Radical Imagine-Nation

Public Pedagogy & Praxis

by Peter McLaren (Volume editor) Suzanne SooHoo (Volume editor)
Textbook XII, 328 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Radical Imagine-Nation
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Suzanne Soohoo)
  • References
  • Part One: Reinventing Freire
  • Chapter One: Conscientization as an Antidote to Banking Education (Donaldo Macedo)
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Coming to Know Paulo (Tom Wilson)
  • PFDP Core Beliefs and Common Principles
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Critical Pedagogy, Leadership and Institutional Reform: Paulo Freire’s “Formative Time” at the Social Services of Industry (Tricia M. Kress)
  • Paulo Freire’s Views On Leadership: Moving Beyond “Adjectival” Definitions
  • Democratizing Education With/In Sesi: Reflexive “Evaluation” and Institutional Reform
  • Institutional Reform Via Dialogue And Organizational Change
  • Conclusion: Implications For Educational Leadership and Policy
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Four: A Clarification of Freire’s Radical Political Pedagogy (Keqi (David) Liu)
  • Introduction
  • Lu Xun: The True Story of AH Q
  • Freire: Radical Political Pedagogy, The Language of Possibility
  • Bourdieu: A Sociological Tool for Analyzing Oppression
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Migration, Racism, and the Mediterranean—A Freirean Perspective (Leona M. English / Peter Mayo)
  • This Chapter
  • Globalization and Migration
  • Migration
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Six: Utopia as Praxis: Paulo Freire Twenty Years After His Passing (Robert Lake)
  • Utopia and Paulo Freire
  • Freire in the Twenty-First Century
  • Denouncing the Banking Concept of Education—Follow the Money
  • The Political is Personal and Vice Versa
  • Martin Luther King Jr. and the Praxis of Utopia
  • Freire’s Praxis of Utopia and the Unfinished Conversation
  • Note
  • References
  • Part Two: Engaging Public Intellectuals
  • Chapter Seven: Dare We Create a New Socialist Order?: A Challenge to Educators of America in the Coming Trump Era (Peter Mclaren)
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: Toward a Politics of Revolt and Disruption: Higher Education in Dangerous Times (Henry A. Giroux)
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Nine: Critical Leadership for Social Justice: Unveiling the Dirty Little Secret of Power and Privilege (Antonia Darder)
  • Economic Darwinism and the University
  • Conditions of Power and Privilege
  • Neoliberal Multiculturalism
  • Assault on the Borderlands
  • Critical Praxis of Leadership
  • Principles and Ethical Commitments
  • Critical Leadership Is Pedagogical
  • Critical Leadership as Moral Commitment
  • Critical Leadership Is a Political Act
  • Critical Leadership Is Not a Neutral Affair
  • Critical Leadership Is Purposeful
  • Critical Leadership as a Dialectical Process
  • Dialogue
  • Conscientization
  • Critical Democratic Negotiation
  • Ideological Intersections
  • The Cultural Context as Essential
  • Integration of Our Human Faculties
  • A Question of Ethics
  • Critical Leadership as Unfinishedness
  • Indispensable Qualities of Leadership for Social Justice
  • Ethical Qualities of Political Struggle for Social Justice
  • Ethical Qualities of Personal Struggle for Social Justice
  • The Struggle for Democratic Public Life
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: The Alternative to Capitalism in Light of Today’s Environmental Crises (Peter Hudis)
  • I.
  • II.
  • III.
  • IV.
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Critical Consciousness and Spirituality: Deconstructing the Colonizing Practices of U.S. Education Through the Lens of Paulo Freire and Critical Spirituality (Michael E. Dantley)
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: I Cannot Speak for the Gun (Margaret Randall)
  • Part Three: Linking Internationalists
  • Chapter Thirteen: The Refugee Crisis in Europe: Words Without Borders (Michael A. Peters / Tina Besley)
  • “Refugee Blues,” By W. H. Auden
  • From “A Mother in a Refugee Camp,” By Chinua Achebe
  • “From Home,” By Warsan Shire
  • From “When I Am Overcome By Weakness,” By Najat Abdul Samad
  • From “I Am A Refugee,” By Mohamed Raouf Bachir
  • Notes
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Challenge of the Internationalist Critical Pedagogue (Petar Jandrić)
  • Introduction
  • Critical Pedagogy and Global Activism: Mapping the Field
  • The Integrity Constraint: Digital Cultures
  • The Humility Constraint: Epistemology
  • The Respect of Sovereignity Constraint: Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies
  • The Professionalism Constraint: The (Hypo)critical Theory
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Fifteen: Reframing Education Through Indigenous, Anti-Colonial, and Decolonial Prisms (George J. Sefa Dei)
  • Introduction
  • The Globalizing of Education
  • Towards a New Cultural Framing
  • Race and the “New Human”
  • Theorizing the “Indigenous” as an International Category
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: Educational Project of Social Justice: The Possibilities of Intervention Against the Pedagogical Hegemony of Capitalism (Ravi Kumar)
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Where I’m Bound I Can’t Tell: Radical Changes Are Still Possible in Higher Education (Peter O’Connor / Jean M. Allen / Simon Dennan)
  • References
  • Chapter Eighteen: “Miracle on Ice”: Sociological Understanding of the Finnish Schooling Model (Anna Renfors and Juha Suoranta)
  • Introduction
  • Narrative Context of Understanding the Finnish Schooling Model
  • The Progressive Era of 1960s and 1970s
  • Finnish Schooling Model in the Limelight
  • Local Schools Nurture Overall Growth
  • Public Funding Means Collective Responsibility
  • Schools Share Common Values
  • Teachers Are Trusted
  • Everyone Is Special
  • Testing Is Minimal
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part Four: Radicalizing Action
  • Chapter Nineteen: “Trayvon Was Standing His Ground”: Utilizing Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy to Construct Counter-Narratives of Resistance and Love (Bettina L. Love)
  • Introduction
  • Research Methods and Analysis
  • The Elements and CHHP
  • The Importance of Counter-Narratives
  • “Trayvon was standing his ground”—Anthony (5th Grader)
  • Rappin’ For Change
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty: Toward a Raza Research Methodology: Social Science in the Service of Raza Communities (Miguel Zavala)
  • Introduction
  • First Articulation of a Raza Research Methodology: Historical Legacy of the Chicana/o Movement
  • Institutionalization of Chicana/o Spaces: Impasses and Challenges
  • Raza Communities and Traditional Social Science: Post-El Plan De Santa Barbara
  • Researching With the People: A Critical Personal Narrative
  • “¿Por qué están las cámaras ahí?” (Why Are the Cameras There?)
  • My Passage into Grassroots Research
  • Collectivizing Research Via Organic Grassroots Structures
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: L@s Malcriad@s: A Union Based, Chican@ Studies Model Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers of Chican@ Studies (Theresa Montaño / Maria Elena Cruz)
  • Introduction
  • L@s Malcriad@s
  • Union Work and the Struggle for Ethnic Studies
  • Making Connections: Unions, Ethnic Studies and Teacher Preparation
  • What’s Next?
  • Chican@ Studies and Teacher Preparation
  • The Partnership Between Chican@ Studies and Teacher Education
  • A Union-Based, Chican@ Studies Model for Teacher Preparation
  • The “It Takes a Barrio” (ITaB) Teacher Pipeline Project
  • Conclusion
  • Next Steps for Chican@ Studies and Its Faculty
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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The genesis of this book is the collective brainchild of academic kinspeople Don Cardinal, Susan Gabel, Donaldo Macedo, Peter McLaren, Suzanne SooHoo, Henry Giroux, Bill Ayers, Chris Myers and Margaret Grogan. We are deeply grateful to Lang editorial staff for converting our initial journal into a signature book.

Some of you already know that the first iteration of Radical Imagine-Nation came out as journal and debuted at the Chapman University AERA reception in 2016. While that dream never came to be, we are indebted to those who supported our initiative. Although their service was short lived, their belief in the value and significance of the journal as part of a larger social movement was very much appreciated.

Love to:

Associate Editors: Lilia Monzo, Anaida Colon-Muñiz, and Miguel Zavala for the personal care taking for their sections.

Editorial Board: Derek Ford, Tricia Kress, Curry Malott, Magaly Lavandez, Ann Milne, and Mara Sapon-Shevin for their willingness as the first line of review.

International Antonia Darder, Bill Ayers, Carlos Escano Gonzalez,

Advisory Board: Catherine Walsh, Donaldo Macedo, Haggith Gor Ziv, Yolanda Medina, Kevin Kumashiro, Maria Nikolakaki, Michael Peters, ← ix | x → Nicholas Hartlep, Nita Freire, Norm Denzin, Petar Jandric, Ravi Kumar, Ricardo Rosa, Sandy Grande, Wayne Ross, Wei Yu, Ming Fang He, Benji Chang, Sergio Quiroz Miranda, and Juha Suoranta for their unconditional support-in-waiting.

Peter Lang: Chris Myers, Farideh Koohi-Kamali, Sophie Appel, Bernadette Shade, Sarah Bode, Tim Swenarton and Jackie Pavlovic for shepherding this book to completion.

Artists: Erin Currier and Leo Terazzas for their inspiring artwork on the journal.

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December 2016

At this moment …

I am in a world I don’t recognize, recovering from my own blindness and paralyzed by incomprehension of a Trump victory. Hidden in plain sight, half of my nation voted for Donald Trump and suddenly I cannot find myself.

Daily news present a never-ending spectacle of incredulous presidential appointments (head of education with no public school experience, head of environmental affairs who is suing the EPA, the only Black appointee in charge of HUD, Exxon executive as Secretary of Defense, and a president-elect who doesn’t (at least at the time of this writing) believe in factual data presented by the CIA and FBI regarding Russian hacking, affirming those social media critics who have described this time in history as an age of post-factual/post-truth where beliefs trump (pun intended) facts. It could be argued that this insanity and its vitriolic posture designed to “drain the swamp”—to remove all vestiges of existing political bureaucracy in order to replace them with a cancer that will infect the political system so that the host can die—is fueled by a Nietzschean will to power or, perhaps, just plain old-fashioned mean-spiritedness. Today, thinking the improbable is an all too real possibility (Weiner, 2007).

But this is not a voyage on the U.S.S. Enterprise where we venture to where no one has gone before. While an overturning of governments and its ruling classes has been apparent the world over—think of Egyptian Spring—in the case of the United States, it’s one sector of the ruling class overturning another sector. There are differences within these sectors, of course, which involve many cultural, moral, and legal issues and battles centering around religion, race, gender, sexuality, and immigration. And here in United States, the current social and political controversies in this revolution hint at a second Civil War or unresolved issues of the ghosts of Civil War past as evident from unapologetic boldness in promoting protectionism, white dominance—alt right and the right to carry arms.

After the election, many of my friends manifested a zombie-like trauma. Their faces became slack-jawed and lifeless. Their disbelief was disorientating, all they could manage to mouth was a hoarse whisper, “what happened?” Some still haven’t come out of the numbness, not having a chance to say goodbye to their visions of democracy or their interpretations of the common good. They are already in mourning for a civil relationship unfinished and promise and possibility unsated. On the hit television series, black-ish in the episode, “Lemons,” there is a scene where a news team laments what they believe are the incredulous results of U.S. elections. Dre, a black member of the biracial team, is seemingly frustrated by the acrimony and asks the others to think how they felt the day after the election. He proposed, “We all woke up knowing how it feels to be Black” because he explains, Black people wake up every day believing our lives are going to change even though the system is against us. “I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry you’re not” thus reminding us there is a prevailing example in front of us of what it looks like to move forward with unapologetic self-determination and hope in uncertain times.

When democracy is dehydrated and there is a drought of hope and inspiration or when there is crippling thirst for what is possible, we seek streams of consciousness that fill our spirits so that we become the rivers that are able over time to carve new social and political pathways of possibility. As clear waters muddy from lack of nourishment, small springs of untested feasibility sprout and struggle to crawl across the land ultimately to the ocean. The ocean represents restoration from drought. It is the life force that in turn hydrates the skies, crystalizes the mountains, and replenishes the rivers. This assurance that democracy does not die but recovers and recycles itself is fed by the hope and struggle of its people.

Struggle continues in the ocean for the seas have no rest; the waves crash relentlessly onto the shorelines sometimes leaving tide pools filled with temporary ← 2 | 3 → living artifacts from the ocean. As the fragile sea life waits to be reunited with its blanket wave, it suffers temporary thirst and exposure to environmental elements, testing its resilience, hope, and patience. How do the still winds of patience inform hope and struggle? In this moment of uncertainty, I, like the sea life, embrace a temporary refuge from the emotionally ravaging political terrain, quietly evoking reflection and hearing beyond listening to reimagine and replenish myself before returning to the ocean. It is here that I realize we, the people, are what create the oceans of hope. We, the people, are the water-rich comets and asteroids that over millions of years have traveled through limitless stretches of the imagination to create the earth’s ancient seas and breathe life into that vast and shimmering experiment we call democracy. We still yearn for democracy because our hope demands it—we will continue to do so until it is achieved.

Frederick Douglass claims, to be fully human, “It is not the light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake” because it is in these conditions of uncertainty that humankind affirms its continual state of becoming by adapting, resisting, or transforming. It is through struggle, progress is made (Foner, 1950).

Transformation is rooted in hope. Hope for a better world, for better lives, for a more humane world. As educators, coaches, and parents, we routinely look for the undiscovered potential within our youth through a lens of hope. Instead of seeing students as two-dimensional robotron test scores, we see them as multifaceted human beings with richness of depth and unpredictable insights who come to our schools and playgrounds with what Paulo Freire calls “untested feasibility” (Freire, 2010).

Let’s pose the following question: What would happen if instead of giving a student a grade of F, the student was given a UP for undiscovered potential? Instead of a failing scarlet letter, a grade of UP, undiscovered potential means I am “not yet” there. UP offers an opportunity for both teacher and student to rediscover. UP recognizes hope, implies a learning curve and a pathway to the future (Pinar, 1998; Carol Dweck TED talk). This concept of “not yet” resonates with Maxine Green’s own sense of incompleteness of “what is not yet, but can be, inspires us to work for a future we can only imagine now” (Pinar, 1998, p. 1).

Radical imagination is rooted in radical hope. Tricia Kress and Robert Lake (2013) define radical hope as “a refusal to accept the world, with all its pain and ugliness, as it is. Yet at the same time, it carries with it a responsibility to act upon our desire for a different future” (p. xiv). The stubborn persistence of hope transports us to practical hope and activism where we “struggle to create a more humane world in the attempt to alleviate human suffering” (Reynolds, 2013, p. 35) echoing Freire’s call to be agents of history (Freire, 2010) in this revolution. Hope “empowers us to continue our work for justice even as the forces on injustice may gain greater power for a time … even from the most dangerous and desperate ← 3 | 4 → situations” (hooks, 2003, pp. xiv, xv). The difference between a rebellion that disrupts society and a revolution is that a revolution includes a vision of the pursuit of a more fuller humanity (Boggs, 2012). “The dehumanization resulting from an unjust order is not a cause for despair but for hope …” (Freire, 2010, p. 91).

On the side of hope, we are witnessing among young people today a sharpened sense of political critique and activism, a willingness to become engaged as cultural workers and public intellectuals in determining their own futures, and an increasing obligation to play a larger role in shaping the social, political, and cultural landscapes by joining the struggle to re-envision and reimage the world. It is both the responsibility of evoking and acting on possibility and the intoxication of imagination and dreaming that feeds our humanity and gave birth to this journal-turned book project. “There is no change without dream, as there is no dream without hope” (Freire, 2010, p. 91).

Emanating from the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University, home of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project (PFDP), this book is guided by an editorial team made up of members of the PFDP. The PFDP is a community of progressive professors and graduate students who share a commitment to social justice and whose work and lives attempt to exemplify the pedagogical principles and values embodied in the life and teachings of Paulo Freire, patron of Brazilian education. As a community we eschew dogmatism and embrace a wide range of political and pedagogical perspectives that attempt to critique and transform the social world in ways that challenge prevailing instances and structures of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, abelism, speciesism, and other forms that germinate, manifest, and sustain oppression. We work from the perspective of dialogue and solidarity within differences to engage our imaginations and abilities in action toward social justice.

Chapman University houses the Paulo Freire Critical Pedagogy Archives at the Leatherby Libraries, which contains collections and papers relating to Paulo Freire (1921–1997), his pedagogy, and that of leading scholars in critical pedagogy. A significant portion of the archive consists of the professional papers of scholars Henry Giroux, Alma Flor Ada, Peter McLaren, and Joe L. Kincheloe.

