Paulo Freire and Pedagogy For Social Justice
by Rich Gibson
This paper examines the work of Paulo Freire, until his recent death the most widely recognized educator in the world. Freire is addressed in theory and practice, analyzing his objective idealism and his efforts to build critical consciousness in literacy campaigns, especially in Grenada. The examination of Freire's theory and practice offers a window into his larger project: pedagogy for liberation.
At issue is whether or not
the promise of critical consciousness and liberation from oppression can
be achieved by Freire's theoretical stance or his "see-judge-act" system
of interactive education. Freire's emphasis on the pivotal role of ideas
as a material force, his critical method of analysis, his determination
to engage in concrete social practice, his democratic and ethical pedagogy,
and his insistence that leaders become one with the mass of people, offer
guides to understand how his lessons might be used to deepen questions
about the form and content of citizenship education with social justice
as a goal.
Paulo Freire, the radical Brazilian who was the most widely known educator in the world, died on 2 May 1997, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was 75.
Freire drew upon Catholic liberation-theology and Marxist ideas to forge a concept of popular literacy education for personal and social liberation. So formidable was his work that the Harvard Educational Review published a recapitulation of his formative essays in 1999.
Freire proposed that the use of his "see-judge-act" student-centered methods could lead to critical consciousness, that is, an awareness of the necessity to constantly unveil appearances designed to protect injustice which serves as a foundation for action toward equality and democracy. For Freire, no form of education could be neutral. All pedagogy is a call to action. In a society animated by inequality and authoritarianism, he sided with the many, and exposed the partisanship of those who claimed to stand above it all.
Freire became a world figure after he was jailed for using literacy methods developed by Catholic communities among poor peasants. He was driven from his native Brazil by a rising dictatorship in 1964. He fled to Chile to work with the democratically elected Allende government which fell to a CIA-manufactured coup. He spent the next 15 years in exile, working at Harvard and for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, organizing and writing books for social justice.
In 1989, shortly after he returned to Brazil as a leader of the social-democratic Workers' Party, Freire was named secretary of education in Sao Paulo, a city of 13 million people. He served for two years.
In the early 1970's, Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness, swept the globe. These books and nearly two dozen others that followed propose that education, though in inequitable societies predominantly a tool of elites, is also a democratic egalitarian weapon. Freire recommended pedagogical methods that recognized the experience and dignity of students and their culture, techniques calling into question the assumptions which lay at the base of their social systems. Freire's pedagogy united the curriculum, grasping that the seamless fabric of learning is made alien by teaching methods that split it into irrational pieces. Freire's geographic literacy involved mapping problems, not memorizing borders.
Freire criticized "banking" educational methods, seeing students as empty accounts to be filled with deposits of knowledge. He practiced a transformational style, the student becoming a subject in gaining and experimenting with knowledge. Truth became an examination of social understandings, not always a doctrine determined by testing services. Motivation came from demonstrations that education is linked to power. For the process to work, the educator-leader had to be deeply involved in the daily lives of the students.
In Latin America, for example, a typical Freireian social inquiry method would trace the path of (1) a careful study of students' surroundings and everyday lives, followed by (2) a "codification session" with students where key factors of life were drawn as pictures. Then (3) students would be urged to look at the pictures not as simply reality, but as problems: first as individual problems, then as collective problems with underlying reasons. As codification led to problem solving, relevant words were linked with the students' drawings of the world, and reality repositioned as a human creation. Finally, (4) students were called on to use their newly won literacy as a way to make plans for change.
Specifically, a picture of a peasant's hut and a bountiful hacienda would be paired with a drawing of a peasant hoeing and a patron at rest. Why does he rest in a hacienda while we sweat and live in huts? Especially in the developing world, Freire was seen as a leader in a movement which could connect a sometimes awkward four-part formula for social justice: literacy, social insight, revolution, and national economic development.
There are problems with Freire's work. He became, against his protests, an icon, idolized by dramatically different sectors of education and liberation movements. A miniature publishing industry evolved from uncritically praising a humble man whose life was social criticism. As an icon, Freire became a commodity. His work was purchased, rarely as a whole, but in selective pieces, which could further the career of an academic, or propel the interests of a corporation. Many of his enthusiasts called his work "eclectic," and let it go at that (Freire, 1998b, p.7).
But Freire called himself a contradictory man. His politics were often seemingly at odds. As we shall see, the Marxist Freire urged the analysis of labor and production. Like the entire the socialist project, Freire was not able to resolve the incongruity of human liberation and national economic development. The Catholic-humanist post-modern Freire denied the centrality of class and focused on deconstructing culture and language. In both cases, Freire had to rely on the ethics of the educator-leader to mediate the tensions between middle-class teachers and profoundly exploited students. So, with a little effort, his works were stripped of their politics and simultaneously appropriated by the government of Sweden, then adopted by the dogmatic socialist movements in Guinea Bissau and Grenada, and by reformist poverty programs in the United States (Gibson, 1994, p.11).
Freire, conservative in many ways, in practice supported conventional school grading systems, traditional approaches to literacy instruction like flash-cards, and the use of post-revolution textbooks, routinely coded in the creed of the party--and beyond critique. His later books were diluted with extraneous transcriptions of his discussions over a glass of wine. He was compelled to apologize to feminists and others who objected to the male-centered language of his early books. (Freire, 1994, p.66, Gibson, 1994, p.6)
Nevertheless, Freire's focus on the role of consciousness, critique, and a utopian vision, the need for imaging a better future before it can be achieved, the critical role of social practice for justice in education, and the vital necessity of leadership fully at one with the people, deepened the practices of movements for social change (Freire, 1973, p.164).His grasp of the reciprocal interactions of class, race, sex, and nationality as simultaneously pivotal to conscious action for change pre-dated both feminism and post-modernism. His methods instigate a process in which students examine both their potential roles as self-liberators and the history of people who cease to be instruments of their own oppression.
Paulo Freire embodied the wisdom of the man he admired most, Che Guevara: "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, the true revolutionary is, motivated by love."
This is an effort to critique Freire in theory and practice, using the central role he played in the development of education systems in the Grenadian revolution of 1979-1983 as a lens into the implications of his work. It will be useful to travel this route with a story in mind. The theoretical work can be thick. Perhaps a story will lighten the journey.
I recently returned from a Fulbright research trip to Grenada where I met with the minister of Education, installed after the 1983 U.S. invasion, and the leaders of the former revolutionary New Jewel Movement of Grenada, now held in a 17th century prison--sentenced to life. (1) Both the Minister of Education and the New Jewel prisoners asked me about techniques which might build an ethic of democracy through literacy and citizenship education. They offered to demonstrate to me how they link--in society and in jail--methods of education, especially literacy education, with democratic activist citizenship and technological or economic progress. Both were interested, for practical and historical purposes, in how the work of Paulo Freire might weave their interests together. Indeed, the jailed top New Jewel leader, Bernard Coard, said they relied heavily on Freire's direction, not only for educational advice but for political direction, during their brief stint in power (Gibson, 1994, p.235-244).
Richmond Hill Prison, a tepid, dank jail, with a stench baked in for more than two hundred years, is perched on one of Grenada's most beautiful mountains, overlooking the capital, St. George's harbor. The jail is the scene of many ironies. In 1997, the Prison Commissioner, Winston Courtney, was the key civilizing influence in the jail, holding back guards who told me they had tortured the Grenada 17 prisoners for years before his arrival. Courtney had himself been jailed as a counter-revolutionary during the New Jewel government. One of the most reputable journalists in the country, the editor of the Grenadian Voice, now lobbies for the release of the Grenada 17. He, too, served more than one year in the jail--as a guest of its current inhabitants.
