Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2014)
If my position at the time had been mechanistic, I would not even have spoken of the raising of consciousness, of conscientização. I spoke of conscientização because, even with my slips in the direction of idealism, my tendency was to review and revise promptly, and thus, adopting a consistency with the practice I had, to perceive that practice as steeped in the dialectical movement back and forth between consciousness and world.
In an antidialectically mechanistic position, I would have rejected, like all mechanists, the need for conscientização and education before a radical change in the material conditions of society can occur.
Neither, as I have asserted above, is an antidialectical perspective compatible with an understanding of critical awareness other than as an epiphenomenon—“as a result of social changes, not as a factor of the same” (Erica Marcuse, 1986).
It is interesting to observe that, for the idealistic, nondialectical comprehension of the relationship between awareness and world, one can still speak of conscientização as an instrument for changing the world, provided this change be realized only in the interiority of awareness, with the world itself left untouched. Thus, conscientização would produce nothing but verbiage.
From the viewpoint of a mechanistic dogmatism, there is no point in speaking of conscientização at all. Hence the dogmatic, authoritarian leaderships have no reason to engage in dialogue with the popular classes. They need only tell them what they should do.
Mechanistically or idealistically, it is impossible to understand what occurs in the relations prevailing between oppressors and oppressed, whether as individuals or as social classes.
Only in a dialectical understanding, let us repeat, of how awareness and the world are given, is it possible to comprehend the phenomenon of the introjection of the oppressor by the opressed, the latter’s “adherence” to the former, the difficulty that the oppressed have in localizing the oppressor outside themselves.*
Once again the moment comes to mind when, twenty-five years ago, I heard from Erich Fromm, in his house in Cuernavaca, his blue eyes flashing: “An educational practice like that is a kind of historico-sociocultural and political psychoanalysis.”
This is what dogmatic, authoritarian, sectarian mechanists fail to perceive, and nearly always reject as “idealism.”
If the great popular masses are without a more critical understanding of how society functions, it is not because they are naturally incapable of it—to my view—but on account of the precarious conditions in which they live and survive, where they are “forbidden to know.” Thus, the way out is not ideological propaganda and political “sloganizing,” as the mechanists say it is, but the critical effort through which men and women take themselves in hand and become agents of curiosity, become investigators, become subjects in an ongoing process of quest for the revelation of the “why” of things and facts. Hence, in the area of adult literacy, for example, I have long found myself insisting on what I call a “reading of the world and reading of the word.” Not a reading of the word alone, nor a reading only of the world, but both together, in dialectical solidarity.
It is precisely a “reading of the world” that enables its subject or agent to decipher, more and more critically, the “limit situation” or situations beyond which they find only “untested feasibility.”
I must make it clear, however, that, consistently with the dialectical position in which I place myself, in terms of which I perceive the relations among world-consciousness-practice-theory-reading-of-the-world-reading-of-the-word-context-text, the reading of the world cannot be the reading made by academicians and imposed on the popular classes. Nor can such a reading be reduced to a complacent exercise by educators in which, in token of respect for popular culture, they fall silent before the “knowledge of living experience” and adapt themselves to it.
The dialectical, democratic position implies, on the contrary, the intervention of the intellectual as an indispensable condition of his or her task. Nor do I see any betrayal of democracy here. Democracy is betrayed when contradicted by authoritarian attitudes and practices, as well as by spontaneous, irresponsibly permissive attitudes and practices.
It is in this sense that I insist once more on the imperative need of the progressive educator to familiarize herself or himself with the syntax and semantics of the popular groups—to understand how those persons do their reading of the world, to perceive that “craftiness” of theirs so indispensable to the culture of a resistance that is in the process of formation, without which they cannot defend themselves from the violence to which they are subjected.
Educators need an understanding of the meaning their festivals have as an integral part of the culture of resistance, a respectful sense of their piety in a dialectical perspective, and not only as if it were a simple expression of their alienation. Their piety, their religiousness, must be respected as their right, regardless of whether we reject it personally (and if so, whether we reject religion as such, or merely do not approve the particular manner of its practice in a given popular group).
In a recent conversation with Brazilian sociologist Professor Otávio Ianni, of UNICAMP, I received a report from him of some of his encounters with young activists of the Left, one of them in prison, in Recife, in 1963. Ianni not only made no effort to hide his emotion at what he had seen and heard, but approved and endorsed the way these militants respected popular culture, and within that culture, the manifestations of their religious beliefs.
“What do you need,” Ianni asked the young prisoner.
“A Bible,” he answered.
“I thought you’d want Lenin’s Que fazer? (What is to be done?),” said Ianni.
“I don’t need Lenin just now. I need the Bible. I need a better understanding of the peasants’ mystical universe. Without that understanding, how can I communicate with them?”
Besides the democratic, ethical duty to proceed in this way, incumbent on the progressive educator, such a procedure is also demanded by requirements in the field of communication, as the young person in Recife had discerned.
Unless educators expose themselves to the popular culture across the board, their discourse will hardly be heard by anyone but themselves. Not only will it be lost, and inoperative, it may actually reinforce popular dependency, by underscoring the much-vaunted “linguistic superiority” of the popular classes.
It is once more against the background of a dialectical comprehension of the relationship between world and awareness, between economic production and cultural production, that it seems valid to me to call progressive educators’ attention to the contradictory movement between culture’s “negativities” and “positivities.” There can be no doubt, for example, that our slavocratic past1 marks us as a whole still today. It cuts across the social classes, dominant and dominated alike. Both have worldviews and practices significantly indicative of that past, which thereby continues ever to be present. But our slavocratic past is not evinced exclusively in the almighty lord who orders and threatens and the humiliated slave who “obeys” in order to stay alive. It is also revealed in the relationship between the two. It is precisely by obeying in order to stay alive that the slave eventually discovers that “obeying,” in this case, is a form of struggle. After all, by adopting such behavior, the slave survives. And it is from learning experience to learning experience that a culture of resistance is gradually founded, full of “wiles,” but full of dreams, as well. Full of rebellion, amidst apparent accommodation.
The quilombos2—the hiding places used by runaway slaves—constituted an exemplary moment in that learning process of rebellion—of a reinvention of life on the part of slaves who took their existence and history in hand, and, starting with the necessary “obedience,” set out in quest of the invention of freedom.
In a recent public discussion entitled, “Presence of the People in the National Culture,” in which I participated, along with the Brazilian sociologist I have already mentioned, Otávio Ianni, the latter, referring to this slavocratic past of ours and the marks it has left on our society, brought out its positive signs as well—the slaves’ resistance, their rebellion. He spoke of the corresponding struggles, today, of the “landless,” the “homeless,” the “schoolless,” the “foodless,” the “jobless,” as current kinds of quilombos, or “underground railroads.”
