Chapter 6 - Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Pedagogy of Hope

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

Chapter 6

When the seminar was over, I took advantage of the fact that the matter had come up, and talked about it again. I insisted that, on the journey in quest of unity in diversity—a long, difficult, but completely necessary journey—the “minorities” (who, once more, are ultimately the majority) at odds with the majority have a great deal to learn.

After all, no one walks without learning to walk—without learning to walk by walking, without learning to remake, to retouch, the dream for whose cause the walkers have set off down the road. And I have heard tell of this again just recently, so long after that Saturday morning in Chicago. This is what the current leader of the seringueiros among the Rain Forest Peoples—Osmarino Amâncio, one of the disciples of Chico Mendes, recently the victim of a cowardly assassination—spoke of recently in ECO-Rio 92, with such candor and energy. His words, and the emphasis with which he uttered them in the presence of Chief Ianomami, reminded me of that seminar in Chicago.

“In the beginning,” Amâncio declared, “we believed the story we were told by the mighty—that the Indians were our enemies. The Indians, on their side, manipulated by these same mighty ones, believed them as well—that we were their enemies. As time went by, we discovered that our differences should never be the reason for our killing one another on behalf of the interests of the mighty. We discovered that we were all ‘Rain Forest People,’ and that we have always desired only one thing around which we could unite: the rain forest. Today,” he concluded, “we are a unity in our differences.”

There is another learning process, another apprenticeship, of exceeding importance, but exceedingly difficult, especially in highly complex societies like that of North America. I mean the process of learning that a critical comprehension of the so-called minorities of one’s culture is not exhausted in questions of race and sex, but requires a comprehension of the class division in that culture, as well. In other words, sex does not explain everything. Nor does race. Nor does class. Racial discrimination is by no manner of means reducible to a problem of class. Neither is sexism. Without a reference to the division between the classes, however, I, for one, fail to understand either phenomenon—racial discrimination or sexual—in its totality, or even that against the “minorities” in themselves. Besides skin color, or sex differentiation, ideology, too, has its “color.”

Cultural pluralism is another serious problem that ought to be subjected to this kind of analysis. Cultural pluralism does not consist of a simple juxtaposition of cultures, and still less is it the prepotent might of one culture over another. Cultural pluralism consists in the realization of freedom, in the guaranteed right of each culture to move in mutual respect, each one freely running the risk of being different, fearless of being different, each culture being “for itself.” They need the opportunity to grow together, but preferably not in the experience of an ongoing tension provoked by the almightiness of one culture vis-à-vis all the others, which latter would all be “forbidden to be.”

The needed ongoing tension, among cultures in a cultural pluralism, is of a different nature. The tension that is needed is the tension to which the various cultures expose themselves by being different, in a democratic relationship in which they strive for advancement. The tension of which the cultures have need in a multicultural society is the tension of not being able to escape their self-construction, their self-creation, their self-production, with their every step in the direction precisely of a cultural pluralism, which will never be finished and complete. The tension in this case, therefore, is that of the “unfinishedness” that each culture accepts as the raison d’être of its very search and self-concern, the why of its nonantagonistic conflicts—conflicts ungenerated by fear, by prideful arrogance, by “existential weariness,” by “historical anesthesia,” nor, again, by an explosion of vengeance, by desperation in the face of an injustice that seems to go on forever.

We must also realize that the society to whose space other ethnic groups, for economic, social, and historical reasons, have come, to be “absorbed” here in a subordinate relationship, has its dominant class, its class culture, its language, its syntax, its class semantics, its tastes, its dreams, its ends—its projects, values, and historical programs. The society to whose space other ethnic groups have come has its dreams, projects, values, and language that the dominant class not only defends as its own—and since they are its own, calls them “national”—but also therefore “offers” to the others (along any number of paths, among them the school), and will not take no for an answer. There is no genuine bilingualism, therefore, let alone multilingualism, apart from a “multiculturality,” and no multiculturality arises spontaneously. A multiculturality must be created, politically produced, worked on, in the sweat of one’s brow, in concrete history.

Hence the need, once more, for the invention of unity in diversity. The very quest for this oneness in difference, the struggle for it as a process, in and of itself is the beginning of a creation of multiculturality. Let us emphasize once more: multiculturality as a phenomenon involving the coexistence of different cultures in one and the same space is not something natural and spontaneous. It is a historical creation, involving decision, political determination, mobilization, and organization, on the part of each cultural group, in view of common purposes. Thus, it calls for a certain educational practice, one that will be consistent with these objectives. It calls for a new ethics, founded on respect for differences.

In the early stages, the struggle for unity in diversity, which is obviously a political struggle, means mobilizing and organizing all the various cultural forces—without ignoring the class rift—and bringing these forces to bear on a broadening, a deepening, a transcending of a pure, laissez-faire democracy. We must adopt that democratic radicalness for which it is not enough merrily to proclaim that in this or that society man and woman enjoy “equal freedom,” meaning the right to starve, have no schools to send their children to, and be homeless—so, the right to live in the street, the right not to be taken care of in old age, the right simply not to be.

It is imperative that we get beyond societies whose structures beget an ideology that ascribes responsibility for the breakdowns and failures actually created by these same structures to the failed themselves, as individuals, instead of to the structures of these societies or to the manner in which these societies function. If black urchins do not learn English well it is their own fault! It is due to their “genetic” incompetency, and not to the racial or class discrimination to which they are subjected, not to the authoritarian elitism that presumes to impose a “cultural standard”—an elitism that ultimately goes perfectly hand in hand with a complete disrespect for popular knowledge and popular speech. It is the same thing as occurs in Brazil. The little boys and girls of the hill and gully country fail to learn because they are born incompetent.

These were some of the subjects discussed in the study day of which I speak.

In the case of most of the positions I held in those days, and still hold, the reaction was not long in coming.

The worst thing would have been a well-behaved silence, concealing the discord. It was a good thing that the various groups—most of them, at any rate, expressed themselves, no matter that it have been against my view of the facts and problems.