The irony of the two educational positions--Bernard Coard and his New Jewel colleagues running a school for liberation and literacy in a 17th century prison and the Minister of Education operating a school system in the midst of a collapsing economy abandoned in post-Soviet globalism--and the questions they asked drove home to me the notion that literacy, and education for citizenship, has potential both as a domesticating tool and as a force for liberation. Indeed, in some cases, literacy, critical citizenship, and democracy have little in common. Slaves could be taught to read simply so they would become better workers (Stuckey, 1993).
Surely, it is paradoxical that other nations might look to the United States for hints about the relationship of democracy and literacy. If Jonathon Kozol is right, the US suffers from a functional illiteracy rate of about 25%, color-coded unemployment, the collapse of its social service safety net, an all-out assault on the conditions of work among those who still have jobs, a representative government that can only conduct elections via millionaires, and a twist of very literate scholarship that elevates the geneticist arguments of the Murray and Hernstein's Bell Curve to the focal point of public discourse (Kozol, 1985, Shannon, 1999).
The peoples' movement in Grenada could be an illuminating practical ground for North Americans interested in linking literacy with democratic citizenship projects. While some, like Ann Hickling-Hudson, think otherwise, I believe the literacy campaigns were systematic, met many of the problems literacy work usually meets, and, importantly, followed the path Freire himself mapped. While the Grenadian literacy campaigns were fraught with problems that might be predicted in a African-Caribbean nation trying to build socialism under a host of offended imperial eyes, it remains that the reading project drew leadership from all over the world, including Freire's. Whether the literacy effort met, or could meet, the goal of literacy for liberation is the issue I seek to untwine (Gibson, 1994, p.211; Hickling-Hudson, 1988).
But, at that moment, I was the one who was there, the Fulbright fellow who wrote a dissertation on Freire, and I wanted to respond to the Grenadians questions succinctly, with subtle elegance. I found that I could not. So what follows is in part an investigation sparked by their inquiries. Could Freire's literacy for critical consciousness answer questions like: what must people know in order to overcome exploitation and alienation? Can human creativity be unleashed in an increasingly undemocratic world? Can consciousness leap past exploitation--or repression? How do we spot lies?
Freire insists, repeatedly, that no system of education is neutral. Bias is inherent in any selection and ordering of facts, the common project of social educators. One's understanding of how the democratic possibilities of citizenship might be achieved depends on a partisan assessment of current conditions, and where one wants to go: a political standpoint. Any appraisal of the prospects of democratic education through literacy, a literacy that reads both the word and the world, must be start from an articulated standpoint, on expressed terrain. Just what is the current situation? What should a democratic citizen do about it?
It is only fair to confide, in quick-march, my own outlook. Global systems of production, exchange, and technology drive people together in a social world, Yet divisive and deadly ideologies persist (irrationalism, nationalism, racism, sexism, contempt for disabled people, etc.). Material interests estrange people from their work, creative potential, and one another; especially the interests of savage greed and fear that are rooted in a fickle system that cares nothing even for its loyal personifications, but betrays one for the next in the ruthless quest for more still. These factors sum up a world of humanity that is at once potentially united and practically split to pieces. Our world produces abundance--enough for all. At issue is not scarcity, but inequality. In each hemisphere, we function in at the brink of a world depression which began in embryo about twenty years ago and has grown uninterruptedly. Beneath apparently steady grip of capital is, at once, the extension of social being--the unity of all people caused by capital's movement to produce, exchange, and distribute everywhere-- and an underlying cauldron of the results of a system, and its representatives, that must keep people apart: irrationalism, hunger, epidemic, joblessness and idle time, despair: incipient fascism. Democracy meets inequality and loses. Criticism meets authoritarianism and is defeated. This imbalance, as Giovanni Arrighi and others suggest, will not long persist. The crisis of overproduction, on the one hand, and the social debt of unremitting repression on the other, easily boils over into economic collapse, political upheavals, and open war (Arrighi, 1995; Greider, 1997; Kaplan, 1995)
There is no place that the goal of those in power is to create a thinking, active work force or citizenry. "It would be naive to expect the dominant classes to develop a type of education which would enable subordinate classes to perceive social injustices critically" (Freire, 1985, p.102). Instead, all poor and working people, including educational workers, are ever more segregated by class and race, degraded and de-skilled while they are charmed by dream censors and curricula and knowledge regulators with stories of teacher empowerment and the commonality of their interests with their national ruling class--a vulgar if historically triumphant way to turn people into more willing instruments of their own oppression. Concurrent with the rise of inequality and tyranny is the rebirth of irrationalism, a convulsion of organized and unorganized superstition, turns to faith and mysticism of one form or another (Lipman, 1998; Anyon, 1998, Shannon, 1999).
Throughout the world we witness privileged voices calling for the national unity of government, corporations and the organizations of working people--an appeal to all-class unity which has ominous affinities with similar corporatist projects in the late twenties and thirties, that is, organized social disintegration under the banners of national interest--and war preparation. Nevertheless, it has been in times of historical crisis, like the one I think we are now entering, that people interested in democratic citizenship and social justice have made the greatest gains. For example during the U.S. depression, people won the now evaporating eight hour day, the right to form unions and bargain, and social security laws.
Even so, in 1999, any struggle for democracy must incorporate a reasoned grasp of the failure of socialism as well (Gibson, 1998). The collapse of the Soviet Bloc underscored the crisis of resistance while it simultaneously revealed the frailty of the modern bureaucratic state--and the failure of socialism to create a new generation. Although today's world democratic movements have fought back and struggled for social justice in electoral arenas, and often won, those movements have changed little or nothing of essence. Clearly, an economic and political system whose bellwether, the U.S., jails one in 250 of its citizens, does not work especially well. The socialist alternative has not worked either. Nevertheless, the material base for shared abundance and deepened democracy exists in the world. What trails behind is the political consciousness of people--and organizing. Still, the spreading processes of reality are relentless, grinding away illusions. Even modest radicals in education, like Michael Apple, are rediscovering the central roles of labor and social class in progressive change--and integrating that focal point with the lessons of what Freire likes to call, "progressive post-modernism." Given the de-industrialized nature of North America, the repositioning of schools as the focal points of social life, educators are centripetal to hopes for social change. Elites, right now, have little to fear from a UAW-disciplined strike at General Motors. They have plenty of concern about another 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. The young activists of that uprising came from schools (Freidman, 1997; Apple 1998; Freire, 1998; Mishel 1999).
It is in this context that many educators and agents for change--as well as those who want to construct hegemony in new ways--now turn to Freire, the individual who defined radicalism and revolution in education. Freire designed the educational programs in revolutionary Grenada (as well as mirror image campaigns in Guinea-Bissau) and was key in developing their political programs as well. It is Freire, and his Promethean promises of liberation, who I hope to problematize.
Freire invites educators to mix his intriguing 4-part formula of (a) literacy, (b) critical consciousness, (c) national economic development, and (d) revolution to create a new practice of democracy. Freire suggests we can see, judge, and act--and become nearly impenetrable to lies--if we follow the form and content of critical pedagogy he has conceived (Dewitt, p.238). People who apply this formula typically run into the fact that Freire is a paradigm shifter, willing to enclose postmodernism, Catholicism, Marxism, and liberalism, a person far more complex than many of those who appropriate his work.
