It could be argued that the directions taken by Paulo Freire were determined as much by political struggle as by tensions between the teaching-communication models that developed in the progressive field in Latin America during the last 30 years. Freirian discourse is composed of elements derived from very different theoretical and political tendencies which, nevertheless, have certain points of contact. They share the hope of a more just and democratic society, but their philosophical assumptions and strategies differ. Consequently, as the author of the following article argues, Freire's theoretical thinking and experiences cannot be reduced to simple paradigms. Far from being fundamentalist, Freirian pedagogy is the result of complex permutations of discourse.
Understanding the way Freirian thinking links things together is a condition for being able to interpret it and explain the extent of its influence in recent history and on looking to the future. Many analysts have praised or criticised it, weighing up its suitability for some model they consider correct. They have had to force a structural character out of Freire's statements: his ability to shift within the confines of democratic pedagogies. But when they try to fix on Freire unique and final meanings, such critics cannot explain the relationship between Freire and Latin America, nor the mystery of his having been taken up by educators throughout the world.
As a writer on the works of Derrida has observed, Freire works 'on the assumption that the meaning of a text is negotiated, that it is not immanent in itself but the result of polemical argument between dissenting interpretations.' Intuitively, as heir to existentialism and tangentially to psychoanalysis, Freire carries out a process of deconstruction, questioning the metaphysical tradition of communication/teaching paradigms. In relation to Paulo Freire, it is also relevant 'to speak of intervention - using the political nuance of the term - and not of method, analysis or critique' (De Miguel, 1997:3)1, even though the Brazilian worked in an teaching-imagination rather than strictly philosophical capacity.
To speak of a 'Freirian method' is a mistake, except when referring to his strategy of teaching reading and writing to adults. But his contribution should not be reduced to a method whose technical innovation is limited but whose political and teaching/communication consequences are wide. This is because of their ability to delve deeply into the processes by which subjects are constituted, and also because the Freirian way of thinking discovered the importance of the teaching-communication encounter between educator and the person being educated, of that moment in which a relationship of power between cultures is established.
It is that instant, the encounter between the educator and the person being educated, which sets in motion the reproduction of alienation or the beginning of a new bond that allows movement towards the disalienation of popular subjects. From the positions that teachers and pupils occupy/construct will come the possibility or impossibility of building a new culture.
What is crucial is that both perspectives remain possible, that the vertical relationship in communication and teaching-learning can be changed. The act of teaching-communication no longer consists in revealing the eternal and immutable knowledge of the educator - we now know that culture is not just deposited in the educator. People being educated can be recognised/can recognise themselves as producers of culture and reclaim their place in the dialogue. Consequently, the educator and the person being educated have ceased being actors designated definitively by the teaching-communication bond. Today these are just discursive positions, places occupied as a result of the victory of some social sectors over others, of some generations over others. The educator can be the person being educated, and the person being educated the educator.
Freirian discourse originated in various coincidences: firstly, when developmental progressivism, Third World revolutionary Christianity and Latin American popular nationalism encountered each other in the 1960s; secondly, Christian existentialism, psychoanalysis that looked at society and Third World Marxism; thirdly, the educational concept of evangelisation, the tradition of the so-called 'new or active school' (in which educators who supported Vargas in his first government administration had served) and the critical developments of the welfare teaching-communication model.
The richness of Paulo Freire's contribution lay in his ability to synthesise different teaching elements from such diverse currents. Anticipating postmodern philosophers, Freire organised his intellectual life by shunning metaphysics. As a child, he found himself with a Catholic mother, a spiritualist father and the paganism of North-eastern Brazilian culture. According to his account, no one put pressure on him and he was free in his choice of religion, For this reason, he dedicated his first book, Education: The Practice of Freedom, in the following way: 'To the memory of Joaquim Temístocles Freire, my father. To Edeltrudes Neves Freire, my mother. With both I earned dialogue early on.'
He chose his mother's Catholicism but fled the Church on seeing that the village priest served the rich but abandoned the poor of the Gospel. He did not renounce Catholicism but saw that it has different interpretations, understanding interpretation as militant political action. Interpreting the other in the moment of dialogue, using dialogue as a methodology and as an area of encounter between educator and the person being educated, is one of the fundamental elements in Freirian thinking. For this reason he ended the dedication mentioned above with the following sentence aimed at his children:2 'With them I carry on the dialogue learnt with my parents' (Freire, 1972: 1).
