Activism and the classroom

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

In a recent interview for a teaching position in a university, a friend was asked about the relationship between her activism and her teaching. I was reminded of this when I came across a quote from Paulo Freire just now. I think this quote offers one possible response to the question…

There neither is, nor has ever been, an educational practice in zero space-time – neutral in the sense of being committed only to preponderantly abstract, intangible ideas. To try to get people to believe that there is such a thing as this, and to convince or try to convince the incautious that this is the truth, is indisputably a political practice…

What especially moves me to be ethical is to know that, inasmuch as education of its very nature is directive and political, I must, without ever denying my dream or my utopia before the educands, respect them. To defend a thesis, a position, a preference, with earnestness, defend it rigorously, but passionately as well, and at the same time to stimulate the contrary discourse, and respect the right to utter that discourse, is the best way to teach, first, the right to have our own ideas, even our duty to ‘quarrel’ for them, for our dreams – and not only to learn the syntax of the verbhaver; and second, mutual respect.

Respecting the educands, however, does not mean lying to them about my dreams… to hide my options from them as if it were a ‘sin’ to have a preference, to make an option, to draw the line, to decide, to dream. Respecting them means, on the one hand, testifying to them of my choice, and defending it; and on the other, it means showing them other options, whenever I teach – no matter what it is that I teach!

… Is there a risk of influencing the students? It is impossible to live, let alone exist without risks. The important thing is to prepare ourselves to be able to run them well.

Educational practice, whether it be authoritarian or democratic, is always directive…

My concern is not to deny the political and directive nature of education – a denial that, for that matter, it would be impossible to reduce to act – but to accept that this is its nature, and to live a life of full consistency between my democratic option and my educational practice, which is likewise democratic.

My ethical duty, as one of the subjects, one of the agents, of a practice that can never be neutral – the educational – is to express my respect for differences in ideas and positions. I must respect even positions opposed to my own, positions that I combat earnestly and with passion.

From Pedagogy of Hope (pp 66- 67)

…although perhaps not, as antarchi notes, a response that many educators would either offer or like to hear.

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