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Che, Freire, and the Politics of Hope

Che Guevara, Paulo Friere and the Politics of Hope:
Reclaiming Critical Pedagogy

by Peter Maclaren

On a recent voyage to the rain forests of Costa Rica, I rode a bus through
the beautiful city of Cartago. From my window I noticed a young man with a
long ponytail running beside the bus. As the bus passed him, he glanced up
and our eyes momentarily met; I noticed that he was wearing a Che T-shirt
with the inscription ‘¡Che Vive!’. A fleeting sensation of plaintive
connectedness overcame me, and I managed to give him a quick ‘thumbs-up’
gesture of affirmation just in time for him to return a broad smile to the
crazy gringo. For a brief moment, I felt that this ponytailed stranger and I
were linked by a project larger than both of us. During that instant, I
could tangibly sense between us a collective yearning for a world free from
the burdens of this one, and I knew that I was not alone. The image of Che
that he wore on his breast like a secular Panagia pointed to a realm of
revolutionary values held in trust by all those who wish to break the chains
of capital and be free. Che has a way of connecting—if only in this
whimsical way—people who share a common resolve to fight injustice and to
liberate the world from cruelty and exploitation. There was no way of
knowing the politics of this young man and how seriously he identified with
the life and teachings of El Che. But Che’s image brings out the promise of
such a connection and the political fecundity of even this momentary

The great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, also shares with Che the ability
to bring people together around an animated common trust in the power of
love, a belief in the reciprocal power of dialogue, and a commitment to
‘conscientization’ and political praxis. Few figures among the educational
Left are as well known and as universally revered as Paulo Freire.
Throughout my travels in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Europe, I have
seen slogans by Freire scribbled on buildings alongside those of Che.
Whenever I speak at revolutionary forums or academic conferences about
political praxis—whether in Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil,
Costa Rica, Finland, Europe, or elsewhere—the names of Che Guevara and Paulo
Freire (and more recently, the Zapatistas) inevitably come up. They not only
draw attention to the crisis of the times but also provide the singular hope
that is necessary to move the struggle forward, cueste lo que cueste.

No one has done more to move the struggle forward over the role of education
as a vehicle for liberatory praxis than Paulo Freire. From the moment he was
jailed by the Brazilian military during the early days of the repression in
1964, to his exile and continuing struggle on behalf of peasants and the
working class throughout the world (to whom he was dedicated in helping
overcome their centuries-old marginalization from society), Paulo Freire has
captured the political imagination of educators around the world. In an
introduction to my book Life in Schools, the great liberation theologian,
Leonardo Boff, affirmed Freire’s pedagogical project as one of action in and
on the world:

The pedagogical project is created in order to place . . . lives inside the
classroom and to employ knowledge and transformation as weapons to change
the world. From the perspective of the social location of the condemned on
Earth, it becomes clear that knowledge alone, as intended by the school,
does not transform life. Only the conversion of knowledge into action can
transform life. This concretely defines the meaning of practice: the
dialectic movement between the conversion of transformative action into
knowledge and the conversion of knowledge into transformative action. (1997,
p. xi)

Although Che is certainly a better known figure than Freire worldwide, one
would be hard-pressed to find a more respected and celebrated ‘profe’ in the
field of education than Paulo Freire anywhere in the world. His most famous
work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has sold over a half million copies and has
been translated into more than twenty languages. His theoretical
developments have influenced the scholarly domains of sociology,
anthropology, literacy, ecology, medicine, psychotherapy, philosophy,
pedagogy, critical social theory, museology, history, journalism, and
theater, to name just some of the fields indebted to his work. He is even
credited with helping to found a new approach to research known as
participatory research (Freire and Macedo, 1998). According to Ana Maria
Araújo Freire and Donaldo Macedo, Freire was invited to visit approximately
100 cities throughout the world during his lifetime. They write: "His
theory, which constitutes a reflection upon his practice, has served as the
foundation for academic work and inspired practices in different parts of
the world, from the mocambos of Recife to the barakumin in Brazil and
abroad" (1998, p. 27). Even before the death in 1997, numerous schools,
student organizations in schools of education, unions, popular libraries,
and research scholarships bore his name. A list of his academic awards and
honorary degrees would fill several pages.

Though Freire was an advocate of nonviolent insurrection and struggle, he
was nevertheless jailed in Brazil as a politically dangerous subversive
because of the counter-hegemonic power of his ideas. Che remained convinced
that reclamation of one’s land from imperialist settlers by violent means
was a form of self-defense, and that violent insurrection was the only way
to defeat fascism and Yankee imperialism and reveal to the masses that the
colonial god has feet of clay. Despite these divergences, Freire and Che
remained brothers of the heart, brothers who never met in prison, in the
theater of war, or in the arena of pedagogical struggle, but who shared a
fraternal bond that opened up their hearts and minds to a similar vision of
the world—a vision of what the world already was, where it was headed, and
what it could become. As intellectual and political comrades, their lives
represented the best of what the human spirit has to offer.

Full article:
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