Freire is also reified. To invoke his name is to conjure radicalism, revolution in education--an embryonic phantom image like a postcard of Che Guevara. The progenitor of late twentieth century educational criticism remains, for the most part, beyond sharp critique. His few public critics, like Paul Taylor, who concludes that Freire is finally is simply a Christian, chide him only from strict textual references, and, for most other than Taylor, in only the most generous ways. The absence of criticism of his theoretical foundations and social practice allows his complexity and internal contradictions to be ignored, and his own counsel, to develop a fully critical outlook for social change rooted in the examination of social applications, to be denied. Worse, his work is easily and often stripped of its profound emancipatory political base and used as an rudimentary training method in, for example, Total Quality Management programs in Sweden which crudely unite Freire's student centeredness and sense of collective work with the mind-stripping project of Frederick W. Taylor's stop-watch scientific management. Freire is artful in his application of multiple analytical models to social analysis; yet Freire is sometimes applied as a template upon reality by those who he actually urges to be crafty (Taylor, 1993, p.58).
My theoretical view may be as contradictory and idiosyncratic. I seek to ground my thinking in dialectical materialism in the tradition of Marx's sense of the study of human agency as a part of matter in motion, the Hungarian philosopher-activist Georg Lukacs' and Istvan Meszaros' insistence on the interpenetrating role of the material world and class consciousness--as a prerequisite for fundamental social change, Fredy Perlman's and I.I. Rubin's investigation of reification and alienation in political economy, Situationist Guy Debord's study of capital's empty --if hypnotic--appearances, Foucault's study of reciprocal discipline from mind to body , Wilhem Reich's suggestion of the role of sexuality in obsequiousness, and the dialectical agency outlined by North American, Bertell Ollman. Dialectical materialism is a spacious paradigm which Freire also claims as his own. Dialectical materialism, very simply put, is the partisan study of change in the world.
In order to understand how it is that Freire can call himself a "totality," yet can say he believes in original sin on one page, and feel no need to criticize his support for the mechanically orthodox regimes in Grenada and Guinea Bissau on another page, it is necessary to take a detour to investigate some philosophical options, in this case two options, each with important subsets (Freire, 1994, p.167; Freire, 1999a, p.30). The two key options are idealism and materialism. The subsets which I hope to simplify and make understandable are subjective and objective idealism , on the one hand, and mechanical and dialectical materialism on the other. (2)
Idealism is most easily presented in the words of Descartes, "I think therefore I am." Or, in the bible, "In the beginning was the Word. The word was in God's presence, and the word was God" (John 1:1). Idealism suggests that the world is a construction of the mind. Subjective idealism, briefly put, is the notion that nothing exists but the mind, and all else is apparitions. Objective idealism, probably originating with Plato's cave, his story of the people for whom images on a wall are the reality of the world, is the belief that while all begins with the mind, or god, there is indeed a world which is of interest to the mind, or god, and is likely to be a manifestation of a microcosm of the mind. God, in this view, would be interested in class struggle. Objective idealism was later codified by the great systematizer, Hegel. For the idealist, the external world is a creation of the mind, if it exists at all. For the subjective idealist, really nothing can change. For the objective idealist, Hegel, the motor of change is necessarily the mind. At the end of the day, any form of idealism is a closed system, a turn to faith for proofs, a decision to be irrational. Irrationalism, in an world of exploitation, is a partisan position (Lukacs, 1952, p.100).
Materialism is perhaps summed up well with this counter-quote to the Bible from Mary Coomes, "In the beginning was the world. Then came people. Then came the struggle for life and production, the deed. Ideas developed in social practice...." (Gibson, 1994, p.61). Mechanical materialism, probably best or most popularly represented by what has become known as Orthodox Marxism (an oxymoron for Marx), or Stalinism, is a belief in the inevitability of change through incremental additions: add up x amount of productive capacity and you get socialism. Dialectical materialism, the study of change in the material world, is the idea that things do indeed exist external to you or me, but that things change, and that human agency is a key part of social change.
I suggest in the paragraphs to come that Freire can only be considered a Hegelian objective idealist, and that as such, he represents, as did Hegel, a vital contribution to the understanding and necessity of change, but that his advice is finally a cul-de-sac from which people interested in equality and democracy must at some point depart. While Freire wants to locate himself in the complexities of dialectical materialism, outside the bounds of either the idealists or mechanical materialists, it remains that he cannot go further than to examine the world as a creation of his mind, and to reduce the world to the dichotomies, the appearances, that his mind initially is able to comprehend, not the richness of the material world as it transforms. While Freire's language is full of discourse about domination and oppression, he is never able to transcend this key understanding and reach into the content of these factors in labor, exploitation, or sexual oppression. He is able, in pedagogy and in print, to take up questions of a central issue of life, the construction of knowledge, but he can pass but a glance at the sources of the enemy of knowledge, irrationalism (Freire, 1998b, p.42, 45).
Allow me to pass beyond subjective idealism, since no one functioning in our world could fully adopt it and take a step with any confidence, and try to examine objective idealism more deeply through Hegel, who I think is Freire's parallel.
For the mature Hegel, not necessarily the anti-clerical Hegel who supported the violence of the French Revolution, but the Hegel of The Logic, the world is a totality, an unlimited whole, and its motive force is the absolute, ever-lasting Mind, "and whose outer form is but the manifestation of the Mind--such manifestation culminating in conscious units identical with nature in the mind. That is all." Hence, people walk not because of their evolutionary relationship with the world, but because they will it (Bryant, 1971, p.21, 31--his emphasis). The world exists, things change, but things as they change are the product of an Absolute Spirit directing change to and from itself. Truth is in the Absolute spirit, and is in microcosm within the developing minds which are headed toward the Spirit. Because Hegel posited the existence of a world in change, and because he exhausted incredible, if sometimes undecipherable, discipline in examining its changes, Marx was able later to find and transcend the "rational kernel" inside Hegel's shell.
Narcissism is imbedded in any form of idealism. If all one can be sure of is the mind, all one can really be sure of is one's own mind, a propensity that leads to the fetishism about the self in some forms of postmodernism, and in parts of Freire. (Freire, 1998b, p.17-21). Flowing outward from the idealist's consciousness, the representative of consciousness, language, above and predating, preempting, labor and sexuality, becomes central. It make sense that if the mind is principal, then its communicative processes constitute the key to the processes of change. This goes to the fascination of right-wing postmodernism, as opposed to radical postmodernism, with discourse analysis--abstracted from the processes of the material world. It follows, as well, that an idealist position will posit an eternal ethics, as distinct from ethics derived from a material analysis of social conditions, and insist that if there is to be hope, it must be couched in the language of those ethics, finally, a battle between good and evil (Freire, 1998b, p.98).
Freire makes this analysis an uneasy one. He occasionally appropriates ideas of "over-determination," to demonstrate the relationship of culture, language, and economic structures. Yet, like Althusser, Freire remains bound in their dualism and impenetrability, rather than probing deeply into their inter-relationship. Freire, as an objective idealist, is left with language, culture, and mythology, over-determining life (Freire 1998b, p.78, Freire, 1998a, p.98, Palmer 1990, Dewitt, p.85-87).
