Remembering Paulo Freire as a freedom fighter

Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux in Boston, 1983.

September 19and was Paulo Freire’s birthday. Freire and I worked together for fifteen years, which I consider one of the most enlightening periods of my life. We have co-edited a series of books and, together with Donaldo Macedo, we have had many of Freire’s books translated and published in the English-speaking world. He wrote the preface to my second book, Theory and resistance in education, and we worked together until his death. There have been and there will be many celebrations. Too many of them will treat him like an icon rather than the revolutionary he really was. In doing so, they will speak of Freire with a kind of depoliticizing reverence that we often associate with the empty eulogies reserved for deceased celebrities. Ivy League schools will release statements celebrating his work by portraying themselves as paragons of radical change, which of course is the opposite of what they believe in. This diversion is understandable in an age of manufactured ignorance, worship of celebrity culture, and a time when historical memory becomes dangerous and dissent a curse. Freire was a revolutionary whose passion for justice and resistance was matched only by his hatred of neoliberal capitalism and his aversion to authoritarians of all political stripes. Simply put, he was not only a public intellectual but also a freedom fighter. The current attacks on him in Brazil by neo-fascist Bolsonaro make it clear how dangerous his job still is today.

One of Freire’s most important contributions was his politicization of culture. He viewed culture as a battleground that both reflected and deployed power. He rejected the vulgar Marxist notion that culture was merely a reflection of economic forces. Not only did he link culture to social relations that ranged from production and legitimization to class struggle, ecological destruction and various forms of privilege, but he also understood that culture was always linked to power and was a hugely influential force. This was especially true in the age of social media with its power to define diverse modes of inclusion, legitimate consent, produce specific forms of agency, and reproduce unequal power relations within and across society. outside nation states. He placed a strong emphasis on the role of language and values ​​in struggles for identities and resources and how they functioned across different organizations and public spheres such as schools, media, corporate devices and other social spheres. Her work on literacy has focused on how neoliberal cultural practices have established certain forms of commercialized agency, defined and circumvented public space, depoliticized people through command language, while commodifying and privatizing everything. Culture and literacy for Freire offered people the space to develop new modes of action, mass resistance and emotional attachments that embraced empowering forms of solidarity. For Freire, the grounds of culture, literacy and education were the grounds on which individuals acquire awareness of their position and the will to fight for dignity, social justice and freedom. For Freire, culture was a battlefield, a place of struggle, and he recognized in the manner of Gramsci that any relationship of domination was “educational and occurs between the different forces that compose it”.

Above all, Freire believed that education was linked to social change and that questions of consciousness and identity were integral to the place of pedagogy at the heart of politics itself. For Freire, education and schooling were part of a larger struggle against capitalism, neoliberalism, authoritarianism, fascism, and the depoliticization and instrumentalization of education. Direct action, political education and cultural politics defined for him both new strategies of resistance and new understandings of the relationship between power and culture and how it shaped issues of identity, values ​​and understanding of the future. Pedagogy and literacy were political because they were tied to the struggle for agency, ongoing power relations, and prerequisites for linking knowledge and values ​​to the development of active and engaged critical citizens. Freire’s great contribution was to recognize that domination was not just economic and structural but also pedagogical, ideological, cultural and intellectual and that issues of persuasion and belief were crucial weapons in creating engaged agents and subjects. reviews. He also refuted the easy escape route for cynics who assimilated and collapsed domination and power. Resistance was always a possibility, and any policy that denied it erred in complicity with the most heinous, even unrecognized, crimes. Freire was a transformative public intellectual and freedom fighter who believed that educators had an enormous responsibility to tackle important social and political issues, to speak the truth, and to take risks, however inconvenient the consequences. Civic courage was essential to politics, and he embodied the best of that belief.

By placing education at the heart of politics, Freire connected ideas to power, and critical consciousness and literacy to intervention in the world in the struggle for economic, social and racial justice. He never separated the massive suffering and constraints imposed by inequality from the political sphere and, in doing so, connected even the specific conditions of resistance to the resolution of the constraints on people’s lives. Freire believed that everyone had the capacity to be an intellectual, to think critically, to make the familiar strange, and to fight individually and collectively against the machines of disimagination and the ethical, political and social abandonment zones that transformed democracies. in updated versions of the world. fascist state.

His work was not about methods, but about promoting individual and social change in a way that gives voice to the voiceless and empowers those who are seen as disposable. Freire was a freedom fighter, who believed deeply in a future in which radical democracy was possible. He was an intrepid utopian for whom hope was not just an idea but a way of thinking differently in order to act differently. Freire’s educational and political work was rooted in an ethical ideal and a sense of responsibility that is now under attack, which testifies to its importance and the need to defend it; its appropriation by the ruling elites must also be prevented; moreover, it is necessary to extend it to new economic, cultural and social circumstances for which it is desperately needed in the fight against the fascist policies that are emerging throughout the world. Freire believed that no society is ever just enough and that fighting injustice is the prerequisite for radicalizing values, fighting against institutional oppression and adopting a global politics of values. shared democracies. Civic literacy was for him a weapon to raise awareness, embolden civic action and end the allure of fascist politics. Freire was dangerous and rightly so in a time when history is being cleaned up, those considered disposable are growing and losing their lives, and the need for an anti-capitalist consciousness and a social movement to mass is more crucial than ever. Freire’s spirit and policy should not be celebrated but imitated.

Thelma J. Longworth