In mid 1987, a friend of mine, Helen Modra, who takes a keen interest in educational theory and practice, told me about an essay that gave a critique of Freire-type methods. I expressed interest. She asked, "Would you like me to make you a copy? I'd be happy to, since I know you wouldn't use it to attack Freire."
The name Paulo Freire was familiar to me, as it would be to anyone who has read very much in the literature on the critique of education. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed and other writings are widely known and have formed the basis for numerous practical initiatives, not to mention academic seminars and scholarly papers. Freire years ago was 'adopted' by Western left-wing educationists, and often treated as a guru or patron saint.
Thus I obtained a photocopy of a photocopy of the essay by Blanca Facundo on Freire-inspired programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. On reading it, I soon realised that here was an analysis that deserved wider circulation and readership. Facundo took Freire, and the implications of his theory and practice, extremely seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she was not content to praise him uncritically like so many others. Her practical experience with Freire-type methods, and their apparent limitations, stimulated her to go back and study the origins and other applications of Freire's ideas and as well to reflect deeply upon her own experience and that of other activists like herself.
The result is an extremely powerful essay that should be a model and inspiration for others. I especially recommend the section entitled "Who are we?", with its courageous analysis of the social position of her own peer group.
There are some who say -- almost always privately -- that it is wrong to expose so much 'inside information', since it may be damaging to the proponents of progressive and revolutionary educational practices. I totally disagree. If there is any hope of going beyond the shortcomings of the established system, it must include an honesty and openness to shortcomings in the alternative. How can there be real dialogue without exposing unpleasant truths?
Blanca Facundo's essay was completed in 1984. It is still highly relevant and it will remain relevant for many years to come, since it deals with the basic issues of how political/educational practices arise, how they are adapted to local circumstances, and how activists may mislead themselves about what they are accomplishing.
The essay focusses on experiences in the United States and Puerto Rico. Its relevance is much wider, and indeed encompasses the general dilemma of transferring theories and methods developed in one cultural and political context to a quite different one.
The original circulation of the essay led to a number of responses, some published in the newsletter Alternativas and others communicated directly to Facundo. Those that are available for publication are collected here. I invited Robert Mackie, a prominent expert on Freire, to write a critical assessment of Facundo's essay, and he kindly did so. Facundo wrote a response. I tried to arrange publication of all these materials in 1988, but this was stymied by certain problems, which now, a decade later, can be overcome by using the web. I am also pleased to include an essay by John Ohliger as well as his excellent bibliography of criticisms of Freire.
This material is part of my web site on suppression of dissent, though perhaps it might better described as a case study in the difficulties of dissent. Certainly it is quite a challenge to criticise a figure who has attained the status of a guru. There can be repercussions too.
Rather than try to update and generalise the essay, it has been left almost entirely in its original form. Some corrections and changes in expression have been made, and a few new references and addresses have been included. Junelee Pradhan converted the text to digital form. The essay was the product of particular experiences and circumstances -- which are well explained in the essay itself -- and it should be read and understood as part of that context. The wider implications are there for the reader to interpret and take up.
It is my hope that publication of these materials will lead to further dialogue in all sorts of locations and situations. There would be no more fitting tribute to the efforts of both Freire and Facundo.
Brian Martin, January 1998
Go to Blanca Facundo's essay
Go to comments on Facundo's essay from Alternativas.
Go to Robert Mackie's article.
This document is located on the
Suppression of dissent website
in the section on Documents
in the subsection on Facundo on Freire