|Paulo Freire - A Great Soul|
Only through communication can life hold meaning.
In a recent post about Steve Jobs, I mentioned the idea that as long as we are remembered, we will live on. A great thinker, a great soul that has influenced my life through both thought an action. His is a crucial influence on how I live my life. I would like to share a few of his ideas and his personal history. His name is PAULO FREIRE. Paulo Friere was a citizen of the world whose words and action make him an immortal. Though his mortal death occurred thirteen years ago, his ideas regarding education, literacy, and human liberation are alive and prospering in 2011.
It is difficult to contain in one sentence everything that Paulo Freire worked for, wrote about, and taught in many nations on Planet Earth. He developed a pedagogy (teaching AND learning approach) based on the idea that every learner needs to own her/his education; and that authentic education is liberating for both the individual and for society.
I began a life-long commitment to the philosophy of Paulo Freire decades ago. My commitment continues today. He wrote many books in the language of his native country, (Brazilian-Portugese). His words have been translated in many languages throughout the world. He was not only a writer/philosopher; he was a practitioner. He could speak with authority about his approach because he carried it out – from the fields of Brazil to the savannahs of Africa to the cities of the U.S..
I had the good fortune of meeting Paulo when he spoke at Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. I was a graduate student in the Education Department studying for my master’s degree as a Reading Specialist. Meeting Paulo Freire, listening to his ideas, feeling the glow of his charismatic personality was a peak experience for me. Though this was the first time I met him in person, he had been my spiritual and philosophical guide for twenty years through his books and his actions.
Paulo was a special guest lecturer at the University. He spoke in English regarding his ideas and the practice of his ideas. He was small in stature and dressed in the guayabera of Latin America. His eyes truly reflected his soul. He was a great man with a great heart. I don’t really believe in the ‘aura theory’, but he DID have an aura radiating his love of humanity and his commitment to liberatory education.
At the close of his talk, we all crowded around him – as if to get his blessing. He had achieved the ability to be charismatic without ego tripping. – an extremely rare accomplishment in public figures. When it was my turn to shake his hand, we said a few words and the communication was more eye-to-eye than verbal. I don’t speak his native language, Portugese. Instinctively, we both reached out in the Latin American embrazo, and hugged in recognition of shared ideals and actions.
I never saw him again, but he is always with me. His books are in the top shelf of my personal bookcase. I have every book he wrote, and I go to them for inspiration and guidance. I don’t go to his words every day, but when the need is there, I know I can count on him. I can look at the line of his books and know, that when I need his words – he is waiting with the embrazo of his intellect and his soul.
Very rarely do I personally give one of his books to someone – never to a stranger. I have to know the recipient well enough to know that she/he will value Paulo. I recommend the work of Paulo Freire often, but I have seldom given the gift of one of his books - only three times in as many decades. Giving a book that expresses Paulo’s ideas to someone is like sharing one friend with another – a delicate human operation. “Will they like each other? Can they really HEAR with the other is saying?” I have to be sure she/he is simpatico with the soul and mind of Paulo and his idea that people have the right to OWN their world.
English translations of his early work, particularly, his keystone work, PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED, are difficult to read in English. Translations of his later works are more easily read in English. For someone wanting to begin reading the works of Paulo Freire, I suggest his book, WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING. This is a book composed of a dialogue between Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. Reading it flows smoothly. These two men worked in liberatory education in different parts of the world with different groups of people. Yet, they share the same good will for humanity with both similar and distinct approaches. In this book, the reader is a witness to their conversation.
Here are some words of Paulo Freire. They are perhaps, too much to be read in one setting. They are thought provoking and best read one at a time; choosing at random. They are ‘memory gems.
"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
"No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”
"Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects."
"language is never neutral"
In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.
Learning is a process where knowledge is presented to us, then shaped through understanding, discussion and reflection.
Educators need to know what happens in the world of the children with whom they work. They need to know the universe of their dreams, the language with which they skillfully defend themselves from the aggressiveness of their world, what they know independently of the school, and how they know it.
Finally, it is important to make it clear that imagination is not an exercise for those detached from reality, those who live in the air. On the contrary, when we imagine something, we do it necessarily conditioned by a lack in our concrete reality. When children imagine free and happy schools, it is because their real schools deny them freedom and happiness.
I did not understand anything because of my hunger. I was not dumb. It was not lack of interest. My social condition did not allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge.
I would like to hear from you.
What do you think as you read his words?
What do you feel as you read his words?