Things have not changed a great deal between 1973 and 1994, when it comes to an all but systematic refusal on the part of antiracist and antisexist movements, even serious movements, to admit the concept of social class into a comprehensive analysis either of racism and sexism themselves, or of the struggle against them. And the same is true for the struggle against the thesis of unity in diversity.

Recently a university professor, black, female, a friend of mine, a serious, competent scholar, in conversation with me, my wife Nita, and Professor Donaldo Macedo, in Boston, vehemently denied any relationship between social classes and racism.

We listened to her, she listened to us, we listened to each other respectfully, as I listened in 1973 to those who who said no to my analyses.

If she had been offended by us, or we by her—because, for us, even though racism is not reduced to social class, we cannot understand the former without the latter, while for my friend this is not the case—had we offended each other, we would have fallen into a sectarian position as reprehensible as the racism we were execrating.

Even more recently, in July of this year, I experienced tough resistance on the part of a group of competent intellectuals, mostly of Mexican or Puerto Rican origin, in California, to the possible dream, the necessary utopia, of transcending this almost invincible taste for shutting oneself up in a ghetto, and moving on to the political invention of unity in diversity. On this occasion, too, my interlocutors extended their reaction to or rejection of the category of class to any analysis of North American reality.

Between sessions in the seminar I delighted in the reading of Manning Marabele.*

Another study day, with its unforgettable moments, marked my first visit to the Caribbean, with a program of meetings and discussions held on various islands, starting in Jamaica.

And on all the islands, with an occasional exception, the seminars were planned and coordinated by organizations working in popular regions in an advisory capacity on behalf of social movements on various levels and in various areas.

Once more, a reading of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the application of some of its suggestions nearly always occasioned a discussion of matters in which I was confronted with identical problems, if “clothed” in different “trappings.”

In the interest of brevity, I have selected three of the richer moments of my voyage, and I shall concentrate on them.

The first is connected with my being forbidden to enter Haiti, in whose capital I was to hold one of the seminars to discuss literacy and postliteracy programs.

In Geneva, through the World Council of Churches, I had obtained an entry visa for Haiti. Upon arriving in Kingston, however, I was informed by program organizers that Haitian authorities had informed them that I was prohibited from entering the country. So they had switched the seminar from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

It will be worthwhile here once more to underscore the attitudes of arbitrary power—of fear of freedom (and anger with freedom), of a horror of culture, of contempt for thought in the authoritarian and unpopular regimes—than for any other reason. It helps to understand just how it came about that I was prevented from entering Haiti in those days. I was told that, upon learning of the seminar coordinators’ request that I enter the country, the national authorities, perhaps out of sympathy with the Brazilian military regime, decided to consult our embassy in Port-au-Prince.

The response, according to the same source, was a categorical “No.” Obviously I can prove none of this, but none of it is very significant in comparison with the absurd pressure that, during the military regime, which called itself serious, democratic, and pure, was exerted not only against me, but against so many other Brazilians in exile. The first honorary doctorates that I received were bestowed in spite of ridiculous pressures put on the universities not to bestow them. My trip to UNESCO under FAO auspices occasioned incredibly flimsy and disgustingly petty reactions on the part of the military government then in power in Brazil.

After a great deal of pressure by my first wife, Elza, on the Brazilian consulate in Geneva, where she insisted on her own right and that of her minor children to carry the passport whose renewal had been denied them more than three years before, the Brazilian government then in power ordered that they be issued a document valid only for Switzerland, as if they had needed a passport to travel from Geneva to Zurich! I frequently referred, in the outside world, to the “creativity” of the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry in this matter. It all came down to national diplomacy’s having invented a “stay-in-port,” with which it “took the wind out of the sails” of the life of less dangerous exiles!

The interesting thing is that Elza traveled with me through part of the world with her “stay-in-port.” In the airports, the police carefully scrutinized that diplomatic anomaly, smiled, and stamped it, thereby manifesting their acceptance not only of the “stay-in-port” but of the human person who used it.

Let us return to our case.

As I was prevented from entering Haiti, another meeting had been arranged instead, in the Dominican Republic. It was to be with a popular education group, under Catholic auspices. Twenty to twenty-five educators wished to discuss with me, in particular, the question of the Generative Thematic, the actual programming of programmatic content, and my criticism of “banking” education. Heading toward the Dominican Republic, we made a stop in Port-au-Prince. I was traveling with a United Nations technologist and a Jamaican educator. For technical reasons, the flight to the Dominican Republic would not leave for three more hours. And so my friend the United Nations technologist telephoned a friend of his, who quickly came to the airport to drive us around the city.

I entered the country under prohibition from doing so, with my Swiss document inserted beneath my friend’s passport. It was a blue passport, which, by “bluing” my own, preserved me from examination.

The little city struck me. Especially all the popular artists, who displayed their paintings in various corners of the squares. Their pictures were full of color, and spoke of the life of their people, the pain of their people, the joy of their people. It was the first time that, in the face of such loveliness, such artistic creativity, such a quantity of colors, I felt as if I were, as indeed I was, faced with a multiplicity of discourses on the part of the people. It was if the Haitian popular classes, forbidden to be, forbidden to read, to write, spoke or made their discourse of protest, of denunciation and proclamation, through art, the sole manner of discourse they were permitted.

By painting, they not only supported themselves and their families, but also supported, maintained, within themselves, possibly without knowing it, the desire to be free.

Some time ago, I conceived a huge desire to return to Haiti, legally, during the tenure of the elected, democratic government that has recently been overthrown by one more adventurer bent on defacing his world and imprisoning his people. Now, with this betrayal of the Haitian people, it is no longer possible. It is a pity that we have come to the end of the century, and the end of the millennium, still running the historical risk of suffering these cowardly coups against freedom, against democracy, against the right to be. Once again the dominant minority, invested with the economic and political power upon which their firepower, their destructive violence, rests, crushes the popular majorities in Haiti. Defenseless, these latter return to silence and immobility. Perhaps they will plunge into the popular arts—their festivals, their music, the very rhythm of their bodies. These things they must never renounce, and now they are an expression of their resistance, as well.

