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We have received many reactions to Issues for an Evaluation of Freire-inspired Programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. Some have acknowledged receipt and have promised a detailed response later on during the Summer. We are already in written or cassette-recorded dialogue with others. There are many personal items in the reactions to the essays. These we have opted to edit out, given the cost and time involved in requesting permission from all who wrote to us. Blanca will respond separately to everyone who has written. Please, bear with us. In the meantime, what follows is a representative group of the reactions we have received. Addresses are withheld on purpose, but you can request them from us should you want to enter into a direct dialogue with any of the persons quoted below.
After reading the piece several times I would like to share a few general comments.
Its major accomplishment seems to be breaking down what I have perceived to be a fetish of Freire by folks associated with Alternativas. Yes, you are asking good questions and searching for new avenues of work.
In attempting your critique of Freire you, necessarily and correctly, try to draw on another theoretical framework which will provide you with conceptual tools and methodology needed to assess the man's works. What I find very problematical is that you chose theorists such as Gouldner and Kolakowski to provide you with such a theoretical framework. I find this problematical because your writing does not reflect an understanding of Marxism, the theory which both of those authors criticize and ultimately use to construct new social theory. While you are clearly attracted to these and other authors for various reasons, your own theoretical framework does not appear consistent or cohesive. It seems to be a patchwork of attractive ideas and concepts drawn from these various authors. The reason, I would guess, that the theoretical coherence seems lacking is because you have not understood the foundations on which the authors construct their concepts and how their concepts interrelate or diverge.
The reason this is important is that it seriously weakens your analysis of Freire, its philosophical underpinnings, its political implications and methodological weaknesses. In moving from one chapter to another, I had a very difficult time grasping the logic of both the overall theoretical framework of the paper and the logic of each chapter. I would suggest you examine the wealth of literature coming from Latin America during the early 70's which provides a very consistent, theoretically grounded assessment of Freire, pointing out both his historical contributions and weaknesses. This is one point which has often confused me about Alternativas. While constantly stressing its Latin moorings, you have seldom drawn upon the most advanced pedagogical experiences in the world (at least I think so) which could be extremely useful in furthering your work.
I can only encourage to continue your pursuit of new theoretical and methodological foundations on which you and your colleagues can continue building a truly liberating education. (David Reed, Washington, D.C.)
Touching and refreshing. You manage at once to be most personal yet objective. That is for openers. I am re-reading and pondering now, hoping to write more fully about what you have said beyond the obvious. Importing ideas certainly stimulates review of one's own work at social change, but if the process and problems do not grow directly from the people facing the difficulty then sooner or later what has been imported will prove out of kilter with the objective situation. Your essay underscores that long ago observation. But there is more to what you have said, and I am still digging beneath your calm but penetrating style. It is one of the best essays on adult education I have read in months, and I find especially fascinating your early appreciation for Shor and the distance you seem to want to put between him and your work. This leaves me wondering, and so for this and other reasons I am re-reading. Expect to hear more later. (Frank Adams, North Carolina)
Your Freire report was a provocative and valuable achievement. I've been learning through the years -- and your excellent questions sharpen my own conclusions. Feeling disappointment is a luxury not to be dwelt upon. We must believe in our goals of a better world, not put too much trust in any particular leader or any particular method to reach that goal, and stay flexible and hopeful. We learn from Freire and from others. We try to apply that learning each in her/his own way. And I truly believe that every bit does help. Thanks for a fascinating document. I look forward to reading the responses. Your work was and is useful. (Lyla Hoffman, New York)
I am glad you cannot see my copy now. It is highlighted with yellow felt, arrows, lines, notes, etc., in the margin in red and the corners of pages turned back for quick reference. My husband is reading it now. Then it will go to my professor friend who gets most of your Alternativas. Your optimism and hope are refreshing. You have a clear, correct but brief description of the U.S. educational system and your kindness in saying it is to be commended. I especially appreciated your explicit discussions on "process." To pick out the one or two thoughts that I shall be using is hard. We are already measuring our activities in our home and immediate circles by asking "Am I acting as an oppressor?" Some around here call me a renegade and cannot understand how a former educator can get so deeply involved in politics! (Name withheld)
A very fine and most interesting essay (book-length, really). I am so pleased that you undertook this very extensive and difficult task researching into Freire's background and influence, successes and failures. All the new information interested me very much indeed. I trust your conclusions fully. Without pretending to give a scholarly reaction, may I simply speak informally about some of the thoughts I had while I read your work. I wonder, for example, if it is possible to maintain as a teacher (or facilitator) that you can teach without expressing knowledge which goes considerably beyond that possibly lying dormant within noneducated or scarcely educated individuals. Of course, the danger is ever-present that in teaching we might merely be imposing just yet another world upon the student which will "educate" her/him not for a rightful share of social and economic benefits, but for the advancement of the dominant classes. However, it seems to me that unless those who educate can be reasonably certain they are working towards an equitable, workable system in the first instance, their effort can amount to little more than the blind leading the blind. I will go so far as to say that we are playing with a kind of anarchist romanticism if we think that "education" can