I believe that popular education has made many contributions to pedagogical theory, and many more to educational and political practice in our countries over these four decades of inequality, subjugation to a unipolar world, loss of certainties, worsening of armed conflicts and economic and social crises, which threaten not only countries’ integrity and identity but also the very existence of the human species.
For example, we applaud the influence of popular education in many of the political victories won by the peoples of Latin America. There is no doubt that the power of the Landless Movement and the election triumph of Lula owe much to the ideas of Paulo Freire. The formative processes of popular education have resulted in the awareness that drives the Brazilian people, in organized power, and in the capacity to convert protest into proposals, in short, in the very complex interweaving of causes.
Today, in the current struggle in Venezuela to empower the people, to defend their sovereignty and to turn dreams into reality, the ideas of Freire are playing a major role, which is reflected in the many programmes aimed at social change and fostering genuine participation by the Venezuelan people.
In the stance taken by the Argentinian people, in the progress made by indigenous peoples, and in every expression of rebellion that has arisen in this continent, the roots go back to reflective dialogue, group working, critical analysis, systematization of experience and other popular education practices.
Many actions have been taken over these forty years by North American imperialism to worsen and exacerbate the exploitation of the peoples of America, but each of these has elicited an organized response from forces working for respect of sovereignty, identity and protection of national interests.
Moreover, the Latin American revolutionary movement, which is rapidly gaining strength, already reflects the need to prepare people for change through the methodology of popular education.
We Cuban educators, who have experienced popular education from a position of political power, see its contributions in terms of the self-management which is being created in our communities, the effectiveness of education in training popular leaders, the growing awareness of equity and respect for the rights of others among citizens, and the progress made by the concept of diversity as an enrichment of unity.
Civic participation, a process of mobilization to support revolutionary decisions, has been a feature of social change in our country for these forty years, and now faces new challenges, aspiring to collective, consensual participation by our communities in everyday decision- making, and to civic self-management, which is fostered by the structures of popular power.
In this way, awareness has increased in Cuba of the need to use the methods of popular education in community work and to train popular leaders of local government. In the law setting out the functions of the People’s Councils, there is a chapter on popular participation, summarizing the essentials of the participatory principle, and in accordance with this, the guidelines issued by provincial governments lay down the need to train the heads of local government in participatory methods that comply with the principles of popular education. Furthermore, they specify the written materials, programmes and educational processes to be used by the centres that are members of CEAAL which provide popular education in the country.
I consider the most significant educational contribution to be the reasoning behind the method which, in accordance with the dialectical approach, sees practice as the starting point for constructing knowledge aimed at change.
I know that this idea is widely recognised in the discourse, but it is difficult to observe it in educational practice. This internal aspect of the methodology – social dialogue – gives a completely novel aspect to a process as old as humanity.
Furthermore, the perception of complexity afforded by the multidimensional focus, and the coherence required by the methodology from all other elements of the education system, give popular education an irrefutable theoretical foundation, the roots of which are to be found in the educational thinking of the most enlightened scholars in America.
I consider that PE is a theory that is being developed, and that it is therefore influenced by contextual changes and practices, which enrich it as a living process; but the essential oppression, discrimination, exploitation and exclusion of the masses – which were why it emerged and was founded, and were its raison d’être in the latter half of the last century – have deteriorated as a result of the changes that have come about in these forty years, rather than being alleviated or disappearing. I therefore regard the need for PE, its focus, the direction of its activities, its objectives and its principles as still completely relevant.
In the light of the individualist thinking which tends to fragment national communities, and the loss of the cultural wealth and sovereignty of our peoples, the principles of solidarity, equality, respect for others and national identity are values which popular education has fostered on the basis of coherence between citizens’ thought and action, and this is more necessary and relevant than ever before
I look forward with revolutionary optimism to the time when popular education needs to be reformulated because it has achieved the dream of a better world, but so far, all I see is the need to enrich it with critical reflections from our own social practice, and to make it more appropriate to the particular circumstances of each geographical area.
PE should not be thought of as a theory to be applied, but as a concept which allows the continual re-creation of processes, all of which will differ because the practices on which they are based differ. However, this idea is Freire’s; it is indeed one of his key statements, for which reason any restatement comes as no surprise. But it seems to me that there has as yet been little time to come up with generalities that will alter the core statements of the concept.
I think it crucial to give priority to efforts by CEAAL to support the movements which are seeking to create new paradigms throughout the continent, and to organize and train grassroots leaders who will shape educators that have the power to promote ideas of change and to create “subjects” in control of their lives.
We need to invest in the education of the masses, who are pressing and will continue to press for change, because it is obvious that neoliberalism in Latin America, and the programmes which it sponsors, are making the situation worse rather then resolving it, and this will inevitably lead to a continent-wide explosion.
From my way of seeing things, we need to work to ensure that “change does not fail to come from within”, that popular movements have the leaders and forces they need, and that the attacks made on us in our continent are not lost from view, to which end solidarity has to take on new forms in CEAAL.
Our task over the next five years must be to exploit the political potential of popular education, which has in fact always been its essence. That is, to say, we need to work through education for political change, so that it is vital to do the following:
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