Little did I imagine, as I headed for the Dominican Republic, what awaited me there.

As a Brazilian citizen, I had not applied for an entry visa, since none was required by the Dominican regime then in power. The problem was that I did not even have my Brazilian “do-not-pass-port.” I only had a Swiss travel document.

For the police at the airport, I was not Brazilian, I was a Swiss. And the Swiss needed a visa. As I had none, I was prohibited from entering. I was escorted, and none too politely, to “Departures” to reboard my plane, which would now go on to Puerto Rico.

My friend the United Nations technologist left the boarding area for the reception area, found the priest who had come to meet me, and told him what was happening.

Some fifteen minutes later, so soon after having been “recycled” to Puerto Rico, and from there to Geneva, via New York, I was sought out by the same police officer who had so discourteously escorted me to the waiting area from which I was to leave the country. “Kindly come with me, sir,” he said, in a much different, more delicate, tone. “You are to enter the country.”

At the moment I was far readier to leave than to stay, but the persons who were awaiting me must not be punished, nor must I fail to accomplish the task for which I had come to the Dominican Republic. I accompanied the police officer, to the tune of his profuse apologies, to the passport checkpoint, where the priest stood who would still have quite a time getting me into the country. I was listed as “disapproved,” it seemed, in the airport register, now surely replaced by computers. My name—no, there was no mistake—was there, “Paulo Reglus Neves Freire,” whole and entire, carefully penned, correct to the letter. This meant that I might not enter the country after all, and this time for far more serious reasons than merely not having a visa. Not this time. This time I found myself on an exceedingly lengthy list of “undesirables”—“dangerous subversives,” who posed a “threat,” as, for example, traffickers in contraband.

The only solution, said the chief of the Airport Police, who had been summoned for his opinion, was for the priest who had invited me to speak with the national security chief. The latter alone had the authority to make the final decision. The police chief himself made the call, then handed the phone to the priest.

“Yes, General. Yes,” said the priest, “if Professor Freire is willing to accept these conditions, I shall be responsible for him.”

And with his hand over the mouthpiece, the priest asked me: “Will you stay the five days here without leaving the building where we’re having the seminar? And the press must not know you’re in the country. No one must know. Do you accept?”

“Of course I accept. I came here to converse, to teach, and to learn, not to make side trips or give interviews. I accept. There is no problem,” I replied.

“Very well, General. Professor Freire is grateful for the opportunity of entering our country under the conditions you have established, and I guarantee that they will be fulfilled to the letter.”

He handed the phone to the chief of police, who listened to the orders of the national security chief.

I got in. I worked five days. I heard excellent reports on work in progress in rural and urban areas.

This is what I had come for. It would have betokened political immaturity on my part if, out of some personal vanity, and feeling belittled, I had refused the general’s proposal.

In the five days I spent in the country, without giving any interviews, without appearing in the streets, without touring the city, I nevertheless did what I had come there to do.

On the last day, on the trip back to the airport, the father made some discreet detours through the city so I could get a general idea of it.

Beyond a doubt, this experience is not to be compared with the one I had some months later, when I was arrested one night in a hotel in Libreville, Gabon, in Africa, where I had arrived at the invitation of the recently installed government of São Tomé and Príncipe.

What an irony, by the way, to be arrested in a city called Libreville, for being “exceedingly dangerous,” and having “written a subversive book,” as I was informed, without any beating around the bush!

“But sir,” I said to the officer whose demeanor was certainly that of a chief of police, “I’ll only be in your country for twenty-four hours, while I wait for my flight to São Tomé tomorrow afternoon. Besides, I’m passing through here at the invitation of the government of São Tomé and Príncipe. So I only see an abuse of power here in what you have just communicated to me, and I protest that abuse: that I will be held at the hotel until tomorrow’s flight.”

“You are not under arrest. You are our guest. Only, you may not leave your room.”

A few moments later, at the hotel, my room was locked from the outside.

Not under arrest! Strange terminology.

There was one thing about that first visit to the Caribbean that impressed me a great deal: the experiment I visited on the lovely little isle of Dominica.

Peasants living on a large, financially troubled ranch, which had been a key contributor to the country’s agricultural production, had persuaded the government to buy the ranch (with the cooperation of the British company that ran it) and hand it over to them, whereupon they undertook to purchase it over the course of so-and-so many years.

The peasants then created a cooperative, with the technological assistance of an agricultural engineer who had been working with them. When I visited the experiment, they had already been managing the property for a little over a year, and were having excellent results.

There is a personal aspect of my visit that I should like to make public in this book—an experience of which I spoke of with my children after my return to Geneva. I was visiting the ranch as the guest of the president of the peasant cooperative that was managing the economic, social, and educational life of the ranch. He lived with his wife—no children—in a very simple house, without electricity, on a little hill, the kind of hillock we call a morro in Brazil. In front of the house stood a lush mango tree, some bushes, and a green lawn.

It was raining when I got out of the car to climb the slippery, muddy slope—its clay a “cousin” to the massapé of Brazil’s North-east. With a slip here and a slide there, my right hand tight on the arm of the president of the cooperative, my feet groping for a foot-hold, finally we got to the house, which was lighted by a kerosene lamp.

We spoke a bit, the president and I. His wife, in a corner of the room, was listening, but not venturing to say anything.

I was tired, and I had my mind more on going to bed than on anything else.

Before going to my room—their own room, which they had put at my disposition in a gesture of siblingship—naturally I wanted to use the bathroom. Then it was that I perceived how far removed I was from the concrete daily life of peasants, despite my having written the book they had read in their study circles and therefore invited me to come talk with them.

The more I needed to go to the bathroom, the less casual I felt about asking where it was. This could be complicated. I said to myself, if I ask where the bathroom is, and there is no bathroom, how will I be understood?