While recognizing Hegel's profound contribution, and the efforts of a later philosopher, Fuerbach, Marx sought to address the question of subjectivity and objectivity through a careful examination of the material world and social practice. He suggested that the answers lay not in further theoretical contemplation: "Their resolution is therefore by no means merely a problem of knowledge, but a real problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it conceived this problem merely to be a theoretical one" (Marx, 1978, p.89). Here Marx begins to build the notion that it is not possible to be dialectical, to understand how things change, without being a materialist, without positing the primacy of the external material world.
Marx digs into Hegel's notions of labor in order to demonstrate this thesis. "Hegel conceives labor as man's act of self-genesis--conceives man's relation to himself as an alien being and the manifesting of himself as an alien being to be the coming-to-be of species-consciousness and species-life." Marx goes on to suggest that Hegel's is an examination of the mind, "formal and abstract," and is at once superficial and incapable of offering a solution, an annulment, other than in thought (Marx, 1978, p. 121). Nevertheless, Marx credits Hegel with identifying labor as the essence of human life, seeing the alienation of people from their creative lives as a critical problem in existence, and with the understanding that the genesis of human life is in relation to labor. Hegel understood, moreover, the genesis of the philosophy of contradictions, negativity, at the heart of that process (Marx, 1978, 112). Hegel, in his world constructed in the mind, a world in motion toward the absolute spirit, understood that things change, and in studying how things change, he concluded, philosophically, that things change because they are composed of a unity and struggle (unity temporary, struggle permanent) of oppositions. Dialectical materialism, counter to Lenin (and even some of Marx) does not simply invert Hegel's notion of the Idea as the beginning of matter and motion. It does not simply turn Hegel on his head. Perhaps a better metaphor would be to turn Hegel inside out. Metaphors, in this case, though, may not work well at all. To shift from the Idea to the material world, is not to merely replace one initiating agent with another, one shell with another, but to introduce an entirely new set of complexities, a compass with much greater capability than the beginning point offered in Hegel. It means, too, to replace the test of truth in Hegel, theory (the application of an abstract truth to manipulate the collection of facts) with the test of truth in Marx, praxis, social practice. This ends the linear dualism of thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis in Hegel, and suggests a sense of history best represented graphically by a spiral. Further, this makes possible a study of relationships, the unity and struggle of complex opposites, in both form and content, while Hegelian objective idealism remains stuck in deep contemplation of appearances, forms--abstracted or estranged from their related content. In practice, the left-Hegelian mechanical socialists rooted truth inside the central committee; right-Hegelian irrationalists locate truth in god, mysticism. Dialectical materialism locates truth, as a simultaneously relative and absolute phenomena, in social praxis, the developing relationships of understanding and concrete tests. Since theory trails practice, dialectical materialism, in contrast to idealism is an open system, recognizing the incomplete nature of understanding. The material world always hold more to be discovered. In brief, to reiterate and abridge, it is not possible to be dialectical without being a materialist, and vice- versa (Korsch, 1970, p.130-136; Sartre, 1960, p.19)).
To expand, in his first and fourth thesis on Fuerbach ( early philosopher of mechanical materialism), Marx offers his initial warnings that it is not possible to be dialectical, to understand change, without being a thorough-going materialist, grounded in the understanding that being initiates consciousness--which reverberates back and recreates being-- that the material world exists in a relationship with the mind, neither preempted by the other. He suggests that Fuerbach detaches himself from a material understanding, then contemplates his own singular ideas within the limits of his mentally constructed, dogmatic, contradictions. Marx urges a project that is rooted in the reciprocal interaction of change and the material world, of ideas and things, each creating and recreating the other.
Georg Lukacs sews this thread as a theme into most of his work. In "The Young Hegel," Lukacs indicates that, "contradiction is the profoundest principle of all things...." However, he continues, "this doctrine of contradiction can only be worked out adequately and consistently within a materialist dialectic in which it can be regarded as the intellectual mirroring of the dynamic contradictions of objective reality." Surely the great Hungarian dialectical philosopher would agree that the mirroring involves mutuality, reflecting, recreating, making profound, and reflecting back upon (Lukacs, 1954, p.218).
Lukacs identifies Hegel as an "objective idealist" and describes how Hegel's dialectics had to play out.
"There can only be an objective idealist dialectics (a) if we may assume
the existence of something that goes beyond the consciousness of individuals
but is still subject-like, a kind of consciousness, (b) if amidst the dialectical
movement of the objects dialectics can discern a development which moves
toward a consciousness of itself in this subject, and (c) so if the movement
of the world of objects achieves an objective and subjective, a real and
conscious union with knowledge. Thus the identical subject object is the
central pillar of objective idealism, just as the reflection in human consciousness
of an objective reality subsisting independently of consciousness is the
crux of materialist epistemology." (3)
Now let us return to Marx attacking the Young Hegelians: (They) "consider conceptions, thoughts, ideas, in fact all of the products of consciousness, to which they attribute an independent existence, as the real chains of men...it is evident (they) have to fight only against those illusions of consciousness...they are fighting only against "phrases". They forget that to these phrases they themselves are only opposing other phrases, in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating the phrases of the world" (Marx-Engels Reader. 1978, p149).
Moreover, a fundamental understanding of historical or dialectical materialism (in which nothing comes from nothing) is that the elements of hope for a new or better world reside in the old, including the ideas necessary to forge a bridge, really a leap, from one to the next. It follows that a deep study of particulars, coupled with transformative practice guided by that study, is the both the source and the route toward social change. Lukacs suggests that the objective idealist stance, in a sense, subverted Hegel's project of understanding what makes people continuously allow themselves to be turned into agents of their own subjugation, that is, Hegel's inability to probe deeply into understanding alienation (Lukacs, 1954, p.19).
Bertell Ollman believes that the route to the solution of the concept-object paradox is through the process of abstraction.
"Marx claims his method starts from the real concrete and proceeds through abstraction (the intellectual activity of breaking this whole down into mental units with which we think about it) to the 'thought concrete' (the reconstituted and now understood whole present in the mind). The real concrete is simply the world in which we live, in all its complexity. The thought concrete is Marx's reconstruction of that world in the theories of what has become known as "Marxism". The royal road to understanding is said to pass from one to the other through the process of abstraction" (Ollman, 1993, p.24).
Ollman, then, underscores the relationship of ideas to the material world rather like a numerator and denominator in a fraction whose whole would evaporate in the absence of either.
For Freire, imbued with a lifetime of radical Roman Catholicism, the material world is subordinate to, and plays itself out in, the world of ideas and religion. Abstraction often comes from first examining the processes of the mind--which can never be as fertile as the "real concrete." Because the mind of a serious objective idealist combines a gaze that must be finally both consummate and omnipotent with real respect for the material world, Freire is able to present himself as a totality, not a dichotomy, yet present a philosophy of appearances and clear, unreconcilable, contradictions (Freire, 1998a, p.30).
Consider the obvious parallel of reading the word, the world, critical consciousness and revolution, with reading the word and revelation, "Blessed is he that readeth the words for the time is at hand." (Revelations 1:3) In Freire's framework, like Hegel's, where the word often comes first, God would be attentive to dialectical materialism. And reading the word would necessarily be the pathway to liberation.
Freire is distinguished from a subjective idealist, one who would argue that the material world is simply an enchantment of the mind. In Freire's work, the world and the mind exist, but finally as territory in the mind of a god. This is what makes it possible for Freire to posit both a belief in original sin and in revolution. (Freire, 1998b, p.36-38, 59, 98, and 12, 14). However complex and contradictory--for Hegel could hardly be considered a patron of traditional organized Christianity--Christianity and Hegelianism are at the heart of a significant sector of Freire's theoretical base. These factors are the sources of his idealism--which Lukacs has identified as objective idealism. Freire commented that he never lost Jesus when he discovered Marx. Christianity and Hegelianism, both wellsprings of Marxism, are also the foundations for Freire's reverence for equality and the importance of leadership and ideology (Gibson, 1994, p.112).
