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Preface to Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Heart -1997
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Preface to Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Heart -1997

Ladislau Dowbor
Originalmente publicado

Preface to Paulo Freire’s last book, Pedagogy of the Heart (Á Sombra desta Mangueira in the Brazilian original), discussing the necessary bridges to be built between education, politics, economic policies and social values. The arguments are centered on the notion of social solidarity. Published by Continuum Pub Group, New York, November 1997. See also The Broken Mosaic, https://dowbor.org under “Artigos Online”. (L. Dowbor)


Preface – Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Heart
Published by Continuum Pub Group, New York, November 1997
(Em Português – À sombra desta Mangueira)

Writing a preface for a book by Paulo Freire gives one the strange sensation of being redundant. In his characteristic style, Paulo does not simply write; he thinks his act of writing through as well, in a permanent distancing from himself. What is left for the preface writer to do is to recover the image in the mirror, and the image’s image.What is even stranger is for such a task to be bestowed on a professional in the field of economics, which, probably more than any other, was responsible for a dominant theoretical framework where concerns with ethics, solidarity, and simple emotions such as happiness and personal satisfaction disappear. The dry legacy inherited from Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill is utilitarianism, the rather cynical notion that it is enough for each individual to maximize his or her profit in order that a world can be obtained which is not socially ideal, but which is the best possible. pedagheart

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The “thirty golden years” that followed the end of World War II saw an impressive capitalist productive explosion. Undoubtedly, this explosion has led many to believe that profit-driven capitalists, who develop production, indeed do more for the poor than the lefts who clamor for justice. This trend became even stronger when the authoritarian socialism alternative went down: only one option was left on the table, the necessary evil, capitalism.

History reduced to economic mechanisms and all values subsumed by the realism of individual advantage, conscience-bearing humanity felt cornered into a pragmatic form of fatalism decorating their day-to-day lives with increasingly absurd technological junk while trying to reconstruct their horizon of viable utopias.

This rebuilding is necessary and most comprehensive; it involves the very conceptualizing of the civilization we wish to build. And, even if the different directions in this accelerated process of transformation are hard to predict, some parameters are becoming most clear.

One central parameter is provided by the current technological explosion. In the past twenty years, we have accumulated more technological knowledge than in the entire history of humanity. Human beings handle potent agropesticides, nuclear and bacteriological weapons, sophisticated systems for genetic manipulation, industrial fishing fleets with advanced technology for locating schools of fish, fine chemistry processes that allow for the back-alley production of both advanced medication and cocaine or heroine. In the meantime, human capacity for government has evolved extremely slowly.

The result of such a society that transforms itself while following different rhythms is that human beings are handling technologies far more advanced than their own political maturity. This fact is ascertained by the destruction of life in rivers and in the ocean, by ozone depletion, by the increased use of drugs, and by the availability of sophisticated systems of destruction available to any would-be terrorist. Humanity will not survive without more advanced forms of social organization, ones capable of surpassing this articulated chaos of corporate interests that we have come to call neoliberalism, and that manages technology of irreversible, universal impact.

Another important parameter is the deep transformation that occurred in spaces for social reproduction. Economies have become internationalized for the largest part, while instruments for social control have remained national. As a result, for example, nobody controls the nearly $1 trillion* circulating daily in global financial spaces. Likewise, there is no organized power structure capable of organizing any effective compensation for the nearly $500 billion annually transferred from poor to rich countries. On another level, society has become widely urbanized, but decisions remain in the hands of central governments, much like the time when nations consisted of “capitals” surrounded by dispersed rural populations. Urbanization threw the problem over to the cities, which are in the front-line of difficulties but at the base of the power pyramid. The political world has become an impressive web of institutions that have to make decisions about what they do not know, and that have no decision-making power over the realities with which they are, in effect, faced. Today, it is our very conceptualization over the organizational hierarchy of political power that must be rethought, aiming at returning the reins of its own development to society.

Within such an environment of lost governability, the mega-structures of the end of this century prosper: large transnational corporations, initially focused on productive sectors, are equally dominant today in the dynamic environments of service and finance. Today, about five to six hundred companies control 25 percent of world production, dominate in the most technologically dynamic areas, and mold the world to the demands of competition. There is little opportunity within corporate strategy for reflection upon the social or environmental interests of humanity. As a result of reengineering, total quality, ISO-9000, robotics, telecomputing, benchmarking, and so many other magic words that promise effectiveness and efficiency, lean-and-mean capitalism, compelled by the very rules of efficiency, is leaving little room for reflecting upon values. It is curious to see the pope of American business administration, Peter Drucker, write a book, in the midst of the communist collapse, titled Post-Capitalist Society, seeking the construction of a community “based on commitment and compassion.”

This modernity, whose technologic innovations fill us with awe, gives very little sense of commitment or compassion. While eight hundred million people in rich countries enjoy an ostentatious $20,000 per-capita income, 3.2 billion dwellers of the underdeveloped world live on an average of $350, less than $30 a month. Today, about one hundred fifty million children starve in the world, a statistic projected for one hundred eighty million by the year 2000, while some twelve million simply die before the age of five. Illiteracy affects more than eight hundred million people, and this number increases by about ten million each year Close to ninety million new inhabitants come into the world annually, about sixty million of whom are born into the most destitute areas, condemned on their first day of life. They cannot manage the fifty cents per child that they would need for iodine, to prevent goiter, or the ten cents for vitamin A to prevent blindness. About one million children become mutilated for life every year. Half a million mothers die in labor every year for not having access to basic medical information and services: in all the rich countries combined, this number is only five thousand. A devastated Africa cries the loss of its last trees and sees its unprotected soil taken away by the wind and by pouring rains, while the West, which has devastated it, recommends that it care for its environment. But each day we have better and better computers, VCRs, and CD players.

