into my hands in Geneva over the course of three months, almost uninterruptedly.
Invariably, in their comments on the book, which seemed to them to contain a great deal of good, and to constitute a contribution to their struggle, they also spoke of what they regarded as a large contradiction. In discussing oppression and liberation, in criticizing, with just indignation, oppressive structures, they said, I used sexist, and therefore discriminatory, language, in which women had no place. Almost all of those who wrote to me cited one or other passage in the book, like the one, for example, that I myself now excerpt from the Brazilian edition: “In this fashion, as their consciousness of the situation grows in acuity, men ‘appropriate’ that situation to themselves as a historical reality that is thereby subject to transformation by them [masc.].”* Why not by women too?
I remember reading the first two or three letters I received as if it were yesterday, and how, under the impact of my conditioning by an authoritarian, sexist, ideology, I reacted. And it is important to bring out that, here at the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971, I had already intensely experienced the political struggle, had spent five or six years of exile, had read a world of serious works, but in reading the first criticisms that I received, still said to myself, or repeated, what I had been taught in my boyhood: “Now, when I say ‘men,’ that of course includes ‘women.’ ” And why are men not included when we say, “Women are determined to change the world”? No man would feel included in any discourse by any speaker, or in the text of any author, who would write, “Women are determined to change the world.” After all, men certainly dislike it when I say to a nearly all-female audience, but with two or three men in it, “Todas vocês deveriam . . .” (“You should all [fem.] . . .”). For the men present, either I do not know Portuguese syntax, or else I am trying to “have some fun” at their expense. The one thing they cannot think is that they are included in my discourse. How can one explain, except on an ideological basis, the rule according to which, in a room filled with dozens of women and only one man, I have to say, “Eles todos são trabalhadores e dedicados” (“You are all workers, and dedicated ones”), with all the variable terminations in the masculine gender? Indeed it is not a grammatical problem, but an ideological one.
It is in this sense that I have explicitly stated at the beginning of these comments my debt to those women, whose letters I have unfortunately lost as well, for having made me see how much ideology resides in language.
I then wrote to all of them, one by one, acknowledging their letters and thanking them for the fine help they had given me.
From that date forward, I have always referred to “woman and man,” or “human beings.” I had rather write an unattractive line sometimes than omit to express my rejection of sexist language.
Now, in writing this Pedagogy of Hope, in which I rethink the soul and body of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I shall beg the publishing houses to get over their own sexist language. And let it not be said that, this is a minor problem. It is a major problem. Let it not be said that, since the basic thing is to change a wicked world, recreating it in terms of making it less perverse, the debate over sexist language is therefore of minor importance, especially since women do not constitute a social class.
Discrimination against women, expressed and committed by sexist discourse, and enfleshed in concrete practices, is a colonial way of treating them, and therefore incompatible with any progressive position, regardless of whether the person taking the position be a woman or a man.
The rejection of a sexist ideology, which necessarily involves the re-creation of language, is part of the possible dream of a change of the world. By that very fact, in writing or speaking a language no longer colonial, I do so not in order to please women or displease men, but in order to be consistent with my option for that less-wicked world of which I have spoken before—just as I did not write the book to which I now return in order to seem like a nice person to the oppressed as individuals and as a class, nor simply to beat over the head the oppressors as individuals or as a class. I wrote the book as a political task I understood I had to perform.
It is not pure idealism, let it be further observed, to refuse to await a radical change in the world in order to begin to insist on a change in language. Changing language is part of the process of changing the world. The relationship, language-thought-world, is a dialectical, processual, contradictory relationship. Obviously the defeat of a sexist discourse, like the defeat of any authoritarian discourse, requires of us, or imposes upon us the necessity, that, concomitantly with the new, democratic, antidiscriminatory discourse, we engage ourselves in democratic practices, as well.
What would be intolerable would be simply pronouncing the democratic, antidiscriminatory discourse and maintaining a colonial practice.
