Mailbox Chronicles no. 5: Pedagogy of Commitment by Paulo Freire

I confess to letting out a groan when a preview copy of Pedagogy of Commitment (Paradigm Publishers, 2014) landed in the mailbox. It’s yet another volume based on the teachings of Paulo Freire, the legendary Brazilian educator. His great opus, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has spawned a series: Pedagogy of Indignation, Pedagogy of Hope, Pedagogy of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Heart, Pedagogy of the City. What’s next? Pedagogy of Cashing In? Nearly twenty years after Freire’s death, there are still new books coming out with his name on the cover. Why?

Pedagogy of Commitment

A quick glance at Pedagogy of Commitment answers the question. Most of the book is based on things Freire said, so the tone is different to his writing, and far more accessible.

This volume follows him around Latin America and contains transcripts of his talks, interviews and q-and-a sessions. The result is that ideas which take twenty pages in his writing, and need to be decoded through the verbiage, are here crystallized succinctly in a few comments. For the uninitiated, there are useful sections on ethics in education, the relationship between pedagogy and politics, neoliberalism, and popular education in Latin America.

Even so, there are some questionable inclusions, and the book comes across as a mixed bag. The Nicaragua section is two pages long and consists of a ‘manifesto’ concerning the Sandinistas (it isn’t a manifesto – there’s no call to action or delineation of ideas), written in 1989. There’s an acceptance speech in Argentina, which begs the question: why on earth would anybody want to read a transcript of Freire accepting an honorary doctorate? He has nothing to say but ‘thank you.’

Also, there’s quite a bit of repetition, as you’d expect when audiences from different countries pose similar questions. The suspicion is that, at barely 140 pages including endmatter, Pedagogy of Commitment needed padding out.

Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire

The arrival of a new book ‘by Freire’, who died in 1997, always carries a risk: that his legacy becomes diluted. When publishers deign to put even his marginalia between covers, it pushes him towards the status of cult hero, a deified poster boy of the progressive Left. The thing is with Freire, if you put him on a pedestal, you cannot see him face to face, which is the whole point. He stood for humility, love, and a commitment to the oppressed. This book is a footnote to all of that.

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