What a remarkable treasure to be able to hear Paulo Freire talk about his own thinking, curiosity, and teaching in the video Paulo Freire: An Incredible Conversation.
It has become apparent, to me in the past few years, that humans have possessed the answers to how to become all that we can be for hundreds of years. There have been plenty of curious people who have asked, and answered questions about how we can be our best selves. Recently, it seems that humanity learns even more every day about how we function optimally, what we need to be content, productive and of service to others. Yet so many of us (humans) choose to ignore, or even worse, refute, what is known and understood by those of us that are both trained to seek ‘truth’ and those that seem to understand it inherently.
I would like to suggest that it is precisely because teaching/educating has never achieved recognition for being the highest calling and most important profession to the advancement of humankind, and possibly to the world beyond what is important/relevant to humans (economics, status, prosperity*).
My personal journey over the past 25 years has brought me to understand some remarkable truths:
- Humans are not the center of the universe. In fact, it appears that the universe may do better without us than with. The only ‘real’ purpose of the built world is for humans to understand themselves better, yet humanity often seems to be bent toward destroying itself and the natural world we live within through ignorance and greed.
- The more we are able to detach from what we have been taught to value and value life itself above all else, we will be able to see a path toward truth.
- If we find our way to a path toward truth, we can shed our need for human endeavor (status, possession, prosperity)
- And, if we can be a teacher, then we will have achieved the three greatest accomplishments of humans: education, service to others, and being of value to the universe.
Freire’s work puts an even finer point on what I have learned so far:
“It is through the exercise of tolerance that I discover the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things with different people. Being tolerant is not a question of being naive. On the contrary, it is a duty to be tolerant. “
The concept of curiosity seems key to seeking a path that is both righteous and humble. Humility is one of the great characteristics of all of the best educators I have ever known. The ability to place oneself at the feet of those that serve you, depend upon you or are perceived by society as ‘less than’ you is humility at its most basic level. And, coupled with having a ‘duty to be tolerant’ requires Educators to make a conscious choice to support each and every student in their care, without exception. Being curious makes it less difficult to be tolerant. But being tolerant does not necessarily mean that one is better at being curious. I have observed many teachers being superficially ‘tolerant’ of their students, but then revealing their biases in statements like: “he’ll never be able to do _____” or “she isn’t capable of ____”.
Freire recognizes the importance of teachers being critical thinkers and learners in order to effectively and constructively pass along this critical way of perceiving and living in the world:
“The more I learn about myself as a thinker and kind of epistemologist proposing a critical way of thinking and a critical way of teaching, of knowing [for] the teachers in order for them to work differently with the students.”
But how many of us understand that idea implicitly (which is what many teachers are expected to do because they are not educated to learn how to think critically either for themselves or their students’ best interests)? And how many teachers rely on their own upbringing (culture, religious beliefs, examples) to shape their teaching philosophy, their reactions to students’ behavior and needs, their perception of who their students are. Do they learn to view ‘others’ as humans as well, and do they understand their indelible role in each students’ life? I would be willing to venture that less than ten percent of teachers have ever really contemplated what each student goes home and tells his/her parent(s) about the relationship they have with their teacher.
Freire understood the responsibility of every person to be educated well enough to influence the course of humanity:
“[T]he more they can grasp the dominant syntax, the more they can articulate their voices and their speech in the struggle against injustice.”
Oh yes, Freire. Now you’re talking. Educating the masses isn’t about creating a workforce that is thoughtful and responsive to the economic needs of society. Education is about lifting people up, elevating their voices with language and thinking that can change the course of humanity for good: to create just people who can educate others effectively, to be of service. It’s a system, an ecology, that requires both inputs and outputs; exchanges of energy to create something new, something good for the universe.
Because what is more important in being human than to search for, and learn to recognize ‘truth’ over ‘untruth’: light versus dark, good over evil.
“Change … is difficult, but [always] possible. ”
~ Paulo Freire
Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage
* as defined by humans: success, wealth, mobility.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Rowman & Littlefield.