It is our task as progressive educators to take advantage of this tradition of struggle, of resistance, and “work it.” It is a task that, to be sure, is a perverted one from the purely idealist outlook, as well as from the mechanistic, dogmatic, authoritarian viewpoint that converts education into pure “communication,” the sheer transmission of neutral content.
Another consideration that I cannot refrain from entertaining in this book is the question of the programmatic content of education. I seem to be misunderstood on this matter at times.
This calls for a reflection on educational practice itself, which is taking shape before our eyes.
Let us “step back” from educational practice—as I now do in writing, in the silence, not only of my office, but of my neighborhood—in order the better to “close in” on it again, take it by surprise, in its component elements in their reciprocal relationship.
As an object of my curiosity, which curiosity is now operating epistemologically, the educational practice that, by “taking my distance” from it, I “close in” on, begins to reveal itself to me. The first observation I make is that any educational practice always implies the existence of (1) a subject or agent (the person who instructs and teaches); (2) the person who learns, but who by learning also teaches; and (3) the object to be imparted and taught—the object to be re-cognized and cognized—that is, the content; and (4) the methods by which the teaching subject approaches the content he or she is mediating to the educand. Indeed, the content—in its quality as cognoscible object to be re-cognized by the educator while teaching it to the educand, who in turn comprehends it only by apprehending it—cannot simply be transferred from the educator to the educand, simply deposited in the educand by the educator.
Educational practice further involves processes, techniques, expectations, desires, frustrations, and the ongoing tension between practice and theory, between freedom and authority, where any exaggerated emphasis on either is unacceptable from a democratic perspective, which is incompatible with authoritarianism and permissiveness alike.
The critical, exacting, consistent educator, in the exercise of his or her reflection on educational practice, as in the practice itself, always understands it in its totality.
He or she will not center educational practice exclusively on, for example, the educand, or the educator, or the content, or the methods, but will understand educational practice in terms of the relationship obtaining among its various components, and will perform that practice consistently with his or her understanding, in all use of materials, methods, and techniques.
There has never been, nor could there ever be, education without content, unless human beings were to be so transformed that the processes we know today as processes of knowing and formation were to lose their current meaning.
The act of teaching and learning—which are dimensions of the larger process of knowing—are part of the nature of the educational process. There is no education without the teaching, systematic or no, of a certain content. And “teach” is a transitive-relative verb. It has both a direct and an indirect object. One who teaches, teaches something (content) to someone (a pupil).
The question that arises is not whether or not there is such a thing as education without content (which would be at the opposite pole from a “contentistic,” purely mechanistic education), since, let us repeat, there has never been an educational practice without content.
The fundamental problem—a problem of a political nature, and colored by ideological hues—is who choses the content, and in behalf of which persons and things the “chooser’s” teaching will be performed—in favor of whom, against whom, in favor of what, against what. What is the role of educands in the programmatic organization of content? What is the role, on various levels, of those at the bases—cooks, maintenance workers, security personnel, who find themselves involved in a school’s educational practice? What is the role of families, social organizations, and the local community?
Nor let it be said, in a spirit of smoldering, venomous aristocratic elitism, that students, students’ fathers, students’ mothers, janitors, security people, cooks, have “no business meddling in this”—that the question of programmatic content is of the sole jurisdiction or competency of trained specialists. This discourse is like peas in a pod with another—the one that proclaims that an illiterate does not know how to vote.3
In the first place, to argue in favor of the active presence of pupils, pupils’ fathers, pupils’ mothers, security people, cooks, and custodians in program planning, content planning, for the schools, as the São Paulo Municipal Secretariat of Education does today in the Workers party administration4 of Luiza Erundina, does not mean denying the indispensable need for specialists. It only means not leaving them as the exclusive “proprietors” of a basic component of educational practice. It means democratizing the power of choosing content, which is a necessary extension of the debate over the most democratic way of dealing with content, of proposing it to the apprehension of the educands instead of merely transferring it from the educator to the educands. This is what we are doing in the São Paulo Municipal Secretariat of Education.5 It is impossible to democratize the choice of content without democratizing the teaching of content.6
Nor let it be said that this is a populist, or “democratistic” position. No, it is not democratistic, it is democratic. It is progressive. But it is the position of progressives and democrats who see the urgency of the presence of the popular classes in the debates on the destiny of the city. Their presence in the school is a chapter in that debate, and is a positive sign, and not something evil, something to be deterred. This is not the position of self-styled “democrats” for whom the presence of the people in facts and events, a people organizing, is a sign that democracy is not doing well.
Besides considering the importance of this kind of intervention in the destiny of the school in terms of a democratic learning process, we can also imagine what a school will be able to learn from, and what it will be able to teach, cooks, janitors, security guards, fathers, and mothers, in its indispensable quest for a transcendence of the “knowledge of living experience” in order to arrive at a more critical, more precise knowledge, to which these persons have a right. This is a right of the popular classes that progressives have to recognize and fight for if they are to be consistent—the right to know better than they already know—alongside another right, that of sharing in some way in the production of the as-yet-nonexistent knowledge.
Something that likewise seems to me to be important to bring out, in any discussion or conceptualization of content, in a critical, democratic outlook on curriculum, is the importance of never allowing ourselves to succumb to the naive temptation to look on content as something magical. And it is interesting to observe that, the more we look on content as something magical, the more we tend to regard it as neutral, or to treat it in a neutral manner. For someone understanding it as magical, content in itself has such power, such importance, that one need only “deposit” it in educands in order for its power to effect the desired change. And it is for this reason that, when content is rendered magical, or is thus understood, when it is regarded as having this force in itself, then the teacher seems to have no other task than to transmit it to the educands. Any discussion about social, political, economic, or cultural reality—any critical, in no way dogmatic, discussion—is regarded as not only unnecessary, but simply irrelevant.
This is not the way I see things. As object of cognition, content must be delivered up to the cognitive curiosity of teachers and pupils. The former teach, and in so doing, learn. The latter learn, and in so doing, teach.
As object of cognition, content cannot be taught, apprehended, learned, known, in such a way as to escape the implications of political ideology—which implications, as well, are to be apprehended by the cognizing subject. Once more a “reading of the world” is imperative that stands in dynamic interrelationship with the cognition of word-and-theme, of content, of cognoscible object.
That every reader, everyone engaged in any teaching or learning practice, explicitly wonder about his or her work as teacher or pupil, in mathematics, history, biology, or grammar classes, is of little importance. That all explicitly interrogate themselves, and see themselves, as participating as teacher or pupil in the experience of critical instruction in content, that all explicitly engage in a “reading of the world” that would be of a political nature, is not of the highest necessity.
What is altogether impermissible, in democratic practice, is for teachers, surreptitiously or otherwise, to impose on their pupils their own “reading of the world,” in whose framework, therefore, they will now situate the teaching of content. The battle with the authoritarianism of the Right or the Left does not lead me into that impossible “neutrality” that would be nothing but a cunning way of seeking to conceal my option.