An important aspect, under the heading of language, which I should like to emphasize is how much I have always been impressed, in my experiences with urban and rural workers, with their metaphorical language: the wealth of symbolism in their speech. Almost in parentheses, I should call attention to the abundant bibliography, at the moment, of works by linguists and philosophers of language on metaphor and its use in literature and science. Here, however, my concern is to stress how much popular speech, and the absence of rough edges therein (there’s a metaphor), has always gripped and excited me. From my adolescence, in Jaboatão, my ears began to open to the sonority of popular speech, to which would later accrue, when I was with SESI, a growing understanding of popular semantics and, necessarily, syntax.
My long conversations with the fishers in their hemp shelters on the Pontas de Pedra coast, in Pernambuco, like my dialogues with peasants and urban laborers, in the gullies and hillocks of Recife, not only familiarized me with their language, but sharpened my sensitivity to the lovely way they spoke of themselves—no matter that it be of their sorrows—and the world. Lovely and sure.
One of the best examples of this loveliness and this sureness is to be found in the discourse of a peasant of Minas Gerais2 in dialogue with professor and anthropologist Carlos Brandão, in one of his many field-research expeditions. Brandão recorded a long conversation with Antônio Cícero de Soza, or Ciço, part of which he used as the preface of the book he was editing.*
Now this gen’l’man comes up and asks me, “Ciço, what is edjication?” Yup. Good. What do I think? I say. Well, see, you say “edjication”; an’I say “edjication.” Same word, right? Pronunciation, I mean. It’s jist one word: “edjication.” But then I ask to the gen’l’man: Is it the same thing? Is it the same thing that folks talk about when they say that word? There I say: No. I say to the gen’l’man like this: Nope, it’s not. I don’t think so.
Edjication—when the gen’l’man comes up and says “edjication,” he’s comin’ from his world. The same . . . ’nother. When it’s me talkin’ I come from ’nother place, ’nother world. I come from down in the holler where poor folks lives, like people say. What’re you comparin’ it with, what’s this word comin’ up with? With school, ain’t it? With that fine perfesser, good clothes, smart, new book, spiffy, notebook, fountain pen, all real special, everything just like it should be—from his world, with schoolin’, what changes folks into a doctor. Fact? I think so, but I think a ways off, since I never seen that roun’ here.
I once proposed to a group of students of a graduate course at PUC-SP3 that they read Ciço’s text and analyze it. Make a critical analysis.
We spent four three-hour sessions reading Ciço’s four pages.
His thematics, which we gathered as we got into the text, as we unwrapped it, was rich and manifold, and the time just flew by. We never took breaks when we were discussing Ciço—we found the work that exciting.
Something I should like very much to have been able to do, and that, though it was not done, I still have hope of doing some day, is to have discussed or come to discuss this text of Ciço with rural and/or urban workers. The experience would consist in starting with a reading of Ciço’s discourse, and joining my own to it. First, we would take Ciço’s text and talk about it. Then it would be my turn to teach any of a number of elements of content about which, like Ciço, if possibly with less power of analysis than his, the workers would have a “knowledge of living experience.” But the basic thing would be for me to challenge them to go more deeply into the meaning of the themes or content and thereby learn them.
I cannot resist repeating: teaching is not the pure mechanical transfer of the contour of a content from the teacher to passive, docile students. Nor can I resist repeating that starting out with the educands’ knowledge does not mean circling around this knowledge ad infinitum. Starting out means setting off down the road, getting going, shifting from one point to another, not sticking, or staying. I have never said, as it is sometimes suggested or said that I have said, that we ought to flutter spellbound around the knowledge of the educands like moths around a lamp bulb.
Starting with the “knowledge of experience had” in order to get beyond it is not staying in that knowledge.
Some years ago I visited a capital of the Northeast at the invitation of educators working in rural areas of the state. They wanted to have me with them for the three days they were going to devote to an appraisal of their work with various groups of peasants. At one moment in one of the sessions, the question of language came up—the matter of the sonorous lilt of the peasants’ speech, the wealth of their symbolism, and so on. One of those present then recounted the following.
For almost two months, he said, he had wanted to be in on the Sunday meetings a group of peasants regularly held after the nine o’clock Sunday Mass. He had mentioned his wish to the leader, but the green light never seemed to come.
One day he was finally invited. But as the meeting opened, and as he was being introduced to the group, he had to listen to the following speech by the leader.