Objective idealism leads Freire to easily resolve, or personify, an apparently impossible binary: literacy for liberatory consciousness becomes literacy for national economic development (Freire, 1978, p.30). This, at the end of the day, was the project of the Grenadian New Jewel Movement, Cabral's Guinea Bissau, and one of the rocks that shipwrecked orthodox socialism. The goal, once critical consciousness, quickly became national economic development, with the party leadership at the head, living in the best houses around. Critique of alienation became confused with the promotion of the gross national product. Concern about exploitation, which never extended into a study of surplus value, shifted to a preoccupation with greater output--in the name of socialist equality (Gibson, 1994, p239). A world view that necessarily focuses on appearances, objective idealism, does not go deeper than concern about domination and oppression, "the fundamental theme of our epoch is domination, which implies its opposite, liberation," into the essence of the creation of value, labor, and reproduction, sexuality. (Freire, 1980, p.93).Therefore, in practice, this world view resolves appearances, and fails to get to the heart of things--and ideas. One of Freire's great contributions goes to this issue: that element of liberation which addresses the role of class consciousness as a precondition of social change. (Freire, 1980, p146).
Still, in the absence of a profound sense of materialism, Freire can only be superficially dialectical. Consciousness itself is never as rich and complex as the objects and subjects with which it interacts. In other words, Freire embodies a contradiction, a contradiction flowing from the binary created by his objective idealism: he believes ideas change the world, or on the other hand that national technological/economic development changes the world, and does not comprehend the interactions of a contradiction in which the power of one element overwhelms the other. Either we become what we wish, that is, a correct reading of the world creates a just world; or we become what the nation can develop, a form of Bolshevik-socialist mechanical materialism. This brittle binary, again, rises from Freire as an objective idealist, one who finally privileges consciousness over being and whose interest in dialectical materialism is subordinate to his beliefs in God and abstractions about reason. Freire rarely makes commonly materialist claims. The words political economy or surplus value get little attention in his works, though he does occasionally affirm or deny the pivotal role of class struggle, depending on what one reads. Freire is at once the modest dialectician and pedagogue, often humbly imperious about his abilities. For Freire, an understanding of the infinite complexity of the real world is, in theory and practice, reduced to a naive binary, as opposed to the multitude of interrelating contradictions that are available to the materialist view. (4)
Lukacs, is especially helpful, "The theoretical cul-de-sacs of the bourgeoisie idealist philosophy , which are continually re-emerging, very often originate in an abstract and antinomic contrast between the material and the mental, the natural and the social, which inevitably leads to the destruction of all genuine dialectical connections and thus makes the specific character of social being incomprehensible" (Lukacs, 1978, p107). Lukacs' contribution is to demonstrate the framework that captures Freire. The caged bird helps build its own cage.
Freire, in both his earliest and his most recent works, tried to defend against this criticism. Indeed, he parries caricatures of the arguments of both the mechanists and the dreamy idealists. He counters those who have, unfairly and superficially I think, called him a keeper for capitalism in crisis (Freire, 1973, p.146; Freire, 1994, p.103; Freire, 1998b, p.95). I do not believe, as Carnoy seems to think, that reading Freire is going to be especially good for progressive sectors of capital. (Freire, 1998a, p.7-19). But Freire remains stuck, in theory and in practice. The annulment of alienated consciousness, the way an estranged mind is overcome, following his philosophical origins and path, is that progressives should fight for national "economic development, and to limit the size of the state." The guiding hand here should be God's, "a God on the side of those with whom justice, truth, and love should be" (Freire 1998a, p.34,35, 103).
While Freire recognizes a democratic and egalitarian utopian goal, he urges paths-- liberatory consciousness linked to national development-- idealism or mechanical materialism--which in practice have repeatedly been in harsh opposition to each other and yet are twins of the same mother, as we shall see. In practice, national economic development has never played second fiddle to equality and democracy; most certainly beacon issues to the movement for critical consciousness. In practice, the now jailed New Jewel leaders and the Minister of Education in Grenada agreed on the purpose of pedagogy, but lost interest in critically democratic citizens, because national economic development was far more important to of them than critical consciousness, at least as long as the former held power. National economic development, moved to the role of the highest priority, means that criticism of the construction of profits, or surplus value, that is the exploitation of labor on the shop floor or in the agricultural field, must take second shrift. Alienation is, in part, the estrangement of people from other people and their work because they do not control the product or process of production. Human social relations and human creativity, a unity possible today more than ever before, are split apart. Social relations are estranged by idelological systems rooted in opportunist interests--and exploitation. The potential for collective ceativity in work becomes an authoritarian relationship--and boredom. Alienation inserts an additional insult: the more working people engage in the central aspect of what might or should be their human creativity--work--the more they empower, enrich, those who own--those who simply want them to work harder, faster, less thoughtfully--and this accelerates the construction of their own oppression. Really critical literacy which addresses hierarchy and injustice is linked by Freireian magic, objective idealism, to technological national economic progress--rarely the catalyst for deconstructing inequality. Critical consciousness, which must at some point connect with the deeper realities of alienation, the creation of surplus value by work forces which do not control the process or products of their labor, is submerged by promises for justice delayed. Critical consciousness is buried in national economic development. In Grenada, calls for national economic development meant considerable sacrifice for many people, even though the New Jewel Movement did have a reasonably honest system of national economics. NJM had programs for medical care, the local control and production of local goods and foodstuffs, a plan to build technology through education that predated the Asian Tigers, and a sensible scheme to boost tourism via an international airport. But people remained alienated from the literacy programs which were clearly designed to buttress the NJM economic campaign. People walked away, slept in class. They felt the literacy project was coercive, unconnected to their lives. (Gibson, 1994, p.211). Moreover, the same pattern of alienation from school and work, despite the calls to sacrifice for the national economy, continues under the current government, which ironically is turning to the Cuban, Fidel Castro, to finance a local sports stadium. Cuban assistance with the Grenadian international airport was a key excuse for the 1983 U.S. invasion, and the imprisonment of the NJM leaders.
The main phrase used to sell national economic development is that, "we are all in this together." The socialist project promised that abundance would be on the horizon, and once abundance was achieved through worker sacrifice for national economic development, it would be shared. The line of today's global capital is much the same, except the promise of sharing some day is spoken much more softly, if at all. The belief that we are one, all in the same boat, is Hegelian, a remnant of objective idealism and is fully taken up by Freire. His followers, even those like Martin Carnoy with proud records of taking apart the workings of capital, are thus left with making calls to humanize the culture of the globalization of capital, a social system which Meszaros rightly calls a "giant sucking pump of surplus value." (Freire, 1998a, p.16, 36; Carnoy, 1974; Meszaros, 1995, p.422).
Freire's objective idealism on the one hand produces and recreates mechanical materialism on the other hand--a contradiction among many Freire is willing to live with--allowing his admirers to uncritically appropriate only parts of him, without addressing his clear contributions in their complexity. Some adopt Freire's humanism and ignore his politics, others adopt his politics and abuse his humanism. The Grenadian and Guinea Bissau revolutions appropriated the Freire for national economic development and abandoned his ideas about equality and democracy. Others, like Carnoy, lift his humanist and constructivist approaches to literacy, and repress his revolutionary politics. Objective idealism manufactures this binary, and allows Freire to live with his own contradictions.