Chapman University is the site of the only North American bust of Paulo Freire, commemorating his honorary doctorate from Chapman in 1997. Guests have enjoyed having their pictures taken with the bust, which was where Paulo’s wife, Nita Freire, along with 150 other participants, graced his memory with paper flowers made from the pages of Pedagogy of the Oppressed as part of the celebration of the archival dedication in 2015.

The goal of this book was to provide a platform for critical educators, public intellectuals, and activists from all over the world to promote, share, and discuss various new issues and developments in critical education and social movements. We sought to engage dialogically with critical scholarship and activist work in ← 4 | 5 → accessible ways that serve the common good. This book attempts to serve as a meeting place for progressive educators—from scholars to practitioners to community activists and other cultural workers. It constitutes a space where critical theorists, community activists, internationalists, and Freirean educators present new ideas for creating social relations of equality and social justice.

There are four thematic sections in the book.

Essays that describe practices by classroom teachers, cultural workers, and university folks who are using Freirean-inspired work to effect critical praxis.

Essays that feature public intellectuals/scholar-activists and critical scholarship that problematize and challenge dominant structures of power and privilege with new insights and possibilities.

Essays that connect us to critical work from different perspectives and epistemologies in the world.

The genesis of this book is the collective brainchild of academic kinspeople Don Cardinal, Susan Gabel, Donaldo Macedo, Peter McLaren, Suzanne SooHoo, Henry Giroux, Bill Ayers, Chris Myers, and Margaret Grogan. We are deeply grateful to Lang editorial staff for converting our initial journal into a signature book.


Boggs, G. L. (2012). The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Dweck, C. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve

Foner, P. S. (Ed.). (1950). The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass. New York: International.

Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Continuum.

Freire, P. (2010). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. London: Continuum. ← 5 | 6 →

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. New York: Routledge.

Kress, T. & Lake, R. (2013). We Saved the Best for You. The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Pinar, W. (Ed). (1998). The Passionate Mind of Maxine Greene: “I am … not yet.” Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Reynolds, W. (2013). The stubborn persistence of hope. In T. Kress & R. Lake (Eds.), We Saved the Best for You. The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Weiner, E. (2007). Critical pedagogy and the crisis of imagination. In P. McLaren & J. Kincheloe (Eds.), Critical Pedagogy, Where Are We Now? New York: Peter Lang.

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Reinventing Freire

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Conscientization AS AN Antidote TO Banking Education


One of the challenges of defining Paulo Freire’s coined concept, conscientização, lies not only in the difficulty of pronouncing a Portuguese word (Portuguese speakers also experience varied difficulty pronouncing it), but also in that most definitions of this insightful concept rarely do justice to what Freire had in mind. Freire always insisted that before we even attempt to define conscientização, we need to adhere to the essence of this concept and ask: “What definition, against what, for whom, and against whom?” If we begin to answer these questions we soon realize that, even for many followers of Freire’s thinking, conscientização presents a certain difficulty beyond the hurdles of its correct pronunciation—a term that Freire, at least initially, refused to have translated into English by simply stating: “I refuse. Why not accept this term? I do not have to accept stress, but I have. Why do you not accept conscientização?”1 Freire eventually agreed to have his term translated into the approximate English translation: conscientization.

Freire’s initial refusal to have his term translated into English was both political and pedagogical. It was political in that he asserted in his refusal that the insistence of (even progressive) educators to have conscientização translated into English reproduces the quasi-colonial expectation on the part of most English-speaking educators that published works in languages other than English must be simultaneously translated, because English speakers should not be expected to struggle reading works published in other languages. Freire, by refusing to translate his term into English, was in essence pedagogically challenging the arrogance of English monolinguism that, in the long run, constitutes a type of linguistic ← 9 | 10 → de-skilling experienced by most English speakers who remain unaware of the obvious benefits of multilingualism—they remain unaware that their monolinguism sentences them to a form of cultural and linguistic exile from the world of other languages and cultures that incessantly produce myriad cultures and world views. Monolinguism, then, as a cultural cage, prevents English speakers from accessing the insights and knowledge so obvious to those educators who dare to cross cultural and linguistic borders. Accordingly, Freire states that “one focus of my efforts (perhaps the preponderant one) is turning myself into a tramp of the obvious, becoming the tramp of de-mystifying conscientization. … I have also been learning how important the obvious becomes as the object of our critical reflection, and by looking deeply into it, I have discovered that the obvious is not always as obvious as it appears.”2

A point of departure in the de-mystification of conscientization would necessarily have to include the reclaiming of the oppressed’s own words as a process of coming to voice, which Freire viewed as “the fundamental theme of the Third World—implying a difficult but not impossible task for its people—[which] is the conquest of its right to voice, of the right to pronounce its word.”3 It is this right that the oppressed need to reclaim in order to speak their word, “the right to be [themselves], to assume direction of [their] destiny.”4 It is this right that the dominant forces go to great lengths to suffocate, seeking to sequester the words of the oppressed—words that unveil the mechanism of oppression and are distorted or repressed, as Henry Giroux suggests, in “a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia [in which] it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning.”5 The sequestration of language by dominant forces of oppression and even liberal educators who proselytize about “empowering minorities,” even when they represent the majority, and “giving them voices” was evident when I was working on Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, which I co-authored with Freire. I asked a colleague whom I considered to be politically progressive and to have a keen understanding of Freire’s work to read the manuscript. Yet during a discussion we had of the book, she asked me, a bit irritably: “Why do you and Paulo [Freire] insist on using this Marxist jargon? Many readers who would enjoy reading Paulo may be put off by the jargon.” I was at first taken aback but proceeded to calmly explain to her that equating Marxism with jargon prevented one from fully capturing the richness of Freire’s analysis. In fact, Freire’s language was the only means through which he could have done justice to the complexity of the various concepts of oppression with which he dealt. For one thing, I reminded her: “Imagine that instead of writing the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire had written the Pedagogy of the Disenfranchised”—a term that is overly used by the educated class and the media to refer to the oppressed which, in turn, represses while hiding the actors ← 10 | 11 → of oppression. The first title utilizes a discourse that names the oppressor, whereas the second fails to do so. What would be the counterpart of the term “disenfranchised”? The Pedagogy of the Disenfranchised dislodges the agent of the action while leaving in doubt who bears the responsibility for such action. This leaves the ground wide open for blaming the victim of disenfranchisement for his or her own disenfranchisement. This example is a clear case in which the object of oppression can also be understood as the subject of oppression. Language such as this not only distorts reality; it is also a much-used technique by dominant forces (the media, political pundits, the educated class) to distract attention from the real issues that ail society, such as the obscene widening of the income gap between the rich and the poor, the pernicious shrinking of the middle-class, and the generalized alienation of the dispossessed. A technique that, according to Arundhati Roy, is used in

When the technique of sequestration fails to work, the dominant forces engage in more draconian measures, as was evident when a Tucson Public Schools official in Arizona banned Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed from classrooms because, according to a Superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education, “we should not be teaching [kids] … that they’re oppressed.”7 In other words, conscientization—as a process to acquire the necessary critical thinking tools so that students, instead of internalizing their oppression, understand how institutions of power work to deny them equality of treatment, access, and equity—is not a goal of Tucson Public Schools, where courses that deal with issues such as race relations, ethics, and ideology are banned and teachers are encouraged to promote a pedagogy of big lies through which students can be more easily domesticated. The almost total lack of public outcry in the United States regarding the censorship of books and the heisting of language that names reality in order to contest oppression “may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.”8 I am amazed to witness academics engage in euphemisms as they aggressively object to any discourse that both fractures the dominant language and bares the veiled reality in order to name it. It is still more amazing to witness educators who claim to be Freirean fail to see the obvious impossibility of the oppressed apprehending “a deepened consciousness of their situation … as an historical reality susceptible of transformation”9 through the process of conscientization while these liberal educators remain complicit in the erasure of language that empties out, for example, the meaning of the term “oppressed.” Many of these liberals eagerly embrace euphemisms such as “disadvantaged,” “disenfranchised,” “economically marginal,” and “minority,” among others, to refer to the oppressed—a process that obfuscates the true historical conditions that explain “‘the here and ← 11 | 12 → now,’ which constitutes the situation within which [the oppressed] are submerged, from which they emerge, and which they intervene”10 to denounce and confront their oppressors in their “pursuit of full humanity.”11 This sequestration of language denies people the possibility to understand the dialectical relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. If you have an oppressed, you must have an oppressor.

Thus, language is not only a site of contestation; it is also an indispensable tool for a critical reflexive de-mystification process that is central to conscientization—a process through which Freire refuses to vulgarize and reduce it to mere methods to be consumed by the so-called First World progressive educators who, in many instances, remain chained to the “mystification of methods and techniques and, indeed, a reduction of conscientization to certain methods and techniques used in Latin America for adult literacy.”12 Hence, Freire’s major goal was not to develop a literacy methodology to be used universally with oppressed people of the world. His main goal was to use literacy and the subsequent methods he used to to lead people to conscientization. In other words, no matter where we come from,

[a]ll of us are involved in a permanent process of conscientization, as thinking beings in a dialectical relation with an objective reality upon which we act. What varies in time and space are the contents, methods, and objectives of conscientization … [when human beings became aware] and made themselves capable of revealing their active reality, knowing it and understanding what they know.13

Freire often cited a story that occurred during his literacy campaign in Guinea-Bissau. He described a Cultural Circle where peasants were first learning to decodify their world so that they could realize that they can also code the word that reflects their decodified reality and later, also, comprehend that the encoded word can also be decoded. Freire told that a peasant, who was part of the oppressed masses that the Portuguese colonialism forbade from becoming literate, got up suddenly and said: “Thank you, teacher,” before leaving the Culture Circle. Freire remained perplexed, thinking that he probably had said something that was culturally inappropriate and had unknowingly hurt the feelings of the peasant, who eventually returned to the Culture Circle. When Freire, upon the peasant’s return, inquired as to why he had left, the peasant, without hesitation, replied: “Teacher, I know now that I can know and I don’t need to come every day to know.” This story reveals a process of fracturing the yoke of Portuguese colonialism that for centuries had inculcated the Guinea-Bissau natives with myths and beliefs regarding their backwardness, savage nature, their inability to read or write, and their incapacity to know—myths and beliefs that were used as yardsticks to present literacy always as the hallmark of White European superiority. This story also conveys that learning to “bark” the ABCs without the development of a deeper understanding of the dialectical relationship between the reading of the word and the world, which also implies ← 12 | 13 → de-mystifying the process of conscientization—an important point, since many First World educators often attribute magical properties to the conscientization process, “giving it powers that it does not really have.”14

Another critical misunderstanding of conscientization is to imbue the concept “as a kind of tropical exoticism, a typically Third World entity. People speak of conscientization as an inviable goal for ‘complex societies,’ as though the Third World nations were not complex in their own way.”15 This false dichotomy between the so-called First World and Third World represents yet another sequestration of language designed to lead to a form of mystification—a distraction that functions as a reproductive mechanism designed to create a center or a core of romanticized Eurocentric values while relegating other cultural expressions to the margins. The current attacks on Islam and on Muslims in general are a case in point where Western media, political pundits, and academics often totalize religio-cultural extremists and generalize the extremism to all Muslims, framing them all as potential terrorists. At the same time, we conveniently ignore extremists of the West like evangelist Pat Robertson, who camouflages his bigotry and his constant attacks on women. Take, for example, Robertson’s statement that “[t]he feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”16 If one substituted Robertson with a Taliban clergy and switched the words “socialist” and “capitalism,” the Western political class, the media, and other non-Muslim religious leaders would have a field day attacking the primitive nature of Islam and its radicalism while ignoring the diversity within the Muslim world that consists of billions of people from different cultures, classes, and ethnicities. Hence, institutional mechanisms in the West and in much of the world function, by and large, to contain and maintain these so-called primitive Third World cultures that are often submerged into a culture of silence so as to make these “silent sections of cultures” invisible or, at least, outside the parameters of public discussion or debate. Engaging Freire’s conscientization process could help reveal the West’s penchant for engaging in the construction of invisibility to keep the submerged cultures invisible and also to hide the West’s own extremism, which is no less terroristic than Muslim extremism. How else would we characterize the American savagery in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam that “often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies”17—slaughter that pro-life advocate Pat Robertson and his ilk conveniently refuse to address in ethical and political terms? Our inability or unwillingness to engage a conscientization process is why we can easily accept Pat Robertson’s blatant lies about feminism as we embrace the false dichotomy encoded in the distinction between First World and Third World contexts—an ideological distinction that primarily functions to reproduce the Western narrative of Third World “savage and primitive” cultures which, in ← 13 | 14 → turn, call for the West’s “moral responsibility” to “slaughter children and babies” so as to save them from themselves—a slaughter justified by an American military superior in the Marines as “[t]ough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong].”18 Too many Americans also remain silent when “drones” and “smart bombs” kill women and children indiscriminately in Afghanistan and Pakistan while the United States presents itself as an advocate for women’s rights and freedoms. Western media, political pundits, and most academics also remain silent with respect to the West’s extremism as revealed in “the classic former secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s response of 1996 to the reported 500,000 Iraqi children—casualties of ‘the sanctions of mass destruction’—‘it was worth it.’”19

Engaging Freire’s conscientization process could help make us aware of what we often fail to see (usually through our willful social construction of not seeing) that we have, within the First World order, Third World realities characterized by ghettos and large-scale poverty, human misery, and illiteracy. Concurrently, we also have de facto First World realities in the Third World in the form of class privileges and the accumulation of capital and power by a ruling minority of elites and oligarchs. It is safe to assume that the ruling elite in the Third World shares a worldview that is much more in line with the cultural capital of the dominant groups of the First World. Thus, Freire is correct that through a process of rigorous critical reflection, conscientization is just as “viable for complex societies.”20 It is through conscientization that people in the First World can begin to understand that there exists a greater gulf between the First World dominant groups and the First World marginalized cultural groups than between the First and the Third World dominant groups. Those educators, including many liberals, who keep on insisting, for instance, that Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed can work only in the Third World are, on some level, resisting making the necessary linkages between events at home so as to obtain a greater comprehension “of the process of conscientization and its practice [which] is linked, then, to one’s understanding of consciousness in its relations with the world.”21 Thus, even some progressive educators, who often claim to be Freirean, continue their resistance through “the bureaucratization of conscientization, which in losing its dynamism and thus fossilizing, ends up transforming conscientization into a sort of rainbow of recipes—another mystification.”22

The transformation of conscientization “into a sort of rainbow of recipes” is why even progressive educators who claim to be Freirean are not exempt from fossilizing conscientization when they are unable to see through the obvious contradiction between their discourse and their actual practice. Take, for instance, a situation where a North American liberal professor, during a discussion regarding the U.S. college application of a South African student, stated that the student “had prevailed in spite of great odds marked by a highly discriminatory society, and [that] … the student’s application showed a great commitment to social reform ← 14 | 15 → in her country.”23 However, when it came time to evaluate the application of a Mexican-American student who had an extensive background working with community-based programs ranging from adult literacy to drug prevention programs, this same liberal educator stated that “the only thing she has going for her is that she is Mexican-American.”24 The fact that the Mexican-American female student’s grades and letters of recommendation were equal to or slightly stronger than the South African student’s, the fact that she had a more extensive work track record in the community, and the fact that she had demonstrated a greater interest and commitment to go back and work in her community was totally ignored by the liberal educator. In the end the Mexican-American female was denied admission to the university. The South African Third World context provided the liberal educator a safe zone to exoticize liberation struggle, leaving unproblematic his inability to acknowledge the similarities (and differences as well) of oppressive structures that operate both in South Africa and in U.S. ghettos.