“Today we have a new member, and he’s not a peasant. He’s a well-read person. I talked about this with you at our last meeting, whether he could come or not.”
Then the leader gave the group a bit of personal data about the new member. Finally, he turned to the candidate himself, and, fixing him intently, said: “We have something very important to tell you, new friend. If you’re here to teach us that we’re exploited, don’t bother. We know that already. What we don’t know . . . and need to know from you . . . is, if you’re going to be with us when the chips are down.”
That is, they might have said, in more sophisticated terms, whether his solidarity went any further than his intellectual curiosity. Whether it went beyond the notes that he would be taking in meetings with them. Whether he would be with them, at their side, in the hour of their repression.
Another educator, perhaps encouraged by the story he had just heard, offered his own testimonial, recounting the following.
He was taking part, with other educators, in a one-day workshop with peasant leaders. Suddenly one of the peasants spoke up: “The way this conversations’s goin’ nobody’s gonna git it. Nope. ’Cause as far as you here’re concerned”—and he pointed to the group of educators—“you’re talkin’ salt, and these people here,” meaning the others, the peasants, “they wanna know ’bout seasonin’, and salt ain’t but part of the seasonin’.”
As far as the peasants were concerned, the educators were getting lost in the view of reality that I am wont to call “focalistic,” while what they wanted and needed was an understanding of the relationships among the component “partialities” of the totality. They were not denying the salt, it was just that they wanted to understand it in its relationship with the other ingredients that constituted the seasoning as a totality.
Speaking of this popular wealth, from which we have so much to learn, I recall suggestions I used to make to various educators who had frequent contact with urban and rural laborers, and who would go and record stories, snatches of conversations, phrases, expressions, in order to supply material for semantic, syntactical, prosodic (and so on) analyses of popular discourse. At a certain moment in a like undertaking, it would be possible to offer various groups of laborers, as if they were codifications, the stories or the phrases, or the scraps of discourse, already studied, with the collaboration of sociolinguists, especially, and test the understanding the educators had had of the phrases, the stories, by submitting them to the laborers. It would be an exercise in a comparison and contrast, between the two syntaxes, the dominant and the popular.
When it comes to language there is something else I should like to bring up here. It is something that I have never accepted—on the contrary, something that I have always rejected. It is the assertion, or even insinuation, that fine, elegant writing, is not scholarly. A scholar does difficult writing, not fine writing. 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.
It would be an absurdity for there to be, or seem to have to be, some necessary association between ugliness and scientific rigor.
It is not by chance that my first readings in Gilberto Freyre, in the 1940s, impressed me so much, just as rereading him today becomes a moment of esthetic pleasure as well.
Personally, ever since I was young, I have liked a discourse without sharp edges, regardless of whether it be pronounced by a peasant, in all naiveté about the world, or by a sociologist of the stature of Gilberto Freyre. Few people in this country, I think, have dealt with language with the good taste that Gilberto has applied.
I have never forgotten the impact, on the adolescents whose teacher of Portuguese I was in the 1940s, of the reading I used to do with them of passages from Gilberto’s works. I invariably took him as an example when speaking to them of the problem of where to put objective pronouns in sentences, and emphasizing what a fine style he had. It would have been hard, regardless of whether he was being grammatical or not, for Gilberto Freyre to write something unlovely.
It was he who led me, without a moment’s hesitation, in a first esthetic experience, to make my option between “Ela vinha-se aproximando,” and “Ela vinha se aproximando”—both meaning, “She gradually drew near.” I chose the latter? Why? On account of the sonority resulting from uncoupling the se from the auxiliary verb vinha and “releasing” it to be attracted by the a of the main verb, aproximando. It becomes s’a when it is released from the first verb, and, as it were, nestles up to the a of aproximando.
A writer commits no sin against scholarship if, while rejecting the narrow, insipid doctrine we find in grammars, he or she never says or writes, however, a “Tinha acabado-se” (“She had passed on”) instead of “releasing” the sefrom the acabado and sandwiching it between the other words, or a “Se você ver Pedro” (“If you see Peter”) using the infinitive instead of the indicative, or a “Houveram muitas pessoas na audiência” (“There were many persons in the audience” instead of “Many persons were in the audience”), or a “Fazem muitos anos que voltei” (“It’s been many years since I returned” instead of “I returned many years ago”).