Still, within Freire's objective idealism, is also the sense that dialectical materialism, which privileges primacy of class struggle and social practice, constitutes a coherent way to comprehend and act on the world. His demands for a critique of praxis create a fair ground for examining his own ideas and those of others. Moreover, Freire's insistence on the importance of ideas (critical consciousness) and leadership inextricably linked to the masses in any struggle for social change and education lays the basis to explore the possibilities of ideology linked to material equality (Freire, 1980, p.124). Freire says critical consciousness is, "....Something which implies to analyze. It is a kind of reading the world rigorously...of reading how society works. It is to better understand the problem of interests, the question of power....a deeper reading of reality...common sense goes beyond common sense." (Freire, 1998b, p.9)
Let's look at a simplified approach to how the unity and struggle of opposites (dialectics) within Freire works. What I am about to pose is but two useful photos of what should be better seen as a complex film always in motion, the Idealist Freire riding on the same tracks as the Mechanically Materialist Freire.
I will pose two Freire's. In the first instance, I will try to summarize, in a brief format, Freire's analytical process as it appears in his theoretical work. This addresses Freire as an objective idealist (Catholic humanist), with Freire answering questions like: What is the motive force of history? How do we know this? Who is positioned to make change? How will they do that? What kind of pedagogy do you propose? Why? What is the source of alienation and exploitation, and what shall we do about it? Who are our friends? Where does the government come from and who does it serve? Where does racism come from? What shall we do about that? How shall we fight? How will we know when we win? What do we need to know to avoid recreating the mistakes of the past, to act anew?
Under the second heading, I will apply similar questions to Freire's practice, where we see the most orthodox of mechanical materialisms. The binary I am proposing, which Freire's objective idealism allows him to encircle, is most easily seen in two of Freire's works, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and, Pedagogy in Process: Letters to Guinea Bissau, the former representing the humanist tilt and the latter the mechanist side. His most recent books, Politics and Education, and Pedagogy of the Heart, perhaps more even than others, are rife with the contradictions I outline below.
1. All of history is seen as "a process of human events." (Freire, 1973, p.147). The "fundamental theme of our epoch is domination, which implies its opposite, liberation" (Freire, 1973, p.93). Oppression equals "dehumanization" (Freire, 1980, 28).
2. Culture and language are the primary indicators of this process. Silence is a prime indicator of oppression (Freire, 1985, p. 73; Freire, 1994, p.231).
3. Hence, to grasp history, analyze culture and language...
4. ...through literacy achieved via cultural investigation and dialogue.
5. Middle-class leaders and teachers are motivated, and linked to the masses and students, by respect, benevolence, dialogue, and love, which overcomes inequality. This requires the "class suicide," of the teacher-leaders. (Freire, 1978, p.103).
6. Literacy classes are student-centered, texts rise from student experience.
7. Inequality is examined as dehumanization, "spiritual weariness, historical anesthesia," cultural invasion. (Freire, 1994, p.123).
8. Change is achieved through new consciousness gained through literacy, and new approaches to language. Coming to voice becomes change: education for freedom (Freire, 1985, p.78).
9. The state, government, is mediated terrain, a potential ally (Freire, 1991, p.37, 157).
10. In political activity, pluralism, such as Freire's Workers Party of Brazil. National culture and economic development are privileged.
11. False consciousness is defeated by critical analysis (Freire, 1973, p.34-35).
12. Alienation is annulled by deconstructing hegemony. Will defeats might (Freire, 1994,172).
13. Truth is located within Freire's mind, or God's. The test for truth is in theory (Freire, 1973, p.18)
14. In theory: this is the post-modernist Freire; sex-gender, race, class, nation, are simultaneously pivotal. "Class struggle is not the mover of history, but it is certainly one of them" (Freire, 1994, p.91).
15. Racism is analyzed primarily as an ideological system--or an ethical problem.
16. Resistance, revolution, or praxis is equated to literary deconstruction.
17. Inequality is overcome by heightened consciousness. The oppressors are liberated (Freire, 1980, p.28).
In sum, the outline above amounts to traditional social Democracy.
Next, I pose the questions noted above to the revolutionary Freire,
the Freire who advised the Grenadian and Cabral revolution of Guinea Bissau.
This is the mechanist side of Freire. It should be clear that this Freire
is no stranger to the idea that violence is the mother of social change.
(Gibson, 1994, 326).
1. All history is the history of the struggle for production, then class struggle. "Relationships can never be understood except in the light of class analysis" (Freire, 1978, p.8).
2. Production and technology are the primary indicators/motivative forces. (Freire, 1978, p.56)
3. Hence, to transform reality; analyze and achieve national production...(Freire, 1973, p.32; Freire, 1978, p.47).
4. Through literacy won via directive and steered dialogue: re-education. (Freire, 1978, p.114).
5. Teachers and leaders are motivated by love, party or leader-worship, and national economic development. Personality cults rise: Cabral, Maurice Bishop in Grenada, Castro, etc. (Freire, 1994, p.167-173, Freire, 1980, p.164).
6. Inequality is checked via revolution and the vanguard revolutionary party.
7. Change is achieved via revolution and the vanguard party.
8. The state, government, is to be smashed, then appropriated. (In the case of Chile, failure to conduct this activity made counter-revolution possible.)
9. False consciousness is defeated by national commitment to revolutionary national economic/technical development (Freire, 1978, p.51).
10. Alienation is annulled in praxis by revolution, then economic improvements. National development requires support for the national bourgeoisie. (Freire, 1978, p.112)
11. "Democratic" centralism in politics, i.e. New Jewel, Guinea Bissau, Cuba, etc.
12. In theory, class is pivotal; race, sex/gender, nation secondary. (Subverted by emphasis on national development.)
13. Racism is analyzed as system of exploitation, usually overcome by the revolution (Cuba).
14. Resistance is guerrilla or revolutionary war.
15. Truth resides within, and is tested by, usually, the central committee
16. Inequality is purportedly defeated by technological change which creates abundance, that is, by the restoration of capitalist relations. The party bourgeoisie, red experts, etc., promise an egalitarian future.
In sum, this amounts to dogmatic, vulgar, or mechanical Marxism.
Social democracy as seen in Allende's Chile, and vulgar, doctrinaire, dogmatic strains of Marxism, as seen in Castro's Cuba, Bishop's Grenada, Communist China, or the collapsed Soviet Union, are failed systems. I characterize these systems as idealism in power, and mechanical materialism in power. The history of what can be properly called right (Chile) and left (U.S.S.R.) Hegelianism, the elements of Freire's contradictions, both of which rely heavily on the good will of intellectuals and the postponement of equality in exchange for abundance, will not get anyone to critical democratic citizenship. Grenadian efforts to build an economy rooted in new technology and to create a workforce technologically capable and disciplined, were built upon worker sacrifices and a party-centered educational system which sought to mask its alienating efforts in the language of national self-determination. The party leadership retained decision making power, and the results of labor producing surplus value. In the minds of the far-seeing leadership, the educational system had to be motored by the goals of the economy. These goals were certainly within the framework of traditional socialism, and in many ways in Grenada, under Bernard Coard's NJM leadership, predated the Gorbechev Glasnost and perestroika projects. (Gibson, 1994, p.240). For a worker in the fields, or in the new fruit processing plants, though, the burden of alienated work, of work out of workers' control, creating unpaid value beyond the reward, value which boomerangs back and empowers those in charge; that estrangement remained in full force. The promise of better days lagged, and lagged--and vanished. In socialist practice, it is evident that abundance alone will never lead to equality, the bedrock to democracy. Consciousness alone will never lead to democracy. You simply cannot get there from here on either singular route. Yet no movement for fundamental change can leap ahead if the ideas of the people have not hurdled their current conditions, if the people have not discovered that they are superior to their circumstances, if they are unable to locate their often utopian hopes in seeds of the present. The slave cannot get rid of the master, without first envisioning life without the master. Absent Guevara's quixotic vision, that the dozen or so loving revolutionaries could win, there would be no Cuban socialism to learn from. Without revolutionary theory, there is no revolutionary practice (Lenin, 1990, 84; Lukacs, 1971). The question remains: What do people need to know in order to end exploitation and alienation. What must we see today to construct freedom tomorrow?