Suddenly I said to myself: am I not being a bit like the white liberals who feel guilty when they talk with blacks?—the behavior to which I have referred a few pages earlier. Only, this time the division is a class one. I summoned up my courage, then, and asked my friend: “Where’s the bathroom?”

“The bathroom? The bathroom is the world,” said Mr. President, courteously conducting me beneath the mango tree, where we both raised the level of the water flowing down through the grass.

Other than the bathroom, my major problem was, the next day, how to take my morning bath. My morning bath, in the fashion that I take it, has to do with my class position—just as does the way I speak, for example with the verb agreeing with the subject, or my dress, or my gait, or my tastes.

It was a fine thing for me to be living and dealing not only with the couple with whom I stayed, but with the other peasants there. It was a fine thing, especially, to be able to observe how they came at the question of education, culture, technical training—they and their companions in the co-op.

To this purpose, I spent two or three days actually out in the fields, besides joining in a conference set up by the leadership and attended by well-nigh seventy peasants at which we discussed questions of curricular organization and problems of teaching and the learning process.

After a little over a year of being their own bosses, under a democratic regime—without, therefore, the abuses of, on the one hand, permissiveness and unlimited freedom, or on the other, unlimited authority—the work of the ranch was genuinely exemplary. The contribution of the agronomist, their educator, with his seriousness and competence, was lauded by all.

The peasants had set up some ten centers throughout the area—ten “nuclei,” each managed by a team and headed by an elected officer. They had built ten rustic adobe meeting rooms. They had gotten sawhorses and laid boards on them for tables. The little rooms each had an extension, or a corner, that served as a kitchen, where the members of that particular center met for lunch and social refreshment. All of the members of the area around each center would bring whatever they could—a chicken, a fish, some fruit, or the like. Teams of two persons, a man and a woman, took turns preparing the food.

Every day the workers had two hours for lunch, during which time they discussed problems of daily experience. One of the members of each center, also in rotation, was in charge of noting down the subjects discussed, or even broached, in the daily meeting. These subjects, the material of the daily meetings, would then be brought up at the big meeting held every other Saturday at the co-op office itself, with the agricultural engineer or other experts present. The ranch in its entirety was regarded by the peasants not only as a center of economic production, but as their cultural center, as well. When you got right down to it, the ten “cultural nuclei” were the best way they had found to divide up the ranch as a totality, in the process of improving their knowledge and training, just as the bi-weekly meeting was the effort to, shall we say, “retotalize” the divided totality.

It was an experiment in popular education directly connected with production, and I saw it functioning in an exemplary manner. This was in the 1970s.

Recently, participating in an international conference in Montego, Jamaica (May 1992), I met an educator from the Dominican Republic. We got on the subject of things that had happened years ago, and I immediately asked her whether she knew how the work on the community ranch was going. “It’s all over. Politics,” she said.

Toward the end of 1979 and the beginning of 1980, I was twice more in the Caribbean. On these occasions my destination was Grenada, the magnificent little island that, seemingly overnight, almost magically, had mounted a revolution that, all fine and gentle that it was, nevertheless failed to escape the fury of the teeth-gnashing, raging folk who own the world—any more than that of the raging folk who, while not proprietors of the world, think themselves proprietors of revolutionary truth.

The revolution in Grenada resulted, in its final moment, from an almost Quixotic gesture on the part of its leader, a still-young, ardent leader, one who had great confidence in his people.

Taking advantage of the absence of the head of the government, Bishop and a dozen companions attacked a police station. It surrendered without resistance. With the weapons captured there, they were able to arm other militants, then still others. Meanwhile, government forces joined the movement. And the entire government establishment had collapsed as if it had been run over by a steamroller. It was a revolution that had been waiting to happen. Without the malaise of the popular masses, without their hope and their readiness for change, the “wild idea” of Bishop and his companions might not have gotten by the second obstacle.

History does not surrender or bow docilely to the arrogant will of the voluntarist. Social transformations occur upon a coinciding of the popular will, the presence of a leadership blessed with discernment, and the propitious historical moment. Thus, a popular movement seized power with a minimum of social cost. Ruling interests did not even have time to react. The island was preparing to walk in a different direction. A different government was attempting to change the face of the country.

My first visit to the island had been arranged a month before, in Managua, Nicaragua, where I had gone at the invitation of Fernando Cardenal, then Literacy Crusade Coordinator and later education minister. It was in Managua, where I gave the crusade a bit of myself, as well, and my understanding of education, that my friend Arturo Ornelles, who had worked with me in São Tomé, in Africa, and who was then working in the Education Sector of the Organization of American States, informed me of the Grenadan ministry of education’s interest that I should visit that country. It was up to me, Arturo told me.

Arturo took charge of communicating to the government of Grenada that I had accepted the invitation, but that the minister would have to request my trip to his country from the World Council of Churches, in whose Education Division I was working. Everything was in order, and in mid-December we arrived in Grenada, where every indication was that only the power elite outside the government and their foreign masters radically opposed the country’s new political direction. What else could have been expected? They were defending their class and race interests.

They must have been jubilant, then, when Mr. Bishop’s assassination at the hands of the sectarian, authoritarian fanaticism of an incompetent Left—occasioning such a strong reaction on the part of Fidel Castro—further facilitated the already-easy invasion of the island. And so the dreams of the popular majorities were demolished. Now they would continue to live their difficult life, perhaps plunged once more into the fatalism in which there is no place for utopia.

This was not the historical climate at the time of my two visits to Grenada. On the contrary, a contagious joy was afoot. People spoke with the hope of persons who were beginning to share in the recreation of their society.

Three meetings on the first visit left an indelible impression on me. One consisted of an entire day of conversations with the minister and various national teams, in which we discussed certain basic aspects of the new education they were gradually attempting to put in practice.

Together, we reflected on an education that, while respecting children’s understanding of the world, would challenge them to think critically. It would be an education in whose practice the teaching of content would never be dichotomized from the teaching of precise thinking. We spoke of an antidogmatic, antisuperficial thinking—a critical thinking, which would constantly resist the temptation of pure improvisation.