A writer commits no sin against scholarship by refusing to wound the ear and good taste of the person reading or hearing his or her discourse, and may not, in so refusing, simplistically be accused of being “rhetorical,” or of succumbing to the “fascination of a linguistic elegance as an end in itself.” (On the contrary, otherwise a scholarly writer ought to be accused of having succumbed to the tastelessness of a vacuous flow of words.) Or pointed to as “pretentious,” or “snobbish,” and seen as ridiculously pompous in his or her way of writing or speaking.
If sociologist Gilberto Freyre—not to mention anyone else, for our purposes just now—had placed any credence in this (about an alleged connection between scholarly rigor and contempt for the esthetic treatment of language), we should not have, today, pages like this one:
The word Northeast is a word, today, disfigured by the expression “Northeast projects”—that is, “antidrought projects.” The hinterland of dry sand creaking under your feet. The hinterland of hard landscapes, which hurt your eyes. The cacti known as Peru cereus. The angular oxen and horses. The light shadows, like some souls from another world who fear the sunshine.
But that Northeast of humans and animals stretching almost into El Greco figures is only one side of the Northeast. The other Northeast? Older than the first. This time, the Northeast of fat trees, deep shadows, sluggish oxen, vigorous folk all but puffed up into Sancho Panzas by mill honey, fish cooked with manioc mush, wearisome, monotonous work, rotgut rum, half-fermented sugarcane juice, cocoa beans, worms, erysipelas or “St. Anthony’s fire,” idleness, sicknesses that make a person bloat up, the special disease you get from eating dirt.
And further on: “An oily Northeast, where at night the moon seems to drip a fat grease of things and people.”*
As for Pedagogy of the Oppressed, there were criticisms like those reported above—pompousness—as well as of what was regarded as the unintelligibility of my text—criticisms of a language considered all but impossible to understand, a recherché, elitist language that betrayed my “want of respect for the people.”
In remembering some, and rereading others, of these criticisms, today, I remember a meeting I had in Washington, DC, in 1972 with a group of young persons interested in discussing certain topics in the book.
Among them was a black man, of about fifty, who was involved in problems of community organization. During the discussions, from time to time, after some visible difficulty of understanding on the part of one of the young persons, he would speak up in an attempt to clarify the point, and always did so very well.
At the end of the meeting he came up to me with a friendly smile, and said: “If some of these youngsters tell you they don’t understand you because of your English, don’t believe them. It’s a question of the thinking that’s expressed in your language. Their problem is, they don’t think dialectically. And they don’t yet have any actual experience of the hard life led by the sectors of society that suffer discrimination.”
It is also interesting to observe that some of the criticisms, of the “hard, snobbish” language of Pedagogy in the English-language edition of my book, attributed a certain amount of responsibility to Myra Ramas, my friend, and the book’s competent, serious translator. Myra worked with a maximum of professional precision, and absolute dedication. During the process of translation of the text, she would regularly consult with a group of friends. She would call them on the phone and say, “Does this sentence make sense to you?” And she would read the passage she had just translated and was having doubts about. Then again, when she had finished part of a chapter, she would send a copy of the translation, along with the original, to other friends, North Americans who knew Portuguese very well, like theologian Richard Shaull, who wrote the preface to the North American edition, and ask them for their opinion and suggestions.
I was consulted by her myself, a number of times, during my stint in Cambridge as visiting professor at Harvard. I remember her patient inquiry into various hypotheses she had for translating “inédito viavel,” one of my metaphors. Finally she selected, “untested feasibility.”
Within the limits of my lack of authority in the English language, I have to say that I have a very good feeling about Myra’s translation. And so, whenever I deal with English-language readers, in seminars, in discussions, I have always taken responsibility for the “why” of any criticisms they might make of the language of the book.
I also remember the opinion of the sixteen-year-old son of a black woman who was an excellent student of mine at Harvard. I had asked him to read Myra’s translation of the first chapter of Pedagogy, which had just arrived in New York. The following week, I was speaking with her and her son, whom I had asked to read the text. “This book,” he said, “was written about me. It’s all about me.” Let us even admit that he might have run into one or another word that was foreign to his young intellectual experience. Even so, it did not deprive him of an understanding of the whole. His existential experience, in a context of discrimination, rendered him sympathetic to the text from the moment he began to read it.
