Paulo Freire

This morning I began reading a long known but neglected book about education. My beginnings have included the book’s introductions by scholars and contemporary friends of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian intellectual giant who died in 1997 after writing from experience or Praxis of teaching in South America and being both jailed and ostracized. Not many teachers shake the social order to the point of being jailed. Yet there is a place among teachers for a few that defy tradition and seek to support growth of community both toward and away from comfort and discomfort. My future reading of Freire will stretch my thinking about education.

Donaldo Macedo and Richard Shaull wrote introductory sections to Freire’s opus Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Pedagogy in Freire’s usage, according to Macedo, includes and perhaps even actually means “philosophy” as it has developed from his practice (praxis) of teaching the illiterate in his native Brazil against the then prevailing and oppressive military government. The “illiterate” student of Paulo Friere were adults who gained a new place through the words they learned. Words brought new meaning, a new place, to their lives. Words stretched their lives about their existence.

Pedagogy also means “to lead a child.” In this sense pedagogy is inextricably linked with education but with a focus on the literal child; or an allegorical “child” in that we are all children. We are all both innocent and ignorant. We don’t, perhaps can’t, fully comprehend the world and our personal places in it. Yet we strive to make sense of those places. Our places in the world are a product of our experiences that are first and always (in all ways) not of our making. We did nothing to come into the world of our existence. We did not choose our parents or the place and time of our birth. Pedagogy – the leading of the child – began first with parents or a parent, then family, then community. We (each) emerged as an object of an other. We remain an object until we see ourselves as subject. Subjectification is at least one important outcome of education.

We begin life as a parasite living as a mass of metabolizing, dividing, moving (migrating), organizing, differentiating cells in the womb of our mother. Gestation across time enhances our capacity for independence but does not liberate or emancipate with birth as does happen with many or most animals. Birds and mammals are hatched or born highly dependent upon support systems. The period between hatching or birth and independence has evolved in very different ways fitting the habitat and niche of the parents and their ancestors. For humans the period of dependence is long and extremely important because literacy is essential for survival and our subjectification; our belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Shaull emphasized that education is never neutral. Education is either leading to conformity or to freedom. Shaull was a member of the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary. Widely published, Shaull’s work should be explored for his views on ministry as it relates to education and spirituality. I’ve noticed that the pastoral team at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (an organization I am coming toward admission of admiration) seems to actively embrace a ministry focused on community. Associate pastor Sarah Brouwer has written a blog on ministry and stated she aspires to be “a conduit of the spirit.” I would like to understand better her contextual uses of “spirit.”

Sarah won a prize for homiletics the art of preaching or writing sermons. This raises important questions for the relationship between education and ministry as there has to be something that follows the sermon or homily whether structured or unstructured. This may be an almost identical consideration for the lecture in education. How often is a sermon (or lecture) prepared or written with an explicit “as a result of this sermon (or lecture), the congregants (or students) will …” What is the behavioral or cognitive change anticipated or expected? This my be an important distinction between entertainment and education. Entertainment seeks to gain audience admiration, share and loyalty. Education leads to a future condition different from what has preceded or is a present state of being.

As I move on with reading Freire, I will undoubtedly share new thoughts.