ever be free of indoctrination. In teaching, as in making revolution, I have come to believe, what distinguishes persons is not so much the means as the end. And it is upon that unromantic admission that I think I will rest my case. What you have found about Guinea-Bissau is truly an eye-opener: a reminder to all of us "would-be revolutionaries" of understanding the complicated and critical nature of local conditions before we can pronounce a prescription for change. It is really sadly interesting that Freire has not openly discussed his mistakes. With respect to those he chose to ally himself with and with regard to the methods which were bound for failure considering local conditions. I fully concur in your judgment of so much of the self-actualization movements in this country (and in the rest of the Western world, I assume). It is surely a luxury that only those who are not hungry can indulge in. And while I don't believe that Freire is guilty of confusing such a selfish search for fulfillment with his concept of conscientization in this culture even well-intentioned individuals are likely to make such a mistake if they have not learned to recognize the limits of the lore of individualism. (Renate Taylor, Virginia)
I was very impressed. It's the first book length work on or by Freire that I have been able to complete since Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The jargon level is much lower and the direct personal communication level much higher than anything else I've ever read on the subject. I have read and studied Gouldner and share some but not all of your respect for his approach. (John Ohliger, Wisconsin)
I must admit that I have fundamental differences with your interpretation of Freire, and your support for Gouldner's theory of intellectuals. Actually, Gramsci's theory of the role of organic intellectuals seems to me to be a fundamentally more productive starting point theoretically. Moreover, the more recent work on developing oppositional public spheres (German theory, Aronowitz's work in the U.S. plus my own modest contributions) takes off from or rather builds on Freire's work in a way that points to new forms of radical theory and practice. I will write this summer. (Henry Giroux, Ohio)
An insightful and critical analysis of Freire's work. The bibliographic references -- especially to the work of Harasim and Pereira Paiva -- alone would have made your work invaluable. I learned much from your reflections and am left with far more questions than I had before receiving your manuscript. Thank you for that. For the past eight months I've been working on a manuscript for a book on higher education and the urban poor, looking at the means and conditions under which colleges and universities can support community initiatives. Part of that work is a reflection on Universidad Popular's experiences with the City colleges of Chicago. I expanded that part into a separate history of Universidad Popular. You'll find it far less "negativistic" -- at least in its conclusion.
Interestingly, at Universidad Popular today the standards which you found to be idealistic now seem both realistic and realizable. In 1980, concern for the "failure" of most liberatory programs was a response to their overconfident linkage with traditional institutions which could either coopt them or destroy them depending on the degree to which such alternatives addressed a political agenda. There were, even then, exceptions to this pattern -- Project Literacy, for example -- that began and have remained independent. Happily, Universidad Popular is now one of the exceptions.
The questions you pose in your monograph about social movements with which Latinos can be aligned is crucial. I agree fully with your distrust of "transformationalists" (although I was not aware this is as widespread as you indicate) and with your description of the alienating features of many so-called social movements. Clearly the "formando una visión" of the '81 IRCEL Conference is a new movement created by and for Hispanics in North America. The educators I'm in touch with increasingly see the creation of such a movement as a task already begun -- not, as you reiterated, an educational task, but a human task both grounded in and transcending local politics. Thank you for continuing the work you began several years ago -- mainly for keeping all of us in touch with each other. (Thomas W. Heaney, Illinois)
I would be happy to review Linda Harasim's dissertation on Freire's involvement in Guinea-Bissau. Regarding your request of a comparison between Freire's ideas and those of the "transformationalist" movement, I plan to write an essay on this theme over the summer. (Carlos F. Ortega, California)
Thank you for your astonishing book....Your book is the definitive statement on Freire in the USA and it is much more profound than anything else on the subject. It certainly helps me place my experiences in Southern Illinois in a far more meaningful context. (Tomás Kalmar, Massachusetts)
We were very pleased to see that you published your conclusions about Freire in a responsible manner, as a collective expression of those of us who, in the past, considered that Paulo Freire did offer a liberating and politicizing educational alternative, but who soon concluded that something was missing. It is good that you demand from him the serious, public explanation he owes us regarding Guinea-Bissau. The essay is a contribution valued by those of us who have not had the time or opportunity to obtain information to explore our doubts on Freire. It now seems that these have a reason to exist. We had not found in his writings a solid political base. The essay offers us a guide with which to continue our analysis. Perhaps in the near future we could organize a small study/discussion group to explore the subject. The essay is a valuable contribution to advance our dialogues on the need of a philosophy and educational method for the liberation and decolonization of oppressed and colonized peoples. (Antonia Pantoja, California)
Considering that you intended to bring about some issues for an evaluation of Freire-inspired programs, I honestly believe that you have succeeded on that. Your report is a mandatory reading to anyone who is going, for whatever reason to evaluate an alternative adult education program. On the other hand, community action practitioners should seriously consider sitting down to discuss many of the issues that you have raised. A few suggestions: In Section 1, add something about what Freire has been doing in the 80's. He seems to be quite active (in a different way, though.) Section 2 should be expanded to say how Freire is seen in Latin America, where people are Catholic by birth (being so in Latin America is quite different from being Catholic in North America.) In Section 7 you could have enhanced the text with views from field workers and Freire himself since they are reachable. (Elio DeArrudah, Illinois).