Today, after so many words, with Pedagogy translated into countless languages, in which it has practically covered the globe, this kind of criticism has significantly diminished. But there is something else.
And that is why I have stayed a bit with this question.
I do not see the legitimacy of a student or teacher closing any book, not just Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and simply declaring it to be “unreadable” because he or she has not clearly understood the meaning of a sentence. And especially, doing so without having expended any effort—without having behaved with the necessary seriousness of someone who does studies. There are many people for whom to pause in the reading of a text as soon as difficulties arise in an understanding of it, so that the reader should have to have recourse to the ordinary work tools—dictionaries, including those of philosophy, social sciences, etymology, or synonyms, or encyclopedias—is a waste of time. No, on the contrary, the time devoted to consulting dictionaries or encyclopedias for an elucidation of what we are reading is study time, not wasted time. People will occasionally just “keep on reading,” hoping that, magically, on the next page, the word in question might “come up again” in a context in which they will see what it means without having had to “look it up.”
Reading a text is a more serious, more exacting, enterprise than this. Reading a text is not a careless, sluggish “stroll through the words.” Reading a text is learning the relationships among the words in the composition of the discourse. It is the task of a critical, humble, determined “subject” or agent of learning, the reader.
Reading, as study, is a difficult, even painful, process at times, but always a pleasant one as well. It implies that the reader delve deep into the text, in order to learn its most profound meaning. The more we do this exercise, in a disciplined way, conquering any desire to flee the reading, the more we prepare ourselves for making future reading less difficult.
Most of all, the reading of a text requires that the one who does it be convinced that ideologies will not die. The practical application of this principle here means that the ideology with which the text is drenched—or the ideology it conceals—is not necessarily that of the one who is about to read it. Hence the need for an open, critical, radical, and not sectarian, position on the part of the reader, without which he or she will be closed to the text, and prevented from learning anything through it because it may argue positions that are at odds with those of that reader. At times, ironically, the positions are merely different, and not positively antagonistic.
In many cases, we have not even read the author. We have read about the author, and without going to him or her, we accept criticisms of him or her. We adopt them as our own.
Professor Celso Beisiegel, pro-rector for degree candidacy at the University of São Paulo, and one of this country’s leading intellectuals, once told me that, on a certain occasion, as he was taking part in a group discussion on Brazilian education, he heard from one of those present, referring to me, that my works were no longer important for the national debate on education. Curious, Beisiegel decided to investigate. “What books of Paulo Freire have you studied?” he asked.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the young critic replied, “None. But I’ve read about him.”
It is absolutely fundamental, however, that an author be criticized not on the basis of what is said about him or her, but only after an earnest, devoted, competent reading of the actual author. Of course, this does not mean that we need not read what has been or is being said about him or her, as well.
Finally, the practice of an earnest reading of serious texts ultimately helps one to learn that reading as study is a broad process, requiring time, patience, sensitivity, method, rigor, determination, and passion for knowledge.
Without necessarily identifying the authors of particular criticisms, nor even to the particular chapters of Pedagogy to which the objections that I shall now report will refer, I shall extend the present reflection by offering examples of judgments to which I ought to respond, or repeat responses I have already made.
One of these judgments, which is from the 1970s, is one that takes me precisely for what I criticize and combat. It takes me for arrogant and elitist. It regards me as a “cultural invader,” and therefore as someone disrespectful of the cultural and class identity of the popular classes—the rural and urban workers. At bottom, this type of criticism, when made of me, and therefore based on a distorted understanding of conscientização and a profoundly naive view of educational practice—as it seeks to regard that practice as a “neutral” one, “at the service of the well-being of humanity”—is incapable of perceiving that one of the finest things about this practice is precisely that it is impossible to live it without running risks. For example, there is the risk of not being consistent—of saying one thing and doing something else. And it is precisely the political nature of educational practice, its helplessness to be “neutral,” that requires of the educator his or her ethicalness. The task of educator would be all too easy were it to be reducible to the imparting of content that would not even need to be treated aseptically, and aseptically “transmitted,” since, as the content of a neutral science, it would already be aseptic. In this case, the educator would have no reason, to say the least, to be concerned with being decent, or to make an effort to be decent, to be ethical, except with regard to his or her training and preparation. The subject or agent of a neutral practice would have nothing to do but “transfer knowledge,” a knowledge that would be itself neutral.