At the beginning of the 1960s, Paulo Freire was influenced by the Catholic existentialist Emmanuel Mounier, the liberal Catholic Jacques Maritian, the social psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, the Third World Marxist Franz Fanon, and the Brazilian Catholic critics Tristán de Ataíde and Fr. Vaz. His disciples at that time were some educators in Brazil linked to the popular nationalist and developmental programmes of literacy, religious and lay educators, and the illiterate of Recife. Rejecting the construction of a pedagogy that might derive directly from some artificial model of thinking, the dialogue he established with his intellectual parents and his political-pedagogical children was mediated by interpretation.
Freire wanted to interpret the sense of transition that defined his epoch, taking in the 'mystery of changes', without being 'just one of its playthings' (Freire, 1972: 47). He said that in the transition from one epoch to another that Brazil was going through, it was not possible for the educator to discuss a specific subject without taking into account the entirety of the cultural climate that was just beginning. Problems and theories had to be submitted to a test as severe as evaluating the validity of their significance. In the text we are looking at, Freire asks: 'What issues and what tasks began to lose significance within Brazilian society and led it to transcend one epoch and to begin another?' And he answers: 'All the issues and tasks characteristic of a closed society' (Freire, 1972: 47).
Coincidences between the teaching-communication idea and society
Freire has no empiricist pretensions: he does not relate theories to pure experience. He does not fall into the populist positions taken by many popular educators: he does not qualify theories in accordance with a fundamentalist concept of 'reality'. The author's reference point is problems, that is to say, a thick political-cultural weave with an inconstant core and an unpredictable future, matter in transit, a series of ephemeral coincidences between different areas of what makes up society. Issues and tasks lose significance in the transition between one Brazilian society and another.
The fragments of recent traditional society had begun to be joined together at the national level in the governments of Getulio Vargas (1930-45, 1950-54) but the residue of a profound ruralism and the popular cultural isolation induced by dominant modern culture were still determining factors. When Freire wrote his first book, moving towards modernisation was a profound need of Brazilian society, although not every sector favoured it and despite the fact that when Freire wrote Education: The Practice of Freedom he was in exile, having come out of prison.
The military had overthrown the president, Joao Goulard, who had been promoting a process of modernisation based on a certain amount of popular participation and an increase in democratic freedoms. The dictatorship that took power in 1964 had a peculiar characteristic compared to those suffered by other Latin American countries following the Second World War: it advanced the process of modernisation making the country's economy grow and industrialising it, following the developmental model of that epoch. At the same time, it repressed social and political movements and halted the cultural advance of huge sectors of the population.
In one sense, the transition that Freire refers to is modernisation and the problem he identifies is its relationship with democracy. In another sense, Freire is concerned with the role played by subjectivities in that transition. He paid particular attention to the processes of how political cultural subjects are formed, to those processes he considered determined the future-oriented possibilities of society. He tried to interpret the teaching-communication transition from traditional society to modern society (on the basis of a typically developmentalist plan3) and he discovered that it is woven of political threads. So he demonstrated the limitations of functionalist sociology and its communication model. He wrote, Extension or communication? (Freire, 1973).4 He exchanged letters with Mario Cabral in which he maintains that education must be inserted within the global cultural project that every political project implies. 'A Ministry of Education, no matter the society, is always a political ministry' (Freire, 1977).5 Brief contact with sociology was left behind, giving way to a prominently political position which Freire would maintain to the end of his life.
Freire had certain characteristics vital to acting at the political level and to understanding the political nature of society. Time and again he was able to place himself before a seeming blank page. On literacy teaching for adults, he said: 'It is interesting that the fact of having dealt with this issue several times does not kill within me, nor even diminish, a particular state of mind typical of one taking up an issue for the very first time' (Freire, 1984: 125).6
He was able to stake his reputation on directing educational programmes in Brazil's popular nationalist governments: with Vargas and Goulard. From a prominently political position, that of having been exiled, he had gone into the depths of Guinea-Bisau. In 1975 he wrote the following to Mario Cabral: 'As a man of the Third World, as an educator conscious of his commitment to that world, my position - and that of the companions I work with - can only be the following: to offer the people of Guinea-Bisau our help to the best of our abilities' (Freire, 1977: 101).
