About Paulo Freire

Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919), AZ Cadence of Autumn, 1905.


Memories and considerations about the Brazilian educator and philosopher

Whenever I think of Paulo, I remember the years when we were neighbors on Rua D. Rita de Souza, in Bairro Alto, after the square and church of Casa Forte. This happened between 1953 and 1954, when he would have been 16 to 17 years old. Our meeting was due to the initiative of my mother, Elza Lisboa de Moraes Rego Costa Lima. She told me that, on their return from Sunday Mass – practicing Catholics that they were – she had asked him to guide me through my teenage years, because she didn't feel capable of doing so.

On his initiative, I started to frequent Paulo's office. It was from his library that I read prominent authors of modern Brazilian poetry, as well as social interpreters of the country. That is, in it I found the fundamentals that would be basic to me.

My recollection, not exercising often in the period, is rather vague. I remember that my parents' mansion – today destroyed by an indistinct building – had huge windows overlooking the unpaved street. Many times, at night, I would jump through one of them and, even in my pajamas, I would run to Paulo's office, where we would talk for hours and/or show him my first rehearsals. Paulo, who had been a Portuguese teacher, had to correct my beginner's mistakes. The other memory is from a few years later. As I was doing my military service, attending the CPOR year in a barracks close to where we lived, when I finished working, I would pass in front of his house and, still in uniform, if I was in his office, I would spend hours in an endless conversation.

Recall now leaps forward by years. At the end of 1961, having finished my course at the Faculty of Law, I received a scholarship from the Institute of Hispanic Culture. This was not my choice, but this is not the place to explain why I ended up in Madrid. The course did not excite me and, contrary to what was offered, I did not accept to do my postdoctoral degree there. I do not dispute what I gained by learning a language, getting to know, through the influence of João Cabral – who was my true master –, Castilian poetry, and having contacts that my seclusion in Recife did not allow me. Perhaps the greatest advantage was that it forced me to discover my path on my own. It is also not appropriate here to expand on the purpose – I only observe that this “on their own” should not omit what I owe to the much later influence of the Konstanz School, in Germany.

Upon returning to the country at the end of 1962, I found Recife to be one of the cities where the spirit of social change that shook João Goulart's government was most intensely felt, thanks to the profound influence of Darci Ribeiro. The rector of the Federal University (then called) of Recife, determined to break the institution's sluggishness, promoted the constitution of the Cultural Extension Service (SEC), directed by Paulo Freire, to which a university radio station, directed by José Laurênio de Melo, who worked for years at the BBC in London, and the magazine University Studies, of which I was secretary. As I was professor Evaldo Coutinho's assistant at the same time, all my time was taken up by the university. The SEC was the headquarters where the instructors who would apply the literacy system conceived by Paulo were prepared. Since it is customary to assume that Paul's system implied the use of a booklet, it is worth remembering that nothing would be more antagonistic to it. In its place, one or more words were projected on a blackboard and, after being taught the identification of the letters, the literacy student was asked to formulate other words based on them, by changing the letters or syllables. words. That is, the learner's ability to combine is encouraged, his ideational imagination and not simply his visual memorization. As I will develop below, this basic principle leads me to think that Paulo's method went beyond a literacy process. The projection was done in a very crude way at first, which I don't remember well; but soon it had a simple device, designed by Francisco Brennand. Parallel to my work at the magazine, I took part in Brazilian culture classes and trained instructors. This is how the first experience was constituted, carried out in Angicos, Rio Grande do Norte.

Through interference, I believe from Darci Ribeiro, Paulo Freire's project became national. Its success and extension sensibly increased the anger of the city's reactionary sectors. Paulo and his team were accused of, under the pretext of making the marginalized population literate, intending to form a mass of voters for communist candidates. Few ignominies could be more absurd. Not only was Paulo Freire a practicing Catholic, but the Communist Party itself did not approve of the climate of agitation installed in the country, and consequently much less of Paulo's project, under the allegation, which would soon prove to be fair, that the country was not prepared for changes of some depth. The military coup of April 1964 would show that the force opted for maintaining the structure of inequality that has been the country's hallmark for centuries. Against the power of weapons who can the illusion of dreams? The SEC is dissolved, its members are dismissed, many are arrested or, months later, included in AI/1. The blow emphasized that the survival of each one of those affected forced them to look for other airs.

I must not end this small retrospective without calling attention to Paulo's project. It seems naive to me that it restricts itself to being a method, albeit diversified, of literacy. I have no doubt that this was how it seemed to its creator and to those who tried to implant it. But I also believe that their more astute adversaries sensed that they were being attacked on a deeper front. Not only has this not been noticed, but it belongs to an area of ​​study that is still almost non-existent. It is not for me here to do more than point to its possibility. That is, roughly delineate it.

I take as an example the most recent issue of the North American university magazine critical inquiry (summer 2021). In it, there is an article signed by Anna Schatman, under the title of “Command of media metaphors”. The essay does not stand out for its quality; rather weak, limiting itself to a wide review that, from the “Seminar Tamiment”, carried out in 1959, going back and forth, restricts itself to pointing out the role of metaphor as over-determination (“over-determination”) of the media text: “What Tamiment's conversations finally reveal is that when media entered everyday language, they were already associated with many definitions”. The detail of the author's argument would be of little more value than the passage above. Although its development does not abandon mediocrity, the essay warns of the need to penetrate what we would call textual composition. That is, for the need to verify that the use of language undergoes significant changes according to the way it is done. The use of Portuguese in explaining a question of exact science (it would be better to say “hard”, dura), in a bestseller, in a sociological text or in a poem undergoes changes that are independent of the purpose or intention of its author. That is, each of them constitutes a discursive block, whose properties need to be characterized. This is not to say that each block contains rigid boundaries. Quite the contrary. From a banal media text to a refined poem, the differences concern degrees of increasing complexity, resulting from differences in frames (frames) that particularize each speech.

Hence the intuition that provokes this development. I believe that the anger that Paulo Freire's method provoked stemmed from the fact that he, even without the conscious intention of its promoter, attacked the nationally established constitution of sociological discourse, formulated in such a way as to bring it close to the frame previously close to the media, that is, the everyday formulation. The reduction achieved in discursive forms would be commendable if it did not come to the detriment of the exchange between concepts and metaphorical plurivocity, without which discourses, with the exception of rigorously mathematical formulation, can be interesting without effectively becoming new. As Freud said, further research and reflection will certainly bring decisive light.

If I am not the one unduly extrapolating, the conversations held on Rua Rita de Sousa continue to echo in my mind. Without being responsible for what they generate, I owe their long fermentation to Paulo.

* Luiz Costa Lima Professor Emeritus at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC/RJ) and literary critic. Author, among other books, of The ground of the mind: the question for fiction (Unesp).

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