What would Paulo Friere do?

Most people who know me well (or even a little bit) have heard me rave about the adult educator Paulo Friere. I am big fan of his thoughts (which he put into action) and recently I heard the coolest Paulo Friere story ever.

My mum is doing a course and she had the teacher’s of the course over to lunch. They are very passionate social activists and are obviously really good at it too. Anyway, my mum, knowing they shared my passion for Paulo Friere told them how much I liked him. One of the teachers asked me, “what do you like most about Paulo Friere” to which I responded, “I am not sure, you have really put me on the spot”. Not allowing me to get away with that he said, “Paulo Friere put people on the spot”. He was right so I made a fairly crappy response although he seemed to think it was okay and thus agreed to share with me his Paulo Friere story.

He had visited Brazil (where Paulo is from) to do some work with people living on the streets there. While there people talked over and over about Paulo Friere. Somehow he managed to get his number and after much deliberation plucked up the courage to call and organise an interview. Paulo agreed. When he arrived Paulo asked the translator if he spoke Portuguese. He said he didn’t so Paulo proceeded to speak Portuguese to the translator. After about 10 minutes he switched to a very fluent English. His point had been made though. They should have learned some of the language.

Paulo then talked for awhile about adult education, poverty, oppression, social action, all the things he is passionate and thoughtful about. The guy was trying to make notes. His switch from Portuguese to English had happened so quickly that he did not manage to put on a tape recorder. Finally, there was a pause. The guy thought, “this is my one chance to ask Paulo Friere a question”, so he did. Paulo looked at him and said something like, “it’s questions like those that are really the problem”. As the man had said Paulo was never afraid to put people on the spot.

That night he flew home, feeling himself to be completely changed by this meeting with Paulo Friere. On arrival to Australia with a bit of jetlag and the ideas floating around his head he could not sleep. He got up to try and write the interview down, seriously regretting not having been able to tape it and feeling more and more impacted on by this man. In the morning though his regret at not taping the interview and its effect on his life was even more profound when he discovered it was his last interview. Paulo Friere had died that night.

Since starting to teach I have found Paulo’s ideas hard to put into practice in the context that I teach. Hearing this story though has reinspired me to keep thinking about these issues and trying to implement them. And while I acknowledge I am still learning and need to take it slow (I bet even Paulo did in his first few months of teaching) it is good to feel inspired.

3 thoughts on “What would Paulo Friere do?

  1. At my casual dinner with the Costello’s, I was asking the minimum wage guy questions about GFC. He told me one of them was a very good question. I am reimagining him telling me that “questions like that are really the problem.” Aahh.

    Obviously though there ended up being much more to the Friere conversation. Imagine meeting a guy like that just before he died. Would feel pretty special.

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