Paulo Freire: On Hope

By Weiler, Kathleen | Radical Teacher, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Paulo Freire: On Hope


Weiler, Kathleen, Radical Teacher


In one of his last books, Paulo Freire tells this story:

   Once, in a TV report about landless
   rural workers in the interior
   of San Paulo, the reporter asked a
   country adolescent, "Do you
   usually dream?" "No, I only have
   nightmares," he replied. What
   was fundamental in his answer
   was his fatalist, immobilist
   understanding. The bitterness of
   that adolescent's existence was so
   profound that his presence in the
   world had become a nightmare,
   an experience in which it was
   impossible to dream. (1)

For hundreds of millions of people, the condition of their lives is such that they may view their existence like this Brazilian teenager, as a living nightmare, with no possibility of a dream. This fatalism and rejection of hope reflects a material reality of poverty and exploitation that those of us in the privileged West or the privileged elites throughout the world--the first world in the third world, to paraphrase Freire--can barely imagine. But those of us who are privileged have our own fatalisms, grounded in our sense of powerlessness, of being out-of-control, of living in the heart of what seems increasingly a brutal and militarized Empire. What hope do we have of countering and resisting the power of the amoral and profoundly anti-democratic elites who control our government, our lives, and who shape the parameters of possibility for the lives of all the people of the earth?

Consider some other teenagers, these described by Arundhati Roy in a column published during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in April, 2003, in the British newspaper The Guardian:

   On the steel torsos of their missiles,
   adolescent American soldiers
   scrawl colorful messages in childish
   handwriting: For Saddam, from
   the Fat Boy Posse. A building goes
   down. A marketplace. A home. A
   girl who loves a boy. A child who
   only ever wanted to play with his
   brother's marbles. On March 21,
   the day after American and British
   troops began their illegal invasion
   and occupation of Iraq, an
   "embedded" CNN correspondent
   interviewed an American soldier.
   "I wanna get in there and get my
   nose dirty," Private AJ said. "I
   wanna take revenge for 9/11." To
   be fair to the correspondent ... he
   did sort of weakly suggest that so
   far there was no real evidence that
   linked the Iraqi government
   to the September 11
   attacks ... "Yeah, well that stuff's
   way over my head," [Private AJ]
   replied. (2)

This teenager does not awake with nightmares (or at least not that we know) but he does not have a dream of hope either. Instead, state-sponsored ignorance leaves teenaged soldiers like this immersed in a daydream of false hopes of revenge, marked by their dismissal of the possibility of a critical reading of the world, of the stuff that's "way over [their] heads." In his extraordinary speech, "We Stand Passively Mute," delivered on the floor of the US Senate in early February of this year, Senator Robert Byrd said, "To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is 'in the highest moral traditions of our country.'" "In our actions and words," said Byrd, "We are truly 'sleepwalking through history.'" (3)

Nightmares, fantasies, sleepwalking. Where can we look for a positive dream of a more just world? Where is that source of hope? In her discussion of the explosion of anti-American feeling throughout the world, Arundhati Roy cautions against conflating a government and its people. She notes the extraordinary demonstrations by Americans against the actions of our government. These echo the anti-war demonstrations throughout the world. Here in the United States and in many other countries, the peace movements are led by groups also active in anti-corporate globalization movements and movements for more specific issues such as trafficking in women, the destruction of the environment, the massive human costs of such agreements as NAFTA and GATT on specific communities. …

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