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Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich

[Via Trebor Scholz on iDC]: “…When we survey the current state of education in the United States, we see that most universities are … run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education — once conceptualized as a fundamental public good — has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means. Universities are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for individual autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.” Continue reading Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich by Henry A. Giroux, truthout.

On [iDC], Margaret Morse wrote:

Dear Trebor, Sergio and the IDC,

Thank you for bringing eloquent appreciations of Paolo Freire into our discussion of education. Posting to a listserve is still an act of will for me. I had to overcome a feeling of the banality of my experience in trying to apply Freire’s work to my own pedagogy, but I decided to enter the discussion anyway. What drew me to post was the minimal use of the word dialogue in Giroux’s op ed essay. It seemed to me that dialogic capacity was being treated as a given, a natural resource or even as a byproduct of striving for political agency. Furthermore, literacy of a sort is assumed in the pedagogy described. (FYI I have copied the instances in the text in which “dialogue” is used below.) However, I believe that this word is emphatically more productive and important for Freire than than the op ed essay implies. No word meant more to me in 1970 (re the 40th anniversary of the translation of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed into English) than “dialogue.” I won’t go into all the ways it was significant beyond my teaching. Freire (from afar) was one of several key figures in forging my understanding of what dialogue is.

How was I to apply a process to my university students that I imagined Freire to be addressing to more or less illiterate rural peasants and dispossessed peoples in a postcolonial situation? A key to making literacy meaningful as a goal was to bring the Brazilian students’ practical knowledge of their own rural/urban life worlds into dialogue with the teacher and each other students by bringing oral and visual literacy into play. By bouncing sources, formats and ideas against each other (my vast simplification) in discourse, what might seem immanent and god-given becomes contingent and symbolic, one point of view among many. It is an Aha! moment toward subjectification and critical agency. (Again, my reduction for the purpose of brevity.) Believe it or not, I found and have found over the years, that many university students have not had that Aha! moment. Of course, literacy (as the command of language in reading, but especially writing) is also an issue to some degree or other with a significant number of students in higher education. So, higher educators also need to go back to that fundamental situation of becoming literate in a way that promotes agency and being a subject in language.

Teaching entry level German — my first pedagogical task — is a good example of both parroting back what the teacher says and generating sentences that are fundamental to confidence and becoming a speaking subject: My name is… What is yours? I was born in… on…. My father is a….; my mother does…. My favorite things are…. etc etc Eventually we were having a dialog about the most intimate aspects of our individual identities and loving it. Getting a sentence out was an accomplishment. Everyone was thrilled. In my subject courses I developed a way of drawing out the things that students loved to do or were most curious about so that their writing could develop from that. I found I could reach struggling students and help them to greatly improve the quality and critical awareness of their work. However, I never found the appropriate stance for me to take as a dialogue partner. I tended to subordinate the expression of my own ideas and beliefs too much in my quest to further dialogue and avoid lecturing in the old sens. My untutored approach was in tune with the collective wave of the period. I actually needed to be a full partner rather than a mediator, etc. (As an aside, my graduate student peers and I succeeded via protest in rewriting the curriculum of our university department to reflect our own views on pedagogy and subject matter. This was not uncommon in that period. However, the teaching staff remained the same and uncomfortable in their new skin — and people don’t do what they should do, they do what they can do.)

It is obvious that the life world on which contemporary college students draw has little resemblance to the practical skills of indigenous and mixed-race Brazilians of 40 years ago. Social ilteracy is vastly complicated by as much as eased by the advent of list serves (the most traditionally literate format), FaceBook, Twitter, etc. My key to evaluating the degree of subjectivity and agency in the discourse of a particular show, format or medium was to analyze the specifics of intercourse in terms of “dialogue”. As I tried to explain in my work on television in the 1980’s and ’90’s, mediated direct address is not the same thing as dialogue between peers face to face. The differences are as specific as they are fascinating and troubling and at least partially enabling. I also think that dialogue is an encounter with otherness — and that social media as discursive communities are often tacitly formed around economic, racial and gender fault lines of the “same”, (Ditto lunch: Have you ever noticed the racial, gender and economic fault lines that appear when many U.S. student populations sit down to eat?) I could go on, but I am likely to be stating the obvious. My commitment to dialogue still fundamentally shapes my life, however near or far I strike from my goals. I felt a wave of emotion when I read the post on Freire — like seeing a bare root or a picture of where I lived 40 years ago.

Best,

Margaret
aka Maggie
University of California Santa Cruz


Nov 27, 15:24
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