This graduate admission story is not all that different from the phenomenon of some academics and researchers who are busily writing grant proposals to study and promote, for example, literacy in Haiti while ignoring the tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States who are struggling and dropping out of the public schools that often surround their universities. Since Haiti has been in vogue because of the devastating earthquake, let’s use it to exemplify the paternalism in Western countries that often turns into charitable racism, which is, according to Albert Memmi, “a consubstantial part of colonialism.”25 While White academics and researchers go to Haiti to collect data and anthropologize the suffering Haitians who are the subjects of their study, the researchers return to their U.S. campuses to tell exotic stories to their students and colleagues, publish their research studies, and obtain tenure, while tens of thousands of Haitians remain in Haiti sentenced to slum conditions and making cookies out of the mud to trick their stomachs that they are full and therefore not hungry. I remember asking a White American professor who often went to Haiti as part of research projects sponsored by federal grants in the 1980s why he did not devote some of his time working with the thousands of Haitians who surrounded his university. His response was honest if not pathetic: “The funding agencies do not find Haitians in the U.S. ‘sexy’ enough.” Had this liberal, First World academic engaged in an honest and rigorous conscientization process, he would probably not have remained so comfortable making a career off the hides of millions of Haitians who remain chained to inhumanity, savage inequality, and human misery. Had he been able to make a linkage between his careerist goals and the reproduction of oppression in Haiti largely supported by U.S. foreign policy, he would probably have detected the pathology of his honest answer. This researcher developed a deeper comprehension of Haitians and understood that their current life conditions had been shaped, in large part, by American interventionist policies through invasions of ← 15 | 16 → Haiti, its occupation, and the perpetual support for right-wing dictators who work largely against the interests of the vast majority of Haitians. By engaging in a form of honest reflection and self-interrogation, the White American researcher would possibly have realized that his political project is, first and foremost, the advancement of his career. Had this First World academic made these linkages, he would likely have denounced the almost sainthood status bestowed upon former President Clinton and former President Bush Senior for their humanitarian work in Haiti after the deadly earthquake. This White American educator might come to see that both former presidents were partly responsible for the sea of human misery that predated the earthquake. What the earthquake did was both exacerbate the sub-human conditions to which tens of thousands of Haitians were relegated and make them public in the same manner that Katrina exposed the structural racism and dehumanization of African-Americans in New Orleans. Notwithstanding the horror of the earthquake, the First World liberal educator would probably refuse to pay $1,320 a night per room in a luxury “five-star” Royal hotel overlooking the shanty towns, shacks, and tents, and which was constructed with “$7.5 million from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation … and $2 million from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.”26 While this obscene display of First World opulence, if not decadence, marked the humanitarian generosity of First World countries, over one million Haitians displaced by the earthquake remain homeless and continue to exist in sub-human conditions, living in shacks and tents without plumbing or running water, without electricity, and without much to feed themselves and their families. Had the First World educator engaged in the process of conscientization, he would possibly be able to detect the false piety demonstrated by former Presidents Bush and Clinton as they were greeted by thousands of Haitians in Port-au-Prince. Former President Bush’s condescending disdain for Haitian people became viscerally visible on YouTube all over the world when he tried to wipe his hand, after shaking it with a Haitian man in the crowd, on former President Clinton’s shirt.

The conscientization process might have lifted the veil of privilege that the blans 27 enjoy in Haiti (White or also outsiders/foreigners who fall in love with the exotic narrative of Haiti they create to fulfill their colonial desires and meet their own needs—a narrative that has, in many respects, little to do with the reality that Haitians experience on a daily basis as they try to survive). In many ways, these First World blans, regardless of their political orientation, fail to understand Freire’s

pedagogy of the oppressed, animated by authentic, humanist (not humanitarian) generosity [which] presents itself as a pedagogy of humankind. Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization.28 ← 16 | 17 →

Humanitarianism as the embodiment of dehumanization is best exemplified by the Red Cross, which collected over $400 million to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of Haitians displaced and made homeless by the earthquake and has as its signature the building of a luxury hotel costing millions of dollars29 while over one million Haitians remain homeless. While luxurious hotels can provide stress relief for the army of NGOs and other humanitarian help as they celebrate “happy hour” with other blan friends and co-workers who command First World salaries, tens of thousands of Haitians continue to struggle to put a roof over their heads and scavenge enough to eat so they can reclaim their “ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.”30 While foreign workers maintain the material conditions to access luxury restaurants and health care services, including psychological therapy, most Haitians displaced by the earthquake yearn to know what it means to be fully human. Take, for example, Amy Wilentz’s

characterization of Mac McClelland, a human rights reporter for Mother Jones who acquired PTSD like it was a cold virus by watching a recently raped Haitian woman collapse at a chance of sighting her attacker. Thus traumatized, McClelland published an account of the home therapy she elected: arranging for a friend to rape her, with the maximum verisimilitude their relationship would allow.31

While McClelland’s choice of therapy for the exposure to violence in her humanitarian work in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti smacks of narcissism on steroids, in varying degrees it also represents the embedded “egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism” of the oppressors’ humanitarian interventions packaged as charitable gifts which, in turn, exemplify the benevolence of the First World order. These charitable interventions have not only been, for the most part, huge failures (as in the case in Haiti), but First World humanitarians fail to understand that liberation comes only through a process of resolution of tensions and contradictions in the relation between the oppressor and the oppressed. Hence, “if the goal of the oppressed is to become fully human, they do not achieve their goal by merely reversing the terms of the contradiction, by changing poles.”32 By the same token, the oppressor cannot expect to liberate the oppressed by reversing the poles so as to experience directly the violence of oppression. This is the continuation of the oppressor’s need to appropriate even the oppressed’s suffering, as McClelland’s case seems to indicate. McClelland’s choice of therapy is tantamount to the phenomenon of many liberal educators who feel that they need to make a public statement regarding their divestment from the “dominating bureaucracy”33 from which they have always reaped benefits and by moving their families into the ghettos temporarily until their own kids have to go to school. Liberation is never about the democratization of violence, human misery, and obscene poverty. Liberation will only be achieved through the resolution of the contradictions between the oppressor and the oppressed “by the appearance of the new man ← 17 | 18 → [and woman]: neither oppressor nor oppressed, but man [and woman] in the process of liberation.”34

The inability to resolve the contradictions between the oppressor and the oppressed, to make linkages, and to become a “tramp of the obvious,” as Freire would say, is directly linked to another important feature of Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed: the “banking” model of education—a process through which

education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filling, and storing the deposits.35

The “banking” model of education is largely supported by instrumental literacy for the poor, in the form of a competency-based, skills-banking approach, and the highest form of instrumental literacy for the rich, acquired through higher education in the form of professional specialization. However, despite their apparent differences, the two approaches share one common feature: they both prevent the development of critical thinking that enables one to “read the world” critically and to understand the reasons and linkages behind the facts and behind what may appear seemingly obvious but remain ill understood. Literacy for the poor through the “banking” concept of education is, by and large, characterized by mindless, meaningless drills and exercises given “in preparation for multiple choice exams and writing gobbledygook in imitation of the psycho-babble that surrounds them.”36 This “banking” and instrumental approach to education sets the stage for the anesthetization of the mind, as poet John Ashbery eloquently captures in “What Is Poetry?”:

In school

All the thoughts got combed out:

What was left was like a field.”37

The educational “comb,” for those teachers who have blindly accepted the “banking” model of education, is embodied in practice sheets and workbooks, mindless computer drills and practices that mark and control the pace of routinization in the drill-and-practice assembly line where the “narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into ‘containers,’ into ‘receptacles’ to be filled by the teacher. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are”38 as they are later measured by high-stakes tests that reflect an often militaristic, controlled transaction of the teacher’s narration and students’ memorization of the mechanically narrated “content.” Hence, the dominant forces of this mechanistic “banking” education necessarily reduce the ← 18 | 19 → priorities of education to the pragmatic requirements of capital and necessarily also create educational structures that anesthetize students’ critical abilities, in order to “domesticate social order for its self-preservation.”39

At the other end of the spectrum, the domestication of the social order is achieved by an equally mechanistic approach to education for the rich via the hyperspecialization that, on the one hand, deposits high-level skills and, on the other, discourages the linkages of different bodies of knowledge in the name of “pure” and specialized science that produces a specialist subject who, according to the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, “knows very well his own tiny corner of the universe [but] is radically ignorant of all the rest.”40 In fact, this inability to make linkages between different bodies of knowledge often produces a level of arrogance exemplified by a math professor in a major university when she stated that she has the right of not knowing. This statement was made in reference to the news coverage of the Iraq War when—perhaps because she was feeling uncomfortable with her colleagues’ open opposition to the war—she abruptly proclaimed: “I have a right not to know the news.” While she has the right to choose not to know, as an academic and citizen in a democratic society she has the responsibility of knowing what her leaders are doing in regard to policies full of barbarism, policies that enable horrors like the drone-guided bombing of targets that invariably include the carnage of innocent civilians, women, and children, which policy makers consider an “unfortunate part of war” or simply “collateral damage.”

The social organization of knowledge via rigidly defined disciplinary boundaries further contributes to the formation of the specialist class, that is, engineers, doctors, professors, and so on. This sort of specialist is “only acquainted with one science, and even of that one only knows the small corner in which he is an active investigator. He even proclaims it as a virtue that he takes no cognizance of what lies outside the narrow territory specially cultivated by himself, and gives the name ‘dilettantism’ to any curiosity for the general scheme of knowledge.”41

This “dilettantism” is discouraged through the mythical need to discover absolute objective truth and, in the process, it domesticates a form of specialized knowledge that not only produces a rupture with philosophies of social and cultural relations, but also hides behind an ideology that creates and sustains false dichotomies rigidly delineated by disciplinary boundaries. This ideology also informs the view that “hard science,” “objectivity,” and “scientific rigor” must be disarticulated from the messy data of “soft science” and from the social and political practices that generate these categories in the first place. In addition, this “banking” model of education produces a form of fragmentation of knowledge that invariably diminishes the students’ critical awareness and “critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend ← 19 | 20 → simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them,”42 thus renouncing their ontological vocation as agents of history who not only transform their world but also reflect on that transformation. According to Freire, “[t]he capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interest of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor see it transformed.”43

The “banking” model of education is also often used as a safe haven for most conservative and many liberal educators who hide their materialist and consumerist conception of education in what Freire calls a “‘digestive’ concept of knowledge, so common in current educational practice”44—a practice that considers students to be “undernourished” and, as a result, the teacher must feel compelled to give students an unrealistic list of readings that are never really covered or discussed in class under the pretext that the students’ “consciousness is ‘spatialized,’ and must be ‘filled’ in order to know.”45 This “nutritionist” approach to education follows the “same conception [that] led Sartre, [when] criticizing the notion that ‘to know is to eat,’ to exclaim: ‘O philosophie alimentaire!’”46—a process where “words are transformed into mere ‘deposit of vocabulary’—[the teacher’s vocabulary]—the bread of the spirit which the [students] are to ‘eat’ and ‘digest’”47 the teacher’s knowledge (i.e., definition lists without the apprehension of the object of knowledge, fetishization of methods, particularly now as it applies to new technologies, formulaic texts masquerading as theory that belittles practice, and glossaries), which students are later asked to “vomit” back in the mandated exams and tests designed, on the one hand, to confirm the teacher’s superior knowledge-bank-account and, on the other, to feed his or her narcissistic needs inherent in most humanitarian and not humanist education. In the end, the “nutritionist banking” approach to education, even when offered under the guise of progressive education, has as its major goal the fattening of the student’s brains through the “deposits” of the teacher’s knowledge and thus, under this pedagogical model, students absorb understandings “not born of [their own] … creative efforts … [as] learners.”48 This kind of education invariably results in the paralysis of the learner’s epistemological curiosity and creativity due to the overload of the imposed teacher’s knowledge, “which in fact [is] … almost completely alienating and alienated, having so little, if anything, to do with the student’s socio-cultural reality.”49


1. Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1985), p. 185.

2. Ibid., p. 171; emphasis mine. ← 20 | 21 →

3. Paulo Freire, Cultural Action for Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review, 1970), p. 4.1.

4. Ibid.

5. Henry Giroux, “The New Extremism and Politics of Distraction in the Age of Austerity,” Truthout, January 22, 2013, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13998-the-new-extremism-and-politics-of-distraction-in-the-age-of-austerity

6. Arundhati Roy, “What Have We Done to Democracy?” The Huffington Post, September 27, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arundhati-roy/what-have-we-done-to-demo_b_301294.html

7. Tom Horne, interview by Allison Keyes, Tell Me More, National Public Radio News, May 13, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126797959

8. Arundhati Roy, “What Have We Done to Democracy?” The Huffington Post, September 27, 2009, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arundhati-roy/what-have-we-done-to-demo_b_301294.html

9. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 85.

10. Ibid.

11. Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1985).

12. Ibid., p. 172.

13. Ibid., p. 171; emphasis mine.

14. Ibid., p. 171.

15. Ibid., p. 172.

16. “Timeless Whoppers—Pat Robertson,” The Nation, January 10, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/timeless-whoppers-pat-robertson

17. Jonathan Schell, “The Real American War in Vietnam,” The Nation, February 4, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/172264/real-american-war-vietnam

18. Ibid.

19. Edward S. Herman, “Beyond Chutzpah,” Z Magazine, February 2013, p. 6.

20. Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1985), p. 173.

21. Ibid., p. 168.

22. Ibid., p. 172; emphasis mine.

23. Donaldo Macedo, Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994).

24. Ibid.

25. Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon, 1991).

26. Amy Wilentz, “Letter from Haiti,” The Nation, January 28, 2013, p. 22.

27. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 54.

28. Amy Wilentz, “Letter from Haiti,” The Nation, January 28, 2013, p. 22.

29. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 55.

30. Madison Smartt Bell, “Nine Years in One Day: On Haiti,” The Nation, January 28, 2013, p. 22.

31. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 56.

32. Ibid., p. 57.

33. Ibid., p. 56.

34. Ibid., p. 72.

35. Ibid.

36. Patrick L. Courts, Literacies and Empowerment: The Meaning Makers (South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1991), p. 4. ← 21 | 22 →

37. John Ashbery, “What Is Poetry?” Houseboat Days: Poems by John Ashbery (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 47.

38. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 72.

39. Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1985), p. 116.

40. José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), p. 111.

41. Ibid.

42. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970), p. 73.

43. Ibid.

44. Paulo Freire, Cultural Action for Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review, 1970).

45. Ibid., p. 7.

46. Ibid., p. 8.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

| 23 →

Coming TO Know Paulo


Critical to Paulo Freire’s pedagogy are the notions of reading, reflection, and action. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 2000), Freire is quite clear that reflection without action becomes mere “verbalism” and that action without reflection becomes “activism” (p. 68). The question then becomes: How can reflection and action, directed toward a critical democratic culture, manifest themselves in a formal university or college education setting? It is hoped that one instructive answer can be found in the continuing development of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project (PFDP) at the College of Educational Studies (CES), Chapman University, in Orange, California.

Although I do not recall exactly when I first became aware of Paulo Freire, it was in 1970 that I began to really come to know his critical work through reading his two seminal articles in the 1970 Harvard Educational Review: “The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom” (Freire, 1970b) and “Cultural Action and Conscientization” (Freire, 1970c). Soon after, I devoured the first English edition of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 2000). Needless to say, I was almost fully aboard. To be fully aboard, however, required meeting the author of these works in person.

My first meeting with Paulo took place 14 years later. From 1980 to 1992, I was an academic administrator at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Within this position, I co-directed a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) intensive, 3-year summer program (1984–1987) entitled “UCI Humanities Project in Ethics, Aesthetics, and Reasoning.” As “reasoning” was a marker for ← 23 | 24 → critical pedagogy, using the term itself in the grant proposal would have doomed funding because of the culturally conservative nature of the Reagan presidency. The project brought three different cohorts of 45 secondary school humanities teachers each summer to UCI to ponder, strengthen, understand, and interrogate content and pedagogy across the secondary school humanities field. In the spring of 1984, just prior to the first cohort meeting, I learned that Paulo Freire was visiting the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I was immediately on my way to meet him. Through Peter Park, a critical scholar and colleague at UMass, Amherst, I was introduced to Paulo. I asked if Paulo and Elza (his first wife) would be willing to come to southern California to meet with our NEH Institute. After consulting briefly with Elza, he said he would be honored.

This incident led to our strong, personal, warm, and edifying 13-year friendship, during which the development of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project played a critical role. What follows is the outline of the project, its mission, its beliefs, and its goals.

The following was first written in 1996. It was subsequently modified in 2002 and 2015. In a sense, it can be considered the PFDP constitution—at the base solid, but occasionally modified as necessary. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo challenges us to be clear about our own ontological vocations. The Paulo Freire Democratic Project’s vocation, broadly stated, is to bring to bear a synthesis of progressive/critical and ethical/democratic practices upon both formal and informal educational contexts. To accomplish this mission, the PFDP gathers together a number of constituencies with educational functions to promote the full democratic, intellectual, and critical development of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other community members.


A number of fundamental beliefs undergird our mission:

1. Drawing from John Dewey, democracy and ethics are seen in symbiotic relationship. He made the connection between ethics, the individual, and democracy over 100 years ago when he wrote: “democracy is an ethical idea, the idea of a personality, with truly infinite capacities, incorporate with every man. Democracy and the one, the ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonyms” (Dewey, 1969, p. 248).

