WinkWorld July 2002

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.


CABE 1993
Anaheim, CA
Paulo Freire

There is no possibility for teaching without learning. As well as there is no possibility of learning without teaching.

Paulo Freire

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
Teaching implies, or demands, the existence of two subjects. By subjects, I mean [you have] the educator, and on the other hand, [you have] the educatee. However, there is another [part of this process]: the object to be known. We also speak about the object to be taught, learned, or known as the content. If I teach biology for example biology is the object to be taught, learned, known, then biology is the content of my practice.

What Is The Role of the Teacher?
Let me speak a little bit about these three elements. First, the teacher: What is the role of the teacher? When we ask ourselves this question, we discover that there are different answers for this question. I don't want to refer to the problems of methodology, for example the methodology for teaching mathematics or teaching history. These things really are objective things.

Teaching Is Not A Neutral Process
What is really important is to discover that teaching is not a neutral process. It's not a neutral action.

A Progressive Teacher
This is a teacher who has a progressive vision or understanding of his or her presence in the world; a teacher whose dreams are fundamentally about rebuilding of society. [A progressive teacher is one] whose dreams are dreams of changing the reality to create a less ugly society?

The Opposite of A Progressive Teacher
We also have teachers whose dreams are to keep society as it is - that is to keep a discriminatory society. To keep society crushing the so-called minorities, which prevents the possibilities of the children of minorities from becoming themselves.

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
I think we still have people who become stupefied when we say that education is political, but it is. It is a question of the [very] nature of education [which I will address].I ask you to forgive me because I am not interested in describing the role of the reactionary teachers -- that is a question for the reactionary philosophers, not for me. I will stay in the field that I love. It is the love of the progressive teacher.

What is Required of Progressive Teachers?
Teachers need to be humble. Why does the process of teaching demand the teacher to be humble? It is necessary for the progressive teacher to be humble precisely because of the impossibility of separating teaching from learning. If the teacher is not humble, the teacher does not respect the students. It is as if the students have nothing to do in the process of learning, but just to listen patiently to the voice of the teacher. This is precisely a totalitarian teacher. The totalitarians do not need to be humble.

Teaching: Research-based and a Political Choice
One of the requirements for us to be good [progressive] teachers is very interesting because [the knowledge of] teaching is research-based, and on the other hand, teaching is 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
In order for us to understand this process, we must enter into the dynamism of language. The words need to become wet with the waters [of meaning]. The teacher grows by teaching the object to be grasped by the students. If the students don't grasp the object with their bare hands, the students only memorize the description, but they don't know the object.

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
Another dimension of this process is something, which I will call the passion, without which I cannot teach. How can a [progressive} teacher ever become a bureaucrat? And when I say bureaucrat, I am not making reference to a [school] administrator. No, [that type of bureaucracy] is important, Schools cannot be without bureaucracy, [schools need an administration]. When I said bureaucratic [in this context], I am talking about a teacher's mind becoming bureaucratized. These are people who do exactly what they were told [to do]. People who follow exactly [the bureaucratic orders of others], even though maybe could die by doing that. He or she does it because they were told to do so.

No Fried Eggs at 3 O'clock in the Afternoon: An Example of Bureaucratization of the Mind
I will tell you a very interesting example of the bureaucratization of mind. Years ago I was in Los Angeles in the airport, as I was preparing to leave for New York. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and I went to the restaurant and ordered fried eggs, orange juice, English muffin, and a coffee.

"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
Look, we organize the schedule, and when we finish the organization of the schedule, we become less than the schedule. Do you see this is an absurdity? I had this experience when I was with Nita in Sweden. I had been invited to a very important meeting, and I wrote the paper for the presentation. However, I am a Brazilian and very independent and rational. As I wrote, I did not consider the time for reading, as the text was in Swedish. I had only 10, maybe 15 minutes to finish the speech. However, the woman who [organized the schedule] approached me from behind with a gift, while I was still speaking. She is a specialist and very qualified to organize meetings like this. My wife saw all of this and worried that I might become angry. The woman walked to me [as I was still speaking] and handed me the gift.

"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.

The Question
Look, what I cannot understand is how it is possible for you to spend lots of money to bring me here and then prevent me from finishing my speech? That does not make sense. This seems to be the bureaucratization of the mind. The more we, as teachers, do this, the less students are free to risk.

Freedom and Risk
Look, my friends, there is no possibility for greater achievement without taking risks. Without freedom, you cannot risk. When you are not free, you have to risk in order to get freedom. Teaching is not [like] spending a weekend on a tropical beach. It is to be committed to the process of teaching, the adventure, and to the students.

Education is Testimony
We have to bear witness for students. For example, how is it possible for me to speak about risk, if students discover that I never risked. How is it possible to speak about the seriousness of teaching and learning, if the testimony I give is the lack of seriousness? Education is, above all, testimony. If we are not able to give testimony of our action, of our love, we cannot help the students to be themselves.

Freire's Conclusion
Then, my friends, I am sure that I must stop, but not because of the bureaucratization of mind. Of course, if you ask me if I could speak another hour or two, I would say yes, because my life is completely devoted to this. We never can exhaust the issues [of teaching and learning], but I must also respect the need for those who listen. They have to rest, too. The best speech finishes when the people would still like to listen. I know that there are still some more moments for me to speak. [Therefore], I stop now. Thank you very much.

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.