Paulo Freire Kooperation - 30 Years after Pedagogy of the Oppressed


by Joachim Dabisch

In Germany, Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed grew popular in the late 60s. It was a time of awakening when the students’ movement rediscovered the almost forgotten classics of Marxism. The critical theory of the Frankfurt School that Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno had developed became the focus of all political debates of the time. Herbert Marcuse’s book One-Dimensional Man gave new impulses to the movement. Right and left wings differed widely: positivism, or positive thinking in general, was a matter for yes-men, for hangers-on, for right wing fellow-travellers whereas Marcuse vehemently defended „negative thinking“ as the one and only approach of socio-critical relevance.

The fathers of the revolting students of 1968 had been combatants at war and largely hangers-on of the Nazi regime. Although the first post-war governments in the Federal Republic of Germany were not Hitler’s successors, they had only partially materialised the people’s hope of a free and democratic Germany. There were numerous areas in which authoritarian structures had been restored or had solidified. And when the former Nazi Hans Georg Kiesinger even became chancellor of the Republic the critical youth lost faith in the self-healing energies of the still young de-mocracy. Swarms of young people joined the anti-authoritarian movement spearheaded by the Socialist German Student Society (SDS, Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund).

At the time, German pedagogy had hardly produced educational-ists to accompany the inner rebellion of the youth against the pre-vailing conditions. The slogan “they’ve got nothing but the stale smell of a thousand years under their gowns” („Unter den Talaren der Muff von tausend Jahren“) revealed their attitude to-wards universities. It referred to the absolutely encrusted status quo at the universities in which the outdated appearance of pro-fessors had taken on a symbolic character. And educational sci-ence was as affected by the pre-democratic conditions.

At the same time, the students became involved in the affairs of far-away continents such as China’s cultural revolution, the socio-revolutionary movements in Latin-America, and especially the socialist revolution on Cuba, the US war in Vietnam or the feudalistic structures in Persia. All these tendencies were discussed in innumerable seminars even against the teachers’ will.

In those years far-reaching reforms of the educational system set in Germany. It was to be re-shaped in a way that all pupils could be granted quality schooling. The re-shaping of the curriculum in favour of equal opportunities, more say and emancipated thinking was initiated. And it were especially Paulo Freire’s writings that were debated and partially adopted in the process.

The universities increasingly discussed how a democratic educa-tional system consisting of as many emancipated components as possible could look like. Since socialist schooling in Eastern Europe comprised rather authoritarian components the students turned to the socio-revolutionary leaders and socio-reformers of the Third World to inquire. To the student pedagogues Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed seemed to be the key to a critical view of the world: the author did not come to a halt once he had analysed the status quo but went beyond and provided a (pedagogical) guide on how to change the world.

Paulo Freire’s pedagogy designed numerous educational models that all aimed at social change. One exemplary model was a one-phase teacher training course at the newly founded Carl-von-Ossietzky-University of Oldenburg. In practice-based projects, the subject-matter was largely discussed, taught and applied in an al-most equal atmosphere among teachers and students. First class-room experience was integrated into the academic course of study in contrast to the former regular and rather fossilised internships. The students were inspired and maintained a high professional motivation even many years after they had graduated. And there were many other groups or individuals who integrated Paulo Freire’s ideas into their work such as German Kindergartens who started to introduce his situation approach that encouraged the children to incorporate their own views of the world. In the East-German state Brandenburg the school subject “Social values and standards” (LER: Lebensgestaltung-Ethik-Religionskunde) - a substitute for religious instruction – was also derived from Paulo Freire’s pedagogy.

In Zurich/ Switzerland young Italian immigrants attended the Vocational School for Immigrants that worked with Freire’s pedagogy. In French and German speaking Belgium, the Peace University in Namur has translated many of his ideas into practical peace work. In Germany and Austria a close network among Freinet reformatory pedagogues has developed. Beyond that, there are abundant links to the „independent schools“ especially those of the Montessori movement. The Roman-Catholic Youth Academy Cologne-Walberberg has been working with Freire’s methods for many years. The sheltered workshop in Hamburg on the Elbe carried out a project entitled “Everyone can learn” („Lernen können ja alle Leut’“) in which mentally handicapped people learned to read, write and do arithmetic. This project be-came well-known and the North-German film producer NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) broadcast a filmed report of its suc-cess. Freire pedagogues have been presenting their work on Prot-estant Church conventions for many years now. A network of socio-political study groups in Munich supported Paulo Freire’s study group from a developmental angle for numerous years - work from which the Paulo Freire Society (Paulo Freire Gesellschaft e.V.) emerged that chiefly does Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed approach pronounced service. The list of these ap-proaches for the German speaking parts of Europe could be con-tinued much further. And the abundance of projects in other European nations prove that even today, 30 years later, Paulo Freire’s philosophy is still alive.

Against 30 years of studying Paulo Freire’s life work, the Carl von Ossietzky University  in Oldenburg has established a Freiran research focus. Just shortly before Paulo Freire’s death, he was awarded the honorary degree of doctor by the university’s De-partment of Education. This award was to mark the starting point of a closer co-operation with the renowned pedagogue and to trigger ongoing reflection on how to translate his pedagogy into practice. In the meanwhile, Paulo’s widow Ana Maria Freire has become the negotiator between his home country Brasil and the University of Oldenburg.

These mutual efforts have led to an independent academic soci-ety, the Paulo Freire Co-operation (Paulo Freire Kooperation e.V.) that serves as a mediator among the various areas of research that are subsumed under the term “Freiran Pedagogy”. In co-operation with pedagogues from all over the world the different aspects of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy are adopted and his dialogical methods and his ideas on social and individual change are deepened.

Paulo Freire’s far-reaching reflections were brilliant but unlike one would expect from a pedagogue never of normative character. His ideas were open to objections and definitely not complete. He let contradictions arise and at the same time defended peace and justice vehemently. Pedagogy of the Oppressed was an accusation against all oppressors of the Earth since it was both in favour of the oppressed and a sign of faith in the future to never allow discouragement. Pedagogy of Hope then developed from this work. Paulo Freire’s pedagogy is hope for the downhearted people in so many countries of the world seeking a life in dignity; for the politicians in the poor and rich states to meet their responsibilities; for the people in rich nations to be careful that their wealth does not end up in a cesspit of failed humanitarian aid and wrecked life conditions.

With Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire has left codes and signals in pedagogy that cross every frontier of language and cul-ture no matter in which corner of the earth. Wherever oppression and injustice become unbearable his books are passed on and read and wherever people live in contentment and wealth Freire’s thoughts show the way to dialogue and collegiality, to a One World.