It is unnecessary to keep multiplying the examples. The important thing is that the time is running out when humanity can rely on spontaneous “mechanisms,” on laissez-faire, laissez-passer, without defining itself as a civilization.

A first obvious realization is that capitalism constitutes an excellent environment for making production more dynamic, but it has yet to learn how to create effective distribution mechanisms. In reality, the very power struggle generated by privileges and by the accumulation of wealth by minorities prevents a balanced distribution. It is not hard to predict that a planet that is becoming smaller and smaller each day, due to advances in transportation and communications, cannot live with increasingly dramatic economic polarization.

We realize, at the end of this century, that it is quite simply a theoretical error to predict a certain ethics of privilege, the notion that the accumulation of wealth by the rich would lead to more investments, more jobs, more production, and finally, more prosperity for all, along the lines of the infamous trickle-down effect. To the extent that there is a certain gap between the rich and the poor, markets become segmented, and a large part of the world’s population is simply kept at the margin of the central process of wealth accumulation led by transnational corporations. The end of all hope for trickling down means that, structurally speaking, neoliberalism does not respond to modern challenges. It is necessary to seek new solutions.

Finally, the very core of capitalist theory–that the maximization of individual interests will guarantee the best social interests–is negated by the facts. At this stage of global capitalism, compensatory social policies by governments are insufficient not only in the countries bearing the negative onus for current development models, but also in developed countries, where people are tired of living under the terror of unemployment or of killing themselves working for objectives that are in doubtful relation to quality of life.

Rather than the search for a more effective way of doing the same, what is coming on strong now is a redefinition of the search itself. Gradually, through insecure approaches, we are seeking to reinsert values, ethics, and objectives into the dynamics of social reproduction. And this leads us to rethink the social agents capable of bringing about transformations and mobilization strategies.

In part, this is the path that leads an economist who realizes that the problems within his field call for solutions belonging to a broader universe onto the same discussion platform as that of an educator, who also looks for answers in the economic, social, and political realms. After all, the challenge posed by the end of this century is the question of our common future.

Pedagogy of the Heart, in the original Portuguese entitled “under this mango tree,” perhaps more so than Paulo Freire’s other books, presents an explicit view of the world, of politics, and of values. It considers, in the most positive sense, building bridges and pathways amid the smells and tastes of childhood, forming and transforming education, modem-world technological dynamics, economic injustice and absurdity, the search for political alternatives, and the personal commitment implied by that search, returning to the mango tree as the source of an identity that rediscovers and re-creates itself.

The source is essential here, for while we are still intoxicated with technological innovations, it brings us back to our real objectives, as human beings. Hypnotized by little pocket mirrors, more and more we perceive capitalism as the generator of scarcity: while the volume of technological toys available in stores increases, clean rivers for fishing and swimming, tree-shaded yards, clean air, clean drinking water, streets for playing or walking around, fruits eaten without fear of chemicals, free time, and spaces for informal socialization become more and more scarce. Capitalism requires that free-of-charge happiness be substituted for what can be bought and sold.

The alternative is not being against technology, as Milton Friedman would have it, when he states that all concerned with the environment and social causes have “progress-phobia” as a common trait. Any person with common sense understands how absurd it is for us to spend hours of our lives in city traffic, breathing polluted air, bumper to bumper, wasting oil, parts, pavement, health, and time, traveling at an average speed lower than ten miles per hour, slower than carriages from the turn of the century. The automobile is great, but only when inserted in a view of technology directed toward an enhanced quality of life, with a high priority for comfortable and affordable public transportation, tree-shaded streets, and individual transportation reserved for medium-length weekend trips or for large purchases.

Capitalism does not bring us only product, but also forms of social organization that destroy our ability to use it adequately. We powerlessly watch the stupefaction of children and adults in front of the television and the fact that we spend more and more time intensely working to buy more things designed to save us time. By the same token, we see the amazing advancement of available potential, and we are unable to turn it into a better life.

Indeed, a better life includes access to better things, but it also includes, and fundamentally so, the ensuing human relations. It is not very difficult to invert Sartre’s sentence and state that happiness lies within others. In large part, more-or-less artificial political divisions touch on this generally non-explicit belief that man is either naturally good or naturally evil. Today, we know the extent to which contexts that pitch man against man generate hell, whereas contexts that generate solidarity build environments where people feel more fulfilled.

A reordering of spaces for social reproduction has everything to do with this process. In the fortunate expression of Milton Santos, “That which is global divides; it is the local that allows for union.” This century-and-a-half of capitalism has disjointed communities and created a truly anonymous society, whose members only interact through functional systems and electronic terminals. How to rebuild solidarity is the radical objective of Paulo Freire’s reasoning.

We are all used to the conscience blow we take when we walk past street children. We have already built our defenses, one way or another. A long time ago, I met an elderly lady begging for money and was astounded by her resemblance to my mother. That was a deep shock, but then I was surprised with myself: “The anonymous human being is not supposed to hurt?” With the global society of long distances and large numbers, solidarity became no longer a matter of the heart, of feelings naturally generated before the known person; it shifted over to the intellect, reason, which is satisfied with rationalization. That which globalizes divides, and the pathway to solutions has to go through a deep rearticulation of the social fabric.

In Paulo Freire’s reasoning, rationality is rationally clamoring for the right to its emotional roots. This is the return to the shade of the mango tree, to the complete human being. And with the smells and tastes of childhood, it is much broader a concept than that of right or left, a deeply radical one: human solidarity.


* All dollar figures are U.S., unless otherwise noted.

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