Paulo Freire: Community-Based Arts Education

Article excerpt

Portraiture

Portraiture, as used in this study, is a way of presenting data as a collection of stories--stories told in an attempt to illuminate historical, social, and cultural influences on Freire's life, his influence on Francisco Brennand, Ana Mae Barbosa, and on an international community of educators. I had multiple goals in using portraiture as a tool of data representation for this study. Foremost, portraits capture stories that:

Attach us to others and to our own histories by providing a tapestry rich with threads of time, place, character, and even advice on what we might do with our lives.... Through telling, writing, reading, and listening to life stories--one's own and others--those engaged in this work can penetrate cultural barriers, discover the power of the self and the integrity of the other, and deepen their understanding of their perspective histories and possibilities. (Witherell & Noddings, 1991, p. 1-3)

Stated in the language of feminist inquiry, portraits are also a means by which individuals who have been objectified are able to define themselves and tell their own stories as individuals who occupy "a legitimate position from which to experience, interpret, and constitute the world" (Stivers, 1993, p. 411).

The use of portraiture to present data has potential to capture the multiplicity of asking, telling, writing, and reading stories. My conceptual framework includes the assumption that "Narratives are not produced in a cultural, ideological, and social vacuum. They reflect context, intent, and expected audiences" (Mishler, 1991, p. 106) and stand on moving ground (Riessman, 1993). As a local situated creation, the portraits presented in this paper portray the cultural values that structure and integrate individual experiences and their representation in a specific teacher education context.

The Documented Portrait of Freire

Paulo Freire is from the State of Pernambuco whose capital is Recife. Once considered one of the world's poorest regions, its economy has improved in recent years (Freire, personal interview, September 1, 1996). Freire was born in 1921 into a middle-class family. In the 1930 depression, his family went bankrupt. However, due to his father's determination, he was able to stay in school. He studied philosophy and law at the University of Recife and worked for three years as a labor union lawyer. His professional experiences and his past experience in being poor made him realize that education was a privilege enjoyed by a minority in his country. The majority of the people lived in poverty oppressed by a minority that dictated the rules to the oppressed majority (Mashayekh, 1974, p. 4).

Freire became a professor of philosophy of education at the University of Recife, where in 1959 he earned a Ph.D. in education. With the help of student volunteers, he started the Adult Education Program of the Popular Culture Movement, which taught people how to read and write and also encouraged the development and production of popular festivals, performances, and arts programs in the ghetto and rural areas of Recife (Brown, 1974, p. 245). The Movement's objectives were to raise class-consciousness and increase the popular vote through the arts and literacy education program. The initiative was begun during the early 1960s when rural and urban unions started organizing in the Northeast of Brazil. By 1961 two farm workers' strikes had already brought together 83,000 and 230,000 workers in an effort to bring about social reform (Freire, 1978).

In Brazil, literacy was intimately associated with power. According to the law, only literates could vote; and the traditional political duty was to vote according to the interests of the elite. However, with the formation of the peasants' leagues in the 1950s, farm workers became aware of the power of voting. Consequently, they wanted to transform their powerless poverty position prescribed by the elite. …