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Paulo Freire, critical pedagogy and the quest for “Transformative and Emancipatory Education

Thésée, Gina & Carr, Paul R. (2020). Paulo Freire, critical pedagogy and the quest for “Transformative and Emancipatory Education (TEE)”. In Steinberg, S. & Down, B. (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Critical Pedagogies (pp. 67-74). London: Sage Publications.

(Photo from the Paulo Freire Institute, Sao Paulo; https://uil.unesco.org/partner/library/instituto-paulo-freire-ipf-brazil)

SAGE encyclopedia text nov 2021
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Why is (formal, normative) education so mired within anti-democratic structures, postures, frameworks and traditions, which (can) effectively constrain it from critically addressing the world’s ills (Carr and Thésée, 2019)? Is it possible for education to fulfill the immense but fundamental mission entrusted to it, to somehow lead to individual and collective emancipation? And if so, how can it, in these times of great conflict and chaos, both social and environmental, become a force leading to Freire’s notion of conscientization? How can an evolving social conscience take into account myriad realities, words, knowledge and actions of the ‘oppressed’, those facing multi-layered discrimination, dispossession, marginalization, alienation, colonization, domination, exclusion and abuse, in effect representing the ‘wretched of the earth’ (Fanon, 2002)? How can, significantly, an environmental consciousness take into account infinite realties, words, knowledge and actions against extractionary, consumerist and financial/economic/profit-based logics that threaten the health and well-being of human existence? And above all, at the beginning of the 21st century, at a time when these immense social challenges, both complex and global, are becoming increasingly difficult to target and identify, what is, and should be, the role of education? Education is always presented as the answer to the evils of the world and the key to necessary social transformations, yet, paradoxically, it is, concurrently, blamed as an institution of oppression, reproduction of social inequalities and the justification of the alienation of the oppressed. Education seems to function, at the same time, as an incontrovertible lever and brake toward and against the social transformations required to make society more just, engaged, inclusive and ‘democratic’. So, what education(s) do the societies of the world need today, and how can we avoid the many traps, pitfalls and injustices embedded within it so as to facilitate meaningful social change? (Morin, 1999; Petrella, 2000).

With the notion of Transformative and Emancipatory Education (TEE), we wish to humbly contribute to answering these questions, in solidarity with several critical social theoretical (plural) perspectives (feminism, anti-racism, decolonialism, indigenism, environmentalism, etc.), without closing off the necessary discussions required to understand and engage with, and frame, the diverse cultural and educational contexts. The adjectives ‘transformative’ and ‘emancipatory’ confer on this education an aura of freedom and creativity, of positionality and criticality, of complexity and opacity, of community and solidarity, all aspects that arise in and out of rupture with a certain hegemonic vision of education that is brilliantly illustrated in what Paulo Freire describes as ‘banking education’ in his seminal book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1974). This book, published in Portuguese some fifty years, has been translated into several languages, and is still considered today as one of the most important and influential works in education around the world. However, the educational philosophy that Freire proposes and espouses in his very first book as well as his many subsequent writings is still poking around at the margins of formal educational contexts. Our attempt to elucidate TEE is premised on Freire’s work and philosophy, and also fully acknowledges the vibrant and voluminous contribution of several critical scholars, including Antonia Darder (2018), Maxine Green (2003), Henry Giroux (2011), Peter McLaren (2014), Shirley Steinberg (Steinberg and Cannella, 2012) and many others on all continents. The reality is that the list is long, and we find ourselves in a most uncomfortable position in identifying a single work for others who have developed over the course of decades an overwhelming body of work that has influenced people around the world; our dear friend Joe Kincheloe (2008a, 2008b) falls squarely in this category. We would also add that it is not only about what these colleagues have written, which, in itself, is extremely invaluable but, importantly, how they have interacted with, mentored, engaged with and shared with others, especially from marginalized groups.

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