The role of the progressive educator, which neither can nor ought to be omitted, in offering her or his “reading of the world,” is to bring out the fact that there are other “readings of the world,” different from the one being offered as the educator’s own, and at times antagonistic to it.
Let me repeat: there is no educational practice without content. The danger, of course, depending on the educator’s particular ideological position, is either that of exaggerating the educator’s authority to the point of authoritarianism, or that of a voiding of the teacher’s authority that will mean plunging the educand into a permissive climate and an equally permissive practice. Each of the two practices implies its own distinct manner of addressing content.
In the former case, that of the exaggeration of authority to the point of authoritarianism, the educator is ascribed the “possession” of content. In this fashion, educators who feel that they “possess” content, hold it as their property—regardless of whether they have had a share in its selection—since they possess the methods by which they manipulate the object, they will necessarily manipulate the educands as well. Even when calling themselves progressive and democratic, authoritarian educators of the Left, inconsistent with at least a part of their discourse, feel so uncomfortable with critical educands, educands who are investigators, that they cannot bring themselves to terminate their discourse, any more than can authoritarian educators of the Right.
In the latter case, we have an annihilation of the teacher’s authority that plunges the educands into the above-mentioned permissive climate and equally permissive practice, in which, left to their own devices, they do and undo what they please.
Devoid of limits, spontaneous practice, which shreds to pieces something so fundamental in human beings’ formation—spontaneity—not having sufficient strength to deny the necessity of content, nevertheless allows it to trickle away in a never-justifiable pedagogical “Let’s pretend.”
And so, when all is said and done, there is nothing the progressive educator can do in the face of the question of content but join battle for good and all in favor of the democratization of society, which necessarily implies the democratization of the school in terms, on the one hand, of the democratization of the programming of content, and on the other, of the democratization of the teaching of that content. The democratization of the school, especially when we have some say-so over the “network” or “subsystem” of which it is a part, so that we can make a contribution to governmental change in a democracy, is part of the democratization of society. In other words, the democratization of the school is not a sheer epiphenomenon, the mechanical result of the transformation of society across the board, but is itself a factor for change, as well.
Consistent progressive educators need not await the comprehensive democratization of Brazilian society in order to embrace democratic practices with respect to content. They must not be authoritarian today in order to be democratic tomorrow.
What they simply may not do, in critical terms, is look to municipal, state, and federal governments of a conservative mold, or to “progressive” governments nevertheless tinged with the dogmatism I have always criticized, to democratize the organization of curriculum or the teaching of content. Concretely, we need neither authoritarianism nor permissiveness, but democratic substance.
In 1960 I wrote, for the symposium, “Education for Brazil,” sponsored by the Recife Regional Center for Educational Investigations, a paper entitled, “A Primary School for Brazil” and published by the Revista Brasileira de Estudos Pedagógicos, no. 35 (April–June 1961). I shall cite a brief passage from this text here for the sake of its bearing on the question under discussion in this part of this book.
The school we need so urgently [I said in 1960] is a school in which persons really study and work. When we criticize, on the part of other educators, the intellectualism of our schools, we are not attempting to defend a position with regard to the school in which the study disciplines, and the discipline of studying, would be watered down. We may never in all of our history have had more need of teaching, studying, learning, than we have today. Of learning to read, write, count. Of studying history, geography. Of understanding the situation or situations of our country. The intellectualism we fight is precisely that hollow, empty, sonorous chatter, bereft of any relationship with the reality surrounding us, in which we are born and reared and on which, in large part, we yet feed today. We must be on our guard against this sort of intellectualism, just as we must be on our guard against a so-called antitraditionalist position that reduces schoolwork to mere experiences of this or that, and which excuses itself from performing the hard, heavy work of serious, honest, study, which produces intellectual discipline.7
It is precisely the authoritarian, magical comprehension of content that characterizes the “vanguardist” leaderships, for whom men’s and women’s awareness is an empty “space” waiting for content—a conceptualization I have severely criticized in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And I criticize it again today as incompatible with a pedagogy of hope.
But let me make one thing perfectly clear: it is not every conscious mind, not every awareness, that is this empty “space” waiting for content, for the authoritarian vanguardist leaders. Not their own awareness, for example. They feel they belong to a special group in society (Erica Marcuse, 1986), which “owns” critical awareness as a “datum.” They feel as if they were already liberated, or invulnerable to domination, so that their sole task is to teach and liberate others. Hence their almost religious care—their all but mystical devotion—but their intransigence, too, when it comes to dealing with content, their certitude with regard to what ought to be taught, what ought to be transmitted. Their conviction is that the fundamental thing is to teach, to transmit, what ought to be taught—not “losing time,” in “mindless chatter” with popular groups about their reading of the world.
Any concern with educands’ expectations, whether these persons be primary-school children, high-school students, or adults in popular education courses, is pure democratism. Any concern on the part of the democratic educator not to wound the cultural identity of the educands is held for harmful purism. Any manifestation of respect for popular wisdom is considered populism.
This conception is as consistent, on the Left, with a dogmatic thinking, of Marxist origin, in terms of which a critical, historical awareness is given, as I have already mentioned, almost as if it were just “put there” (Erica Marcuse, 1986); as it is consistent, on the Right, with the elitism that would have the dominant classes, by nature, knowing, and the dominated ones, by nature, ignorant. Thus, the dominant teach when and if they feel like it; the dominated learn at the price of much effort.
A dogmatic activist working in a school as a teacher is indistinguishable from her or his colleague working on behalf of a union, or in a slum, except for the material differences in their respective activities. For the former, it is imperative to “fill” the “empty” awareness of educands with content whose learning process he or she as educator already knows to be important and indispensable to the educands. For the latter, it is likewise imperative to “fill” the “empty” consciousness of popular groups with the working-class consciousness that, according to this individual, the workers do not have, but which the middle class judges and asserts themselves to have.
I can never forget what four German educators, of the former East Germany, said one evening, in the early 1970s, as we sat in the home of one of them. One spoke, while the others nodded their assent: “I recently read the German edition of your book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I was very glad you criticized students’ absence from discussions of programmatic content. In bourgeois societies,” he went on, dogmatically, “you have to talk about this, and fire the students up about it. Not here. We know what the students should know.”
From this point forward, after what I said to them in response, it was hard to keep up the conversation. The visit came to an end, and I retired earlier than I had expected to the home of a friend who was putting me up.
It took me a while to get to sleep. I thought not only about what I had just heard that evening in Berlin, but about what I had heard all day long there, in a group of young scientists, university scholars. The contrast was huge. The young people criticized the authoritarianism of the regime: for them it was retrograde, antidemocratic, and arrogant. And their criticism was lodged from within the socialist option, not from the outside.
The educators with whom I had just been speaking were an example of the very thing the young scientists had spoken to me about and had opposed.