Any effort in the direction of implementing the above considerations—that is, any attempt to put into practice an education that, first, while respecting educands’ understanding of the world, will challenge them to think critically, and second, will refuse to separate the teaching of content from the teaching of thinking precisely—any such educational enterprise calls for the ongoing formation of the educators. Their scientific training, above all, calls for a serious, consistent effort to overcome the old authoritarian, elitist frameworks, which linger, latent, in the persons in whom they “dwell” and are ever ready to be reactivated. And without the exercise of this attempt to surmount the old—an attempt that involves our subjectivity, and implies the acknowledgment of its importance, a subjectivity so disdained and belittled by the dogmatism that reduces it to a mere reflex of objectivity—no attempt at changing the school by steering it in a democratic direction will likely carry the day.

The two principles I have just stated can actually base an entire transformation of the school, and of the educational practice within it. Starting with these two points, I told the educators in our meetings, it would be possible for us to proceed to develop any number of dimensions, with innovations in curricular organization, with a new relationship between educators and educands, with new human relations in the school (administration, teachers, maintenance, security), new relations between the school and families, new relations with the neighborhood the school is in.

It was appropriate that, in February of the following year, 1980, a National Leadership Training Seminar should be held, which would subsequently develop into dozens of training meetings all over the island.

Invited to the February seminar, which had been set up by the Education Sector of the Organization of American States—the agency in which Arturo worked, as I have already mentioned—were Brazilian sociologist, now professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, João Bosco Pinto, Chilean educational sociologist Professor Marcela Gajardo, who was unable to attend, myself, and naturally, Arturo Ornelles.

The second meeting that impressed me so much on my first visit to Grenada was the one I had with administrators of the ministry of education. The ministry set aside a morning for our dialogue, to which all were invited, including clerks, chauffeurs, secretaries of the various departments, and typists.

“I am convinced,” the minister told me, in requesting the meeting, “that we’ll never manage to change, to redirect, pedagogical policy, and place it in the democratic perspective we’re striving for, unless we can count on the participation of all of the sectors that, in one way or another, make up the ministry of education. Nor shall we be able to do anything without the cooperation of the educands, their families, their communities.”

This was actually the first time a new administration that was gradually taking things in hand had invited me to speak to its educational personnel on the importance of our school tasks, whether our own particular job be to sweep the classroom floor or to construct educational theory. Nor did I practice any demagogy in my approach, any more than I do today.

Reactions ranged from stunned surprise on some faces, to great curiosity and an ebullient eagerness to learn more in the expressions worn by the majority.

One of the conclusions my auditors came to as they sat there with the minister was that meetings like the one we were holding ought to be held on a systematic basis, although attendance would be optional.

The third meeting I was to hold was with Mr. Bishop himself. He received Arturo Ornelles and me, at the presidential residence, for nearly three hours. Our conversation was over fruit juice, and we had at our disposition, for tasting (or ravenous gulping), on a side table, a luscious tray of native fruits.

At the moment I write, and comb my memory, I wonder about two or three qualities of that person, so soon to be erased from the world that loved him, which touched Arturo and me in our conversation with him.

I think I might begin with his simplicity and lack of artificiality. It was the simplicity of a person who lived a life of consistency between what he said and what he did. He did not even need to make an effort to keep from falling into self-adulation. It was thus that, with simplicity, at times with the smile of a child, he spoke to us of the adventurous exploit (but not that of an adventurer) that he had undertaken, he and his companions, in search of the assumption of the power that he then sought to re-create.

He had a taste for freedom, and a respect for the freedom of others. He was determined to help his people help themselves, mobilize, organize, retrace the outlines of their society. He had a clear sense of historical opportunity—an opportunity that does not exist outside of ourselves, an opportunity that makes its appearance in a certain compartment of time, waiting for us to pursue it, but an opportunity that is waiting precisely in the relationship between ourselves and time itself—an opportunity deep in the heart of events, in the interplay of contradictions. It is an opportunity that we ourselves create, right in history—in a history that punishes us both when we fail to take advantage of the opportunity, and when we simply invent it in our heads, without any foundation in social fabrics.

I remember his dialectical way of thinking (not a way of speaking about dialectics). The impression I have now, in recalling the meeting, is that Bishop thought dialectically so spontaneously and habitually that there was no separation in him between discourse and practice. Hence, for example, the understanding he revealed in conversation of the importance of subjectivity in history, which led him to recognize the role of education before and after the production, or better, the effort to produce, a new power.

Perhaps this was one of the points, developed in the political practices of his government, that provoked the “mechanists,” as I call them, who are so very undialectical and who turned against him.

At one moment in my conversation, Bishop asked me something that revealed his great relish for democracy, and revealed the remarkable similarity between him and the great African leader Amílcar Cabral, about whose struggle we were enthusiastically speaking. Bishop asked me to devote some of my time to the military during my visit to the island. He said something like: “It would be very helpful if you discussed with them the frankly civil spirit with which, and with which alone, we can remake our society.”

Even without expressing it in so many words, Bishop perceived that, at bottom, in the democratic reinvention of society, the military fit in only when they know their function in the service of civil society. The military fit into civil society, not the other way around.

And of course this was one of the things I stressed in my conversation with the military. It provoked certain silences, perhaps in an expression of disapproval.

Of my meetings, the one with the military was the one that impressed me the least. Before, I had met with some higher-ranking officers, in Lima, and in Lisbon, after the so-called Carnation Revolution. I had had three hours of conversation with majors and colonels from the various branches. They were a youthful folk, weary of an unjust, impossible war in Africa.

What was happening, really, was that the Portuguese colonial armed forces, even in the mid-1970s, enervated by a war in which they had gradually come to perceive the absurdity of the process, were having to face off with Africans with whom just the reverse was happening: they were growing in the conviction of the ethical and historical correctness of their struggle.

