Saturday, October 09, 2004

Why Che? Why Freire? Why Now?

Saw the movie Motorcycle Diaries this afternoon and then went online to look up Che's legacy and found this essay by Peter McLaren of UCLA School of Education. Here's an excerpt:

It is saddening to witness how the figure of Paulo Freire has been domesticated by liberals, progressives, and pseudo-Freireans who have tried incessantly to claim his legacy and teachings—much as they have done to the figure of John Dewey, whose radical politics have been ominously blunted by his more politically sanguine followers in the academy. Hence, it is necessary to re-possess Freire from those contemporary revisionists who would reduce him to the grand seigneur of classroom dialogue and would antiseptically excise the corporeal force of history from his pedagogical practices. It is much more difficult to appropriate the figure of Che Guevara, given that he was an active guerrillero until the moment he was murdered under the hawkish eye and panoptic gaze of the CIA. At the same time it is much more difficult to argue for the relevance of Che for educators today, given that he remained an active opponent of U.S. imperialism throughout his entire life and called for "Vietnams" to arise on every continent of the globe. But when you consider that Malcolm X now appears on a U.S. postage stamp, it might well be the case that one day Che will be included in the U.S. pantheon of world ‘heroes.’ After all, the United States has a seductive way of incorporating anything that it can’t defeat and transforming that ‘thing’ into a weaker version of itself, much like the process of diluting the strength and efficacy of a virus through the creation of a vaccine. If the United States could find a Che ‘vaccine,’ it is more than likely that a stronger version of the Che ‘virus’ would rise up somewhere in the world where capital was laying waste to human dignity and the survival of the poor and dispossessed, in order to wreak its revenge. As long as Marx and Engels’s homage—"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"(1952, p. 40)—still captures the imagination due to its increasing relevance in the world today, that much is assured.
When I first began sketching ideas on Che’s pedagogical imperatives and practices, I proposed readmitting into the debates over educational reform the legacy of Che Guevara as a model of moral leadership, political vision, and revolutionary praxis. I soon recognized, without surprise, that Che had never been officially admitted to the court of serious educational debate, most likely for the same reason that provoked Herb Kohl to write:
I am still not convinced that . . . [Che] . . . had a pedagogy that is meaningful for our society at this historical conjuncture. We are not at a revolutionary moment and we are the center of capitalist oppression with no strong social movement committed to changing the situation. In fact I cannot think of any school textbooks that treat Guevara with dignity and complexity. (1999, p. 308)
Kohl argues that because Che is not sympathetically portrayed in school textbooks, and because strong social movements against oppression are woefully lacking in the United States, we therefore should not place too much faith in the relevance of Che’s message for our current condition. I wish Kohl could have been on the marches in which I have been privileged to participate, from Los Angeles to Porto Alegre, where banners of Che are clutched by proud working hands and held high. Kohl’s defeatist comments about Che appear more symptomatic of a growing cynicism among progressive educators than a reasoned and convincing case against Che.
Why should educators bother to engage with the legacies of Che Guevara and Paulo Freire, especially now that the ‘end of history’ has been declared? Especially, too, when broadside condemnations of Marxism abound uncontested? And why now, at a time when the marketplace has transformed itself into a deus ex machina ordained to rescue humankind from economic disaster and when voguish theories imported from France and Germany can abundantly supply North American radicals with veritable plantations of no-risk, no-fault, knock-off rebellion? Why should North American educators take seriously two men who were propelled to international fame for their devotion to the downtrodden of South America and Africa? One reason is that capitalism’s Faustian urge to dominate the globe has generated a global ecological crisis. Another obvious, but no less important, reason is that the economic comfort enjoyed by North Americans is directly linked to the poverty of our South American brothers and sisters. As Elvia Alvarado proclaims in Don’t Be Afraid Gringo, "It’s hard to think of change taking place in Central America without there first being changes in the United States. As we say in Honduras, ‘Sin el perro, no hay rabia’—without the dog, there wouldn’t be rabies’" (1987, p. 144). Still yet another reason is that Che and Freire have given us a pedagogical course of action (not to be confused with a blueprint) for making bold steps to redress locally and globally current asymmetrical relations of power and privilege.
Why Che? Why Freire? Why now? For those who have been following world events, or taking even a cursory look at the conditions in our cities and small towns all across the United States, it is evident that democracy has transmogrified into the negation of its own principles; that there is a counter-tendency growing within it; that a beast is growing in its belly, bloated by capitalist greed; that human beings have made themselves subservient to, and at the very least, accessories of capital accumulation and consumption and the instruments of labor that dominate them through a powerfully cathected social amnesia; and that the international division of labor is widening into a crisis of monopoly capitalism—what Lenin so aptly termed imperialism. Che and Freire have never been needed more than at this current historical moment. It is not necessary to canvas the present political landscape with the discerning gaze of the sociologist or the trained academic eye to see that oppression has not been vanquished by capitalist democracy but continues to emerge unabated in new forms by means of innovative and decentralized production facilities, newly centralized economic power brought about by new media technologies, capitalist warfare against unions and social services, state-sanctioned Latinophobia, and the disproportionate incarceration of Latino/as and African Americans in a rapidly expanding prison industry. Recent events surrounding education professor José Solís Jordán—who taught educational foundations at DePaul University and the University of Puerto Rico, and who was framed by the FBI and found guilty of planting two bombs at military recruitment center—serve as only one of many indications that the U.S. government will stop at nothing short of breaking all peaceful opposition to its imperialist practices in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.1

Comments: Post a Comment
links to this post

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?