Freire fails to recognize in depth the importance of his own call for the centripetal role of critical consciousness, that, is the role of ideas as a material force--especially the idea of equality. Just as literacy does not necessarily have anything to do with liberation or democracy, neither does development or abundance lead to democratic equality or social justice. But democratic egalitarianism is a powerful notion, with deep historical roots (Birchall, 1997). Freire is distracted from this profound principal by traveling into another mechanical and dogmatic cul-de-sac.
Freire in social practice relies heavily on the theory of productive forces, both in the idealist Freire and the doctrinal Freire. This theoretical model within dogmatic threads of Marxism (left-Hegelianism) overestimates the role of technique of production and privileges technological advance far above the social relations of production. In other words, the theory of productive forces insists that in order for democratic and egalitarian citizenship to become a reality, it is necessary to create abundance. To construct abundance requires rapid industrialization or technological development, which in turn demands material rewards for political and technical experts--and well-rewarded party leaders--to make the decisions for the rabble. This requires and reintroduces official ideas and practices supporting inequality--which promises, someday, become equality. The unquenchable thirst of surplus value that is capital is re-introduced, as a Trojan Horse or a Prometheus, carrying the promise of social justice. Working people tithe to the party. This is not to reduce to a single theory the many rocks that have shipwrecked socialism: caudillo cults of personality, nationalism hidden in socialist cloth, the repeated failure of justice-oriented movements to address questions of sexism, the use of professional armies as hooligans of new elites. The theory of productive forces is, though, a mostly uncharted rock. Remarkably, all of the socialist revolutions of the century were made with armies that were more or less egalitarian and democratic, but conquering regimes almost immediately installed a new undemocratic privileged aristocracy in the name of promoting economic development for, postponed, equality (Mao Tse Tung, 1977). In the world of theory, addressing merely the appearances of domination and oppression does not get to the sources in exploitation and authoritarianism.
Freire's embodiment of contradictions in his theoretical work, and his contradictory practice, really demonstrates the twin relationship of what leftists know as sectarianism and opportunism. Both rise, if we are to estimate that the agents of change are reasonably honest, out of a limited, one-sided, analysis of the material world, rooted in a similar philosophical error. Sectarianism and opportunism are twins of the same mother, two faces of opposition to real critical and democratic citizenship. Both reify truth, locating truth outside the realm of tests in social practice. The sectarians usually locate truth inside the party's central committee, for the opportunists, truth is in God's hands, really their minds. Both sectarianism and opportunism are based at once in deep fear of the people, elitism, contempt for mass struggle; and in support of privilege, hero iconicization, mesmerized mass action, or passivity. Once the party of revolution is in power, stop wondering about equality or the division of surplus value; wait for the promised land. Sectarianism overestimates the primacy of the material world, making it appear that matter changes only at its own reified pace--the mechanically materialist Freire. Opportunism contends that matter is only changed through the force of ideas, often individual ideas, not concrete, analytical, egalitarian mass struggle--the idealist Freire. Sectarianism and opportunism combine to form the fatalistic belief that the world, matter, will surely change in ways we desire. Both finally limit or deny the significance of fully reflective human agency--grasping and transforming the world at its political and economic roots. We have seen these mis-estimations quickly turn into the opposites of their civic claims far too often. For left Hegelianism, sectarianism, and right Hegelianism, opportunism, change happens along a line of accumulated, predictable, nearly inevitable, elements of change or change happens because we wish it so. Both reality and/or change are constructs of the mind, usually the Mind in charge. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (Freire, 1980, p.20-25).
The resolution of this is a deep probe into the intersections of mind and matter, in the construction of everyday life, in using critical theory to make the reproductive veils of capital transparent, and to grasp what useful elements of the future are built into the present--and to look into the future. (5)
There are ways out of Freire's dilemma, understanding that social practice is tentative, experimental, partial, yet utterly necessary and inevitable. The untenable contradiction of national economic development and democracy could be resolved by uniting them under the rubric of the moral (and material) imperative of equality---in both the mode (decision-making) and means (equality in distribution) of production. This does not mean equality as a dogmatic abstraction, but equality as a necessary common goal, recognizing that the starting points of people are simply not equal. As elements of Freire's work suggests, we must not only examine discourse and culture, but that we pay particular attention to the creation and distribution of surplus value--both in terms of the creation of goods and the creation and distribution of surplus time--which relates to the foundations of creating culture. Decision-making power as a form of alienation, or liberation, must be considered a part of this process of critique as well.
Freire's objective idealist focus on appearances, in this instance the appearance of oppression, as indicated above, limits the routes to liberation. Istvan Meszaros offers a deepened understanding of what must be understood in order to reach into a more democratic and egalitarian future. He underlines the necessity of grappling with dialectics, studying the processes of change in a thorough-going materialist fashion, and suggests that capital (whose life blood is exploitation and alienation) has a lot of defenses, what he calls second-order mediations, including:
A) The nuclear family (a center of reproducing authoritarian relations)
B) Alienated means of production, distribution, and consumption
C) Fetishist (as opposed to humanist) production objectives
D) Labor structurally divorced from control
E) Capital's nation status--and its fickle willingness to follow the sweet smell of surplus value from one nation to the next. Nationalism is a secondary interest to capital.
F) The uncontrollability
of the market. (Meszaros, 1995, 108,138,929)
To which can be added:
G) Cultural Hegemony
H) The Fragmentation of Labor--workers split by unions, trade, skill, race, etc.
I) The Continuing appeal
of nationalism (Perlman)
And to which Wilhelm Reich would add: the role of sexuality and the
family in preparing people for an irrational oppressive world (Reich, 1970).
"No quantitative relief of its poverty, no illusory hierarchical incorporation, can supply a lasting cure for its satisfaction, for the proletariat cannot truly recognize itself in any particular wrong it has suffered; nor therefore, in the righting of any particular wrong--nor even in the righting of many such wrongs; but only in the righting of the unqualified wrong that has been perpetrated upon it--the universal wrong of its exclusion from life" (Debord 1995, p.85).
Now, return to Meszaros, "...what determines ideology more than anything else is the imperative to become practically conscious of the fundamentals of social conflict--from the mutually exclusive standpoints of the hegemonic alternatives that face on another in the given social order--for the purpose of fighting it out" (Meszaros, 1989, p.11).
In sum, the way out must at once address the totality of human creativity and the particular methods that are used to imprison it. No one can reasonably suggest a grasp of the totality, or, hence, all of its components. But it is possible, recognizing the simultaneously absolute and relative nature of truth, to go out the door and take informed, critically conscious, action.
