Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy

Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy

Andrew J. Kirkendall
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807899533_kirkendall
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  • Book Info
    Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy
    Book Description:

    In the twentieth century, illiteracy and its elimination were political issues important enough to figure in the fall of governments (as in Brazil in 1964), the building of nations (in newly independent African countries in the 1970s), and the construction of a revolutionary order (Nicaragua in 1980). This political biography of Paulo Freire (1921-97), who played a crucial role in shaping international literacy education, also presents a thoughtful examination of the volatile politics of literacy during the Cold War.A native of Brazil's impoverished northeast, Freire developed adult literacy training techniques that involved consciousness-raising, encouraging peasants and newly urban peoples to see themselves as active citizens who could transform their own lives. Freire's work for state and national government agencies in Brazil in the early 1960s eventually aroused the suspicion of the Brazilian military, as well as of U.S. government aid programs. Political pressures led to Freire's brief imprisonment, following the military coup of 1964, and then to more than a decade and a half in exile. During this period, Freire continued his work in Chile, Nicaragua, and postindependence African countries, as well as in Geneva with the World Council of Churches and in the United States at Harvard University.Andrew J. Kirkendall's evenhanded appraisal of Freire's pioneering life and work, which remains influential today, gives new perspectives on the history of the Cold War, the meanings of radicalism, and the evolution of the Left in Latin America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0630-9
    Subjects: History, Education, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction: Paulo Freire and the Twentieth-Century Drive for Development
    (pp. 1-10)

    In a makeshift school built out of coconut trees in 1963 in the poor northeastern Brazilian city of Natal, a group of adult students sat and worked on their ABCs. This was no ordinary night class. As these men and women, many of whom were new to urban life, learned to recognize the words they spoke in letters and syllables, they began to perceive a chance of changing their worlds. Slides depicting scenes from their daily life projected onto a screen prompted them to discuss their realities and to understand them as having been made through human action and therefore...

  6. One Entering History
    (pp. 11-27)

    Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was born on 19 September 1921 during the last years of the Old Republic (1889–1930) at a time in which greater attention was being paid to educational issues. Brazil is a country of 3.2 million square miles, and, at the time of Freire’s birth, its population was roughly thirty million. It was, and is, a country of vast socioeconomic and regional inequalities. But it was a country that already in Freire’s early years was beginning to move beyond its historic role as provider of sugar and coffee to a north Atlantic market. The beginnings of...

  7. Two The Revolution that Wasn’t and the Revolution that Was in Brazil, 1961–1964
    (pp. 28-60)

    With the accession to power of João Goulart following the unexpected resignation of President Jânio Quadros in August 1961, regional, national, and international dynamics turned illiteracy into a national issue of great political import and Paulo Freire himself into a major figure in political and educational circles. The northeast continued to be a center of dynamic and creative political impulses, as this chapter demonstrates, but state and local government activities now combined with the power and resources of a national government that was in the process of trying to define itself and an expanding student political movement that sought to...

  8. Three Reformist Chile, Peasant Consciousness, and the Meaning of Christian Democracy, 1964–1969
    (pp. 61-89)

    Paulo Freire had developed new techniques for training adults to read and write, but his hopes of employing them to transform his native land were frustrated by the military coup of 1964. The experience of exile that resulted from the coup, however, opened up new opportunities for him. In Chile, the recently inaugurated administration of Eduardo Frei made popular education part of a larger Christian Democratic state project of promoting land reform and the enlargement of what we now call civil society. Central to Frei’s vision was a plan to eradicate illiteracy.¹ The Frei administration sought both to liberate and...

  9. Four Paulo Freire and the World Council of Churches in the First and Third Worlds, 1969–1980
    (pp. 90-117)

    In the 1970s, Paulo Freire became an international figure. He traveled endlessly, mostly on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC), though not tirelessly. His ideas traveled even more widely and spread more rapidly around the world. If his Chilean experience had given him a broader Latin American perspective, he now increasingly spoke as a representative of the Third World. He began to have an impact in industrialized nations as well as in other developing countries beyond Latin America, often in ways that seemed to contradict his theories. It was a heady and, for Freire, in many ways, satisfying...

  10. Five The Sandinistas and the Last Utopian Experiment of the Cold War, 1979–1980
    (pp. 118-152)

    The last major literacy campaign Paulo Freire advised while he was with the World Council of Churches took him back to Latin America, but not to South America, where he had developed his ideas and techniques in an era of reform, but to Central America in a time of revolution. He took the lessons he had learned working in Africa and applied them to Nicaragua, a nation that in 1979 was trying to rebuild following decades of economic mismanagement and dictatorship, not to mention a catastrophic earthquake and a destructive war of liberation. As in many of the African nations...

  11. Six The Long, Slow Transition to Democracy in Brazil and the End(?) of Utopia, 1980–1997
    (pp. 153-164)

    Paulo Freire returned to a Brazil that was still run by the military but experiencing “a concrete opening.” Freire felt that he had to “take advantage of the existence of this space.” The amnesty law of 1979 had made it possible for him and his family to make a life once again in his native land. After his return, he found it necessary, as he frequently noted, to “relearn Brazil” while responding to abundant invitations to speak throughout the country.¹ Brazil had undergone significant social and economic change since his departure in 1964, but these changes were not yet reflected...

  12. Epilogue: Legacies of a Cold War Intellectual in a Post–Cold War World
    (pp. 165-170)

    Since his death on 2 May 1997, Paulo Freire’s writings, ideas, and techniques have had a life of their own. They may, at times and in turn, create their own historical contexts. His influence remains strong, particularly among those involved in what is known as popular education and among those in the academic world who practice what they call critical pedagogy.¹ As the second decade of the twenty-first century begins, literacy campaigns as part of state projects are still often associated with the Left, whether in Húgo Chávez’s Venezuela (where the teachers are often Cuban) or in Maoist Nepal. UNESCO,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 171-222)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-246)