It was hard to sleep, thinking of the supercertitude with which those “modern” educators wove their discourse, their declaration of unshakable faith: “Not here. We know what the students should know.”
This is the certitude, always, of the authoritarian, the dogmatist, who knows what the popular classes know, and knows what they need even without talking to them. At the same time, what the popular classes already know, in function of their practice in the interwoven events of their everyday lives, is so “irrelevant,” so “disarticulate,” that it makes no sense to authoritarian persons. What makes sense to them is what comes from their readings, and what they write in their books and articles. It is what they already know about the knowledge that seems basic and indispensable to them, and which, in the form of content, must be “deposited” in the “empty consciousness” of the popular classes.
If anyone, on the other hand, assuming a democratic, progressive position, therefore argues for the democratization of the programmatic organization of content, the democratization of his or her teaching—in other words, the democratization of curriculum—that person is regarded by the authoritarian as too spontaneous and permissive, or else as lacking in seriousness.
If, as I have declared above, the neoliberal discourse has no power to eliminate from history the existence of social classes, on one hand, and the struggle between them, on the other, then the rug is pulled out from under the authoritarian positions that characterize so-called realistic socialism and underly a vertical discourse and practice of curricular organization.
Neoliberals err when they criticize and reject us for being ideological in an era, according to them, in which “ideologies have died.” The discourses and dogmatic practices of the Left are mistaken not because they are ideological, but because theirs is an ideology that connives with the prohibition of men’s and women’s curiosity, and contributes to its alienation.
“I do not authentically think unless others think. I simply cannot think for others, or for others, or without others.” This assertion, owing to its implicit dialogical character, unsettles authoritarian mentalities. This is also why they are so refractory to dialogue, to any idea swapping between teachers and students.
Dialogue between teachers and students does not place them on the same footing professionally; but it does mark the democratic position between them. Teachers and students are not identical, and this for countless reasons. After all, it is a difference between them that makes them precisely students or teachers. Were they simply identical, each could be the other. Dialogue is meaningful precisely because the dialogical subjects, the agents in the dialogue, not only retain their identity, but actively defend it, and thus grow together. Precisely on this account, dialogue does not level them, does not “even them out,” reduce them to each other. Dialogue is not a favor done by one for the other, a kind of grace accorded. On the contrary, it implies a sincere, fundamental respect on the part of the subjects engaged in it, a respect that is violated, or prevented from materializing, by authoritarianism. Permissiveness does the same thing, in a different, but equally deleterious, way.
There is no dialogue in “spontaneism” any more than in the omnipotence of the teacher. But a dialogical relation does not, as is sometimes thought, rule out the possibility of the act of teaching. On the contrary, it founds this act, which is completed and sealed in its correlative, the act of learning,* and both become authentically possible only when the educator’s thinking, critical and concerned though it be, nevertheless refuses to “apply the brakes” to the educand’s ability to think. On the contrary, both “thinkings” become authentically possible only when the educator’s critical thinking is delivered over to the educand’s curiosity. If the educator’s thinking, cancels, crushes, or hinders the development of educands’ thinking, then the educator’s thinking, being authoritarian, tends to generate in the educands upon whom it impinges a timid, inauthentic, sometimes even merely rebellious, thinking.
Indeed, dialogue cannot be blamed for the warped use sometimes made of it—for its pure imitation, or its caricature. Dialogue must not be transformed into a noncommittal “chewing the fat”8 to the random rhythm of whatever happens to be transpiring between teacher and educands.
Pedagogical dialogue implies not only content, or cognoscible object around which to revolve, but also a presentation concerning it made by the educator for the educands.
Here I should like to return to reflections I have previously made about the “expository lesson.”†
The real evil is not in the expository lesson—in the explanation given by the teacher. This is not what I have criticized as a kind of “banking.” I have criticized, and I continue to criticize, that type of educator-educand relationship in which the educator regards himself or herself as the educands’ sole educator—in which the educator violates, or refuses to accept, the fundamental condition of the act of knowing, which is its dialogical relation (Nicol, 1965), and therefore establishes a relation in which the educator transfers knowledge about a or b or c objects or elements of content to an educand considered as pure recipient.
This is the criticism I have made, and still make. The question now is: will every “expository classroom,” as they are called, be this? I think not. I deny it. There are expository classrooms in which this is indeed attemped: pure transferrals of the teacher’s accumulated knowledge to the students. These are vertical classrooms, in which the teacher, in a spirit of authoritarianism, attempts the impossible, from the viewpoint of theory of knowledge: to transfer knowledge.
There is another kind of classroom, in which, while appearing not to effect the transfer of content, also cancels or hinders the educand’s ability to do critical thinking. That is, there are classrooms that sound much more like children’s songs than like genuine challenges. They house the expositions that “tame” educands, or “lull them to sleep”—where, on the one side, the students are lulled to sleep by the teacher’s pretentious, high-sounding words, and on the other, the teacher likewise doing a parcel of self-babying. But there is a third position, which I regard as profoundly valid: that in which the teacher makes a little presentation of the subject and then the group of students joins with the teacher in an analysis precisely of that presentation. In this fashion, in the little introductory exposition, the teacher challenges the students, who thereupon question themselves and question the teacher, and thereby share in plumbing the depths of, developing, the initial exposition. This kind of work may in no wise be regarded as negative, as traditional schooling in the pejorative sense.
Finally, I find yet another kind of teacher whom I do not regard as a banker. It is that very serious teacher who, in conducting a course, adopts a relationship with the subject, with the content, of which she or he is treating, that is one of profound, affectionate, almost loving respect, whether that content be constituted of a text composed by the teacher or a text composed by someone else. Ultimately, he or she is bearing witness to the educands as to how he or she studies, “approaches,” or draws near a given subject, how she or he thinks critically. Now the educands’ must have, or create and develop, the critical ability to accompany the teacher’s movement in his or her attempt to approach the topic under consideration.
From a certain point of view, this kind of teacher also commits an error. It consists in ignoring the fact that the knowledge relation does not terminate in the object. In other words, the knowledge relationship is not exclusively between a cognizing subject and a cognoscible object. It “bridges over” to another subject, basically becoming a subject-object-subject relation.
As a democratic relationship, dialogue is the opportunity available to me to open up to the thinking of others, and thereby not wither away in isolation.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed first saw the light of day twenty-four years ago, under the impulse of this sentiment with which, more touched by it and enveloped in it than before, I revisit it in this Pedagogy of Hope.
I began this book by saying that a poem, a song, a sculpture, a painting, a book, a piece of music, a fact or deed, an occurrence, never have just one reason to explain them. An event, a fact, a deed of love or hatred, a poem, a book, are always found wrapped in thick webs, tapestries, frameworks, and touched by manifold whys, of which some are more proximate to the occurrence or creation—more visible as a why.