Actually, there is no such thing. There neither is, nor has ever been, an educational practice in zero space-time—neutral in the sense of being committed only to preponderantly abstract, intangible ideas. To try to get people to believe that there is such a thing as this, and to convince or try to convince the incautious that this is the truth, is indisputably a political practice, whereby an effort is made to soften any possible rebelliousness on the part of those to whom injustice is being done. It is as political as the other practice, which does not conceal—in fact, which proclaims—its own political character.
What especially moves me to be ethical is to know that, inasmuch as education of its very nature is directive and political, I must, without ever denying my dream or my utopia before the educands, respect them. To defend a thesis, a position, a preference, with earnestness, defend it rigorously, but passionately, as well, and at the same time to stimulate the contrary discourse, and respect the right to utter that discourse, is the best way to teach, first, the right to have our own ideas, even our duty to “quarrel” for them, for our dreams—and not only to learn the syntax of the verb, haver; and second, mutual respect.
Respecting the educands, however, does not mean lying to them about my dreams, telling them in words or deeds or practices that a school occupies a “sacred” space where one only studies, and studying has nothing to do with what goes on in the world outside; to hide my options from them, as if it were a “sin” to have a preference, to make an option, to draw the line, to decide, to dream. Respecting them means, on the one hand, testifying to them of my choice, and defending it; and on the other, it means showing them other options, whenever I teach—no matter what it is that I teach!
And let it not be said that, if I am a biology teacher, I must not “go off into other considerations”—that I must only teach biology, as if the phenomenon of life could be understood apart from its historico-social, cultural, and political framework. As if life, just life, could be lived in the same way, in all of its dimensions, in a favela (slum)4 or cortiço (“beehive”—slum tenement building)5 as in a prosperous area of São Paulo’s “Gardens”!6 If I am a biology teacher, obviously I must teach biology. But in doing so, I must not cut it off from the framework of the whole.
The same reflection will be in order where literacy is concerned. Anyone taking a literacy course for adults wants to learn to read and write sentences, phrases, words. However, the reading and writing of words comes by way of the reading of the world. Reading the world is an antecedent act vis-à-vis the reading of the word. The teaching of the reading and writing of the word to a person missing the critical exercise of reading and rereading the world is, scientifically, politically, and pedagogically crippled.
Is there risk of influencing the students? It is impossible to live, let alone exist, without risks. The important thing is to prepare ourselves to be able to run them well.
Educational practice, whether it be authoritarian or democratic, is always directive.
However, the moment the educator’s “directivity” interferes with the creative, formulative, investigative capacity of the educand, then the necessary directivity is transformed into manipulation, into authoritarianism. Manipulation and authoritarianism are practiced by many educators who, as they style themselves progressives, are actually taken for such.
My concern is not to deny the political and directive nature of education—a denial that, for that matter, it would be impossible to reduce to act—but to accept that this is its nature, and to live a life of full consistency between my democratic option and my educational practice, which is likewise democratic.
My ethical duty, as one of the subjects, one of the agents, of a practice that can never be neutral—the educational—is to express my respect for differences in ideas and positions. I must respect even positions opposed to my own, positions that I combat earnestly and with passion.
To quibble that such positions do not exist, is neither scientific nor ethical.
To criticize the arrogance, the authoritarianism of intellectuals of Left or Right, who are both basically reactionary in an identical way—who judge themselves the proprietors of knowledge, the former, of revolutionary knowledge, the latter, of conservative knowledge—to criticize the behavior of university people who claim to be able to “conscientize” rural and urban workers without having to be “conscientized” by them as well; to criticize an undisguisable air of messianism, at bottom naive, on the part of intellectuals who, in the name of the liberation of the working classes, impose or seek to impose the “superiority” of their academic knowledge on the “rude masses”—this I have always done. Of this I speak, and of almost nothing else, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And of this I speak now, with the same insistence, in Pedagogy of Hope.