My encounter with the Portuguese military, who had thus been “conscientized” by the African war—a meeting arranged by a major who told me he had read Pedagogy of the Oppressed over and over (over and over in secret, obviously) and had used it on the underground assignments he carried out with other members of the military—revealed to me, among other things, this obvious basic point: the agents of war are not only the highly technical instruments employed, invaluable though they be; nor are they only men and women. The agents of war are men, women, and instruments.

For the success of the fight, the ethical awareness and political awareness of the fighters is of paramount importance. Technology is at times replaced by the weaker side’s power of invention, which emerges from a strength they possess that is lacking to the mighty: their ethical and historical conviction that their fight is legitimate.

This is what happened in Vietnam, as well, where a highly advanced North American technology yielded to a will to be on the part of the Vietnamese, and to their artful inventiveness, that of the weaker side.

So this is what happened in Grenada, itself, where a lack of ethical and historical conviction on the part of the side possessing the weapons gave way to the force of a courage armed with the ethics and the history with which Bishop and his companions came to power.

In February 1980 we returned to Grenada, Arturo and I, along with João Bosco Pinto, who was making his first trip there.

First off, we had a meeting with the national planning committee for the seminar, where we learned how the seminar would function, and what task would fall to each of us.

The intention of all of us, the national team’s as well as our own, was to steer the labors of the seminar as much as possible in the direction of a unification of practice and theory. We therefore excluded, from the outset, a course consisting of “theoretical” discourses, however fine they might be, on theory and practice, school and community, the cultural identity of the educands, the relationship between educators and educands, or what it is to teach and what to learn. Or on the question of programmatic content and how to organize it. Or on an investigation of the milieu in which the school is located, or in which various schools in the same area are located. And so on.

Of course, we should have to create, imagine, hypothetical situations—authentic codifications—upon which we would ask the participants of the seminar, whom we would present with elements typifying the situation, to spend a given amount of time to write their analyses: in other words, to decode the codification.

On the basis of the example that I shall now give, we shall be able to imagine the others, for which, regrettably, none of us any longer has any documentation. Let me take the example of a sketch in which we could see a schooltypical of the island, with a given number of elements of its ambience included.

The coordinating committee asked the members of the seminar to:

1. A Characterize, describe, what they saw in the picture, in purely narrative terms.

2. B Describe and analyze a day’s routine, not only of the school, but also of the area around the school.

3. C Describe, this time more in detail—on the basis of experience, if they had had such experience, or else on the basis of what they had heard—relations between the teachers and students in such a school.

4. D In case of a need to criticize the kind of relationship prevailing between teachers and students in the school, to try to identify the causes of that relationship, and to make suggestions as to how to improve it.

5. E Answer the following question: what do you think is good or bad about a rural school in whose programmatic content there is nothing, or almost nothing, about rural life?

6. F Answer this question: in your own practice, what is it, to you, to teach, and what is it, to you, to learn?

7. G Answer this question: do you find that the role of the teacher is to mold students in accordance with some ideal model of men and women, or instead, to help them to grow, and to learn to be themselves? Defend your position.

As I say, there were other such investigatory projects. The participants had two-and-one half hours to answer, beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Beginning at 10:30, we read the answers. First, each of us individually read them. Next, we discussed the various reports among ourselves. Then, for part of the afternoon, we discussed their implicit or explicit theoretical, political, and methodological aspects with the entire group.

The dialogue we held with the national educators was a rich one. Their analysis and their positions stimulated our reaction. And we, the coordinators of the seminar, engaged in discussions about how we reacted to the reaction of the national educators.

Over the course of three days, while, from 8:00 to 10:30 a.m., the participants answered the questions proposed to them, we met with various cabinet members (the ministers of agriculture, health, and planning) and conversed with them about the possibility and need of a common effort in which the efforts of their ministries would be combined with those of the ministry of education—or better, the possibility and need to have the ministry of education, in planning its policy, do that planning in light of what those of agriculture, health, and planning had in mind for the country.

I remember that, in our second and last meeting with Mr. Bishop, we spoke of this need of a comprehensive view of the country—the importance of an interconnection among the various sectors of the government, with a view to an adequate balance between the means and ends of each respective ministry, as well as an adequate communication among them all. We spoke of the question of ethics in addressing the public welfare, and of the candor with which the government, regardless of the breadth or depth of its activity, from a police department in a remote corner of the island to the prime minister’s cabinet, should say or do things. Everything should be out in the open. Everything should be explained. We spoke of the pedagogical nature of the act of governing, of its mission of formation and of offering an example, which requires utter seriousness on the part of those who govern. There is no such thing as an authentic, legitimate, credible government if its discourse is not confirmed by its practice, if it practices political patronage and the pork barrel, if it is severe only with the opposition and kind and gentle with its coreligionists. If you give in once, twice, three times to the shoddy ethics of the mighty—or even of your “friends,” who are exerting pressure on you—the floodgates will open. From now on there will be only scandal upon scandal, and connivance with scandals ends by anesthetizing its agents and generates a climate typical of the “democratization of shamelessness.”

As I sit here recalling these twelve-year-old things I am thinking about what we are experiencing today in Brazil. The avalanche of scandals at the highest levels of power become an example for the simple citizenry and the people.

Everything becomes possible: deceit, betrayal, lying, stealing, falsifying, kidnapping, calumny, murder, assault, threats, destruction, taking “thirty pieces of silver,” buying bicycles as if they were going to open bicycle rental shops all over the country. We must put a stop to everything being possible.

The solution, obviously, is not in a hypocritical puritanism, but in a conscious, explicit relish for purity.

“I’d like to talk with you a bit, sir,” said a young man with a Portuguese accent, phoning me one Sunday morning in Geneva in the spring of 1971.

I quickly consulted Elza, and with her consent asked him to come over for breakfast. I was then to spend the afternoon working on an upcoming interview for a European periodical. And so, inviting him to come for 11:00 a.m., I told him in the same breath that at 2:30 I was going to have to start a job with a Monday morning deadline.