A great proportion of the first part of this book has centered on a grasp of certain of the tapestries or frameworks in which Pedagogy of the Oppressed took its origin.
Now, in the latter part of this volume, I shall speak of facts, occurrences, tapestries, or frameworks in which I have shared and am sharing and which have revolved around Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Published in New York in September 1970, Pedagogy immediately began to be translated into various languages, sparking curiosity, and favorable criticism in some cases, unfavorable in others. By 1974 the book had been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, German, Dutch, and Swedish, and its publication in London by Penguin Books carried Pedagogy to Africa, Asia, and Oceania, as well.
The book appeared at an intensely troubled moment in history. Social movements appeared, in Europe, the United States, and Latin America, each with its own space-time and particular characteristics. There was the struggle with sexual, racial, cultural, and class discrimination. In Europe, there was the struggle waged by the Greens to protect the environment. Coups d’état with a new face, in Latin America, with new military governments replacing those of the previous decade. Now the coups were ideologically based, and all of them were coupled in one way or another to the locomotive of the North going full steam ahead for what seemed to it the capitalist destiny of the continent. There were the guerrilla wars in Latin America, the base communities, the liberation movements in Africa, independence for former Portuguese colonies, the battle in Namibia. There were Amílcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, their leadership in Africa and its repercussions outside Africa. China. Mao. The Cultural Revolution. A lively loyalty to the meaning of the May of 1968. There were the political and pedagogical union movements—all of them obviously political, especially in Italy. There was Guevara, murdered the decade before, present as a symbol not only for Latin-American revolutionary movements, but for progressive leaders and activists the world over. There was the Vietnam War, and the reaction in the United States. There was the fight for civil rights, and the climate of the 1960s in the area of political culture overflowed, in that country, into the 1970s.
These, with their numberless implications and developments, were some of the social, cultural, political, and ideological historical fabrics that explain, in part, both the curiosity the book aroused, and with the tenor of the reading and the acceptance with which it met—whether it was accepted or rejected, and what criticisms were made of it.
As I did not systematically keep and duly comment on the letters that came to me from each respective linguistic region of the world after each new translation of Pedagogy is something I regret today with an almost physical pain. They were letters from the United States, Canada, Latin America, and after the publication by Penguin Books, Australia, New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific, India, and Africa, such was the effectiveness of that publisher’s distribution network. After the letters, or sometimes with them, came invitations to discuss and debate theoretico-practical points of the book. Not infrequently, in Geneva, for a day or longer, I would host a group of university students, accompanied by their teacher, who would be running a course or seminar on Pedagogy, or a group of workers, especially Italian workers, but also immigrant workers in Switzerland, who—from a more political perspective than the one maintained by the university students—wanted to have points explained and aspects illuminated bearing directly on their practice.
I remember now, for example: there was a series of coinciding positions on political pedagogy, my positions in the book and positions in the general view maintained by the Italian union leaders then heading up the battle for what they called the “fifty hours.” The movement was finally victorious in obtaining recognition of workers’ right to take courses on work time.
On various occasions, in Geneva, or in Italy, I met with some of these leadership teams to discuss points of practical theory in their struggle in terms of dimensions of the book.
It was in those days that we began to form a group and hold discussions just among ourselves: Elza Freire, Miguel Darcy de Oliveira, Rosiska de Oliveira, Claudius Ceccon, myself, and, later, Marcos Arruda and the Institute for Cultural Action. The IDAC team was playing a truly important role just then, in seminars on Pedagogy of the Oppressed held throughout Europe, the United States, and Canada. A time or two, as first director of IDAC, I participated in some of those seminars analyzing the book.
It would be difficult to exaggerate how much I was enriched by the discussions I held, for hours on end, with German university youth, whether in Geneva or in their universities in Germany. I could not help being struck with their strong liking for theoretical discussion, and the seriousness with which they challenged me on the basis of their careful, rigorous reading, which they had done either by themselves or along with their professor. Or how much it likewise enriched me to engage in discussions with Italian or Spanish labor leaders—with the former, as I have said, in meetings in Geneva or Italy, while with the latter I could only meet in Geneva, since at that time Pedagogy of the Oppressed was contraband in Spain and Portugal alike. Franco Spain, like Salazar’s Portugal,9 had shut us both out. Pedagogy and me.
It was at that time, and on account of Pedagogy, that I came in contact with the harsh reality of one of the most serious traumas of the “Third World in the First”: the reality of the so-called guest workers—Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, Turks, Arabs, in Switzerland, in France, in Germany—and their experience of racial, class, and sexual discrimination.
In one of the seminars in which I took part in Germany, on literacy and postliteracy programs for Portuguese workers, I was told by some of the latter that their German colleagues despised them to the point, and in such a way, that they regarded them as incapable of ever speaking their language, so that when they spoke to them in German they put all the verbs in the infinitive mood. And surely enough, one of the Portuguese workers told me, in German, referring to a fellow worker: “He to like the meeting very much, but not to understand everything.”
In Paris, in one of these seminars on Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a Spanish worker, enraged and almost in physical pain, protested a lack of class solidarity on the part of his French colleagues. “Lots of ’em come up and kick our butt,” he said, with irritation, “if we’re not lookin’!”
Behavior like this could reinforce today’s neoliberal discourse, according to which the social classes are vanishing. They no longer exist, we hear. They existed, though, at the moment of the above-mentioned unburdening on the part of the Spanish worker, and they exist today as well. But their existence does not necessarily betoken a level of solidarity on the part of their members, especially internationally. At the same time, sectors of the dominated themselves are steeped in the authoritarian, discriminatory, dominant ideology. It becomes installed in them, and causes them to see and feel themselves to be superior to their companions who have left the land of their origin and wear the mark of need.
One of the serious problems that alert, politically engaged guest-worker leaders had to confront in the 1970s, and they discussed it with me in connection with their reading of Pedagogy, was a lack of motivation on the part of their companions for any commitment to the political struggles transpiring in the lands of their origin.
I myself took part in meetings in Switzerland, France, and Germany with immigrant workers at which I heard discourses evincing far more concern for an easier life in their experience far from their native lands, than of a desire to return to those lands one day in conditions appreciably better than those in which they had once left them. It was readily perceptible, in those days, whether in the meetings I have mentioned, or in conversations with leaders in which I was told of these difficulties of mobilization and political organization, that a great many of the workers who had emigrated to the new, “loan” context were taken, on the one hand, with a feeling of relief and joy that they had work now, and at the same time, with a sense of fear: fear of losing the tiny bit of security that they had found in their “loan” context. Their feelings of insecurity were too great for the minimal courage they would have needed for the adventure and risk of political commitment, however slight a commitment. The time that they had spent living in their countries of origin, the hope of employment, of security, had caused them to stake everything on employment, in the loan context, instead of on structural changes in their own context. These persons, a great proportion of the guest workers-to-be, had left their context of origin under the crushing burden of a weariness that I called, in those days, “existential weariness”—not a physical weariness, but a spiritual weariness, which left those caught in it emptied of courage, emptied of hope, and above all, seized with a fear of adventure and risk. And with the weariness came what I dubbed: “historical anesthesia.”
