Paulo Freire – a defender of freedom

Bill Woodrow, Untitled, 1992.


Freire's spirit and policy should not be celebrated, but emulated

September 19 was Paulo Freire's birthday. Freire and I worked together for fifteen years, which I consider to be the most enriching years of my life. We have jointly edited a number of books and, together with Donaldo Macedo, have translated and published many of Freire's books in the English-speaking world. He wrote the foreword to my second book, “Theory and Resistance in Education”, and we collaborated together until his death. They had and will still have many celebrations. Many will treat him like an icon, rather than the revolutionary he truly was. In doing so, they will speak of Freire with the kind of unpoliticized reverence we often associate with the hollow praise reserved for dead celebrities. Ivy League schools will make statements celebrating their work that offers them radical change, which is, of course, the opposite of what they believe. This distraction is understandable in an age when ignorance breeds, and we have the worship of celebrity culture, and an age in which historical memory becomes dangerous and dissent becomes a curse. Freire was a revolutionary whose passion for justice and resistance clashed with his hatred of neoliberal capitalism and authoritarians of all political persuasions. Quite simply, he was not merely a public intellectual, he was also a defender of liberty. The current attacks on him in Brazil by the neo-fascist Bolsonaro make clear just how dangerous his work is even today.

One of Freire's most important contributions was his politicization of culture. He saw culture as a battleground that both reflected and implemented power. He rejected the vulgar Marxist notion that culture was simply a reflection of economic forces. Not only did he connect culture to the social relations that came from the production and legitimation of class struggle, ecological destruction, and various forms of privilege, but he also understood that culture was always related to power and was an enormous force of influence. . This was especially true in the age of social media with its power to define diverse modes of inclusion, legitimize consensus, produce specific forms of agency, and reproduce unequal power relations within and outside nation-states. He strongly emphasized the role of language and values ​​in struggles over identity and resources and how they worked across different organizations and public spheres such as schools, media, corporate apparatuses, and other social spheres. His work on literacy has focused on how neoliberal cultural practices establish certain forms of commercialized bodies, define and circumvent public space, depoliticize people through the language of commands, while privatizing and commodifying everything. Culture and literacy for Freire offered people the space to develop new modes of agency of people, of mass resistance and emotional attachments that embraced empowered forms of solidarity. For Freire, the terrains of culture, literacy, and education were the fields in which individuals gain awareness of their position, and a willingness to fight for dignity, social justice, and freedom. For Freire, culture was a battlefield, a site of struggle, and he recognized with Gramsci that each relationship of domination was “pedagogical and takes place amidst the different forces that compose them”.

Freire, first of all, believed that education was connected with social change and that questions of identity and consciousness were essential to make pedagogy central to politics. For Freire, education and learning were part of an even greater struggle against capitalism, neoliberalism, authoritarianism, fascism and against the depoliticization and instrumentalization of education. Direct action, political education and cultural politics defined, for him, new resistance strategies and new understandings of the relationship between power and culture and how they shaped issues of identity, values, and the individual's understanding of the future. Pedagogy and literacy were political because they were connected to the struggle for agency, ongoing power relations, and the preconditions for the connection between knowledge and values ​​and the development of active, critical, and engaged citizens. Freire's great contribution was to recognize that domination was not only economic and structural, but also pedagogical, ideological, cultural and intellectual, and that questions of persuasion and belief were crucial weapons for the creation of engaged agents and critical subjects. He also refuted the cynics' easy escape route who equated domination with power. Resistance was always a possibility and any policy that denied it made a mistake, in complicity with the most heinous crimes, albeit unrecognized. Freire was a transformative public intellectual and defender of freedom who believed that educators had an enormous responsibility to address important social and political issues, to speak the truth, and to take risks, regardless of inconvenient consequences. Civic courage was essential to politics, and he embodied the best of that conviction.

By making education a centerpiece of politics, Freire connected ideas to power, and critical consciousness to literacy to intervene in the world and in the struggle for economic, social and racial justice. He never separated the enormous suffering and limitations imposed by inequality from the sphere of politics and, in doing so, connected the conditions, however specific, for resistance to addressing the limitations that were burdens on people's lives. Freire believed that everyone had the capacity to be intellectual, to think critically, to turn the familiar into something strange, and to fight individually and collectively against the machines of “disimagination” and the political, ethical and social abandonment zones that transformed people’s lives. democracies into updated versions of the fascist state.

His work was not about methods, but about forging social and individual change in ways that gave voice to the voiceless and power to those deemed expendable. Freire was a champion of liberty, who he believed deeply in a future in which radical democracy was possible. He was a fearless utopian for whom hope was not just an idea, but a way of thinking otherwise in order to act otherwise. Freire's political and educational work was rooted in an ethical ideal and a sense of responsibility that are under attack today, which testifies to its importance and need for defense; there is also a need to prevent jobs from being appropriated by the ruling elites; moreover, there is a need to expand them to new social, cultural and economic circumstances that desperately need help in the fight against the fascist policies that are emerging around the globe. Freire believed that no society is enough and that the struggle against injustice is the precondition for the radicalization of values, for the struggle against institutional oppression, and for the adoption of a global policy of shared democratic values. Civil literacy for him was a weapon to raise conscience, empower civil action, and cease the lure of fascist politics. Freire was dangerous, and rightly so, at a time when history is being “purified”, those deemed expendable are both expanding and losing their lives, and the need for an anti-capitalist consciousness and social movement of mass are more urgent than ever. Freire's spirit and policy should not be celebrated, but emulated.

*Henry Giroux is a professor at McMaster University (Canada). Author, among other books, of Radical Pedagogy - subsidies (Cortez).

Originally posted on portal counterpunch.


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