In Geneva, everything runs on time. Even the buses run on time. The 10:04 bus actually comes at 10:04. And if it doesn’t, it would be no surprise if the people of the neighborhood received a courteous letter from the Department of Public Transportation asking forgiveness and promising that it won’t happen again.

And so it was not long after the phone call that the doorbell rang, and the young man, indeed a Portuguese, had arrived. Uncomfortable, and speaking rapidly, the boy swallowed his syllables, and slurred some vowels in the words of his structure of thought, playing them differently from the way we in Brazil make them “dance” in our thought structure. It was just what we Brazilians and Portuguese find so annoying in conversation with each other. It is not precisely the tighter rhythm of Portuguese speech that annoys us, and our more open rhythm that annoys them. It is the syntax. Nor is it the semantics inextricably imbedded in the syntax. It is the syntax itself, the thought structure. This is what annoys us both.

In 1969, two years before that morning in Geneva when I conversed with the uneasy young man, I had received, in the United States, a series of little notes, several of them written on the same sheet of paper, from Portuguese who had only recently learned to read and write. They had been sent by peasants of a rural area near Coimbra. They were writing to me to express their gratitude for what I had done for them, to tell me of their friendship, and to invite me, when political conditions should permit, to come and visit them, so that I might receive their embraces and hear of their fondness for me.

A young American was the bearer of the messages, and she brought me one more thing along with them—a banner, or pennant. The motto on the pennant, by the way, is worth pondering: “There are people who can make flowers grow where it had seemed impossible.” Yes, they might have thought they had been born to a sure fate, under the sign of an inability to read words, and had been convinced of this. But they had learned to read words. And so the reason must have been outside themselves! In their teachers and in me. Of course, had they failed, the reason would have had to be inside themselves.

I answered all of those who had written to me by penning little cards, in a simple, though never simplistic, language, and addressing them in care of Maria de Lourdes Pintacilgo, who within a few years would become prime minister of Portugal, and who at the time, together with Tereza Santa Clara, was heading the efforts of a group of excellent folk working in the area of popular education. The literacy campaign in that rural area near Coimbra was only a small part of what was being accomplished by that dedicated, competent, loving, and discerning Grail team.

At one point in our conversation, that Sunday morning on which I report here, the young Portuguese gentleman referred directly to the work at Coimbra. “Does Paulo Freire know how a group of Catholic women have perverted his ideas in the countryside around Coimbra?”

“What I know of the work done in Coimbra doesn’t seem to me to be a distortion of my proposals. By all indications, it was simply what could concretely be done,” I said, and I went on: “Under what regime, under what police observation do you think those young women were working in Coimbra?”

But without answering my questions, the young man insisted that “they had not associated the literacy campaign with the political struggle against Salazar. They were just nice little Catholic girls. They had no understanding of the class struggle as the thrust of history,” he concluded, triumphantly.

Three years had passed since the conscientização of the Portuguese colonial armed forces. The Carnation Revolution had erupted. A new government was in place, and had initiated the process of democratizing Portugal and decolonizing the Africa once misnamed “Portuguese.”

Hope reigned. Spirits forbidden to so much as speak shouted and sang. Minds prohibited from thinking discoursed, and burst the bonds that had held them.

I visited Portugal at the invitation of the new government, in which the university had joined, and I spoke to teachers and students. I visited Coimbra, and its university. And of course, led by the same loving, dedicated young women who had believed in God and in the need to change the world in behalf of the outcast and had done such wonderful service in the environs of the city, I visited the peasants who, in 1969, had written me those cards that spoke of their brotherly and sisterly love. I embraced them all, lovingly. Our personhoods were, as it were, inscribed on one another’s hearts, and our affectionate discourse expressed a mutual gratitude. Theirs to me. Mine to them all.

It was that morning in Coimbra, out in the country, that I learned of the little rural community that, along with a small number of others, had given such complete support to the revolutionary government at one of the moments when the Right was flailing about in all its frenzy. One of the more daring of the elderly peasants taking the literacy course with the young women of the Grail got up early one particular morning, and, before anyone else was awake, went around collecting all the Fascist propaganda that had been distributed during the night in her little village. The whole village refused to support the rightist demonstration to which they had been invited by these pamphlets!

No discourse on the class struggle had been necessary during the literacy course, however real that struggle might be, in order for her and her companions to perceive, once the right moment had come, the relationship between the reading of the word, the reading of the world, and above all, the transformation of the world!

The only sensible way for the Catholic girls to have done their work had been within the limits of good tactics. Any other approach would have been “reactionary.”

News of the Carnation Revolution took me by surprise on a thirty-five-day visit to Australia, New Zealand, and some of the principal islands of the region. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, once more, was at the center of the frameworks of our meetings. Its publication by Penguin Books, as I have pointed out, enabled it to reach all of that world, along with India, and the misnamed “British” Africa.

Never have I accepted the denomination of British, French, or Portuguese Africa, not to mention the other “Africas.” I have disputed with friends in the ministries of the Portuguese ex-colonies (“Portuguese ex-colonies,” yes) a number of times, arguing against the designation of a “Portuguese-speaking Africa.” I do not believe in the existence of such a thing, any more than in that of a “French-speaking” or “English-speaking” Africa. What we have is an Africa over which there hovered, in domination, colonial-style, the Portuguese language, the French language, the English language. That is another matter.

The big risk, or one of the big risks, of these Africas is that, partly out of nostalgia for the old colonial days—under the impulse of the ambivalent feeling the colonized have for the colonizers, one of repulsion and attraction at once, to which Memmi (Albert Memmi) refers—partly from necessity, partly under pressure, linguistic “ex-expressions” consisting of the old linguistic bonds would now deepen into an incarnation of a new kind of “language” or expression: the neocolonial. Not that I defend, for the various Africas, the absurdity, the impossibility, of an absolute breach with the past, which basically remains untransformed, and a renunciation of the positive factors in the cultural influences of old Europe. What I defend and recommend is a radical breach with colonialism, and an equally radical rejection of neocolonialism. I call for the defeat of the colonial bureaucracy, as I actually suggested to the governments of Angola, Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe; the defeat of the colonial school, the formulation of a cultural policy that would take seriously the question of the national languages, which the colonizers called, pejoratively, “dialects.”