On one of my visits to Germany for a discussion with Portuguese guest workers, which was held in a Catholic parish that was sponsoring an excellent program in political pedagogy, I heard from a young priest the following story: “A short while ago I received a complaint from three Portuguese workers that they and many of their companions were being severely exploited by the landlords of their little shacks: super-high rent, flouting of the law governing tenant rights and obligations, and so on.
“So I decided,” continued the father, “after talking about it at Mass one Sunday, to call a meeting of anyone willing to discuss the question with me and try to figure out what could be done. Several parishioners came to the meeting. We worked together for two sessions, and we programmed a strategy against the almighty landlords: complaints in the newspapers, fliers, walks through the parish neighborhood, and so on.
“So we began putting the plan in practice—until a committee of tenants, including one of the ones who had made the complaint to me in the first place, came to me personally and requested that I call off the campaign. They had been threatened with eviction unless I stopped the accusations.” And I still remember the words with which the priest concluded his story: “I felt a powerful tension, an ethical tension, between continuing to fight the exploiters, who now had gone so far as to take advantage of the emotional dependency of the oppressed and were blackmailing them, and respecting the tenant’s pusillanimity and calling off the struggle, there by restoring to them a sense of relative security—basically a false security, but one they couldn’t do without—in which they lived.”
In line after line of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I discuss this phenomenon. Fanon and Memmi* did the same, or had done it before me. I mean the fear that fills the oppressed, as individuals and as a class, and prevents them from struggling. But fear is no abstraction, and neither is the “why” of fear an abstraction. Fear is altogether concrete, and is caused by concrete considerations—or considerations that seem concrete, so that, in the absence of any demonstration to the contrary, they might as well be.
And so the leadership, which, for any number of reasons, enjoys a different, higher level of “immunization” to the fear that affects the masses, must adopt a special way of leading where that fear is concerned. Once more, then, it becomes incumbent upon them to maintain a serious, rigorous relationship between tactics and strategy, a relationship of which I have already spoken in this book. In the last analysis, the problem facing the leaders is: they must learn, through the critical reading of reality that must always be made, what actions can be tactically implemented, and on what levels they can be so implemented. In other words, what can we do now in order to be able to do tomorrow what we are unable to do today? In the case I have just narrated of the German parish, the solution to the problem from which the workers’ fear could not be eliminated was found in a tactical freeze on the action initiated. Here was an action that could be resumed further down the line, after a project in political pedagogy from which a victory over the fear, at least in part, would be won. That project would reveal to the workers that their landlords are vulnerable, too. Guevara, as well, spoke about this aspect of the dialectical relationship between oppressors and oppressed—of the need for the latter to be given objectives whereby they can become convinced of the vulnerability of the former, as a decisive moment in the struggle. Indeed, the more the oppressed see the oppressors as “unbeatable,” endowed with an invincible power, the less they believe in themselves. Thus has it ever been. One of the tasks of a progressive popular education, yesterday as today, is to seek, by means of a critical understanding of the mechanisms of social conflict, to further the process in which the weakness of the oppressed turns into a strength capable of converting the oppressors’ strength into weakness. This is a hope that moves us.
While I lived one-half of the decade of the sixties in the climate of the Brazilian transition that was shattered by the 1964 coup, and the other half in Chile, where I wrote Pedagogy—in the seventies, with the book multiplying in various languages, I saw myself exposed, along with it, to challenges that sparked analyses on my part, and these analyses in many cases confirmed and reinforced the book’s basic theses.
It is impossible, in my view, to overrate the importance of the innumerable meetings and encounters in which I took part with students and professors of German, Swiss, English, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish, Norwegian, French, Latin-American, African, Asian, United States, and Canadian universities. This is why I speak so much of them here. And sprinkled among these meetings of an academic nature, the no less rich Saturdays to which I was subjected by groups of workers.
The tonic administered by the former—a First World audience—with an occasional exception, came in the form of a theoretical analysis. My interlocutors would assess the degree of rigor with which I had approached this theme or that one, or the precision of my language, or the evident influence on me of this thinker or that one (whose work, at times, I had not read!). Or the inconsistency into which I had slipped between something I had said on, for instance, page 25, and something else on page 122. The German students loved this kind of critique.
When the encounters occurred with Third World students, a different tonic was administered. Here, discussion turned preponderantly on political questions, and these led us to philosophical, ethical, ideological, and epistemological questions.
In my meetings with immigrant workers, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, of whom a large proportion had also read Pedagogy, in Italian, Spanish, or French, interest always centered on a more critical understanding of practice in order to improve future practice.
While the university people, generally speaking, tried to find and “understand a certain practice imbedded in a theory,” the workers sought to sneak up on the theory that was imbedded in their practice. Regardless of the world I found myself in with labor leaders who were immersed in personal experience of politics and policy for changing the world, this is how it always was. It did not matter whether those leaders belonged to the Third World of the Third or to the Third World of the First. This is always the way it was.
Once or twice, in Geneva or away, I had the opportunity of working in long seminars with workers and academicians, obviously progressive. I hope they still take that position today, and have not given in to the ideology of those who decree the death of the ideologies and who proclaim that the dream is a way of fleeing the world instead of re-creating it.
I had one of the encounters to which I have just referred, a hugely rich one, with academicians and a Spanish laborer, one weekend some time in the 1970s, in Germany, in Frankfurt, to be precise. Two or three groups of progressive intellectuals, respectively Marxists and Christians, who did not relate well with each other, agreed to come together for a study day provided I took part.
I have always found it worthwhile to serve as the pretext for a good cause. So I accepted the invitation and went, along with two German friends—theologians, both of them, clear-sighted, creative, serious intellectuals: Werner Simpfendoerfer, who was to translate Pedagogy into German, and Ernst Lang, now deceased, director of the World Council of Churches, who had invited my collaboration in that body and who was to write the preface to the German edition.
The language of the meeting was German, with a simultaneous translation into English for me, and from English into German for the others, except for the theologians.
One of the groups had invited a laborer, a Spanish guest worker, who spoke German without any difficulty.
The presence of the Spanish worker had the effect of keeping the meeting on a level of equilibrium between the necessary abstraction and a quest for the concrete. In other words, the presence of the laborer lessened the risk that abstraction might renounce its authentic nature and meander about in a vagueness ever more distant from the concrete.
When we took our first coffee break, the worker came over to me and we began to converse in Spanish. We alone understood each other now. No one in hearing, other than ourselves, understood Spanish, as was to be expected.