2. Literacy is a process by which human agents come to know and act upon their world. In this manner, the PFDP rejects a narrow conceptualization of literacy characterized by reading and writing in page-bound, official, standard forms of the national languages restricted to formalized, monolingual, ← 24 | 25 → monocultural, and rule-governed forms of language” (New London Group, 1996, p. 61). Rather, the PFDP conceives of literacy, or perhaps better as the New London Group1 proposes, multiliteracy, as a process that broadens to take into account (1) the increasing diversity, pluralism, and multiplicity of cultures, voices, and orientations desiring, if not demanding, to be heard and included, and (2) the proliferation of information and multimedia technologies and their relationships to diversity and multiculturalism. The examination of the complex relationships between this proliferation of literacy forms beyond the “page-bound” and issues of cultural, linguistic, racial, class, and gender differences becomes a significant focus of PFDP activities. When we become multi-literate, we become critically conscious through our reading of, reflecting upon, and acting within the world. This multiliterate consciousness, in turn, is essential to the development of an authentic multiculturalism; the two are inextricable. By both, we recognize that difference is not a deficit, that diversity is essential for unity, that e pluribus unum is possible, and that progressive, inclusive democracy must be more than romantic rhetoric, more than the mere “verbalism” of which Freire (2000, p. 87) speaks: “… when a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection also suffers as well, and the word is changed into idle chatter, into alienating blah.”

3. All educational processes should be directed toward human development in its broadest meaning. Development means the realization of individual potential in intellectual, linguistic, personal, interpersonal, social, aesthetic, moral and critical domains in order to have individuals become the best they can be. Development views intelligence as a socially constructed and multi-faceted process (Gardner, 1983), not limited by background or current circumstances, or as a fixed entity randomly distributed in the population. Education focuses to bring all involved to ways of knowing (Eisner, 1985), regardless of gender, racial, cultural, ethnic and class backgrounds. Thus, all participants are perceived as “… intellectuals and moral philosophers who can construct complex, meaningful, rich, and ethical knowledge and competencies directed towards fair and … equitable social participation …” (New London Group, 1996, p. 60). Thus, in this sense, “the idea of human development is an expansive one; it is not one of self-centeredness, of competitive, neoliberal individualism, of selfishness and egoism” (Miller, 1979, p. 5). It is rather one of individuality, “what Marx and Hegel might have called a social individuality … [in which] the capacity for mutual recognition and individuality is inherently relational” (Gilbert, 1990). From this then, the project understands education as much more than schooling. While major focus is directed to the schools, significant attention is paid to community groups with educational and liberating functions. Democracy ← 25 | 26 → is in the lived, cultural experience of people and therefore cannot and should not be left to the schools alone.

4. The creation of democratic culture is the essential mission of the project and is directly related to our beliefs concerning human development. A democratic society relies upon the deep engagement of committed citizens characterized by responsibility, knowledge, thoughtfulness, and ethical sensibility. In no way does this emphasis ignore the promotion of academic rigor and excellence. Yet while absolutely necessary, the academic intellect alone is not sufficient in and of itself for the full realization of individual development and democratic culture. An intellectual emphasis is justified only to the extent that it contributes to the development of critically competent individuals committed to active participation in democratic culture. Few have said it better than Haim Ginott (1993, p. 317).

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

5. Our efforts are essentially political and thereby moral. Human development, the promotion of multi-literacies, and democratic critical literacy and culture are normative matters pertaining to what educational practices both ought to do and that which is currently underway. This moral ought informs the necessities of a morality of decontextualized universal rights while the is concentrates on the present in terms of context and relationships. Any distinction between an is and an ought is a false dualism. We are in the world “not as mere spectators watching from outside it, our social instincts and the reflective elaboration of them are also in the world” (Noddings, 1995, p. 186). Both the is and the ought, saturated as they are with questions of power and authority, thereby become political. Thus, far from claiming any value neutrality (an impossibility), the PFDP grounds itself in both a rights- and care-based critical morality.

6. Our efforts are primarily moral and political and we cannot deny their interrelationships with economics. An expansive concept of human development and democratic education requires from educators, students, and community members, the capacity to critically analyze the impact of capitalism, markets, and globalization upon themselves. It is naive, we believe, to assume that the local school and even classroom levels are unaffected by such economic concerns. Educational institutions cannot escape the pull between democracy ← 26 | 27 → on the one hand and the imperative of unfettered capitalism on the other. In 1985, Martin Carnoy and Henry Levin captured the “perpetual tension between two dynamics, the imperatives of capitalism and those of democracy in all its forms … the school is … caught up in the larger conflicts inherent in a capitalistic economy and liberal capitalistic State” (1985, p. 40).

Some 13 years later, Carnoy (1998) reinforced the notion of this tension now manifest in global capitalism by asking:

what is the role of a progressive politics in the world system, now a new global-information economy? What is the role of progressive intellectuals? And what is the role of democratic education, again in the information age? These are questions just as fundamental to those who want progressive change in the North as they are to Paulo Freire. (p. 8)

Engaging these questions which Carnoy raises is something to which the PFDP pays direct and significant attention.

7. Our work is essentially aesthetic; we do beautiful things. The inclusion of the aesthetic brings to consciousness a vital factor largely ignored in literacy programs and in school and community change practices. We see the aesthetic as concretized through the arts, through the senses, as a means to help us see how we do things anew. We accept the arts as essential reflective devices to provide us the “capacity … to restructure conventional patterns of meaning” (Held, 1980, p. 83). And beyond providing us a way to look at our own work through forms of beautiful expression such as harmony, style, patterns, quality, coherence, dissonance, oppositions, and sensuousness, the aesthetic offers a means to conceptualize what might be a beautiful person, a beautiful school, a beautiful community. Art probably cannot provide us in “any clear fashion an ideal reality, but … it presents the existent as a beautiful reality” (p. 85). Thus, the aesthetic becomes a form of criticism.

[To] envision a beautiful reality implies a certain ugliness in current, accepted reality and since ugliness cannot be “technocratized” away, we need the … “aesthetic dimension” as a domain of emancipatory experience … [that poses us] … against and beyond established consciousness. (Bronner and Kellner, 1989, p. 12)

While referring specifically to poetry and literature, Chris Faatz’s (1994) belief captures our own:

“the task … is to challenge us, to illuminate our world and our lives, to force us to examine that which we take for granted and to act in solidarity for something new, to ‘give name to the nameless so it can be thought.’” (p. 916)

8. Our work is reflective in practice. Critical to our success are questioning and reflection. The assumption is that the tensions within both the ought ← 27 | 28 → and the what is will not be resolved by accepting at face value our beliefs about educational practice. Rather, we will foster strong dialogue about that which we take for granted; we will strive to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. In short, we recognize that a democratic literacy must include educational literacy, the ability and the capacity to be critical of what we read, see, and hear about education and to probe beyond surface appearances and conventional wisdom. This approach recognizes the interconnections between the problems of society and the problems of the schools in the society and how they mutually affect each other. Thus, the PFDP reaches out for pedagogical engagement with other communities concerned with democracy and justice. It is as Pepi Leistyna (1994) writes, when reviewing Henry Giroux’s Border Crossings, that such a pedagogy is a “configuration of textual, verbal, and visual practices that seek to engage the processes through which people understand themselves and the ways in which they engage others and their environment” (p. 224). Our reflection therefore is more than “critique and demystification,” for it “allows us, from our multiple locations, to analyze ourselves and society and decide how we will define and subsequently live our lives” (p. 224). It is through this sort of reflective practice that we will continually probe ways by which our work can be made adequate to a changing demographic, political, economic and ideological world.

9. Essential to the project’s purpose is the inclusion of participatory and collaborative modes of research honored for their empowering potential by which individuals become actively engaged as researchers of their own conditions (Connell, 1993; Horton, 1990; Freire, 1981). The premise is that people gain knowledge about social and educational reality through analysis of their own lived situations through their own investigation and not by relying on expert, external knowledge created for purposes foreign to their common interests. Thus, participatory research seeks two major objectives: (1) to benefit educational communities in direct and tangible ways and (2) to involve the members of those communities as significant participants in the research process.

10. We remain always hopeful. We recognize the enormity of the critical and moral task, yet not to struggle surrenders us to a fatalism, to a denial of our own efficacy as makers of history. It is through action and hope that we work on our own incompleteness. Freire (1998) states this absolute necessity:

Studies at Chapman University permission to use his name, sealed by a handshake and a hug. Guided by open inquiry richly flavored by outrage and righteous indignation, of which Stéphane Hessell (2011) writes, PFDP remains dedicated to the search for authentic education necessary for developing sustaining moral and democratic processes for the transformation of ourselves, our schools, and our communities.

Conscious of the enormity of the task, the PFDP is anchored in a reality guided by Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope (1994) that pays attention to the small nuances of everyday life. Richard Gibboney (1994) states it convincingly:

Let us take advantage of the relative quiet and stability a no-reform condition brings, and pay attention to those “little things” in ordinary experience that have the power to shape us. Tolstoy tells the story of a painter who corrected a student’s work. “Why, you only touched it a tiny bit,” the student exclaimed, “but it is quite a different thing.” The teacher replied: “Art begins where the tiny bit begins.” Tolstoy then draws his moral in honor of the prosaic experience in life. “One may say that true life begins where the tiny bit begins, where what seem to us minute and infinitely small alterations take place. True life is not lived where great external changes take place, where people move about, clash, fight, and slay one another, it is lived only where these tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small changes occur. (p. 224)

The PFDP will artfully do “what it can where it is” while remaining always mindful that ordinary experiences will crystallize into a liberating, ontological vocation that has influence beyond its immediate form.


1. The “New London Group” (a team of ten academics including James Gee and Allan Luke) came together in 1996 over concerns about how literacy pedagogy might address the rapid change in literacy due to globalization, technology, and increasing cultural and social diversity. The result was a “Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” (Cope & Kalantzis, 1996).


Bronner, S., and Kellner, D. (Eds.). (1989). Critical Theory and Society: A reader. New York: Routledge.

Carnoy, M. (1998). Foreword. In P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart (pp. 7–19). New York: Continuum. ← 29 | 30 →

Carnoy, M., and Levin, H. (1985). Schooling and Work in the Democratic State. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Connell, R. (1993). Schools and Social Justice. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Cope, B. & Kalantzis. B. (1996). Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1) 60–92.

Dewey, J. (1969). The ethics of democracy. In The Early Works of John Dewey, 1882–1898 (J. A. Boydston, Ed.; Vol. 2, 227–249). Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

Eisner, E. (Ed.). (1985). Learning and teaching the ways of knowing. In Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (84th ed., Part II). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Faatz, C. (1994, June 27). The independent eye. The Nation, p. 916.

Freire, P. (1970a). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1970b). The adult literacy process as cultural action and freedom. Harvard Education Review, 40, 205–225.

Freire, P. (1970c). Cultural action and conscientization. Harvard Education Review, 40, 452–477.

Freire, P. (1981). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: A Theory of Multiple Intelligence. New York: Basic Books.

Gibboney, R. (1994). The Stone Trumpet: A Story of Practical School Reform 1960–1990. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gilbert, J. (1990). Democratic Individuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ginott, H. (1993). Teacher and child. New York: Scribner

Held, D. (1980). Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hessel, S. (2011). Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous! New York: Hachette.

Horton, M. (1990). The Long Haul: An Autobiography (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday.

Leistyna, P. (1994). Editor’s review. Harvard Educational Review, 64(2), 222–227.

Miller, J. (1979). History and Human Existence: From Marx to Merleau-Ponty. Berkeley: University of California Press.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social features. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–92.

Noddings, N. (1995). Philosophy of Education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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Critical Pedagogy, Leadership AND Institutional Reform

Paulo Freire’s “Formative Time” at the Social Services of Industry


While a number of authors cite Paulo Freire in their scholarship about leadership (e.g., Miller, Brown, & Hopson, 2011; Shields, 2004; Watkins, 2012; Weiner, 2003), and some works claim to learn lessons about leadership from Paulo Freire (e.g., Kaak, 2011), to date, there is very little leadership literature that discusses Paulo Freire’s actual views on educational leadership and his practice as an educational leader at the Social Services of Industry (SESI) in Recife. Yet, much of Paulo Freire’s career was spent as an educational administrator, and in Freire’s words, it was his time as an administrator at SESI, “because of its contradictions that I began to learn that the classes exist in a contradictory relationship. I learned that they have conflicts of interest that are permeated by antagonistic ideologies” (1996, p. 83). Indeed, this is the time period that he identifies as the catalyst for gestating his philosophy of transformative, democratic education (Freire, 1994). This position also later afforded him the opportunity to conduct his famous literacy experiments.1

After practicing his pedagogy and further refining his philosophy in various different locales over the course of nearly 40 years, these formative years at SESI were foundational to Freire’s implementation of numerous education reforms including large-scale, systemic school reform during his time as Secretary of Education of the K–12 public school system in São Paulo, Brazil. Yet, the significance of Freire’s activities at SESI are easily overlooked if one’s reading of Freire’s work is limited to what exists in the bulk of leadership studies or simply to Freire’s most ← 31 | 32 → famous text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (often both the start and end of U.S. educators’ exploration of Freire’s work). While Freire’s leadership at SESI informed Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and he specifically elaborates on this in Letters to Cristina (Freire, 1996) and Pedagogy of Hope (Freire, 1994), it was not highlighted as formative within Pedagogy of the Oppressed itself. Furthermore, within the field of educational leadership, critical pedagogy tends to be used in a theoretical way to frame “adjectival” conceptualizations of leadership styles (Smyth, Down, McInerney & Hattam, 2014)2 while the actual administrative practice of Paulo Freire is not widely discussed.3

Given the extent of Paulo Freire’s experiences as an educational administrator, teacher, researcher, and reformer and the sheer volume of Freire’s written works, this generates a severely truncated view of Paulo Freire’s work and its implications for K–12 leadership and school reform. Yet, Freire himself explained that his “intensive and extensive practice at SESI,” provided him with the “knowledge that would become essential for all [he] realized at MCP and SEC4 and for my pedagogical development” (1996, p. 110). In response to this shortcoming in the literature, the purpose of this chapter is to illuminate the educational leadership of Paulo Freire during his time as an administrator at the Social Services of Industry in Recife. By utilizing Freire’s own recollections of his work at SESI, my goal is to highlight how Paulo Freire’s leadership as an educational administrator informed his praxis and the basis of his philosophy of democratic education as he endeavored to transform education at SESI during these “formative years” (Freire, 1996). By highlighting his institutional reform work at SESI, I strive to open up new avenues for further integrating critical pedagogy and leadership studies, drawing forth implications for K–12 educational leadership and school reform.


While useful for helping to understand leadership as a thing in itself, Smyth et al. (2014) caution against using “adjectival” definitions as the basis of conducting research about leadership and for preparing educational leaders, especially when aiming to conduct critical research or prepare critical educational leaders. As they explain, when an adjective is applied to “leadership” in order to describe a particular leadership style there are certain descriptors that are embedded within that adjective; therefore, a leader might fit into one “type” and not another, thereby limiting himself/herself from engaging in leadership as praxis in which one’s whole self and all its complexity engages with others in a particular context at a particular moment in time. In short, adjectival conceptualizations of leadership imply some degree of prescription, which is anti-critical by nature. Freire himself ← 32 | 33 → in Pedagogy of the Oppressed warns against the dangers of prescription because it implies one person’s worldview and/or practice being supplanted by another’s creating an oppressed/oppressor dynamic (Freire, 1970). Indeed, Freire refrains from identifying his own leadership activities as a particular type and rarely does he separate what he deemed educational leadership from what he deemed teaching and learning.

It is possible this is why, with important exceptions (see Torres, 1994; Wong, 1995; O’Cadiz, Wong, & Torres, 1996; and Weiner, 2003), Freire’s actual leadership work is largely unexamined in the leadership literature. This is especially the case for his time at SESI, which preceded his writing of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This limitation of the literature is problematic because within Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is more widely read than Freire’s other works, Freire’s views on leadership can easily be misconstrued, creating a further divide between critical pedagogy and leadership studies. For example, Freire talks about leaders as oppressors and he takes an anti-authoritarian stance, which could give readers the impression that he is oppositional to leadership. However, the leadership he was referring to in that text were government leaders and the elite ruling class who were creating and maintaining the conditions of oppression for the people of Brazil. Freire was not anti-leadership. For the type of social change he envisioned through education, leadership is essential. As he explains,

Still, while he believed having authority and being a leader were necessary for bringing about social change, he also believed that leadership should not be imposed externally; it must emerge from the people.

