Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Paulo Freire was a famous educationalist in Brazil, part of the main figures of the general 'progressive' movement. I wish to share part of his book Pedagogy of Hope with you, because I find it interesting.
He starts with how he used to teach:
“Back then, I was accustomed to give long talks on the subjects that had been selected. I was repeating the traditional route of discourse about something that you would give an audience… despite some years of experience as an educator; with urban and rural workers, I still nearly always started out with my world, without further explanation, as if it ought to be the "south" to which their compass ought to point in giving them their bearings. It was as if my word, my theme, my reading of the world, in themselves, were to be their compass.”

In essence, he would expect his students to enter into his learned world and understand him. However, his doctoral thesis was on the prevalence of physical punishment of children by their parents, and he wanted to address his work back to a selection of the people that the thesis was about. This is what happened:
“When I had concluded, a man of about forty still rather young but already worn out and exhausted, raised his hand and gave me the clearest and most bruising lesson I have ever received in my life as an educator. I do not know his name. I do not know whether he is still alive. Possibly not. The wickedness of the country's socioeconomic structures, which take on stronger colors in the Brazilian Northeast-suffering, hunger; the indifference of the mighty-all this must have swallowed him up long since. He raised his hand and gave a talk that I have never been able to forget. It seared my soul for good and all It has exerted an enormous influence on me…
"We have just heard," he began, "some nice words from Dr. Paulo Freire. Fine words, in fact. Well spoken. Some of them were even simple enough for people to understand easily. Others were more complicated. But I think I understood the most important things that all the words together say.
"Now I'd like to ask the doctor a couple of things that I find my fellow workers agree with." He fixed me with a mild, but penetrating gaze, and asked: "Dr. Paulo, sir do you know where people live? Have you ever been in any of our houses, sir?" And he began to describe their pitiful houses. He told me of the lack of facilities, of the extremely minimal space in which all their bodies were jammed. He spoke of the lack of resources for the most basic necessities. He spoke of physical exhaustion, and of the impossibility of dreams for a better tomorrow. He told me of the prohibition imposed on them from being happy-or even of having hope. As I followed his discourse, I began to see where he was going to go with it. I was slouching in my chair;
slouching because I was trying to sink down into it. And the chair was swiveling, in the need of my imagination and the desire of my body which were both in flight, to find some hole to hide in. He paused a few seconds, ranging his eyes over the entire audience, fixed on me once more, and said, "Doctor; I have never been over to your house. But I'd like to describe it for you, sir. How many children do you have? Boys or girls?"
"Five," I said-scrunching further down into my chair. "Three girls and two boys."
"Well, Doctor; your house must be the only house on the lot, what they call an oitao livre house," a house with a yard. There must be a room just for you and your wife, sir. Another big room, that's for the three girls. There's another kind of doctor; who has a room for every son or daughter. But you're not that kind - no, sir. You have another room for the two boys. A bathroom with running water. A kitchen with Arno appliances. 19 A maid's room-much smaller than your kids' rooms-on the outside of the house. A little garden, with an 'ingress' (the English word) lawn," a front lawn. "You must also have a room where you toss your books, sir-a 'study' a library. I can tell by the way you talk that you've done a lot of reading, sir; and you've got a good memory.
There was nothing to add or subtract. That was my house. Another world, spacious and comfortable.
"Now Doctor; look at the difference. You come home tired, sir, I know that. You may even have a headache from the work you do. Thinking, writing, reading, giving these kind of talks that you're giving now. That tires a person out too. But, sir;" he continued, "it's one thing to come home, even tired, and find the kids all bathed, dressed up, clean, well fed, not hungry-and another thing to come home and find your kids dirty hungry crying, and making noise. And people have to get up at four in the morning the next day and start all over again-hurting, sad, hopeless. If people hit their kids, and even go beyond bounds,' as you say it's not because people don't love their kids. No, it's because life is so hard thay don't have much choice."
This is class knowledge, I say now.
This talk was given about thirty-two years ago. I have never forgotten it. It said to me, despite the fact that I didn't understand this at the time, much more than it immediately communicated. In his intonations, his laborer's syntax and rhythm, the movements of his body his hands of an orator; in the metaphors so common to popular discourse, he called the attention of the educator there in front of him, seated, silent, sinking down into his chair; to the need, when speaking to the people, for the educator to be up to an understanding of the world the people have. An understanding of the world which, conditioned by the concrete reality that in part explains that understanding, can begin to change through a change in that concrete reality. In fact, that understanding of the world can begin to change the moment
the unmasking of concrete reality begins to lay bare the "whys" of what the actual understanding had been up until then.
A change in understanding, which is of basic importance, does not of itself, however; mean a change in the concrete.
The fact that I have never forgotten the fabric in which that discourse was delivered is significant. The discourse of that faraway night is still before me, as if it had been a written text, an essay that I constantly had to review. Indeed, it was the culmination of the learning process I had undertaken long ago-that of the progressive educator: even when one must speak to the people, one must convert the "to" to a "with" the people. And this implies respect for the "knowledge of living experience" of which I always speak, on the basis of which it is possible to go beyond it.
That night, in the car on the way back home, I complained to Elza rather bitterly. Though she rarely accompanied me to meetings, when she did she made excellent observations that always helped me. "I thought I'd been so clear;" I said. "I don't think they understood me.
"Could it have been you, Paulo, who didn't understand them?" Elza asked, and she went on: "I think they got the main point of your talk. The worker made that clear in what he said They understood you, but they needed to have you understand them. That's the question."

I find this all rather thrilling and important. Whatever of importance that we do, it is of the world of the oppressed.
For example, I have noticed that there is great cultural currency in the doing down of the figure of the 'chav'. This may not be a new phenomenon, the poor attempting to ape certain status symbols and merely making a sarcasm of their own existence, but this is probably the first time it has happened on such a wide and notable and long-term scale. But we must remember, when we look into their world, how they are the oppressed - the whole world seems to work against them in various ways.
We cannot just lecture the world's masses from a pulpit, not about morals, not about thriftiness, not about knowledge and learning and the need to be educated. We have to, somehow, come to understand them and what made them and put aside the blames that they don't deserve. We need to carefully excavate their existence, like archeology, to preserve the conditions which made them, and then alter these.

Or we can just call them all scallies and give them the finger as they drive past in their souped-up Mondeos. Because they're all a bunch of dicks on benefits, aren't they? They should just shut up and accept the way the world is because etc. etc. etc.