After a few perfunctory remarks, with which we were actually working up to a little conversation, the Spanish worker said: “I have to admit intellectual qualities in these young people that make me admire them. They’re devoted to the cause of the working class. They work tirelessly. But they seem to think that revolutionary truth is pretty much their private property. Well, now, we guest workers . . .,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “. . . we’re a sort of new game for them.”
There was wisdom, there was grace in his discourse, without grief, and without anger. It was as if the truth infusing his words gave him the peace with which he spoke. He spoke of the problem he had mentioned with the tranquility of someone who knew his “why.”
We chatted a while longer, commenting on the elitism, the authoritarianism, the dogmatism of the positions he had criticized. At one point he told me: “I have an interesting experience to tell you about—something I was involved in before I read your Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
“I’m an activist in a Leftist political movement working both in Spain and outside. One of our jobs is training immigrants politically so that we can then all go out and try to mobilize and organize other guest workers.
“A year ago, or so, five of us got together to try to work out a course in political problems to offer our fellow immigrants. We met for a discussion, just among ourselves, one Saturday afternoon in the home of one of these activists. We figured out what we thought the course ought to be, content and presentation. Finally, the way you academics like to do, we laid it all out on in a nice, orderly package ready to bestow on our future pupils. We were sure we knew not only what our people would like to know, but what they ought to know. So why waste time listening to them? All we had to do was communicate to them what they could expect in the course. All we’d have to do was announce the course and enroll the applicants.
“Once we had the program worked out, with the weekend times, the place, the whole thing—we started looking for students.
“Total failure. No one was interested. We spoke to everybody we could. We laid out the content, we visited a number of people and explained how important the program was, how important the course was, and . . . nothing came of it.
“We got together one Saturday to try to figure out why we’d failed. Suddenly I got an idea.
“Why not take a survey, in the factories? Why not talk with lots of people, one at a time, and find out what each one’d like to do? Why not ask them what they prefer, and what they usually do on weekends? Then, on the basis of that, we ought to be able to figure out how to ‘get to them,’ instead of just starting out with what we’re so sure they ought to know.
“We decided to give it a try. We gave ourselves two weeks to conduct the survey, and scheduled another meeting of the five of us after that, for an evaluation. And out we went to conduct the survey.
“After two weeks we got together again as planned, the five of us, each with a report on the job we’d done. Lots of the Spaniards liked to play cards on weekends. Then there was a bunch that liked to go for hikes. Some others went to parks, or to supper in each other’s houses, or would sit around drinking beer, and so on.
“We picked the card games. Maybe this would be an ‘in’ with them, to get to political problems. So we practiced up at cards,” the Spanish worker went on, enthusiastically, “and we started going around stopping in on the groups that would play cards on weekends, in each other’s homes. Then during the week we’d get together, the five of us, for an evaluation.
“Sometimes during a game, with my cards in my hand, not looking at anybody, I’d just kind of casually ask, ‘Know what happened yesterday in Madrid?’
“‘No,’ they’d say.
“‘Cops raided some of our guys and locked ’em up. For one little protest march.’
“Nobody said a word.
“I didn’t either.
“‘Well, gotta go,’ I’d say, then I’d stop in on another game, and then another. Another question, a political question.
“All five of us kept doing this, in different places.
“After four months, we could finally get a bunch of them together to discuss if we’d like to get up some systematic meetings on politics. There were thirty of us at the first meeting, and we made a joint decision to run a real course on political problems. And we’ve had the best results we’ve ever had.”
He laughed when I told him, “That proves that if we want to work with the people and not just for them we have to know their ‘game.’”
This is precisely what authoritarian educators are always fighting. They claim to be progressive, and yet they regard themselves as proprietors of knowledge, which they need only extend to the ignorant educands. These people always see signs of permissiveness or “spontaneism” in the respect that radical democrats show for educands.
These people will never understand what it means to start with the reading of the world, the comprehension of the world, had by the educands. All surprised, as if they had made a great discovery, they say their practice proves that staying on the lower level of knowledge that the groups have, without trying to teach them anything beyond that knowledge, does not work. Of course it does not work. It is so obvious that it does not work that there is no point in bothering to prove it. One of the main reasons for the lack of spirit and inspiration in team members who get together to evaluate their practice is that the person running the evaluation process has no more sophisticated knowledge than the team has. No research is needed to establish the inviability of an evaluation seminar in which the coordinator lacks that particular knowledge with which he or she might explain the obstacles encountered by the participants in their practice. The normal tendency will be the failure of the seminar. So will a physics course fail unless the teacher knows physics. One does not teach what one does not know. But neither, in a democratic perspective, ought one to teach what one knows without, first, knowing what those one is about to teach know and on what level they know it; and second, without respecting this knowledge. One begins with that which is implicit in the reading of the world of those about to learn what the one about to teach knows.
This is what my practice, consistent with my democratic option, has taught me. This is also what the Spanish workers I have just spoken of were taught by their practice.
I should like to suggest certain further considerations in connection with the Spanish workers’ experience. First let me present a consideration along the lines of political ethics. Educators have the right, even the duty, to teach what seems to them to be fundamental to the space–time in which they find themselves. That right and that duty fall to the educator by virtue of the intrinsic “directivity” of education. Of its very nature, education always “outstrips itself.” It always pursues objectives and goals, dreams and projects. I have asked before, in this book: what sort of educator would I be if I had no concern for being maximally convincing in my presentation of my dreams? But that does not mean that I may reduce everything to my truth, my “correctness.” On the other hand, even though I may be convinced, like the Spanish worker-activists, for example, that reflection on the political life of a town or city is essential, I may not on that account dictate the themes on which that political analysis and reflection must bear. A rather moralistic viewpoint would brand as disloyal the tactic of the Spanish workers in using card games to make a political approach to their companions and thereby render viable their objective of seriously studying the political question in Spain with them. This is not how I see it. They are as ethical as academicians could be in their own research.
The second reflection I should like to offer is far more positive. It regards the validity, in Latin America today, not only of the principle invoked by the Spanish workers, but of their work method. The popular educator must make a democratic option and act consistently with that option. I fail to see how popular education, regardless of where and when it is practiced, could prescind from the critical effort to involve, on the one side, educators, and on the other, educands, in a quest for the “why” of the facts. In other words, in a popular education focusing on cooperative production, union activity, community mobilization and organization so that the community can take the education of its sons and daughters in hand through community schools—without this having to mean an excuse for the state to neglect one of its duties, that of offering the people education, along with care for their health, literacy, and their education after the attainment of literacy—in any hypothesis, there is no discarding the gnoseological process. The process of knowing belongs to the very nature of education, and so-called popular education is no exception. On the other hand, popular education, in a progressive outlook, is not reducible to the purely technical training of which groups of workers have a real need. This will of course be the narrow training that the dominant class so eagerly offers workers—a training that merely reproduces the working class as such. Naturally, in a progressive perspective as well, a technical formation is also a priority. But alongside it is another priority, which must not be shoved out of the picture. For example, the worker learning the trade of machinist, mechanic, or stonemason has the right and the need to learn it as well as possible—but also has the right to know the “why” of the technical procedure itself. The worker has the right to know the historical origins of the technology in question, and to take it as an object of curiosity and reflect on the marvelous advance it implies—along with the risks it exposes us to, of which Neil Postman warns us of in an extraordinary recent book.* This is doubtless not only a profoundly current issue of our time, but a vital one, as well. And the working class should not be part of the employer-employee relationship simply in the way the worker in “Modern Times” saw himself wildly struggling to tighten the screws that came along the assembly line, in the critique we have from the genius of Charlie Chaplin.