One of the substantial differences, however, between myself and the authors of these criticisms of me is that, for me, the route to the defeat of these practices is in the defeat of an authoritarian, elitist ideology. The route to the defeat of these practices is in the difficult exercise of the virtues of humility, of consistency, of tolerance, on the part of the progressive intellectual—in the exercise of a consistency that ever decreases the distance between what we say and what we do.
For them, the critics, the route to the defeat of these practices is in the fantasy of a denial of the political nature of education, of science, of technology.
Freire’s theory of learning, it was said, in effect, in the 1970s, is subordinate to social and political purposes: and that kind of theory is open to the risks of manipulation. As if an educational practice were possible in which professors and students could be absolutely exempt from the risk of manipulation and its consequences! As if the existence of a distant, cold, indifferent educational practice when it comes to “social and political purposes” were, or ever had been, possible in any space-time!
What is ethically required of progressive educators is that, consistent with their democratic dream, they respect the educands, and therefore never manipulate them.
Hence the watchfulness with which progressive educators ought to act, the vigilance with which they ought to live their intense educational practice. Hence the need for them to keep their eyes always open, along with their ears, and their whole soul—open to the pitfalls of the so-called hidden curriculum. Hence the exigency they must impose on themselves of growing ever more tolerant, of waxing ever more open and forthright, of turning ever more critical, of becoming ever more curious.
The more tolerant, the more open and forthright, the more critical, the more curious and humble they become, the more authentically they will take up the practice of teaching. In a like perspective—indisputably progressive, much more postmodern, as I understand postmodernity, than modern, let alone “modernizing”—to teach is not the simple transmission of knowledge concerning the object or concerning content. Teaching is not a simple transmission, wrought by and large through a pure description of the concept of the object, to be memorized by students mechanically. Teaching—again, from the postmodern progressive viewpoint of which I speak here—is not reducible merely to teaching students to learn through an operation in which the object of knowledge is the very act of learning. Teaching someone to learn is only valid—from this view-point, let me repeat—when educands learn to learn in learning the reason-for, the “why,” of the object or the content. It is by teaching biology, or any other discipline, that the professor teaches the students to learn.
In a progressive line, then, teaching implies that educands, by “penetrating,” as it were, the teacher’s discourse, appropriate the deeper meaning of the content being taught. The act of teaching, experienced by the professor, is paralleled, on the part of the educands, by their act of knowing that which is taught.
For their part, teachers teach, in authentic terms, only to the extent that they know the content they are teaching—that is, only in the measure that they appropriate it, that they learn it, themselves. Here, in teaching, the teacher re-cognizes the object already cognized, already known. In other words, she or he remakes her or his cognizance in the cognizance of the educands. Thus, teaching is the form taken by the act of cognition that the teacher necessarily performs in the quest to know what he or she is teaching in order to call forth in the students their act of cognition as well. Therefore, teaching is a creative act, a critical act, and not a mechanical one. The curiosity of the teacher and the students, in action, meet on the basis of teaching-learning.
The teaching of a content by appropriating it, or the apprehension of this content on the part of the educands, requires the creation and exercise of a serious intellectual discipline, to be forged from preschool onward. To attempt or claim a critical insertion of educands in an educational situation—which is a situation of cognition—without that discipline, is a vain hope. But just as it is impossible to teach learning without teaching a certain content through whose knowledge one learns to learn, neither is the discipline of which I am speaking taught but in and by the cognitive practice of which the educands become the ever more critical subjects.
* Ana Maria Araújo Freire, Analfabetismo no Brasil: Da ideologia da interdiça- o do corpo à ideologia nacionalista ou de como deixar sem ler e escrever desde as Catarinas (paraguaçu), Filipas, Anas, Genebras, Apolônias e Gracias até os Severinos (São Paulo: Cortez, 1989).
* Paulo Freire, Pedagogia do oprimido, 17th ed. (Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1987), p. 74.
* Carlos Brandão et al., A questão política da educação popular (São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1980).
* Freyre, Nordeste.