I read the essay with great pleasure. It is the first time that I am in contact with a U.S. based writing on the utilization of Paulo Freire's ideas which confronts specific issues faced when engaged in educational work with adults in poverty areas in the U.S.; a writing which is not centered on universities. I am glad that all of you seem to question a set of ideas that were disseminated once as if they constituted "the truth," given from heaven, instead of, as actually happened, their constituting a product of a specific set of circumstances at a given moment. It is important to struggle against myths in order to be able to think as free humans. I am sure that "Issues..." has contributed to this important task in the U.S. environment. In general, I am in agreement with your reading of my work and would only add clarifications on pages 3, 5 and 6 [section 1]: page 3, Educaçao e atualidade brasileira was not a doctoral dissertation; page 5 seems to confuse levels which should be kept separate such as "ideological production" and "the political forces which are present." Although the former crush the latter at the end, there are complex relations among them. While intellectuals were discussing the adjustment of old ideas and beliefs to the country's new realities, the government was interested in rapidly increasing the number of registered voters who could help in approving reforms via plebiscitary action. For intellectuals, including Freire, conscientization occurred before political action. Professional politicians saw conscientization as occurring "with" and great measure as a consequence of political action. Our politicians have their feet firmly on the ground. Regarding page 6, I would say that ISEB's influence in Freire is not only seen in his footnotes but also in his entire analysis. (Vanilda Paiva, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil)
I really appreciated finding new sources on Freire and some familiar ones and hope to be able to contact them. I have mixed feelings about your work: you punctured the bubble of Freire's invincibility, by tending to agree with people like Griffith, whom I have disagreed with out loud since 1975 in regard to Freire. OK, I can acknowledge some 'naive' character in Freire which to me in his idealism is also part of his beauty, but to take one author/researcher's (Harasim) work and say that Freire and the project were a failure in Guinea-Bissau is giving too much weight to too few persons in research conducted in a time of their national upheaval. Think of the courage of Freire and IDAC and the World Council of Churches to undertake the project at all against impossible odds. I will look forward to re-reading Freire's Pedagogy in Process related to this. In regard to `Why did not Freire tell us?', have you asked him? Maybe he would respond in his busy schedule to 'Issues...' Paulo did not know all the results of his work there and is a humble man, etc. so I see some reasons why he would neither pump up nor play down his work there. (... ) I think the World Council on Churches pressure was on Freire to do such a project and having interviewed Darcy, I know there were many willing helpers on the Geneva end ready to go. (... ) I think it worked to get the seeds planted in a nation being formed after colonial rule ended. Another dimension you have given limited attention to is the oppression within the Freire-type projects, that is against what Freire intends. I think Paulo gets criticised for this when others are responsible, the "Freirizers." First hand I have seen in some of the projects how anti-dialogical, anti-creative action and downright oppression of students and teachers has taken place. Awh yes, we are human, but this dimension needs to be recognized, repented, forgiven (yes, Christian to the core) and departed from. I am mostly excited about the dialogue that has started among followers, critics and on-lookers. This is a beginning. (Donald C. -- Don -- Thompson, California )
The essay is enormously interesting. It is written with clarity and lets the reader know ahead of time where it is leading him, and so the reader becomes engaged with you in a journey. I am 'comfortable' reading it. It is very scholarly and yet written in a personalized way. Although I am not a feminist I am thinking only a woman could have written this discussion of the variations between theory and practice with such a global perspective. So much for the kudos. You start right out talking about Freire's dichotomy, and the tangent I want to explore is thinking about that as a polarized view of the world. You say his refusal to face the agonizing decisions (p.27)... I say his inability to. You say Alinsky describes the way of things as they are and Freire describes them as he think should be. I say no, each has a different world-view, and so each describes things as they are according to his own habitual world-view. I think people are generally always consistent in everything they do, the way they walk, the way they talk, the way they think. Instead of (p.25) "He looks at these leaders to confirm his theory..." I would say: he confirms the leaders according to his world-view; his perception of them is congruent with his world-view, which is polarized. I think everybody holds polarized views or opinions from time to time, but Freire's thinking seems more consistently set. (... ) A polarized person will set up his beliefs congruent with his view. And when reality doesn't fit this polarized view, he will then invent or find a new rationale to explain his position, and it begins to sound nuts -- like the last paragraph on p 25. More rational people will then become puzzled by the 'inconsistencies' of the polarized person when actually that person is being very consistent to his way of thinking. (Marge Williams, China, Maine)
It set loose provocations in my mind. (Hilton Power, Auburn, Maine)
The document poses many questions for me. I'm in the library this very minute trying to locate additional information. Some chapters have turned, for me, into personal challenges. Too early for me to make further comments. Must re-read the document. (Loretta Rice, North Carolina)