Paulo Freire's work can assist nearly anyone as she or he seeks to interpret history, to obtain a handle on the present, and to foresee the future. His ideas were impregnated with ontological hope, foundational understandings of our society and transformational empowerment. Thus, this article examines critically an interview I had with Paulo Freire in an effort to identify the relevance of his principles for our different realities and struggles today. Some of the questions I raised were brought up to clarify ideas that I encountered in my personal experiences in the academic community or in my university teachings.
Freire had a great influence in my academic upbringing and development. He was without any doubt my major inspiration. In 1997, when I was getting ready to start writing my doctoral dissertation, I felt the need to seek mentoring by Paulo. By coincidence it just happened that I had a unique opportunity to dialogue and interview him in his residence in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In talking with one of his students she advised me not to wait for the following year, as I initially intended. She told me: "Paulo is already talking about dying, and he won't be around next year." I was shocked, but moved ahead as a friend offered to make the appointment for me. Both of us were students of Nita Freire, who we used to call Ana Maria, back in college in the early eighties.
Paulo's generosity and words of wisdom made a difference for me. The interview helped me immensely, given that I was thinking of doing my dissertation on cooperative learning, but was hesitant to do so. After hearing Paulo talk about fatalism, I identified with him immediately. Because working in the favelas or slums of Brazil and U.S. I had often encountered people who would conform to a dismal reality, which Paulo calls fatalism. For years I had strong feelings about that kind of mentality. So that became the central focus of study for my dissertation, which later on became a book on optimism. It addresses how people perceive and use time. For that alone I am very grateful to Paulo. But his interview offered much more.
Since I considered myself one of his followers, I wanted to ask Paulo what he would expect of those who would carry on his teachings and legacy. And his answers made perfect sense to me. I loved it. Often I have used this interview with my graduate and undergraduate students and they have loved it, too. I was also curious about Freire's position on history, how he understood current realities, and what his visions of the future were. Paulo, as usual, provided a lot to clarity and was very down to earth, and direct, which I appreciated. In his humble way, he addressed neo-liberalism as one of the biggest maladies of this century and the lack of ethics he saw today. Nevertheless, for him, hope was one of the intrinsic "engines" that propelled activism and brought about social transformation. I conducted my dialogue with Paulo in the following way.
A Dialogue and One Last Interview with Paulo Freire
Cesar A. Rossatto (CD): Professor Freire, regarding your well known concept of conscientization, or conscientious awareness, I would like to expand on your thoughts to define conscientization not only as a state of mind, but as a thought process that also expresses itself through actions. I am experimenting with merging Freirean pedagogy or critical pedagogy with cooperative learning techniques, whereby students work in groups cooperatively, with specific roles and responsibilities and are encouraged to assist one another. These techniques, I feel, are important for the development of collectivity and socialization. What would your opinion be of such an approach?
Paulo Freire (PF): Well, at this present historical moment, all over the world, more intensively in some parts than in others, I believe that any effort to create solidarity, any effort to exercise social or political solidarity, which would certainly include the cooperative effort you describe, is absolutely fundamental. …