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We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Paulo Freire’s magnificent book Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the Wabash journal, Teaching Theology and Religion, has published a Forum to to celebrate the book and Freire’s legacy. Very few books in recent history have made their way around the world ...
Date Reviewed: January 19, 2015
Best known for his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York, N.Y.: Herder, 1970), Paulo Freire (1921-1997) criticized a “banking model” of education − the deposit of knowledge possessed by the teacher into the vacant minds of students. Education should enable students to discover the knowledge they need to become free participants of their society, Freire argued, but the banking model reinforced subordination and acquiescence. Beginning in the 1950s in his native Brazil, before exile made him internationally important, Freire spent his career developing a vision of teaching as a dialogical encounter between teacher(s) and student(s): both have knowledge, and teachers cannot know what and how to teach their students for freedom unless they submit to be taught by the students, too. Freire reflected on this experience and vision at length in the first chapter of Pedagogy of Hope (New York, N.Y.: Continuum, 1993), and a nice feature of the present volume is the inclusion of that chapter as an epilogue.
This volume corrects a distorted perception of Freire’s thought. Too often, Freire’s dialogic approach is taken in an anti-intellectualistic way to mean that the teacher has no particularly privileged knowledge to impart; consequently, the deep meaning of Freire’s pedagogy as a critical praxis by which students can appropriate the knowledge of privilege to liberate themselves is lost. This point is central to the introduction by Stanley Aronowitz, “Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy: Not Mainly a Teaching Method.” In addition, the prologue by Henry Giroux and the afterword by Peter McLaren provide orientation to the spirit and urgency of Freire’s work. McLaren puts well the necessity of a volume such as this by stating, “Without a careful reading of Freire’s intellectual roots, one can only witness the collision [between dreams of a better future and the supposed reality of the present situation] without understanding the systems of intelligibility that make such a collision inevitable and without understanding the possibilities of sublating such a collision in order to bring about alternative futures linked to the sustainability of the planet and humanity as a whole” (235-36).
Thirteen writers contribute ten essays on thinkers, movements, and concepts crucial to Freire’s philosophy. They cover Hegel, Marx, Gramsci, Habermas, Buber, Fromm, Latin American liberation theology, praxis, conscientizaçao (“conscientization”), and oppression. With one serious exception, the authors manage to balance two important purposes: to introduce their subject in the subject’s own right for readers familiar with Freire but not with intellectual history, and to focus on illuminating in Freire’s work their subject’s influence. Some authors even carry out a valuable third task of criticizing and reconstructing Freire’s ideas so as to extend his thought. Especially noteworthy in this regard are Raymond Morrow in the Habermas chapter, and Sandy Grande, who, in the chapter on oppression, turns Freire’s idea to confront the dispossession of indigenous peoples.
Although this is a useful volume, the significance of “historicity in praxis” could have been explicated more forthrightly to knit the entire collection together. Some unevenness means there is still room to improve on our appreciation of Freire’s thoughtworld. Still, this collection is an important contribution to scholarship and teaching practice.
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Paulo Freire needs no introduction. His reflections on critical pedagogy and problem posing methodologies have dramatically shaped educational practice for decades. This recent volume, Pedagogy of Commitment, is a collection of interviews and short reflections that took place at the end of Freire’s career. They represent geographical diversity and local concern, occurring in Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay. They demonstrate the breadth of Freire’s concrete engagement in Latin America, as well as the cohesive scope of his vision and its enduring relevance. There is a liveliness and energy conveyed in these informal or semi-formal occasions, and we get to see Freire’s lucid mind and compassionate concern at work in responding to concrete questions and practical problems raised by his audiences.
Readers familiar with Freire’s work, particularly as expressed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope, may not find new ideas in this collection. Furthermore, it will not make the best introduction to Freire’s thought for the uninitiated. Understandably, given the piecemeal and unsystematic nature of interviews, Freire’s ideas and guiding convictions are conveyed sporadically and sometimes indirectly throughout, in a way that might be missed by those less familiar with his writings. For those already acquainted with and inspired by Freire’s project, however, this collection remains worthwhile for a number of reasons. This book provides a valuable glimpse into Freire’s thoughts and attitudes at the end of his life and career. We see that his vision and project have not changed in fundamentals, although he himself has evolved. He admits to his growth in understanding patriarchy, for instance, and the need to move beyond gender exclusive forms of expression (88-95). He is all the more convinced that education is art, is an aesthetic process that should not be reduced to formulae or fixed frameworks (16-25). The relational and dialogical aspects remain paramount.
We also see how Freire responds to later developments in world economics and geopolitics, such as the fall of Soviet socialism, supposed neoliberal triumph, and late capitalist order (33-40). Here his emphasis on hope becomes critical. Freire remains hopeful and all the more committed to resisting the effects of socio-economic and political processes that dehumanize society’s most vulnerable. The pragmatic nature of his engagement becomes clear. The increasing prevalence of technocratic and abstracting forces that excise the human element in education (and social life more broadly) mean a doubling-down of efforts to connect, relate, engage, and dialogue, as well as to foster a classroom context that equips students as agents of their own destinies. There is no postmodern turn to his practice, no sense of irony or contingency to the goals of liberation. For Freire, the onslaught of global capital means educators must fight harder. As the title of one of the more memorable and hard-hitting interviews conveys, “The Confrontation is not Pedagogical, but Political” (33). But the fight remains hopeful and a labor of love.
This volume provides a resource for encouragement and renewal of vision for educators influenced by Freirean pedagogy. It gives a glimpse into the life and heart of the man, near the twilight of his days but still full of passion, conviction, and hope. The book is full of choice pieces of wisdom and reminders of the significance of the cause and necessity of endurance.