WinkWorld July 2002Introduction
Paulo Freire graced the CABE convention in 1993. During his keynote address, he spoke passionately of the transcendent power of teaching and learning. In the spirit of the eternal hope necessary in education, we share portions of Freire's address here with you. Please remember that this was given to a very large audience, in which he spoke, to a high degree, without notes. During the presentation, the audience was extremely attentive, and Paulo Freire connected with many. After the presentation, he shook hands and greeted individuals and listened to the individual CABE members.
Heather O'Hearn has provided the exact transcription for us, and we thank her. What we are sharing here is not the exact transcription, although it is very close. We have changed some sentence structure to facilitate the meaning in English. We also want to remind readers that Paulo Freire spoke other languages, in addition to English. This presentation was given in English, although it was not his primary language.
If you intend to use any of this in your own writing, please cite CABE and/or this website. If you are in doubt about an exact quotation or paraphrase, we will be happy to assist you.
In what follows, we have added the subtitles.
There is no possibility for teaching without learning. As well as there is no possibility of learning without teaching.
My friends, first of all it is a pleasure for me to be here. It is a pleasure to say something about education to you. Of course I have had in my life, experiences all over the world in talking to such a quantity of people, but from time to time, I feel as if I am lost.
I ask myself: What can I say? Sometimes it is good to say to the young people, that a man like me with many experiences of speaking and writing, also sometimes does not know what to say and even becomes afraid. Right now, for example, I am afraid and it is good to acknowledge this.
I asked my wife when we were coming. You know, I feel like I am forgetting about the things which I taught in San Paulo.
"Why don't you speak about teaching and learning?" she said.
I will talk about the difficult task of teachers and learners here [in the US].
The first point I want to make is that there is no possibility for teaching without learning. As well as, there is no possibility for learning without teaching. The two tasks are so united and so contradictory also. It is absolutely impossible to teach without learning and to learn without teaching. Let us try to think about this kind of relationship. How is it possible to dichotomize them [teaching and learning]?
The Teacher, The Learner, The Content
What Is The Role of the Teacher?
Teaching Is Not A Neutral Process
A Progressive Teacher
The Opposite of A Progressive Teacher
If you ask the first kind of teacher, the progressive teacher, "What do you mean by teaching?" and if you ask the second [kind of] teacher, we will have different, contradictory, antagonistic responses.
It Is the Love of the Progressive Teacher
What is Required of Progressive Teachers?
Teaching: Research-based and a Political Choice
Another condition [requirement] of [progressive] teachers is that they recognized that we are always becoming, because we never just are. We are always becoming.
[However] the first condition for us to become a good teacher is to be sure that in spite of all, in spite of the school, in spite of the experience of all the other teachers, when students come to us, [we need to realize] that they already know many things. Unfortunately, we are [sometimes] bureaucratized by the institution. We assume that before entering schools, students know nothing. It is assumed that the only place for us to know is only in school. We assume that the knowledge of the streets is not important. To think this is a terrible mistake.
When kids come to school, they are already able to read the reality. Before reading the words, kids already read the world. The first condition of being humble is to begin to understand the finality [importance or primacy] of our task as teachers. We have many things to do. We need to discover that in teaching, we learn.
By teaching, I learn how to teach. It is fantastic that there exist the possibility for me to know much better what it means to teach, precisely because I am teaching. In eating, I learn how to eat and what to eat. In teaching, I learn, first of all, how to teach, but secondly, I learn much better what I am teaching. Why? Because of course we can only teach what we know.
Can you realize the contradiction of someone teaching something that he or she does not know? It is impossible; never the less, we have many examples of this.
At the moment, I am teaching something I already know. When I teach what I know, to students, who supposedly do not know, I am also teaching to the curiosity of the students. Their curiosity teaches me. It teaches me to re-know what I already knew.
Is it clear? It is not a mechanical process. It is a dialectical process.
To Become Wet with the Waters: Knowing and Memorizing
Knowing is not a question of memorization. It is a question of acquiring the object. [Sometimes], we try to memorize first, in order to know secondly. This is the way some students do for tests. I will memorize it today, and tomorrow maybe I can write about it. Next week I will know nothing.
Knowing is something different. It is kind of an adventure. Knowing is a reinvention of the object being known. It is a re-creation. It is a mutual process of teaching and learning. The more the teacher refuses to learn with the students, the less the teacher teaches.
The Passion of Teaching
No Fried Eggs at 3 O'clock in the Afternoon: An Example of Bureaucratization of the Mind
"I am sorry, but it is not time for breakfast," the young woman very politely said to me.
"But look," I said, "I love fried eggs, English muffin, orange juice and coffee. If I can't have breakfast at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I would like to ask a favor of you. Please go to the boss and say to him that there is here a Brazilian professor who loves eggs. My question to him is whether there is in the American constitution anything which prevents us from eating eggs at 3 p.m. If there is no such thing, then I insist I want to eat fried eggs. It is simple. You cannot deny m my eggs only because it is no longer time for breakfast. Please do that."
And she went, and in 5 minutes she came back smiling. She said that the boss said nothing in the US constitution which says that you can't have fried eggs at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Fortunately, the young woman and the boss were not totally bureaucratized. This is for me a beautiful example of the human perspective. The example [demonstrates] that even if/when there are structures of society which work to bureaucratize the minds, there is always the possibility for us to be saved.
I only needed to ask the question. The young woman and the boss were touched by the challenge of the question. Maybe they realized that there is no such an item in the constitution, and at that moment they became again human beings and not machines. It is for me a fantastic example.
My friends, please don't allow yourselves to fall into the trap of bureaucratization of the mind. React against it so that you to may continue to be human.
Another Example of Bureaucratization of the Mind: The Schedule is Greater than the Speaker
"I am supposing that I am to stop?" I said to her.
"Yes," she replied to me.
"I will obey. I will stop. Nevertheless before stopping, I have something I have to tell you," I replied to her. Then, I spoke about the bureaucratization of mind. I made another speech, maybe 15 minutes more.
Look, don't think I am against principles, against discipline, against order. Without these things, we have nothing. However, we are greater than the time which we organize. If we don't do that, we become machines. Please don't do that.
When I had finished the [extra] 15 minutes, I said that the organization paid for very expensive tickets to bring me. Do you see the irony? First, when they asked me, they invited [only] me. Nevertheless, I told them that I don't travel alone. I have to go with my wife. Secondly, it is not a bourgeois demand, it is a question of survival. I am seventy-one years old. I am not a tourist. I am a thinker. When the bourgeois created first class, the bourgeois did not know what she was doing. It is a fantastic way to travel. Finally, I told them, you have to pay me because I am not ashamed to receive money because if I don't receive money, I cannot eat.
Freedom and Risk
Education is Testimony
A NOTE TO THE READERS At the end of the speech, hundreds stayed to get his autograph. A woman organizer kept trying to get Freire to leave the large banquet room. He would not leave, until the last person there had time with him. The irony was apparent to all who stayed. Dawn and I were among the very last people to shake his hand and get his autograph. We still have wonderful pictures of him with us. These pictures now are pasted to our treasured copy of Literacy: Reading the World and the World.
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