In fact, colonized persons and colonial nations never seal their liberation, conquer or reconquer their cultural identity, without assuming their language and discourse and being assumed by it.

That a Portuguese, a French, a British ex-colony not turn its back on these languages and these cultures, that they make use of them, that they study them, that they take advantage of their positive elements, is not only right and good, but altogether needful. The basic thing, however, is that the country that receives “foreign aid,” in whatever form that aid be offered, technological or artistic, do so as an active, autonomous agent, and not as the passive object of the transfer effectuated by the other country. I was once told, perhaps by way of caricature, that a certain African country had received foreign aid (to be repaid, however) from the former Soviet Union, in the form of a snowplow, for clearing the streets after snowstorms! In this case, it was the Soviet Union that fluttered over this country of Africa!

But to get back to the trip to Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. I shall omit any commentaries on the beauty, in some cases the peerless beauty, of this region, and attempt to concentrate on one or other point of the theory of which I speak in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a theory anchored in my own practice rather than in other persons’ practices that I would have been able to explain theoretically. This was true, by and large, of everything I did on the journey, in discussion, research, negative criticism, concordant analysis, and requests for explanation.

In Australia, especially, I had the opportunity of associating with intellectuals, Marx’s loyal allies, who precisely as his authentic followers had grasped the dialectical relationship between the world and consciousness, and had assimilated the theses defended in Pedagogy of the Oppressed rather than looking upon it as a volume of idealism. But I also dialogued with persons imprisoned in a dogmatism likewise of Marxist origin, who, while not precisely belittling consciousness, reduced it to a mere shadow of materiality. For those who thought in this way, mechanistically, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was a book of bourgeois idealism. Actually, however, one of the reasons why this book continues to be as much sought after as it was twenty-two years ago may be precisely because of content that led certain critics of that time to regard it as idealistic and bourgeois. I refer to the importance the book ascribes to consciousness, without, however, seeing consciousness as the arbitrary maker of the world. I refer to its recognition of the manifest importance of the individual, without ascribing to individuals as such a strength they do not have. I mean the weight, which the book likewise recognizes, in our life, individual and social, of feelings, passion, desires, fear, insight, the courage to love, to be angry. I mean the book’s vehement defense of humanistic positions, but without ever sliding into sloppy sentimentalism. I mean its understanding of history, in whose intermingled context and motion it seeks to understand that of which it speaks. I mean its rejection of sectarian dogmatic opinions. I mean its relish for the ongoing struggle, which generates hope, and without which the struggle withers and dies. I mean Pedagogy’s pervasive opposition, so “early on,” to the neoliberals, who fear the dream, not the impossible—since the impossible should not even be dreamt of, while the dream makes things possible—in the name of facile adaptations to the catastrophes of the capitalist world.

Many in the 1970s, sometimes in a letter addressed to me, said: “I desiderate the Marxist presence in your analyses, or your ignorance of the fact that ‘the class struggle is the driving force of history.’ But I think” (and these persons were the most sensible of the lot!) “that we can get something out of what you are doing and saying by ‘rewriting’ you in a Marxist vein.” And many of the men and women who thus expressed themselves are to be found today, sadly, in the ranks of the “pragmatic realists,” although at least they acknowledge the social classes when they walk through the hills, gullies, slums, callampas, and streets of Latin America.

And so I traveled through much of Australia. I held discussions with factory workers, with “aborigines,” as they are called (I was received by one of their groups at a special meeting). I held debates with university professors and students, and with religious groups, Protestant and Catholic. In the religious groups, whether Catholic or Protestant, the launching pad was the Theology of Liberation, both the importance of that theology, and the defeat it proposed of accommodation and immobilism through acceptance of the deep meaning of the presence of man and woman in history, in the world—a world ever to be re-created on pain of having, not a world, but a mere platform to set things on.

In New Zealand, I held more discussions about Pedagogy of the Oppressed, with groups like those in Australia and emphasizing one aspect or other of the book. I was impressed by my discussions with indigenous leaders—with their insight, their awareness of their position of subjection and their rejection of that position, their thirst for the struggle, their non-conformity. Today, the Maori population of one-hundred-thousand, who are bilingual, have the option of studying their own language in the schools.*

My trip through Papua New Guinea was a hasty one. The island was preparing to gain its autonomy, take itself in hand, within a few months, no longer to be a “protectorate” of Australia, which it had been since the end of World War II.

One of the meetings I set up was with a group of young politicos who bade fair to play a salient role among the leaders of the process of assumption of the reins of national government. Our meeting was a lengthy one, concentrating on problems of development and education, education and democracy. Primary, secondary, and university education. Cultural identity. Language, ideology, social classes.

That evening I shared in a discussion at the university, whose topics, as might have been expected, included doubts and criticisms about certain elements in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Some of the criticisms repeated others I had heard previously, in Australia.

Along with certain merits of the book, the “idealistic” stamp of my humanism was emphasized, for example—the “vagueness,” to which I have referred in the present book, in my concept of “oppressed,” or in my concept of “people.”

I rejected that sort of criticism, of course, just as I do today. But our debates never lost the tone of a dialogue, never became polemical. The persons who dissented from my positions obviously meant me no harm. Their criticisms did not feed on some uncontainable rage against me. Thus, even in the case of diametrically opposed positions, in Australia or in New Zealand, the respectful relationship that prevailed between those who disagreed with me and myself was never lost. The same thing had occurred between North American scholar Chester Bowers and me at the University of Oregon, at a debate in the presence of sixty members of a seminar, in July 1987.

* Manning Marabele, The Crisis of Color and Democracy: Essays on Race, Class and Power (Monroe, Maine: Common Conrage Press, 1992).

* The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).