[OPE-L:4966] The Death of Paolo Freire

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 10 May 1997 11:14:04 -0700 (PDT)

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Date: Sat, 10 May 1997 13:05:20 -0400 (EDT)
From: Valerie Scatamburlo <valeries@yorku.ca>
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Date: 10 May 1997 08:15:34 -0700
From: Peter McLaren <mclaren@gseis.ucla.edu>
Subject: Re: freire

Paulo Freire's Legacy of Hope and Struggle.

Peter McLaren

Paulo Freire died May 2, 1997.
Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was born on September 19th, 1921 in
Recife, in the Northeast of Brasil.
As a courageous and humble scholar, social activist, and cultural
worker, Freire was able to develop an anti-imperalist and anti-capitalist
literacy praxis that served as the foundation for a more broadly based
struggle for liberation. In his first experiment in 1963, Freire taught
300 adults to read and write in 45 days. This method was adopted by
Pernambuco, a sugar cane-growing state 1,160 miles northeast of Rio.
This success marked the beginning of what was to become a legendary
approach in education.
Freire's internationally celebrated work with the poor began in
the late 1940s and continued unabated until 1964, when a right-wing
military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of
President Joao Goulart. Freire was accused of preaching communism and
arrested. He was imprisoned by the military government for seventy
days, and exiled for his work in the national literacy campaign, of which
he had served as director. According to Moacir Gadotti, the Brazilian
military considered Freire "an international subversive," "a traitor to
Christ and the Brazilian people" and accused him of developing a
teaching method "similar to that of Stalin, Hitler, Peron, and
Mussolini." He was furthermore accused of trying to turn Brazil into a
"bolshevik country" (1994). Freire's 16 years of exile were tumultuous
and productive times: a five-year stay in Chile as a UNESCO consultant
with the Research and Training Institute for Agrarian Reform; an
appointment in 1969 to Harvard University's Center for Studies in
Development and Social Change; a move to Geneva, Switzerland in 1970 as
consultant to the Office of Education of the World Council of Churches,
where he developed literacy programs for Tanzania and Guinea-Bissau that
focused on the re-Africanization of their countries; the development of
literacy programs in some postrevolutionary former Portuguese
colonies such as Angola and Mozambique; assisting the government of Peru and
Nicaragua with their literacy campaigns; the establishment of the Institute of
Cultural Action in Geneva in 1971; a brief return to Chile after Salvador
Allende was assassinated in 1973, provoking General Pinochet to declare Freire
a subversive; and his brief visit to Brazil under a political amnesty in 1979
and his final return to Brazil in 1980 to teach at the Pontificia Universidade
Catolica de Sao Paulo and the Universidade de Campinas in Sao Paulo. These
events were accompanied by numerous works, most notably Pedagogy of the
Oppressed, Cultural Action for Freedom and Pedagogy in Process: Letters to
Guinea-Bissau. In more recent years, Freire worked briefly as Secretary of
Education of Sao Paulo, continuing his radical agenda of literacy reform for
the people of that city.
Based on a recognition of the cultural underpinnings of folk
traditions and the importance of the collective construction of
knowledge, Freire's literacy programs for disempowered peasants are now
employed in countries all over the world. By linking the categories of
history, politics, economics, and class to the concepts of culture and
power, Freire has managed to develop both a language of critique and a
language of hope that work conjointly and dialectically and which have
proven successful in helping generations of disenfranchised peoples to
liberate themselves.
With a liberating pedagogy such as Freire's, educators and
cultural workers in the United States and elsewhere - both male and
female, and from different ethnic locations - have an opportunity to
engage in a global struggle for transforming existing relations of power
and privilege in the interest of greater social justice and human
What is remarkable about Freire's work is that it continues to be
vigorously engaged by scholars in numerous disciplines: literary theory;
composition; philosophy; ethnography; political science; sociology;
teacher education; theology, etc. He has given the word "educator" a new
meaning, inflecting the term to embrace multiple perspectives: border
intellectual; social activist; critical researcher; moral agent; radical
philosopher; political revolutionary. To a greater extent than any other
educator of this century, Freire was able to develop a pedagogy of
resistance to oppressin. More than this, he lived what he taught. His
life is the story of courage, hardship, perseverance, and unyielding
belief in the power of love.
Freire believed that the challenge of transforming schools should
be directed at overcoming socio-economic injustice linked to the
political and economic structures of society. Any attempt at school
reform that claims to be inspired by Freire- but that is only concerned
with social patterns of representation, interpretation, or communication,
and that does not connect these patterns to redistributive measures and
structures that reinforce such patterns- exempts itself fromt the most
important insights of Freire's work. Freire's approach stipulates a
trenchant understanding of patterns of redistribution in order to
transform the underlying economic structures that produce relations of
exploitation. Freire was also concerned with practicing a politics of
diversity and self affirmation - in short, a cultural politics -
but not as a mere end-in-itself, but rather in relation to a larger
politics of liberation and social justice. Consequently, a Freirean
pedagogy of liberation is totalizing without being dominating in that it