More typically, Freire would discuss his work as an administrator as time he spent learning by dialoguing with the people with whom he worked (both from outside and inside the organization of SESI). While Freire was keen to point out the necessity of taking care of very real and tangible administrative tasks in order to create hospitable conditions for democratic learning to flourish, “leadership” was not something that he examined as a thing in and of itself. Rather, leadership was in the background of an educative process that involved attending to the ontological experience of the person such that dialogic teaching and learning relationships could emerge, giving way to new awareness of self and other in the world (i.e., conscientization). The role of the leader meant very little if the work being done did not truly address the lived reality of the people. ← 33 | 34 →

Freire also rarely wrote about leadership as something he engaged in himself. Instead, he discusses his activities at SESI as a collaborative response to the needs and desires of the workers, their children, the teachers, and other SESI staff members and administrators. In this regard, Freire tended to position himself as being led by others to problematize the conditions for implementing democratic education by engaging in dialogue. In Freire’s words, “The origin of authentic leadership is politics, and there is no other place for leadership to be born than within the group that intends to lead. Leadership should not be something or someone coming from outside the group to take charge … Leadership is only authentic when it is governed by validating the wishes of the people” (Leistyna, 2004, pp. 25–26). This stance on leadership offers a glimpse of how Freire approached leadership—he always positioned himself as learning from the people in order to work toward democracy. While he was predisposed to this belief prior to starting his work at SESI (he explains that his childhood laid the foundation for his beliefs), it was during his time at SESI when, through trial and error, he further refined through practice what this meant in the context of being an educational leader and reformer (Freire, 1996).


In 1946, long before writing Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire began working for SESI, an organization that provided social services, including education and training, for industry workers and their families (Freire, 1994).5 SESI had been “set up by the National Industrial Confederation and given legal status by presidential decree” (Freire, 1994, p. 7). During his decade of employment there, he was a researcher, teacher, and administrator. He was appointed Director of the Department of Education and Culture and then later became Superintendent of SESI itself. When he first began working at SESI, he was tasked with researching the workers, their children, and the teachers in order to improve the education services provided to the workers and their families. It is important to point out that SESI provided a number of services, including schools for children—Freire’s work with the schools and families informed the development of his theories about anti-authoritarian education. It was this research, in which he interviewed 1,000 families about discipline, authority, and education that later became the basis of his doctoral thesis and the starting point for his philosophy of anti-oppressive education.6

Despite seemingly altruistic intentions, “From the perspective of the dominant class, SESI was a service organization that was to restrict its function to the bureaucratic mode of providing services” (Freire, 1996, p. 82). The interest of the organization was in providing assistance to the workers and their families in order ← 34 | 35 → to keep them in a subservient position. The workers were not meant to participate in the design of the service providing process. In fact, Freire points out their participation would have been considered “dangerous and subversive and thus to be rejected” (1996, p. 82). Freire explains, “SESI was an intelligent move on the part of paternalistic leadership to further its contradictory relationship with the working class … It was more an attempt to ease class conflict and stop the development of a political and militant consciousness among the workers. Hence, those practices that stimulated critical knowledge were sooner or later restricted” (1996, p. 82). Freire knew he could not “save” SESI from what it was and the reasons why it was created, but at the same time, he saw no reason why he could not or should not do all he could to stay loyal to his dream of education for liberation by working to democratize the organization in order to aid the workers in struggle for their own emancipation. For Freire, this meant changing the very nature of operations of the Department of Education and Culture and, eventually, SESI as a whole. He knew that he could not implement the type of reform he envisioned by imposing it from the top down.

Instead, he sought to alter the relationships among co-workers within the Department and SESI at large, as well as, between the Department, SESI, and the workers and their children. This vision went beyond simply giving parents a platform to voice concerns, providing professional development for teachers and staff, and changing teachers’ pedagogy. Democratizing education entailed democratizing the organization as a whole. Indeed, Freire himself was not exempt from changing his own practice throughout the process, and he consistently makes mention of how he learned and changed over time. Here, I quote Freire (1996) at length:

For Freire, democratizing education could not be limited simply to altering curriculum and pedagogy. The organization itself needed to be internally consistent and operate in the same way that he expected teachers to work with the workers and their children. If within the organization there were hierarchical oppressive relationships, the organization’s internal hypocrisy would negate its own goals for social transformation through education (Freire, 1994). In effect, to truly teach or learn democratically with the end goal of facilitating the flourishing of ← 35 | 36 → a democratic society, all participants of the educational organization needed to engage in the democratic process on a daily basis. Democratic education was much more than simply a different curriculum or pedagogical toolkit; it was democracy itself in the societal microcosm of the organization.

To lay the foundation for democratic education, Freire and his co-workers began researching what was happening at SESI. He refers to this as “evaluation” which marked the start of the reforms but was also cyclical and constant throughout the reform process. All employees participated in the process to root out inconsistencies in what staff members said they believed versus what they practiced. As he explains, “we evaluated our practice by thinking about it and reformulated our procedures, which led to the development of a necessary coherence between our objectives and the paths that lead to them” (1996, p. 91). The “evaluation” included all staff members, teachers, administrators, and even janitors in dialogues about how best to run the organization. The result was continual, organization-wide reflexivity useful for developing the staff members’ praxis over time and improving day-to-day operations at SESI. This enabled Freire and his staff to make changes to afford better communication, eliminate redundancy and waste, improve working conditions, reform curriculum and pedagogy, and allow people (adults and children alike) to participate in their own process of formation, whether by altering the work environment or the learning environment. In all cases the reform process was also a democratic educative process of teaching and learning through dialogue.


From Freire’s “evaluations” emerged a two-pronged reform approach in which he and his co-workers implemented reforms “on the ground” inside the schools themselves and outside the schools but within the organization of SESI. For the sake of this chapter, I will center this part of my discussion on Freire’s efforts to democratize the administration of SESI because little has been written about this outside of Freire’s own texts. Yet, this aspect of his work is highly demonstrative of how being an administrator and leader helped to inform his philosophy of democratic education which then fed back into his practice as an administrator and leader. The resulting implementation involved attending to the educative (or as Freire says “gnosiological”) process of developing the knowledge of all participants via dialogue, but also very pragmatic attention to the material reality of stakeholders’ daily lives.

For Freire, it was not enough to talk about what democratic learning ought to be and how it ought to take place if the conditions under which people were to ← 36 | 37 → teach and learn were oppressive or otherwise not conducive to teaching and learning. At the same time, altering the material conditions of people’s lived realities without a theoretical understanding of the purpose of these reforms was insufficient for ensuring that reform would continue to occur in the interests of the people and in the spirit of furthering democracy. Freire (1994) identifies this as when he first became aware of the tension between theory and practice, which is the hallmark of his notion of praxis (Winchell & Kress, 2013). So, for example, while not always successful, as Director of the Department of Education and Culture, Freire fought to increase teachers’ salaries because it was important that they were provided an adequate wage. Moreover, this type of attention was not reserved simply for those directly involved in teaching and learning. Even something as seemingly benign as a change in uniforms for the janitorial staff warranted a democratic decision because he believed it was important that the janitors themselves had a say in the clothing they wore on their bodies on a day-to-day basis (Freire, 1996).

As Superintendent of SESI, Freire worked to create a more transparent and efficient administrative structure in order to streamline the entire organization’s operations. He saw the lack of communication between SESI departments and social nuclei7 as a significant problem that created redundancy and waste and compromised the integrity of the organization. As he explains,

Unfortunately, when it came to professional relationships, they [SESI division and section workers] hardly ever knew what the others were doing. Thus, we duplicated services by accident and contradicted practices of other divisions … We also had unnecessary expenditures, for example, in the purchase of materials. Sometimes, cars from separate divisions would bring technical experts to the same social center when, if there had been some planning, one car would have been sufficient. (1996, p. 95)

In response, he and his co-workers altered the organizational structure in order to encourage knowledge sharing.

To accomplish this, he and Heloisa Bezerra (a social worker who worked side-by-side with Freire)8 visited all the SESI clubs throughout the city to encourage the leadership of the clubs to participate in shaping the social nuclei of the organization. They blocked off structured time “through which the leaders of the SESI divisions, service sections, and other institutional sectors would begin to know each other” (Freire, 1996, p. 95). These meetings were opportunities for employees to share the details of their work and working relationships and analyze their practice, while keeping an eye out for any existing or emerging dichotomies between theory and practice and between politics and education. Freire also instituted monthly meetings with the Superintendent’s office, SESI division leaders, and nuclei directors of clubs in order to provide information about operations (funds, hiring, expenses, deficits, etc.) He allowed directors to sign up to address the group and voice their opinions about democratizing the administration; anyone was ← 37 | 38 → allowed to participate in the process and all were encouraged to do so. In Freire’s words, “Encouraging mutual knowledge among the directors of the various divisions created a larger vision of service delivery, which facilitated solidarity among those responsible for the many programs located throughout the city of Recife and the rural areas of the state” (1996, p. 95). Freire recalled it was during this time that he became convinced that education is fundamental to social transformation because “knowledge guides change” (1996, p. 99).


Paulo Freire’s work at SESI has various implications for contemporary conversations about educational leadership in the United States. Despite the context being vastly different, Freire’s steadfast commitment to furthering democracy in and through education as an institution shines light on contradictions and challenges faced by U.S. educational leaders. For instance, Freire’s multi-level organizational reform attempted to remedy the contradictions between the espoused goals of education versus people’s lived experiences as teachers and learners. His assertion that an educational institution not run democratically could never contribute to a truly democratic education serves as a mirror for U.S. public schooling that ostensibly has the purpose of furthering democracy but is not democratic in its operations. It lays bare the inherent contradictions of policies such as mayoral or gubernatorial control of the K–12 public school systems in cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Though each city has its own particular challenges, mayoral and gubernatorial control has resulted in the elimination of community and teacher input in the educative process, a revolving door of school and central administrators, massive school closures, and various types of ethical misconduct (from administrator corruption to violation of students’ rights and cheating scandals). Freire’s work helps to shed light on how the hidden curriculum of schooling can contribute to the reproduction of an oppressive society while public schooling is touted as furthering democracy. “Democracy” becomes an ideological mirage more than an actual way of being. For Freire, being vigilantly critical about practice at all levels of the organization is necessary for the maintenance of a truly democratic education. Through authentic dialogue, the hidden curriculum could be surfaced and eradicated to afford greater consistency between practice and theory. In his words, “A coherent, progressive educator has to be attentive to the always tense relations between tactic and strategy. We must learn about these relations since without the knowledge of them we may fall into a form of incoherence that leads us to sacrifice our strategic dream” (Freire, 1996, p. 34). This is the case whether we are referring to teachers in the classroom or educational leaders in central administration. ← 38 | 39 →

Furthermore, this does not mean sacrificing the very real work of attending to the material conditions of people’s lives in schools and in their workplaces. Freire was acutely aware of “nuts and bolts” issues like wages, building conditions, budgeting, and job satisfaction. He specifically notes these issues and the importance of attending to the experiences of the body in the physical locations for working or learning. He explains, “In reality, the space in which the educational experience is lived is just as important for educators and learners as is my house or place of work … We need to associate our work space with certain qualities that are extensions of ourselves. We make a space that will either remake us or will help us accomplish tasks” (Freire, 1996, p. 123). Reforming the organization so that it provided workers sufficient wages and good working conditions and utilized its funds and human resources efficiently was essential for laying the foundation for a democratic educational organization that provided a truly democratic education.

To accomplish the reform he envisioned, Freire prioritized evaluation of the organization in order to identify problems and change daily operations. He also prioritized a system of accountability. As controversial buzzwords in current conversations about administration and reform, we learn from Freire that evaluation and accountability can mean something very different from how these terms have been interpreted within the high-stakes, top-down, punitive reform movements that have marked the last more than 30 years in the United States. For Freire, evaluation was a formative process that was meant to be collective and reflexive. It emphasized seeking out areas where people could support each other in participating in a difficult and sometimes painful endeavor toward change, which was necessarily involved when assuring one’s practice consistently aligns with his/her politics. Accountability, too, was quite different for Freire and his co-workers. Accountability in contemporary U.S. discourse is typically interpreted as a top-down, unidirectional, and hierarchical practice of assuming responsibility for the achievement of students (e.g., teachers answer to the principal, principal answers to the superintendent, superintendent answers to the mayor or school board, and so on). For Freire, however, accountability was not about bean counting and demonstrating results on exams, but rather, it was about assuming collective responsibility for the furthering of the democratic project through education via active participation in the transformation of the organization (or classroom) and transformation of one’s self and others through dialogue.

Finally, Freire’s administration work at SESI offers a different way of thinking about leadership and what it means to be a leader. He strove to collaboratively reshape a fundamentally paternalistic, bureaucratic organization such that all stakeholders were active participants in reforming the organization and engaging in transformative teaching and learning (whether in the classroom or in the boardroom). Yet, he did not distinguish leadership as something other than creating conditions for and being a participant in a democratic educative process. He brought diverse voices together and practiced listening and collaboration that ← 39 | 40 → honored the perspectives of all involved and addressed the needs and concerns identified by the community. As he made his way up the ranks of the organization, from researcher to director to superintendent, the democratic education he envisioned became firmly embedded in his daily practice. Consequently, he saw his role as a leader as always being a learner and a facilitator of dialogue. Indeed, within Freire’s early biography, distinctions between teaching and leadership dissolve as Freire’s work as an administrator can be understood as a practice of leadership as critical pedagogy and critical pedagogy as leadership.


1. It was Cid Sampaio, then president of SESI who later became governor of Pernambuco, who invited Freire to work at SESI and through whom Freire became acquainted with Pelópidos Silveira, then mayor of Recife. In 1961, Silveira invited Freire to develop a literacy program for Recife during Freire’s time as Director of the Extension Service of the University of Recife. In 1962, Paulo Freire implemented his famous literacy experiment, which resulted in the teaching of 300 sugarcane workers to read and write in just 45 days. In response to this success, the Brazilian government approved the creation of thousands of “cultural circles” across the country and Freire became the director of Brazil’s National Literacy Program. However, in 1964, the military coup prevented the expansion of this literacy work, and Freire was declared a “traitor” for his “subversive” teaching. He was imprisoned for 75 days and upon his release sought exile in Bolivia and then Chile. Freire’s first book Education for the Practice of Freedom was published in 1968 and Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in 1969 (the English version was published in 1970).

2. Definitions of leadership that describe particular styles, traits or behaviors, and create a typology of leaders and leadership styles.

3. His work as Secretary of Education in São Paulo has greater visibility in the leadership world and, notably, has been utilized for the conceptualization of “transformative leadership” by Weiner (2003). O’Cadiz, Wong, and Torres (1996) also provide a quite comprehensive look at Freire’s administration in São Paulo. Several texts about Paulo Freire make mention of his work at SESI, some even summarizing the scope of his work there (e.g., Bhattacharya, 2011; Gadotti, 1994; McLaren, 2000; and Schugurensky, 2011, among others), but these are typically within the context of a larger analysis of Freire’s life and work and do not specifically examine the connections between his early leadership work and the formation of his philosophy of democratic pedagogy.

4. Freire was a founding member of the Movement for Popular Culture in Recife, whose members were dedicated to social transformation in Brazil via the education of peasants and laborers. SEC was the Department of Cultural Extension Service at the University of Recife. While a professor at the University of Recife, Freire was appointed Director of SEC, which enabled him to implement his famous literacy circles.

5. According to Ana Maria Araújo (Nita) Freire’s notes in Pedagogy of Hope, SESI was an outgrowth of Law Decree 9403, which aimed to facilitate cooperation between the ruling and working classes of Brazil in the post-war era. It was part of the executive branch’s efforts to remedy class conflict by providing assistance to workers rather than confronting social injustice directly. In addition to education and scholastic assistance, SESI provided medical and dental assistance and various other social services. ← 40 | 41 →

6. Freire interviewed peasant workers who lived in urban Recife and rural Pernambuco, and fishermen who lived on the coast. The focus of the interviews was on beliefs about disciplinary practices and education. What he found were distinct differences between discipline in school and disciplinary practices in the home and beliefs about curriculum and pedagogy at home versus at school. This work formed the basis of his doctoral thesis, Present-day Education in Brazil (1959) and first turned his attention to the tension between freedom and authority, a persistent theme in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and later works. Upon completing his research, Freire brought his findings to the communities in order to have dialogues with the families about the differences between school and home discipline and education.

7. SESI had multiple sites in various locations throughout Pernambuco, and within sites there were various clubs that organized the services for the workers. Freire refers to these sites as nuclei. The structure of SESI was a typical bureaucracy with the Superintendent and central administration at the top, followed by division directors, then nucleus directors and club organizers, teachers, and so on.

8. Freire (1996) identifies Heloisa Bezzarra’s contributions as critical to his administrative reform work. He explains, “Heloisa was the one who organized the meetings, chaired them, and wrote up the minutes. Her minutes enabled the theoretical reflection with which we prepared for the next meeting” (p. 99).


