Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tag: democracy (page 1 of 1)

Paulo Freire reflects on his life

Interview from 1996 World Conference on Literacy, organized by the International Literacy Institute, Philadelphia, USA.


I watched this interview of Paulo Freire, and I thought what he had to share is so important that I took the time to transcribe the interview, which you can read below. 

A conversation with Paulo Freire

"If you ask me Paulo, what is in being in the world, that calls your own attention to you? I would say to you that I am a curious being, I have been a curious being, but in a certain moment of the process of being curious, in order to understand the others, I discover that I have to create in myself a certain virtue, without which it is difficult for me to understand the others; the virtue of tolerence.

It is through the exercise of tolerance that I discover the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things with different people. Being tolerant is not a question of being naive. On the contrary, it is a duty to be tolerant, an ethical duty, an historical duty, a political duty but it does not demand that I lose my personality.

On a critical way of thinking

Even so it is for me, it should be a great honor to be understood as a specialist in literacy. I have to say, no because my main preoccupation since I started working 45 years ago had to do with the critical understanding of education. Of course, thinking of education in general, I also had to think about literacy which is a fundamental chapter of education as a whole.

Nevertheless, I also had strong experiences in this chapter of adult literacy, for example, in Brasil and outside of Brasil. The more I think about what I did and what I proposed the more I understand myself as a thinker and a kind of epistimologist proposing a critical way of thinking and a critical way of knowing to the teachers in order for them to work differently with the students.

On language and power

Who says that this accent or this way of thinking is the cultivated one? If there is one which is cultivated is because there is another which is not. Do you see, it’s impossible to think of language without thinking of ideology and power? I defended the duty of the teachers to teach the cultivated pattern and I defended the rights of the kids or of the adults to learn the dominant pattern. But, it is necessary in being a democratic and tolerant teacher, it is necessary to explain, to make clear to the kids or the adults that their way of speaking is as beautiful as our way of speaking. Second, that they have the right to speak like this. Third, nevertheless, they need to learn the so-called dominant syntax for different reasons. That is, the more the oppressed, the poor people, grasp the dominant syntax, the more they can articulate their voices and their speech in the struggle against injustice.

In the last moments of my life

I am now almost 75 years old, sometimes when I am speaking like right now, I am listening to Paulo Freire 40 years ago. Maybe you could ask me, but Paulo, look then you think you did not change? No, I change a lot, I change everyday but in changing, I did not change, nevertheless some of the central nucleus of my thought. The understanding of my own presence in the reality. How for example, could I change the knowledge or the experience which makes me know that I am curious? No, I was a curious boy, and I am a curious old man. That is, my curiousity never stops. Maybe in the last moments of my life, I will be curious to know what it means to die.

My philosophical conviction is that we did not come to keep the world as it is. We came into the world in order to remake the world. We have to change it." Paulo Freire (1921 – 1997)

Of course, Paulo’s arguments on language and power can be adapted to not just apply to the indigenous people to whom he was referring, but to any group without power. Teach your students that words have power, and that you respect their words, whatever their source, but to learn the "dominant" culture’s words is to empower yourself, and to give yourself a voice.


School Teaches Obedience

Our current school system teaches students how to be obedient instead of independent. Almost every time our students show even the slightest deviation from the path schools set, we beat them back into line using our bludgeons made of consequences, grades, and self-esteem. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since reading John Taylor Gatto’s essay, The Six-Lesson School teacher so I’m sure that many of the thoughts below are reflected in his essay. What follows are some sarcastic comments about how we strip children of their independence.

Want to go to the bathroom? Oh, you’ll need a hall-pass for that, and don’t try to go more than three times in a semester because We are keeping track.

Want to speak and share your thoughts? We have a roadblock for that too. First you have to raise your hands and We will let you know when you can speak. You can always tell who learned this lesson especially well by those people who raise their hands when chatting with their friends. We choose where you sit too.

Want to display your individuality in your clothing? Be careful! We’ve got rules about what you can wear. We would hate to let give you some freedom of expression.

Maybe you’d like to use your precious time outside of school for other pursuits instead of school? Oh, no! We have that time locked up with homework and school sanctioned sports. If you do not do what we tell you outside of school, we will be sure to put the pressure on through your parents and through our mechanical grading system.

Want to think outside the box? Perhaps come up with a unique solution to a boring problem? You’ll find your grades suffer for that. Write about what interests you and we may have to suspend you from school, and prevent you from seeing your friends. You must write about what interests us, after all we are the gatekeepers of literature.

Get bored easily in class? They’ve got drugs for that. If what Sir Ken Robinson says about the rise of ADHD as you travel East from Ohio is true, then we are literally drugging our kids into obedience. Take the blue pill and slip back into our Matrix.

Got some self-esteem? We’ve got ways to take that away from you too. We will assign grades to your thoughts, give your peers awards for their obedience, and train you to loathe your independence.

If you have dreams for your future, they will in fact be our dreams and we will shatter them with our standardized tests and our common curriculum. We will take away the parts of school you love and drill you until the other part of school becomes repulsive.

Want to diss your school in your graduation speech? Be careful or they’ll threaten to take away your diploma.

Perhaps you’d like to bring your partner to your prom? That’s only okay if each of you has different pairs of chromosomes, otherwise it is immoral and wrong and we will be sure to remind you of this fact over and over again.

Once you enter post-secondary, we will force you into enormous loans, and then servitude to pay off these loans in some job you didn’t want anyway. You believed us when we said college was the only answer and look where that got you! If you choose a different route than this, we will deride you and embarrass you for your choice in front of your peers in our final secondary school assembly.

Many schools unwittingly play a kind of psychological warfare against students. We work hard to ensure adhere to strict guidelines of conformity and use ladders of consequences to chip away at the self-esteem and independence of our children. We make too many choices for our students because of an economic need with our current factory model of schooling to teach each child for the least amount of money possible. We cannot afford to teach each child individually, or to provide them too many choices. Such models of education are not scalable!

The primary way you can help your students turn into independent and capable thinkers is to give them lots and lots of opportunities to make choices. You do not need to specify exactly what they write about. You can let them choose when to use the bathroom, and what to wear to school. You can give them choices about what they learn and when they learn it. You can turn your school into a democracy.