always regards the specific or local "act of knowing" as a political
process that takes place in the larger conflictual arena of capitalist
relations of exploitation. Thus, a pedagogy of the oppressed involves
not only a redistribution of material resources, but also a struggle over
cultural meanings in relation to the multiple social locations of
students and teachers and their position within the global division of
Has Freire's name become a floating signifier to be attached
adventitiously to any chosen referent within the multistranded terrain of
progressive education? To a certain extent this has already happened.
Liberal progressives are drawn to Freire's humanism; Marxists and
neo-Marxists are drawn to his revoltionary praxis and his history of
working with revolutionary political regimes; left liberals are drawn to
his critical utopianism; and even conservatives begrudgingly respect his
stress on ethics. No doubt his work will be domesticated by his followers
- as selected aspects of his corpus are appropriated uncritically and
decontextualized from his larger political project of struggling for the
realization of a truly socialist democracy -in order to make a more
comfortable fit with various conflicting political
agendas. Consequently, it is important to read Freire in the context of his
entire corpus of works, from Pedagogy of the Oppressed to Pedagogy of Hope.
The globalization of capital, the move toward post-Fordist economic
arrangements of flexible specialization, and the consolidation of neo-liberal
educational policies demands not only a vigorous and ongoing engagement with
Freire's work, but also a re-invention of Freire in the context of current
debates over information technologies, global economic restructuring, and the
struggle to develop new modes of revolutionary struggle.
Freire's pedagogy offers a powerful context from which to consider
rebuilding democracy and living and struggling for a qualitatively better
life for the oppressed, for the non-oppresed, and for generations to follow.
His pedagogy poses the postmodern challenge of finding new ways of facing up
to our own frailty and finitude as global citizens while at the same time
searching for the strength of will and loyalty to hope that will enable us to
continue dreaming utopia into reality.
As Freire's future haigiographers wrestle in the educational arena over what
represents the "real" Freire and his legacy, Freire's work will contrinue to
be felt in the lives of those who knew him and who loved him. Just as
importantly, his is work will continue to influence generations of educators,
scholars, and activists around the world.
His pedagogy of the oppressed helped me as young man to unlearn my
privilege as a white, Anglo male, and to "decolonize" my own perspectives as
an educator teaching in the industrialized West. I first began reading Freire
after five years of teaching in an inner-city school in hometown of Toronto,
in my native Canada. In trying to analyze my inner-city teaching experiences
once I had left the classroom to pursue graduate studies, Freire's work helped
me both to recognize and to name my own complicity in the oppression that I
was trying to help my students resist. In other words, Freire's writings
helped me to unlearn the influences of my liberal heritage that positions so
many white teachers as "missionaries" among the disenfranchised. Freire's
work has further helped me to recognize how the system of education is
situated within a discourse and legacy of imperialism, patriarchy, and
Eurocentrism. More important, Freire's work was able to help me develop
counterhegemonic strategies and tactics of urban educational reform. This
project is a difficult one, especially for many white, male educators who want
to make a difference in the metropolitan contexts of contemporary urban
schooling. It is also a difficult lesson for teachers and prospective
teachers who come from the ranks of the privileged.
In 1996, I was privileged to share the platform with Paulo and Augusto Boal
(who developed the "theater of the oppressed" based on Freire's work) at the
Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska. It was the first time the three of us had
everpresented together. Paulo was remarkable during our dialogue with the
audience, fielding questions with the agility of a man half his age. What
struck me most about Paulo was his humility. I remember a lunch we had
together in Freire's home in Sao Paulo. In trying to find the bathroom, I
ended up in Freire's bedroom where I was astonished to find dozens of
honorary doctorates on the wall. He kept such honors consigned to his own
person space, having no need to reveal them to the many guests whom he
generously invited to spend time with him. He was also kind enough to help
translate a speech I gave at the Pontifica Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo,
when the official translator ran into trouble with my prose.
The week after his unexpected death, Freire was scheduledto attend a ceremony
in Cuba where Fidel Castro was to present him with a major award for his
contribution to education. According to his friends, this was to be the most
important award of Freire's life.
Shortly before his death, Freire was reported to say something to this
effect: "I could never think ofeducation without love and that is why I think
I am an educator, first ofall because I feel love . . ." As Marcia Moraes
remarked to me recently: "Freire is not leaving the struggle, he has merely
changed his
We will miss him.

Gadotti, Moacir (1994). Reading Paulo Freire. Albany, New York: State
University of New York Press.
Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard (1993). Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter.
New York and London, Routledge.
Peter McLaren and Colin Lankshear (1994). Politics of Liberation: Paths from
Freire. New York and London: Routledge.
Marcia Moraes, Personal communication, Rio de Janiero.

Peter McLaren is a Professor at UCLA and an Associate of the Paulo Freire
Institute, Sao Paulo, Brazil.