In the last years, far from resting on the laurels of his own writings, he decided to try his luck with the Workers' Party as Education Secretary for the Municipality of São Paulo. By then, the man who had begun his political career as Director of the Cultural Extension Department of Recife University at the beginning of the 1960s had been given the highest honours by the world's most important universities and international organisations. His thinking had been nurtured on Marxist reading. Yet a deep link with Christian existentialism remained a determining factor. Despite pressures from Latin American left-wing tendencies, he had not changed his language, whose heterodoxy had a powerful ability to irritate. He allowed himself to intervene in discussions that were closed, ideal, and devoid of political content. Struck by the difficulties experienced during his government administration in Sào Paulo, his last writings link the passing on of that experience with the aim of delineating a horizon for those working in the field of communication and education.
Towards a pedagogy of hope
Hope was the last word that Freire joined to his teaching-communication discourse. Hope, as a constitutive element of subjects and as an objective. How to find hope in a world without hope. Freire had woven a great deal of fabric from which to cut a mantle of hope. His legacy is made up of four main ideas:
•Education is profoundly linked to communication processes but both are imbued with politics.
•Oppression takes place in specific areas, among which the education-communication one stands out; the banking relationship between educator and the person being educated is one specific manifestation (with its own rules which have to be deconstructed) of general relationships in society.
•The educator and the person being educated are not essential positions but ones that have been politically and historically constituted, which means that it is possible to constitute new subjects as educators and persons being educated that change the sectors established as transmitters and receivers.
•The pre-eminence of politics over excessively sociologised pedagogy raises the possibility of hope because it sets aside teaching-communication metaphysics and demonstrates the role played by wishes and the human will in historical processes.
Paulo Freire was - and his works are - on the frontier of our times. There are many facets, among which the following stand out:
•The borderlines between the subjects produced by the dependent post-war modernisation of Latin America and the chasms created by uncontrolled neoliberal modernisation between rich and poor, young and old, employed and unemployed, newly literate and highly trained elites.
•The divisions between the dominant ways of teaching in Western culture and the difficult processes of constituting subjects with the ability to free it and themselves.
•The closure (Derrida, 1989);7 De Miguel, 1977) of traditional pedagogy (in the Freirian sense of simultaneity of denouncement and announcement, of lapses in previous teaching-communication models producing openings for new ideas) in their intersection with hope.
The pedagogy of hope contains an imaginary horizon of possibilities, an opening for new roads in the middle of the neoliberal fog that obscures subjects and hides the optimism of history. Freire bet on the contingency of history and, therefore, on the possibility of altering its legacy and he founded his pedagogy precisely on that unpredictability. But the unpredictability of political, social and cultural coincidences does not eliminate the permanence and validity of universal hopes for social justice, full democracy, and a human world.
It is precisely the coincidental character of the Freirian imagination that gives it the value of allowing it to be appropriated by the North American heirs to Horace Mann and John Dewey, today radically anti-neoliberal, and by popular educators in Malaysia and the Philippines. The 'pedagogy of liberation' came back to Freire at the end of his life as the 'pedagogy of hope'. It is to be hoped that its successive transformations have the necessary force to stop the metaphysical restoration (that of mankind's essential lack of optimism) being imposed by neoliberal pedagogy.
1. De Miguel A. (1997). Thinking about Closure. Conceptual considerations around the notion of closure in the deconstructive theory of Jacques Derrida. Buenos Aires, APPEAL-DIE.
2. Freire, P. (1972). Education: The Practice of Freedom. Mexico, Siglo XXI.
3. The term 'developmentalist' refers to the sociological and economic school dominant in Latin America during the 1960s and 70s which constructed a model of a Keynesian cut for development in the region, although limiting the concept of progress to the structural dependence of Latin American countries on the North American economy. Puiggrós A. (1996) 7th edition. Imperialism, neoliberalism and education in Latin America. Buenos Aires, Paidos.
4. Freire, P. (1973). Extension or communication? Mexico, Siglo XXI.
5. Freire, P. (1977). Letters to Guinea-Bisau. Mexico, Siglo XXI.
6. Freire, P. (1984). The importance of reading and the liberation process. Mexico, Siglo XXI.
- 7. Derrida, J. (1989). Deconstruction on the frontiers of philosophy. The retreat of metaphor. Barcelona, Paidos/ICE.
Adriana Puiggrós studied education sciences at the University of Buenos Aires (BA and MA) and in 1983 received a PhD in pedagogy from the Autonomous National University of Mexico. She is the author of many publications including most recently: Universidad, proyecto generacional e imaginario pedagógico (1993); La educación de nuestros hijos y el futuro (1994); and ¿Qué pasó en la educación argentina? De la conquista al menemismo (1996). She is currently professor of education sciences at the University of Buens Aires.