It seems to me to be fundamental for us today, whether we be mechanics or physicists, pedagogues or stonemasons, cabinetmakers or biologists, to adopt a critical, vigilant, scrutinizing attitude toward technology, without either demonizing it or “divinizing” it.
Never perhaps, has the almost trite concept of exercising control over technology and placing it at the service of human beings been in such urgent need of concrete implementation as today—in defense of freedom itself, without which the dream of a democracy is evacuated.
The progressive postmodern, democratic outlook in which I take my position acknowledges the right of the working class to be trained in such a way that they will know how their society functions, know their rights and duties, know the history of the working class and the role of the popular movements in remaking society in a more democratic mold. The working class has a right to know its geography, and its language—or rather, a critical understanding of language in its dialectical relationship with thought and world: the dialectical interrelations of language, ideology, social classes, and education.
In a recent brief trip through Europe, I heard from a European sociologist, a friend of mine recently returned from Africa, that political activists of a certain African country were saying that the “Freire era” had come and gone. What is needed now, they were saying, is no longer an education faithfully dedicated to a critical understanding of the world, but an education strictly devoted to the technical training of a labor force. As if, in a progressive view, it were possible to dichotomize technology and politics! The ones who attempt this dichotomy, as I have emphasized above, are the dominant class. Hence the wealth of discourse with which we are besieged today in favor of the pragmatic ideal of adjusting ourselves to the world at hand in the name of the values of capitalism. In this new history of ours, without social classes, and thus without any conflicts other than purely personal ones, we have nothing other to do than to let the calloused hands of the many and the smooth ones of the few remake the world at last into a festival.
Really, I do not believe in this. But I hear and regret the mistake in which the above-mentioned African activists are caught: the long, intensely tragic experience that has so long victimized them, their rejection as John, as Mary, as persons, as sex, as race, as culture, as history, the disregard for their lives, which to a perversely murderous white supremacy are of no value, so that those lives can just “be there,” stand there practically like an inanimate object that nevertheless moves and speaks and is under white command, and any black life can simply die or disappear and white supremacy will not care one little bit. This long, tragic experience, so worthily humanized by their people’s struggle, by that fine, high struggle, has nevertheless bequeathed them, through and through, that same kind of existential weariness that suddenly came upon the guest workers in Europe, as I have described above. The illusion is that today’s historical moment calls on the men and women of their country to wage a completely different struggle from the one before—a struggle in which technology would replace people’s political formation altogether. At the same time, the blurring of political parameters reinforces the fatalism that marks “existential weariness,” inviting us to resign ourselves to a “hope” in which only an adverbial change is possible in the world.
But the truth is: regardless of what society we are in, in what world we find ourselves, it is impermissible to train engineers or stonemasons, physicians or nurses, dentists or machinists, educators or mechanics, farmers or philosophers, cattle farmers or biologists, without an understanding of our own selves as historical, political, social, and cultural beings—without a comprehension of how society works. And this will never be imparted by a supposedly purely technological training.
Another concern on which popular education must never turn its back is epistemological research, antecedent to or concomitant with teaching practices, especially in peasant regions. This is a task that has become dear to the ethnoscience being plied among us today in Brazil: to know how rural popular groups, indigenous or not, know—how they organize their agronomic knowledge or science, for example, or their medicine, to which end they have developed a broadly systemized taxonomy of plants, herbs, trees, spices, roots. It is interesting to observe how they integrate their meticulous taxonomy with miraculous promises—for example an herbal tea that heals both cancer and the pangs of unrequited love, or battles male impotence; or special leaves for protection in childbirth, for “fallen breastbone,” and so on.
Recent research in Brazilian universities has verified the actual medical usefulness of certain discoveries made by popular wisdom.
For example, to discuss with peasants this ongoing university-level verification of their knowledge is a political task of high pedagogical importance. Such discussion can help the popular classes win confidence in themselves, or augment the degree of confidence they have already attained. Confidence in themselves is so indispensable to their struggle for a better world! I have already made reference to the need for it in this book.
What seems to me to be unconscionable, however, today as yesterday, would be to conceive—or even worse, to practice—a popular education in which a constant, serious approach were not maintained, antecedently and concomitantly, to problems like: what content to teach, in behalf of what this content is to be taught, in behalf of whom, against what, and against whom. Who selects the content, and how is it taught? What is teaching? What is learning? What manner of relationship obtains between teaching and learning? What is popular knowledge, or knowledge gotten from living experience? Can we discard it as imprecise and confused? How may it be gotten beyond, transcended? What is a teacher? What is the role of a teacher? And what is a student? What is a student’s role? If being a teacher means being superior to the student in some way, does this mean that the teacher must be authoritarian? Is it possible to be democratic and dialogical without ceasing to be a teacher, which is different from being a student? Does dialogue mean irrelevant chitchat whose ideal atmosphere would be to “leave it as it is to see if it’ll work”? Can there be a serious attempt at the reading and writing of the word without a reading of the world? Does the inescapable criticism of a “banking” education mean the educator has nothing to teach and ought not to teach? Is a teacher who does not teach a self-contradiction? What is codification, and what is its role in the framework of a theory of knowledge? How is the “relation between practice and theory” to be understood—and especially, experienced—without the expression becoming trite, empty wordage? How is the “basistic,” voluntaristic temptation to be resisted—and how is the intellectualistic, verbalistic temptation to engage in sheer empty chatter to be overcome? How is one to “work on” the relationship between language and citizenship?
It is impossible to make education both a political practice and a gnosiological one, fully, without the constant stimulus of these questions, or without our constantly answering them.
Finally, I believe that the way I pose these questions in this book implies my answers to them—answers that express the positions on political pedagogy that I reaffirm in this book.
* See, among others, Sartre, Fanon, Memmi, and Freire.
* See, in this regard, Eduardo Nicol, Los principios de la ciencia (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1965).
† Paulo Freire and Sérgio Guimaraes, Sobre educação—diálogos (Rio de Janeira: Paz e Terra, 1984).
* Franz Fanon, Os condenados da Terra; Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press).
* Neil Postman, Technopoly—the Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Knopf, 1992).