Bhattacharya, A. (2011). Paulo Freire: Rousseau of the Twentieth Century. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1991). Pedagogy of the City. New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1996). Letters to Christina: Reflections on My Life and Work. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gadotti, M. (1994). Reading Paulo Freire: His Life and Work. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Kaak, P. (2011). Power-filled lessons for leadership educators from Paulo Freire. Journal of Leadership Education, 10(1), 132–141.

Leistyna, P. (2004). Presence of mind in the process of learning and knowing: A dialogue with Paulo Freire. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter, 17–29.

McLaren, P. (2000). Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Miller, P., Brown, T., & Hopson, R. (2011). Centering love, hope, and trust in the community: Transformative urban leadership informed by Paulo Freire. Urban Education, 46(5): 1078–1099.

O’Cadiz, P., Wong, P., & Torres, C. (1996). Education and Leadership: Paulo Freire, Social Movements, and Educational Reform in São Paulo. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Schugurensky, D. (2011). Paulo Freire. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Shields, C. (2004). Dialogic leadership for social justice: Overcoming pathologies of silence. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(1), 109–132.

Smyth, J., Down, B., McInerney, P., & Hattam, R. (2014). Doing Educational Research: A Conversation with the Research of John Smyth. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Torres, C. A. (1994). Paulo Freire as Secretary of Education in the municipality of São Paulo. Comparative Education Review, 38(2), 181–214. ← 41 | 42 →

Watkins, M. (2012). Revolutionary leadership: From Paulo Freire to the Occupy movement. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 4(2): pp. 1–22.

Weiner, E. (2003). Secretary of Education Paulo Freire and the democratization of power: Toward a theory of transformational leadership. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 35(1), 89–106.

Winchell, M. & Kress, T. (2013). Living with/in the Tensions: Freire’s Praxis in a High-Stakes World. In R. Lake & T. Kress (Eds.), Paulo Freire’s Intellectual Roots: Toward Historicity in Praxis (pp. 145–168). New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Wong, P. (1995). Constructing a public popular education in São Paulo, Brazil. Comparative Education Review, 39(1), 120–141.

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A Clarification OF Freire’s Radical Political Pedagogy



The works of Lu Xun, Bourdieu, and Freire bear internal relations. Although Lu Xun (1881–1936) and Freire (1921–1997) lived in different times, they had the same target, peasant consciousness under oppression, and they both called for the ethics of humanization. Lu Xun offered a quintessence of being a cultural worker as Freire appealed while Freire contributed a concept of humanizing education as Lu Xun proposed. If people’s living condition in a peasant society as portrayed by Lu Xun may seem out of date or does not fit in with the situation in developed countries, then Bourdieu contributed a sociological tool for analyzing how the reproduction of inequality, a root cause of oppression, proceeds through the field practice of education in both developing countries and developed countries at this postindustrial age.


Lu Xun’s time was a time of civil war, dire poverty, and misery. Although the Revolution of 1911 overthrew the feudal Qing’s Dynasty, imperialism and feudalism remained intact. Particularly, state power was seized by warlords whom the imperialists utilized to intensify their assault upon China. Thus, with warlords establishing independent regimes, ceaseless civil war, and a competition among ← 43 | 44 → the imperialist powers for their own interests, the semi-feudal, semi-colonial condition of the country became aggravated. In the sphere of ideas, a reactionary movement calling for a return to the past dominated by Confucian culture gained influence. Using his pen as a weapon, Lu Xun devoted his life to the liberation of China’s oppressed millions and waged an exceedingly heroic struggle against imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat-capitalism.

In fact, Lu Xun, a pen name for Zhou Shu-ren, means to awaken people from their numb consciousness or ignorance of oppression. According to Lu Xun (English version, published in 1956 posthumously), the feudal system and Confucian culture were metaphorically “gnawing” at the Chinese people like cannibalism for thousands of years; therefore it was imperative for his generation to save their children. This aim of humanization compelled Lu Xun to write:

Further, the tragic apathy of the oppressed Chinese and their onlookers’ inaction made Lu Xun decide to become a cultural worker to expose how his fellow Chinese was spiritually calloused and politically numb. Accordingly, Lu Xun became a critical thinker and a leading figure in modern Chinese literature, and his works exerted a substantial influence upon Chinese people since the New Culture Movement that began around 1915 in China.

The True Story of Ah Q is Lu Xun’s (1956) masterpiece. It portrayed oppression vividly and showed that the 1911 revolution was a failure because it did not put an end to social evils and the agony of the oppressed. The writer claimed ironically in the first chapter that he could not recall nor verify Ah Q’s correct name. Ah in Chinese is a diminutive prefix for names and Q is an English letter; its pronunciation is closer to Quei in Chinese. The name symbolizes a name for the nameless. Ah Q is a rural peasant with little education and no definite occupation. He often lives in a deserted memorial temple for worshipping the God of Land and Crops. The story traces all his tragic “adventures.” The following are only some of his tragedies.

Ah Q’s parents died early, so Ah Q cannot remember his family name. Owing to the Chinese tradition of guilt or honor by association, Ah Q claims that his family name is Zhao, a family name for an honored landlord in his village. However, when Zhao’s son passes an important examination for entry to a high status school, Ah Q thinks, if he shares the same family name with the landlord, it means long ago his and the landlord’s ancestors could have lived in the same family; now on this special occasion, it is appropriate for him to go to Zhao’s house to say “congratulations.” When he turns up, the landlord swears at Ah Q, saying that Ah ← 44 | 45 → Q is not qualified to be named after Zhao because he is so poor and uneducated. The landlord makes his point very clear: He does not want Ah Q to have Zhao as his family name. He warns Ah Q that every time Ah Q dares to say that his family name is Zhao, he will ask his people to thrash him without any consideration. Then he sends his servants to beat Ah Q.

Ah Q is a bullying object for most of the people in his village, to let out their feelings of discontent. Having been oppressed continually, Ah Q also has acquired an instinct to oppress others. He dares not bully the strong ones, but he attempts to bully those who are weaker than him. For example, in order to make himself feel better and to blame his problems on the weak, he harasses a young nun unscrupulously by pinching her on the cheek. The nun throws the worst curse in Chinese culture at Ah Q: “You will have no male heir!” This curse makes Ah Q feel miserable and starts his adventure of love. When he works as a part-time coolie for the landlord Zhao, he takes a chance and kneels down in front of Wu Ma, a housemaid, awkwardly begging her to sleep with him. Being terribly horrified, Wu Ma runs away and cannot stop crying. In order to comfort Wu Ma, the landlord Zhao asks his servants to catch hold of Ah Q and teach him a good lesson. Ah Q’s love story thus ends tragically with humiliation from being whipped.

A revolution in Ah Q’s county breaks out. Mr. Qian, a county official, asks the landlord Zhao to hide some of his treasure in Zhao’s house and then runs away to escape the revolution. However, revolutionaries rob Zhao of nearly all his treasure, including Qian’s. When the revolutionaries take power, both landlord families, the Zhaos and the Qians, pretend to espouse the revolution. As a result, they re-establish their power and acquire more property in the new regime. When Mr. Qian thereafter requests that Zhao pay back his treasure, Zhao tells him that his treasure was robbed by revolutionaries. Mr. Qian then orders Zhao to get his treasure back from the revolutionaries. Wanting to shake off Qian, Zhao comes up with a malicious plan. He bribes a new police officer in the new local government and asks him to arrest Ah Q because Ah Q once mechanically imitates those revolutionaries in the town and shouts “revolution, revolution.”

In fact, without knowing the meaning of revolution, Ah Q calls himself a revolutionary just because he wants to rob the rich of their wealth. Yet, “a false foreign devil,” as Ah Q often calls him, does not permit him to participate in the revolution. When the revolution (looting Mr. Zhao of his treasure and splitting it among them) took place, Ah Q happened to be sleeping in the temple. Therefore, he had nothing to do with the looting. Despite his innocence, he was arrested by the bribed police officer, who saw the situation as a golden opportunity to ease the ongoing tension between the Qians and the Zhaos. Ah Q thus becomes a scapegoat of their discord.

During the court hearing, when Ah Q is asked if he participated in the looting, he tells the judges that “they did not wake me up.” Ah Q speaks his mind: He ← 45 | 46 → believes that someone would have woken him if there has been a revolution, but he was sleeping at the time. To the court, this explanation simply confirms his guilt by intent: He wanted to be an accomplice but just missed the opportunity; that is, he did not join the looting this time because he was asleep, but he might have joined in at another time. Oddly, however, looting is part of the revolution for the “revolutionaries” and can be condoned by the judges, but for Ah Q, it becomes a serious crime because nobody recognizes him as a “revolutionary.” Ultimately, Ah Q is sentenced to death for this crime. To show that his sentence is legal on behalf of “justice” and “the reverence to the law,” the judges get Ah Q to sign his name on the court verdict. When Ah Q tells them he has no name and also does not know how to write, they ask him to draw a circle as his signature instead. Ah Q tries his best to do so, but with a trembling hand, his circle ends up with a tail. His circle and tail look more like the English letter Q than a circle. Ah Q’s name is formally justified by this drawing at last, but ironically, he has signed his own death warrant without knowing what he is actually doing.

Lu Xun let readers see the age-long oppression of Chinese people. As he declared, through Ah Q, “the silent soul of the people” for thousands of years “grew, faded and withered silently like grass under rock” (Feng, 1956, p. 19). Hence, Lu Xun encouraged the new generation of the oppressed people in his time to have a new life: “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many people pass one way, a road is made” (Feng, 1956, p. 20). Lu Xun advocated for a new way of humanizing education to effect fundamental social change.

About thirty years later after Lu Xun died in 1936, Freire’s radical political pedagogy offered an ideal answer. As McLaren (2000, p. 147) comments:


The emancipation of Ah Q requires one political precondition being met: Ah Q must be allowed to participate in the revolution of fighting for a better world. Under this political precondition, there is an integrated educational approach, as McLaren’s 2015 book suggests, a pedagogy from insurrection to revolution. This is the core of Freire’s radical political pedagogy: to combine politics with education in a historical process of converting the oppressed such as Ah Q into true revolutionaries. ← 46 | 47 →

On the one hand, a pedagogy of insurrection is an education of courage: to feel, to think, and to imagine otherwise. It can train Ah Q to become a brave soldier and may enable Ah Q to obtain a master status in a new society. Mao did this successfully through his masses principle of starting from learning the basic needs of the oppressed (Freire, 1985). On the other hand, pedagogy of insurrection does not necessarily lead Ah Q to a subject position of making history. If Ah Q does not understand that the aim of the revolution is to change the social and political system that maintains Zhao’s and Mr. Qian’s oppression and exploitation, nothing really will have changed except for the new masters of people. Instead, Ah Q will still regard the purpose of revolution as to loot the wealth from the rich, to get what he wants, and to kill anyone he hates (because the word “revolution” in Chinese means to kill one’s life). Ah Q will continue to become another Mr. Qian or Zhao; the people whom he is now going to oppress will become new Ah Qs, like he used to be. A master of a new society is no more than another oppressor with an advantage obtained by means of looting. As Freire warned, the image of oppressors still occupies the minds of the oppressed. Therefore, through The True Story of Ah Q, Lu Xun shows that the victory of the 1911 revolution is only a substitution of one set of masters for another. Oppression still exists or remains intact. Accordingly, pedagogy from insurrection to revolution is pivotal.

In fact, in The True Story of Ah Q, Lu Xun attacks two main characteristics symptomatic of the Chinese persona. One is Ah Q’s “spiritual victories,” the way Ah Q tried to persuade himself psychologically that he is spiritually “superior” to his oppressors when he runs into extreme defeat or humiliation. For example, when bullied or beaten, Ah Q would repeat his pet phrase, murmuring, “What is the world coming to nowadays, with sons beating their parents!” He managed to escape the bitterness of defeatism and day-to-day hardships by muting or dulling his consciousness of suffering in this way. Hence, “spiritual victories” is Lu Xun’s euphemism for the criticism against the typical Chinese tendency toward verbalism or self-talk and self-deception—a behavior that thus reinforced the status quo heralding tyranny and suppression.

A second feature of Chinese society that Lu Xun was reacting to in his novel was the “mob mentality” or “onlookers’ apathy.” Here, the oppressed do not display empathy for the oppressed in the face of injustice but assume the mindset of an oppressor instead. They gloat over the misfortune of the oppressed. For example, when Ah Q harasses the nun, instead of protesting and intervening to stop Ah Q’s bullying, the crowd nearby laughs, amused at both the nun’s insult and Ah Q’s misbehavior. The message that Lu Xun wants to give is that the oppressed need to wake up from their slumber, to recognize how their indifference toward human suffering is indicative of their immature state of consciousness. This is also where the significance of Freire’s radical political pedagogy lies—to awakening the oppressed from their anesthetized consciousness and numb nerves due to age-long ← 47 | 48 → oppression, to encourage them to face social reality directly and unyieldingly, and to act together with them heroically. Awakening or a psychological revolution initiated by cultural movement, as Lu Xun did, is certainly the first step.

Part of the problem of this awakening, however, is undoubtedly the pain that arises when people realize their own social reality (hooks, 1994). As Roberts remarked:

This line of argument does not intend to justify self-deception “spiritual victories” for Ah Q, it merely brings prominence to the question of how to transform the pain into self and social empowerment through an effective political pedagogy.

Westrheim’s (2009) research offers a compelling answer to this problem. By looking into the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) education under Freire’s radical political pedagogical framework, Westrheim maintained that there is a connection between the armed guerrillas and education. One of her informants said the following:

According to Westrheim (2009), education unites and empowers the oppressed if it is anchored in their daily life; the key to a successful revolution depends on the extent to which a person can be changed; and true revolution starts with the self and the person. Citing an informant, this change is captured:

PKK’s mountain-top education indicates that self and social empowerment may go hand in hand with self and social transformation through education, without which, nothing can generate resulting change of social habits and a new mode of thinking. As Freire and Macedo (1987) claimed: “Anyone who takes history into his or her own hands can easily take up the alphabet” (p. 106). Dialectically, when the oppressed take up the alphabet, they also start their journey of history-making.

Ah Q’s revolution will follow the same path. It may start with helping Ah Q choose a name for himself and teaching him how to read and write. This can ← 48 | 49 → be a sign of social recognition for his autonomous existence and the beginning of his revolutionary cause. When Ah Q is loved as a human being and treated as a subject rather than cannon fodder, Ah Q’s consciousness of humanity will be awakened. Further, when Ah Q experiences self and social empowerment, he will overcome “the image of the oppressors,” “spiritual victories,” and “the mob psychology,” and not shun and escape cynically and pessimistically from reality any more. In dignifying every human being, the climate is thus created for those like Ah Q to grow, not only conscious of but also accountable for what he is doing to himself and to others. He will know the importance of loving others and treating others as subjects. Fashioned as a subject, when the revolution comes to its most mature phase, Ah Q will not oppress Zhao and Mr. Qian as enemies in vengeance but will treat them equally as human beings in the same way as he is treated. This is a fundamental way of uprooting oppression and resorting humanity. It begets a true revolution.

Therefore, Freire’s radical political pedagogy is a kind of cultural conversion: to transform the climate of indifference that we have created historically and accepted as “normal”—in which people are mere objects of history—into a climate where people see themselves as active subjects of history based on the “unique fusion of social theory, moral outrage and political praxis” (West, 1993, p. xiii). As Freire (2007, 2004, 1998) argued, if people’s view of history is fatalistic, deterministic, and static, they would take the status quo for granted and see what is happening to them as their unchangeable destiny. This will eventually draw the oppressed back to the social order designed and arranged by the dominant class. Hence, for Freire (1998), making history is to live out opportunity, hope, and possibility. It is responsiveness to human beings’ unfinishedness in time, a way to make sense of being in and with the world for a finite period of life. He noted: “I am not angry with people who think pessimistically. I am sad because for me they have lost their place in history” (p. 26). His poignancy strongly suggests that to lose one’s place in history means to lose one’s existence in society not only today but also tomorrow. Given that history is society-in-movement, to make history with certain historical vision is therefore to restructure people’s social positioning. It is to associate historical awareness of being with social awareness of existence in concrete social discourses. This of course needs sociology.


It is vital to realize that the social condition for Freire’s radical political pedagogy in Brazil and Lu Xun’s writing in the semi-colonized and semi-feudalized China is very different from that of this contemporary era. Particularly in developed ← 49 | 50 → countries, owing to the stratification of social classes, the social structure seems to have changed greatly. However, it is also true that the middle class, known itself by knowledge and expertise, not only dominates social classes and cultural reproduction but also forms the main trunk of the government body and other public sectors. Hence, inequality find itself in all walks of life; discrimination takes on more subtle and sophisticated forms; alienation continues to produce its excruciatingly corrosive effect on human existence, and above all, oppression becomes not only inter-multilayered but also internalized. As Gramsci (1971) argued, the dominant class depends more on cultural hegemony than on overt forces to win the consent of subordinate groups and thus maintain their obtained interests and existing social order. Of course, to win this consent could be organized in various ways, but education is a main site for the war of position. Under this circumstance, political pedagogy in Freire’s tradition requires a sociological tool to expose the reality of the educational field practice. Bourdieu, an influential French sociologist, made Gramsci’s insights more concrete. His sociological study of education (Bourdieu,1990) revealed how economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital are integrated to serve the interest of the dominant class.

