The Legacy of Paulo Freire. Interview with Kevin Kester

All people have the capacity to make informed and substantial decisions, and that the titles of teacher and learner were misguided, as both had distinct knowledge, and all knowledge needed to be valued and shared to build a stronger community.

On the occasion of the launch of Development 53.4 'Education for Transformation' Assistant Editor Laura Fano Morrissey talks to Kevin Kester, Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Communication and Culture at Linton Global College, Hannam University. Kevin is an associate of the Transformative Learning Centre at the University of Toronto OISE and civic education programmes at Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University, and Yonsei University.


LFM: What is the link, according to Freire, between democracy and education?

KK: The educational system and classroom environment prepare learners for the social and political culture ultimately desired and manifest in broader society. To generate democratic societies our education must be democratic, and learners need to be active throughout the entire process of their education, including substantial decision-making in relation to what and how they learn. Freire argued this type of pedagogy would support the development of active citizenship, societies, and cultures of peace. He believed that all people have the capacity to make informed and substantial decisions, and that the titles of teacher and learner were misguided, as both had distinct knowledge, and all knowledge needed to be valued and shared to build a stronger community. This view is quite counter to paternalistic education that omits learners from course design for fear they know not how to structure their lives in relation to education. Participatory democracy is a similar discourse. Freire emphasized the intregral connection between education, politics, and social change. 


LFM: What is the difference between popular and peace education?

KK: The greatest distinction between these two fields of education is the site of education, peace education programmes take place within the establishments of formal education (primary and secondary schools and higher education facilities), whereas popular education is community based and takes place in public spaces (parks, community centers, religious institutions, etc). They share a common goal, however, of working with and for the disenfranchised. Educators subscribing to these two schools promote nonviolence. Whereas popular educators promote change towards nonviolence through organized action and social movements, peace education seeks to weave into the social fabric the attitudes, values, behaviors and skills that would foster a culture of peace. In other words, popular education works towards mitigating contemporary issues on the streets, while peace education is a preventative measure in schools systems aimed at attitudinal and behavioral transformation. These complimentary fields are fraternal twins born of the same aspiration for a peaceful world - a world, as Freire says, in which it will be easier to love.


LFM: What is the difference between learning and educating?

KK: Educating refers to transmitting knowledge for a systematic purpose, within a specific structure, identified by entities in a position of power, and implemented by a trained staff in a fixed location. From the parking lot to the classroom, every aspect of this system is carefully manufactured. Learning, on the other hand, which I refer to as transformative learning, is growing and analyzing everyday moments, facilitated through critical questioning and personal reflection. While learning may happen in the formal education setting, it is not limited to that setting, and sometimes formal education purposefully limits the transformative potential of critical questioning and personal reflection to ensure that the purposes of systematic education are attained. Let me explain it in this way: imagine a matrix of three intersecting lines, one vertical, one horizontal, and another diagonal. Most educators are familiar with the first two; they represent lifelong and lifewide learning, or in other words the time and space in which people accumulate knowledge and skills. We often think of this time and space as adolescents in school, youth in university, or adults in workplace learning and community centers. The third, the diagonal line, the more revolutionary of the three, is significant in that it signals lifedeep learning, those rare moments of personal and social transformation in our lives, in which we come to see the world through new eyes. This is transformative learning.


LFM: What is the main legacy of Paulo Freire?

KK: Paulo Freire shared an alternative vision of education based on values of inclusion, empowerment and love. I understand his pedagogy to be a practice of love, revolutionary love for all. He encouraged learners to examine life, and develop understanding of anthropology, ecology and psychology. His pedagogy is not static dogma to be generalized into a set of methods, rather he advocates that people need to recognize the humanity in each other, and that education needs to be relevant to the context in which it takes place, and relevant to the actors participating in the learning. In numerous countries under circumstances of violence and oppression, people employed Freire's educational concepts to promote peace and social justice. In a view of common humanity, Freire's teachings demonstrated that the oppressed are not in opposition to the oppressors but that they are two halves of a whole who must work together to transform conflict and ultimately humanity. This is only possible through genuine love. In fact, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed the word 'love' is written nearly 40 times. And in his epitaph to himself Freire repeats the word three times. Freire genuinely loved and had great faith in the human family. His legacy rests in profound concepts of life, learning, and love.