It might appear that what I have written here creates a Freire that is profoundly pessimistic, a fellow whose language of love and understanding is undermined simultaneously by a view that people are born in sin, or that people must have corrupt and coercive direction to move forward. As a subset of Freire's ideas that has gone mostly uncriticized, there is some truth in that. But it is a caricature of my interpretation, a fraction of the story. This paper seeks to take Freire at his word, to critically address aspects he "may not have perceived" (Freire, 1980, p.24). This is respectful work.
Listen to Freire's idea of good teaching: "There is no more ethical or truly democratic road than one in which we reveal to learners how we think, why we think the way we do, our dreams, the dreams for which we will fight, while giving them concrete proof that we respect their opinions, even when they are opposed to our own." (Freire , 1998b, p.40). Who does this better than Freire? The objective idealist Freire is a worthy starting point for pedagogy for the common good.
Freire, even in his objective idealism, still understands that things exist, things change, and he is able to put together an admirable pedagogical outlook to participate in transformation. Freire's contributions around the pivotal nature of praxis as the testing ground for knowledge, the centrifugal role of honest leadership, and the importance of the unity of leaders and educators with the masses and students alone are worth the complex encounter that occurs when assaying the fellow who calls himself the Vagabond of the Obvious--Paulo Freire.
Nevertheless, what is clear at this historical moment, is that the people of the world have never been as educated and as technologically advanced as they are now. The history of oppression demonstrates that where there is oppression there is always resistance. Oppression is both ideological and material: Princess Diana worship and Patriot missiles, standardized educational curricula, layoffs at Levis, and the Daimler-Chrysler merger, promises to empower teachers and the takeover of the Detroit public schools by the banks and casino powers, all interacting with one another. What lies behind language is not merely technique, but power, the iron fist under the velvet glove.
Discourse analysis in the tradition of the idealist Freire will not supply the social forces necessary to make change. It will not bring about a society which privileges relations between people over relations between things. Still, what drives production is not technology but social relations--again imbued with imbalances of power--a process which the doctrinal Freire undervalues. Freire does offer a chance to underline Lukacs' position, interestingly ratified later by Maoist economics, that consciousness rising out of social relations must, at some point, strip ahead of the development of technologies in the means of production. Within Freire's contribution about the importance of ideology is the hint that equality might overcome the contradiction, not by overlapping idealism with materialism, but simply with a new understanding rising from a mostly social, rather than mostly technologically mechanical vision.
Educators concerned about citizenship and the common welfare are being urged by elites to join them in their efforts to tamp down the democratic expectations of the mass of people, to help children to understand and accept that they will not likely do as well as their parents, that the tests they are taking really prepare them for a multitude of alienated jobs in a world where employer loyalty is a one-way street. For any educator to play along is to ignore the old revolutionary adage that an injury to one only precedes an injury to all: to join in the organization of decay is to eventually organize one's own rot. Educators who tacitly support the stratification of children by class, sex, and race, will themselves find their wages tied to the parental incomes of those they teach. Moreover, passive educators, or partisans who opt to oppose the valuable contributions of Freire's work on education for transmission or transformation, will be unable to unpack the alienation they themselves will build and feel in classrooms driven by standardized curricula, national examinations, and burgeoning class size counts (Anyon, 1998, Gibson, 1999. Lipman, 1999).
We who profess to stand for education for citizenship must make problematic the intersections of power and inequality that block our best laid plans. The key area of agreement, for example, of the U.S.-installed Minister of Education in Grenada and the former revolutionary New Jewel leaders now in prison, was that education must serve national economic development. The implications of that decision are extraordinarily perplexing. As both sides of this struggle are intensely aware, ideas have consequences. The New Jewel leaders have been unjustly held as political prisoners in a seventeenth century prison since 1983, for crimes that, after a careful review of evidence, I believe they did not commit. The North American leftists who danced in the streets of St. Georges during the NJM government's short stint in power have done nearly nothing about the grotesque injustice. Tragically, at the conclusion of a cold war conducted primarily by white folks, the last prisoners of that war are African-Caribbeans.
Grenada's current Minister of Education really has no desire to take either of Freire's paths toward liberatory consciousness, not the examination of domination, not real national development. The current government is busy selling passports and seeking top-of-the-line tourist development. In contrast, the New Jewel leaders, still thinking of themselves as patriots, have guided the prison education program so well that it has the top test scores on the island--to boost the national economy.
So, we who look to education seriously as a passage to democratic citizenship
must determine just where it is we want to go and how we hope to get there.
Now, more than ever, what teachers do matters. If the future must be forged
by people who at least make new errors, what do those people need to know
to be immune to lies, to be inoculated against submissiveness--and how
should they learn it? If we are to understand Freire at all: things change.
Capital is temporal. We are accountable for what is next.
1. I omit names where I feel there is any possibility that naming might damage the hopes of a subject. I also wish to criticize a section of my earlier work on Grenada which I now think suffers from an incomplete analysis of the Grenadian revolution and the later invasion (Gibson, 1994). I have posted on my web page, cited below, an analysis by a jailed New Jewel leader, John Ventour, that offers the basis for a better examination of the crises in Grenada. I also wish to underline the horrific injustice of the continued incarceration of the New Jewel members, the Grenada 17, who are innocent as charged, and who have served 16 years in a 17th century prison.
2. Freire, constrained by his viewpoint which focuses on appearances, has an extraordinarily thin understanding of the revolution in Grenada and the years of preparation which preceded it--even though he was an active participant in the post-revolutionary government. Counter to Freire, revolutions do not "wait to happen," and this one was years in preparation. Both Freire and I erred in our criticism of the crisis in Grenada in 1983, iconicizing Maurice Bishop and demonizing Bernard Coard, a critique that missed the complexity of events. (Freire, 1994, p.167).
3. Lukacs, Young Hegel p270. Here Lukacs marginally follows Lenin in his critique of Berkeley, in which Lenin suggests that Berkeley's notions of representation have no materiality, existing only on the plane of consciousness. See Lenin (1972) Materialism and Empiro-Criticism, New York, International Publishers, p23. While the APA style of avoiding footnotes except in near-crisis situations is adopted here, there is an extensive bibliography for the reader interested in exploring the ideas, especially relating to dialectics and materialism, addressed in this paper. For those interested in introductory texts I suggest, from the left, Gollobin, and from the right, Wetter. John Dewitt's unfortunately unpublished dissertation on Freire is a gem.
4. For a brief parenthetical discussion of how this operated, see E.H. Carr, What is History? . Here the Soviets tried to resolve the problem, "We Russians have to do with still primitive human material. We are compelled to adapt the flying machine to the type of flyer who is at our disposal. To the extent which we are successful in developing a new man, the technological development of the material will be perfected..." The new man, however, was not to critique Soviet hierarchy or inequality, but to develop in relation to technology (p.191).
5. Here Lukacs and I, leaving from the same starting
point, cross paths, but I think the thought is very similar: "most of the
deviations from Marxism follow one of these paths in their methods and
revoke Marx's supersession of a false antimony in a bourgeoisie sense...it
should be noted that sectarian dogmatism generally takes the path of fetishization
of reason, whereas opportunist revisions of Marxism commonly show the tendency
to an empiricist fetishization." (Lukacs, 1988v2, p.107) For a fine discussion
of the masks of capital as a "natural force," see Fredy Perlman (1992).
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