Marx (1973) believed that capital is a “dialectical process of development” (p. 99) rather than a simple relation. For him, capital flows and interacts dynamically in multiple forms and various ways in people’s political, economic, social, and cultural life. Influenced by Marx, Bourdieu investigated how capital works and divided capital into at least three forms: economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital.

For Bourdieu (1990), economical capital refers to people’s command over economic resources such as cash and assets. Social capital is basically about social resources based on group membership, relationships, networks of influence and support. It is “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 119). Cultural capital refers to intellectual and educational resources, such as knowledge and expertise, competencies and skills, and educational advantages (Bourdieu, 1990). Top-class university qualifications play an important part in educational advantages because they may give their possessors a higher status in society.

Different forms of capital are dialectically interwoven together. Bourdieu’s (1984) focus is to distinguish cultural capital from economic capital and social capital. For him, there are three subtypes of cultural capital, which may be obtained in three different ways. The first is embodied cultural capital. It refers to properties not only acquired consciously but also inherited passively. What can be inherited is not in the genetic sense but in the sense of acquisition over time. Hence, embodied cultural capital is not transmissible instantaneously as a gift or bequest given by ← 50 | 51 → someone. Rather, it is received over time by means of habitus, shaped by socialization based on people’s family background and their parents’ social networks. The second subtype is objectified cultural capital. It is physical cultural goods such as scientific instruments or works of art. This kind of cultural capital is acquired through one’s access, use, and consumption of their facility. Institutionalized cultural capital is the third subtype Bourdieu identified. It consists of institutional recognition most often in the form of academic credentials or qualifications. The institutional recognition process plays its most prominent role in the labor market. It is in this process that credentials or qualifications allow a wide array of cultural capital to be expressed in a single qualitative and quantitative measurement. Eventually, with the help of their parents’ social contacts, middle-class graduates can easily get good positions with good pay in the labor market.

Bourdieu unmasked a key fact: middle-class parents’ economic capital is transformed into their children’s cultural capital, their university qualifications; then after university graduation, their parents’ social capital again secures their children to find a high status job in the labor market; finally these children’s cultural capital will be transformed into economic capital in turn. As Bourdieu (1990) argued, by every single kind of capital, middle-class students will maintain a similar social position as their parents. By marked contrast, working-class children will be marginalized. When they finish schooling and enter into the labor market, it is very hard for them to find a fair place in society.

In this context, a key question arises: What underlies the interactive movement of these three subtypes of cultural capital for the middle class to preserve their social privileges from one generation to the next? Or, what fundamentally maintains educational success for middle-class students? According to Bourdieu (1990), habitus is a key to understanding this social phenomenon. Habitus refers to people’s disposition or character handed down inter-generationally. It is about lasting ways of perception, thought, and action that people may have acquired in their sociocultural surroundings, primarily, family background. For example, language, in particular, accent, grammar, spelling, and style, can be a showcase of how people may present themselves to others through their way of communication learned from their surrounding culture. By the same logic, the food one chooses to eat, the clothes one chooses to wear, the friends one chooses to make, and so forth, play an important role in forming one’s habitus. Taste is a good representative of a person’s habitus.

In the same way, educational success, according to Bourdieu, entails a whole range of cultural behaviors, such as the way to hold a pen or a book, gait, dress, and accent. However, these are not taken as nonacademic features. Children from intellectual family backgrounds have already learned this kind of behavior as required, as have their teachers. They fit the pattern of their teachers’ expectations easily and feel as comfortable within their schooling environment as fish in ← 51 | 52 → water. Thereby, they are also thought to be docile and get more care and attention. By contrast, children of unprivileged backgrounds have not developed these behaviors and habits. They are found to have difficulties at school. Seemingly, the ease the privileged children experience is out of their natural ability; but as Bourdieu (1990) investigated, this ease or natural ability depends largely on the part of habitus, nurtured by their parents.

Bourdieu (1984) used symbolic capital to account for how these disadvantaged working-class children respond to their school failure and their middle-class peers’ success. According to him, together with cultural capital, there is symbolic capital. It is a kind of capital that goes unnoticed, such as prestige, honor, and attention, but it forms a crucial source of power. That is, symbolic capital will produce symbolic power. When the holder of symbolic capital uses her or his symbolic power against an agent who holds less prestige and honor and seeks to alter this agent’s actions, symbolic violence is being exercised. Symbolic violence fundamentally tends to perpetuate the dominant structures and impose categories of thought and perception upon those dominated social agents without their consciousness. As a result, the dominated will take the social order legitimated by the dominant class to be “just” and their own miserable position to be “right.” Accordingly, working-class children often come to view the educational success of their middle-class peers as always legitimate, seeing class-based inequality as the result of hard work or even natural ability. Thus, to some extent, symbolic violence is much more powerful than physical violence. When the dominant class uses symbolic violence to impose the specter of the legitimacy of social order, this kind of specter will penetrate deep into the very modes of actions and structures of individuals’ cognition. This is why working-class students often internalize their feelings about their educational failures at school.

Sociologically, each individual should occupy a just position in a multidimensional social space (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). However, the working-class people are marginalized and are forced to have an unjust place in society by not only overt forces but also symbolic violence. For this reason, Bourdieu & Wacquant (1992) suggested, sociology should be employed as a combative tool to counter symbolic violence.

If what happens in the educational field practice is the cultural reproduction of social classes and inequality rather than the production or construction of knowledge and culture, as Bourdieu showed, education in this postindustrial society, portrayed by some progressive educationalists as based on autonomy, equal opportunity, and high social mobility, is merely a myth. This speaks significantly and powerfully of Freire’s radical political pedagogy of fighting against domestication. In other words, if Bourdieu’s sociology of education can offer a powerful tool to wake the political consciousness of the oppressed and to make every individual become sensitive to what is happening in the real world, then Freire’s radical ← 52 | 53 → political pedagogy can help them engage in a courageous action of transgressing symbolic violence.


Seeing not only illuminates a person’s real situation but also opens his or her mental horizon, and thus ignites action. Lu Xun’s literary work illustrates the most obvious facts of oppression. His insights make us realize that even today in China Ah Q merely takes different forms, but his peasant consciousness remains intact. For example, corrupt officials are a triumphant version of Ah Q while some poor and marginalized peasants still have similar agony of the soul and suffering of life as Ah Q experienced in Lu Xun’s time. Particularly, many people, including intellectuals, are alienated by corruption consciousness of power and money idolatry so severely that they are reluctant to act for a change but willing to make better use of the system to profit themselves. This is a common phenomenon in nearly all developing countries dominated by neoliberalist ideology. Bourdieu’s sociology, true to the situation in both developed countries and developing countries, reveals that the hidden areas that the working-class students are not aware that they are in a culture of silence under oppression through schooling. Both Lu Xun’s description and Bourdieu’s analysis will enrich and reinforce Freire’s radical political pedagogy. Admittedly, when the weak, poor, and marginalized are helped and supported to become empowered, they may pose a certain threat to the dominance of the strong, the rich, and the privileged, but the well-being of the whole social fabric will be improved and enhanced by justice and equality, this in turn will bring benefit and goodness to humankind because true freedom is built on a close interdependence between the autonomy of every individual and the emancipation of whole society.


Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (R. Nice, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Practice of Theory (R. Harker, C. Mahar, & C. Wilkes, Eds.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Bourdieu, P. & Wacquant, L. J. D. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Feng, Xuefeng. (1956). Lu Xun: His Life and Works. In Lu Xun Selected Works, Vol. 1 (Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, Trans.), pp. 9–31. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.

Freire, P. (1985). The Politics of Education (D. Macedo, Trans.). London: Macmillan.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of Freedom (P. Clark Trans.). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. ← 53 | 54 →

Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Freire, P. (2007). Daring to Dream: Toward Pedagogy of the Unfinished (A. K. Oliveira, Trans.). Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York; London: Routledge.

Lu, Xun. (1956). The True Story of Ah Q. In Lu Xun Selected Works, Vol. 1 (Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, Trans.), pp. 102–154. Peking: Foreign Languages Press.

Marx, K. (1973). Marx’s Grundrisse (D. McLellan, Ed. & Trans.). St Albans, Herts, UK: Paladin.

McLaren, P. (2000). Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

McLaren, P. (2015). Pedagogy of Insurrection. New York: Peter Lang Academic Publisher.

Roberts, P. (2000). Education, Literacy and Humanization: Exploring the Work of Paulo Freire. Westport, Connecticut; London: Bergin & Garvey.

West, C. (1993). Preface. In P. McLaren, & P. Leonard (Eds.), Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter (pp. xiii–xiv). London & New York: Routledge.

Westrheim, K. (2009). Education in a Political Context: A Study of Knowledge Processes and Learning Sites in the PKK. University of Bergen, Norway: Allkopi, Bergen.

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Migration, Racism, AND THE Mediterranean—A Freirean Perspective


For centuries, according to Fernand Braudel (1992), “exchange” was a prominent feature of life in and around the Mediterranean basin. In this day and age, exchange still exists but it takes on a different form. In terms of mobility of people, occurring “on a scale never seen before in history” (El Saadawi, 1992: 122), it would be amiss to consider exchange as occurring on a level playing field as some people are denied the right to asylum which was enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention. They have to negotiate huge barriers at the cost of risking life and limb. Neither do goods transfer freely in certain contexts as, for instance, Palestinians have to negotiate checkpoints in their own country while the non-Israeli products they carry are often confiscated. But it is in the movement of people from one part of the world to another that the major obstacles to mobility can be recorded.

While people crossing over from Latin America to the United States risk their lives traveling below the radar through sewers (see the 1980s film El Norte),1 those aspiring to travel to the colonial Eldorado of Western Europe have to negotiate, depending on their point of origin, hazardous routes including crossing the Sahara, unstable and anarchic Libya, with its various local militias and Isis militants preying on Christian migrants from Eritrea, etc., and then the Mediterranean Sea, seeking to survive, in the case of the last journey segment, in hardly durable dinghies. More than 20,000 people lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean divide over the last two decades with one of the worst tragedies occurring a year before the time of submission (April 2016), earning the Mediterranean Sea the appellation of a watery graveyard—around 1,100 people, including children ← 55 | 56 → and toddlers, drowned off the Libyan coast in what was dubbed the biggest tragedy in the Mediterranean since WWII (Mayo, 2016). It is this tragic situation that has led to collective grieving in the country one of us comes from, a frontier island (Malta) with respect to North Africa and the first port of call for thousands of immigrants, although boats have stopped coming of late owing to a secret Malta-Italy deal. This leads us to view the limits and possibilities of critical pedagogy in the context of migration. We argue that migration is the key issue confronting critical pedagogues, and in the case of one of the two authors (Mayo), the key issue in the part of the world where he lives and works. Paulo Freire, the subaltern voice who has spoken to, and continues to speak to, a subaltern pedagogical politics becomes a key source of reference in this context (Mayo, 2004).


This chapter is therefore written with this tragic contextual focus in mind. It draws material from a chapter of our book on adult education from a critical pedagogical perspective (English & Mayo, 2012). We seek to address aspects of this phenomenon, a feature of globalization’s intensification, interspersing the text with reference to Paulo Freire’s insights and those gleaned from other sources, especially but not exclusively from the critical pedagogy literature.


Many see migration as a key feature of the current intensification of globalization in an economic system that, since its origins, has demonstrated a globalizing tendency best captured in Marx and Engels’ statement, in the Communist Manifesto, that the search for new markets chases the bourgeoisie over all parts of the globe where it has to “nestle,” “settle,” and “establish connections” everywhere; the bourgeoisie “has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood” (Marx & Engels, 1848/1998, pp. 7–8). Add to this, the recurrent imperial tendency (imperialism marked an important stage of capitalism) to move southern populations at will, and the links among and between colonial/imperial legacies, the intensification of hegemonic globalization, and the migration from South to North, can be forged.

The reasons that compel people from primarily Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions to leave their homeland include the effects of Neoliberal Structural Adjustment programmes; civil wars fuelled by a Western-based arms industry, involving the sale of conventional weapons especially during the post-Cold War period; exacerbation of tribal conflicts often involving ← 56 | 57 → rape with the female victims being disowned by family; the attempt among women to avoid female genital mutilation; the fear of treading over mine and bomb infested areas in the wake of civil wars; the evasion of religious fundamentalism, which has taken on sinister forms with the emergence of first Al-Qaeda, and then Boko Haram, Shabab, and Isis, the latter recently displaying their ruthless hand in the “transit” country of Libya and tormented Syria. This will lead to even greater migrations from SSA and MENA in the upcoming years, as little intervention takes place to protect the thousands of victims involved, unless one can trade “blood for oil,” with Nigeria’s oil wells offering sickening possibilities here.2 There are also the negative effects which subsidies for farmers in Europe and North America can have on African farming; climate change and its negative ramifications (this will get worse in forthcoming years and be the cause of wars over diminishing resources in Africa); the spread of fatal diseases such as Ebola decimating families, tribes, and communities; an impoverished environment (the ransacking of Africa); a colonial ideology whereby West is presented as “the Best”; the quest for better employment opportunities … and one can go on, perhaps falling prey to western stereotypes and constructions of “Africa” (see Wright, 2012).

The shifting of Southern populations against their will has been standard European imperialist policy. Politics of this kind recur throughout history, being repeated over and over again and ending in tragedies.3 Southern and oppressed populations can be moved at will to suit imperial interests. It occurred with Africans during the slave trade periods; with the 1948 Nakba (Masalha, in Masalha & Gargour, 2009; Masalha, 2012) and later (Palestinians uprooted from their homeland); it happened during “operation bootstrap” involving the uprooting and dislocation of Puerto Ricans (Darder, in Borg & Mayo, 2007); it certainly happens with people from sub-Saharan and North Africa today. All are pawns in a game of chess played by predominantly Western powers, conditioned by the long term and deep-rooted legacies of their carefully engineered colonial, pre-independence, and post-colonial moves.


Migration is an important feature of countries such as Canada, the United States, and those of northern and southern Europe. What can be said of the Euro-Mediterranean region can be said of many desirable destinations in the world. As underlined at the 1997 Civil Forum EuroMed:

Immigration represents the emerging aspect, probably the most evident, of the wide process which characterizes more and more the whole planet—globalization. Migrations represent more than a phenomenon, a historical certainty that can be found today, though with different features, in all countries and, in particular, in the most developed ← 57 | 58 → [sic read: industrially developed]. Migration phenomena are becoming more and more important within the Mediterranean basin. (Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo, 1997, p. 551)

With Southern Europe witnessing mass scale immigration from North Africa, the Mediterranean has been perceived “a kind of Rio Grande” (Malabotta, 2002, p. 73). The “spectre” of the violent colonial process the “old continent” initiated has come back with a vengeance to “haunt” it (Borg & Mayo, 2002, p. 45; Mayo, 2016, p. 135). This process is facilitated by the economic requirements of highly industrialized countries with respect to certain types of labor and the consideration that these requirements cannot be satisfied by the internal labor market, despite the high levels of unemployment experienced within these countries (Apitzsch, 1995). Furthermore, the quest for low-cost labor by corporations and other businesses alike is a key reason for migration to occur not only across the Mediterranean but also across large swathes of territory around the globe. David Bacon (2008) posits that hegemonic globalization makes migration necessary, and yet the victims of this process are branded “illegal” and criminalized for partaking of this situation. They become victims of the “carceral state” (Giroux, 2015)—the state that places more emphasis on its repressive apparatus to “control” those who suffer from the excesses of the global neoliberal polices it accommodates (Mayo, in Simicevic, 2013). The state organizes, regulates, “educates” (the ethical state), creates and sustains markets, provides surveillance, evaluates (Gentili, 2005), forges networks, and represses. Behind the whole facade of consent lurks naked power which, in Mao’s famous words, lies in “the barrel of a gun.” There are situations in various contexts, context of origin, transition contexts, and settling contexts which need to be explored. And critical educators engaged in relevant critical education projects meant to be meaningful and empowering from a social justice perspective would ignore these contexts, including the previous ones, at their peril.

One of the challenges for critical education work with migrants, to emerge from this formulation, is that of enabling the migrants to read not only the world they now inhabit as immigrants but also the world they left and went through en route to their current context of abode and, hopefully, work. This entails an analysis of the conditions in the country of origin that led to the initial aspects of the subjectivity of the emigrant before leaving the context of origin and also the changes in subjectivity after settling in the new contexts, “borrowed” or “permanent.” As Apitzsch (2016) indicates, Gramsci’s work is relatively pertinent in this regard, especially his analysis of the Southern Question which impinges on migration of a potential labor force from South to North of the Italian peninsula. As Freire (1994) discovered, with respect to Brazil, the period of migration (exile in his case) presented an opportunity for a critical distancing from the world one once knew to “relearn” it (a favorite Freire term with respect to Brazil) in a more critical vein. The same applies to critical educators, engaged in western American ← 58 | 59 → states such as California, who work with economic migrants from their southern neighbor, Mexico.

Arguably one understands racism best when one witnesses it and reflects on its ramifications. Migrant guest workers (Gastarbeiter) in Switzerland enabled Freire, on his own admission (Freire, 1994), to begin to come “in contact with the harsh realities of one the most serious traumas of the ‘Third World in the First’: the reality of the so-called guest workers or … and their experience of racial, class and sexual discrimination” (p. 122). Freire goes on to indicate the fear of the oppressor as one of the challenges to be faced in this context in view of the high priority placed on the opportunity to work; no matter how exploitative the conditions are, the primary concern for work takes precedence over the concern for political mobilization to confront the exploitation induced by this process of mobility of labor power across national boundaries. This mobility involves, in most cases, a severance from one’s roots in view of the process of uneven levels of development that is a characteristic of the capitalist mode of production. Confronting the fear of oppression remains a key challenge here for progressive educators working with migrants. It remains a key challenge for progressive educators working in the countries that many of these emigrants left. This aspect of confronting can be painful, but it is also necessary.

Interlocked with race is the theme of social class solidarity. This too emerges in Freire’s writing on guest workers and migrants, with respect to a critical pedagogy confronting neoliberalism in an age characterized by increasing labor market segmentation on ethnic and national grounds. There is an important role for labor unions here. A process of workers’ education based on inter-ethnic class solidarity is one of the challenges facing labor unions in countries of the west which are increasingly multi-ethnic through the influx of immigrants. Writing about his experience of exile in Geneva, Freire refers to his encounters with immigrants in Switzerland:

Behaviour like this could reinforce today’s neoliberal discourse, according to which the social classes are vanishing. They no longer exist, we hear, in Freire (1994). Given the decrease in labor unions and the actual outlawing of government civil service unions in American states like Wisconsin, in 2011, one should pause to think of the ramifications for civil society.

Ironically, with regard to race and migration, receiving countries are the same countries that once witnessed mass waves of emigration. Ireland during the Irish Tiger (economic boom) of the late twentieth century experienced extreme racism against Eastern European immigrants, a situation new to the Irish, though they ← 59 | 60 → had been emigrating themselves for centuries. The shift from being exporters to importers of labor power stirred up latent racism with which they were ill equipped to deal. In combating xenophobia and racism in this context, one would do well to recall the plight of people from the receiving country, in this case Ireland, when settling abroad or in a more industrially developed region of the same country (e.g. Southern to Northern Italy).

The architectural and demographic landscapes of global cities are undergoing significant changes. Against this scenario, we are witnessing their transformation given that influences are coming in via immigrants’ ideas and practices, as well as through the all pervasive global media. The global exists alongside the local in a situation of hybridization. One can imagine, for example, Giotto’s campanile in Florence being juxtaposed against Macdonald’s “twin golden arches.” Furthermore, the cupolas of churches that, for centuries, were perceived as bulwarks of Christendom against Islam, now co-exist alongside minarets, yet not without some challenges.4 One remembers well the protests of New Yorkers and other Americans when a Muslim community tried to erect a mosque and community center near the site of the 2001 World Trade Centre bombings. The outrage and the racism were strong, spurred on by the right wing media’s fearmongering.

Despite cultural hybridization and peaceful co-existence in many states, xenophobia, and specifically Islamophobia, has become widespread. It can be argued that the historical roots for this form of racism can be found, among other places, in the anti-Islamic crusades by Christians, which left their mark in several locations in the Southern European region, becoming a feature of their so-called cultural heritage. Cultures that, for centuries, had been constructed as being antagonistic are now expected to co-exist within the same geographical space. Hybridization is proving to be a great challenge in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States where being Muslim is often equated with being a terrorist; Europe and the rest of the Mediterranean are no exceptions—“they think we are all Bin Ladens!” as a Syrian mother of a U.S.-based engineer told one of us. This becomes even more pronounced in Europe in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident and the more recent Paris and Brussels attacks which raise multiple issues for educators as now education is also being mentioned as a vehicle for greater security: education is once again the panacea for confronting larger social concerns including security, as indicated in an article by Tony Blair (2016), “We Are in Denial about Islam” published in The Sunday Times (U.K.) on Easter Sunday of that year. There is also the issue of grieving to be addressed here as educators need to question what conditions, social and otherwise, cause people to grieve collectively for victims of dastardly attacks in Europe and give short shrift to the hundreds of similar victims in countries such as Nigeria. We have heard a lot of statements to the effect that “je suis français” or “Parisienne” or “Charlie” but nothing to the effect that “We are all Nigerian.” Who is worthy of being grieved and who isn’t? Who has the right to ← 60 | 61 → live and who doesn’t? Who is disposable and who is indispensable? A recent talk by Judith Butler (2016) in Malta brought these questions back to mind, if they ever went away, months after one of us had posted them on his Facebook page in the light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and subsequent massacres in a Nigerian village by Boko Haram. There is a big challenge for education here, in enabling ourselves to transcend the limits of our Eurocentric thinking and socialisation.

One of the great challenges for educators, in this context, would be that of encouraging participants to cross their mental and cultural borders, to use Henry Giroux’s (1992) phrase. Crossing borders would, in this context, entail that one begins to understand something about the culture of others, religion included. Perhaps the most important feature of a critical and anti-racist approach to education, in this context, is that of developing a process of learning based on genuine dialogue that is regarded as the means to:

The various situations of conflict globally, which can cause tension in multi-ethnic societies, render it indispensable that one crosses boundaries in a variety of ways. If one takes as an example the Southern European regions of the Mediterranean, the majority of countries have traditionally been steeped in the Christian religion, mainly Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. In a truly multi-ethnic environment, it is imperative that knowledge of the different religions is provided in educational sites and other sites of learning. Similarly, the United States has been “founded” on Protestantism and claims its roots in northern Europe, despite being home to multiple indigenous societies and groups. There is always the danger then that one provides a caricature or finds only ONE way to narrate its national story, when the reality is much more complex. We need to trace our narratives back to their known beginnings and not from the arrival point of the “founding”/colonizing societies, thus becoming aware of invented traditions (Hobsbawn & Ranger, 1983). Efforts must also be made to unearth and divulge the hitherto overlooked or hidden subjugated knowledge/s which gives rise to different or more nuanced narratives—a more inclusive “archaeology of knowledge” (Foucault, 1982) is called for here. Our racism as people has been steeped in false narratives which have been nurtured and perpetuated, contributing to the construction of an “imagined ← 61 | 62 → community” in the recently deceased Benedict Anderson’s (1983, p. 6) terms. The study of different religions should therefore be approached with the utmost seriousness and best preparation possible, with special emphasis being placed on the educator doing justice to the different religions involved. A critical pedagogical approach is needed, wherever education is carried out, including courses for those involved in the mass media. This would be in keeping with the recommendations of the 1997 Civil Forum EuroMed: “Mass media are invited to present a correct image of religions or cultures resorting, where suitable, to experts on the matter” (Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo, 1997, p. 512). Sadly, with the rise of Fox News and far right media in North America, true experts are not often consulted and both racial and ethnic stereotypes are increased.

Misconceptions regarding Islam abound in the Western world. One only has to think of the actual fear of American citizens that their former president, Barak Obama, is Muslim to realize just how deeply embedded racism is in that context. Countries of the North Mediterranean, which are recipients of immigrants from Arab countries and such countries as Somalia, are also affected by fear of Muslims, much as many in the west were afraid of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. For greater conviviality and dialogue to occur between people of different ethnic background with different cultural and related knowledge traditions, an effort must be made to learn about others, to cross the boundaries of one’s social location and to obtain the necessary understanding and knowledge to be able to engage in a critical reading of widely diffused texts (e.g., media images, news packages, representations in film and documentary). This is necessary for one to be able to confront and regard as problematic the politics of misrepresentation that results from historically entrenched prejudices and deep-seated antagonistic dispositions.

Many countries of the West are confronted by a Eurocentric cultural heritage that reflects a colonial past, especially in former centers of colonial power such as Spain. As mentioned earlier, it reflects a past marked by crusades against the Ottoman Empire. A critical approach to education would enable its participants to engage critically with the region’s or country’s much acclaimed “cultural heritage” (“culture” not being used in the anthropological sense) and its politics of representation. Exotic and often demonic (mis)representations of “alterity” abound throughout this cultural heritage, “alterity” historically having been ascribed, in these areas, to a variety of people, including the “Saracen” who is regarded as the “Other” in the context of “Christian Europe.” The “Other” becomes the subject of a particular kind of construction, a form of Orientalism in Edward Said’s sense of the term (Said, 1978). It also denotes a sense of “positional superiority” (p. 7), also in Said’s terms, on the part of those who promote this particular conception. It is a demonization reminiscent of the French colonial construction, featuring in universities and based on so-called scientific proof (Fanon, 1963, p. 296), of the colonized in Algeria, and North Africa in general, so forcefully exposed by Frantz ← 62 | 63 → Fanon in his classic anti-colonial volume. It is the kind of pseudo scientific proof provided by the likes of Cesare Lombroso in Italy as a way to demonize southerners especially Calabrians (said to be prone to criminality not because of any social conditions but because of their physical, including mental, make up—sic). We can speak here of the construction of disposable waste beings, not worthy of preserving or of being grieved. A critical approach to education would entail one’s engaging critically with the politics of representation underlying different features of the artistic and historical heritage of the various countries in the Mediterranean. Similar portrayal of other peoples, be they indigenous or not, would also need to be challenged in the realm of popular culture. See Freire’s (2000) shocking discussion, included among the dispersed pieces, in Pedagogy of Indignation, around the cold-blooded killing of a Pataxo Indian in Brazil.

In introducing immigrants to popular culture traditions in the receiving country, one ought to be wary of the contradictions found within these traditions. They constitute narratives conditioned by and contributing to ethnic otherizing and prejudice, which, throughout history, have led to different forms of ethnic cleansing. These popular culture traditions therefore often contain elements that denigrate aspects of the immigrants’ own culture. An example here would be the Sicilian marionette shows featuring the Crusader knight and the predator, the latter often of swarthy complexion and representing the marauding “Saracen.” Films, and the literature, fictional or otherwise, that give rise to them, have long provided examples of disposable people, ranging from Blacks and indigenous to different types of women: the barmaid or prostitute can easily be disposed off in films while bourgeois “heroines” are saved by the occasional “prince charming,” thus surviving the trauma and nightmares of murderous monsters.

Cultural productions, at the popular level and at the level of so-called highbrow culture, can serve as codifications, in the sense intended by Paulo Freire (1970, 1993). In conceiving of such productions as codifications, we educators would enable ourselves, and those with whom we are working in the educational setting, to engage in a critical reading of our contemporary reality. The concepts that form part of our “common sense,” used in Gramsci’s sense of the term, can partly have their roots in our cultural and folklore traditions. Once again, they are concepts that have been accumulated over a long historical period.

We would like to dwell very briefly on one form of cultural production that has potential to serve as an educational tool that enables people to empathize with their fellow humans who have arrived from other shores. Drama is the form of cultural production we have in mind. Drama has been serving as an important educational and community-learning tool for several years. The work of Augusto Boal (1993, 2000) and other cultural workers in various parts of the world, which is well documented in the education and community studies literature, testifies to this. We would submit that drama can serve as a powerful pedagogical tool to ← 63 | 64 → foster greater inter-ethnic solidarity and understanding. One of us found quite instructive, in this regard, a dramatic representation to which participants at a 1998 conference on education in the Mediterranean, held at Sestri Levante, Liguria, Italy, were exposed (Mayo, 2004). It was carried out by a troupe of players from Genoa and involved a juxtaposition of situations concerning the harsh realities of migration, both past and present. The plight of Italians migrating to the United States, Argentina, and elsewhere, and of Italians from the South moving into the country’s Northern regions, was juxtaposed against that of Africans (including Arabs) and Eastern Europeans, with their personal narratives, moving into Italy. The scenes were poignant and quite revealing, based on a dialectical movement between past (a kind of “redemptive remembrance”) and present in the hope of a transformed and healthy multi-ethnic democracy.

To sum up, we would identify the following from among the many challenges to be faced by educators, especially those who live and work in countries that are nowadays recipients of immigrant labor:

Educators should not regard incoming migrant groups as “deficits”; the programs and experiences provided should be those in which the members of all ethnic groups involved, including the ethnic groups to which the educators belong, are conceived of as “subjects” and not as “objects.”

Educators should avoid developing programs that smack of what the Italians call assistenzialismo that often results in a form of “learned helplessness.”

Educators need to become “border crossers”: they need to begin to understand something about the culture of others, religion included.

Educators should be wary of not misrepresenting those constructed, as part of the hegemonic western discourse, as “other.”

Educators would challenge essentialist (à la Huntington, 1993) notions of immigrants, Islam(s), Arabs—all are much more variegated than the like of Samuel Huntington would have us believe, there being no pure cultures which, to the contrary, have flourished as a result of hybridisation. For instance, one should analyze seriously the relationship between Islam and modernity.

Educators should avoid romanticizing the cultures of immigrants—different forms of racism and tribal antagonisms can be found in their midst—oversimplifying situations can be equally dangerous.

Educators require a good understanding of political economy and knowledge of how the economic system segregates on ethnic and national lines.

Educators should encourage discussions regarding the meaning of workers’ solidarity and social solidarity more generally in this day and age and refrain from providing dangerous nationalistic meanings of this concept—class and capitalist exploitation knows no ethnic boundaries. ← 64 | 65 →

Educators should engage critically with the issue of alliances to challenge the currently much propagated false alliance between workers and management against the “competition.”

Educators in receiving countries need to recognize the contribution of others to the development of their own (educators’) claimed culture; this would include recognition of the contribution of non-European cultures to the development of aspects of what is termed “western civilisation.” The critical pedagogical approach should be one based on dialogue that entails listening and not mere hearing, which recognizes the power dynamics involved, since it is not a dialogue among persons who are equally positioned in the power structure. Who dialogues with whom and from which position (Wright, 2009)?

It should be based on confronting the politics of disposability be it human disposability or that of other species within the all encompassing cosmos—all are rooted in Nature and worthy of valorization, preservation, and grieving. A biodiversity approach to education is the desideratum here, in keeping with the holistic approach to education advocated as a result of the U.N. Sustainable Development goals.

Our discussion focused for the most part on the Euro-Mediterranean contexts (one of us was based, at the time of writing, in Central Europe, the other continues to be based in Southern Europe), more specifically, in the latter case, the Southern European context. This reflects the areas in which we are engaged in our education praxis. We are sure however that many of these ideas resonate with those of other educators engaged in anti-racist education in other parts of the world. Migration is a universal phenomenon which has occurred as long as people have existed on Planet Earth. Racism is a universal occurrence which takes different forms in different contexts; hence the contextual specificity of the arguments made here.


1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbfvnT40zZU

2. http://www.rt.com/news/223575-boko-haram-nigeria-usa/ ; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/may/09/behind-rise-nigeria-boko-haram-climate-disaster-peak-oil-depletion

3. And we would add, never in farce. Due apologies to Karl Marx (1907) concerning his famous comment, in a different context and on a different matter, that history repeats itself, first ending in tragedy and later in farce.

4. In places such as Spain, minarets and mosques had earlier been converted, after the so-called reconquista, into bell-towers or cathedrals/churches, for example, Seville, Cordoba, Valencia, while the opposite occurred in Ottoman and Turkish occupied territories, for example, Istanbul and Northern Cyprus. ← 65 | 66 →


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XII, 328
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XII, 328 pp., 3 b/w ill., 1 table

Biographical notes

Peter McLaren (Volume editor) Suzanne SooHoo (Volume editor)

Peter McLaren and <B>Suzanne SooHoo</B> are both professors in the College of Educational Studies, Chapman University and are Co-Directors of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project at Chapman. They serve as Honorary Co-Directors of the Center for Critical Studies in Education, Northeast Normal University, China.


Title: Radical Imagine-Nation