Some time after his arrival
the foreigner said to the men in the valley
one dusking afternoon:
Thus far I have spoken to you only
of the songs of birds and
of the tenderness of the dawns.
It was necessary to undertake with you some
to feel the uncertainty of tomorrow,
living out the negation of myself,
through a work that is not our own.
Only so, speaking to you would be a form of
speaking with you.
Now I can tell you:
We do not believe in those who proclaim
that our weakness is a gift from the Gods,
that it is in us as the fragrance
or the dew in the mornings.
Our weakness is not the ornament
of our bitter lives.
We do not believe in those who state,
in hypocritical intonation,
that life is really like this
—a few having so much,
millions having nothing.
Our weakness is not a virtue.
Let us pretend, however, that we do believe
in their discourse.
It is important that not a gesture of ours
reveal our true intention.
It is important that they leave happy in their
certain that we are things of their own.
We need time
to prepare our own discourse
that will shake up mountains and valleys,
rivers and oceans
and will leave them stunned and fearful.
Our different discourse
—our action-word—will be spoken
by our whole bodies:
our hands, our feet, our reflections.
All within us will speak
a life-bearing language
—even the instruments that
our hands will use,
when, in communion, we
shall transform our weakness
into our strength.
Poor us, however, if we cease to speak
simply because they can no longer lie.
Therefore, I tell you:
Our liberation discourse
Is not the medicine for a passing illness.
If we go silent as the present lies quiet down,
new lies will appear,
in the name of our liberation.
Our different discourse
As a true discourse
will be made and remade;
it never is or will have been,
because it will always be being.
Our different discourse
must be a permanent one.
–Paulo Freire 2007, pp. xxxviii-xl
As I read through the poem you had given to Nita, that she decided to put at the start of your posthumous book, Daring to Dream, I found you speaking of creating a new discourse to counteract that which is created by the oppressor and reinforced by society. You go on to speak of our bodies in relation to this discourse, stating, “Our different discourse / —our action-word—will be spoken / by our whole bodies: / our hands, our feet, our reflections” (2007, p. xxxix). I can’t help but wonder if you speak only metaphorically, or if you mean to say that our nonverbal communication is a key part of this new discourse, this action word. Do you mean our individual bodies or the bodies of all of the oppressed standing up to oppression? What of the implicit metaphor in this statement, that the new discourse, the “action word,” will imbue mere words with the strength of our physical being?
In a talk you gave more than a quarter century after writing this poem, you reveal that “In order to confront the ideological discourse of impossibility of change, it is necessary to create an equally ideological discourse for the possibility of change, but one also founded in the scientific truth that it is possible to change” (2007, p. 84). It would seem, then, that the body in this sense would represent that scientific truth. Does the physical self of the poem represent the concreteness of scientific truth and knowledge?
In the midst of your verse, you speak of “our reflections” as being a part of our whole bodies speaking this new discourse. As I was reading the poem, this line made me pause in wonder. Are you speaking of a physical reflection such as visible in a mirror or a body of water? What would such a reflection imply about the discourse? Once again my mind returned to the thought of the collective bodies of the oppressed. Here, such a physical reflection would reveal the self in relationship to others, both alike and different in appearance, yet all sharing circumstances of subjugation by a system of domination. In this case, the reflection would be acting as the educator that you speak of when you say that “in the world there are always hidden things; in life, there are always hidden things, and one of the roles of the educator is to draw attention to those things” (2007, p. 35). For without the mirror, without the reflection in the water, the image of the self as part of a larger whole remains one of those hidden things in the world and in life.
Or are you using the word “reflection” in a more abstract sense, referring to a metaphoric meaning of the body in this poem? Are you speaking of reflecting on the words imbued with the strength of the body as representative of action or of science, rather than reflecting our bodies themselves? Science is by nature both active and reflective. Scientific theories both require action and reflection on the part of scientists to develop, and also reflect the world in a manner so as to reveal that which is hidden. Science is the seeking of knowledge to complete our understandings of the world. You once said, “It is not possible to be unfinished beings, such as we are, conscious of that inconclusiveness, and not seek. Education is precisely that seeking movement, that permanent search” (2007, p. 87). This implies a similarity between science and education. Are the reflections you speak of, then, a form of self-examination, a form of seeking in order to complete our unfinished selves?
You point out that teachers must “take a stand for themselves as political beings, that they discover themselves in the world as political beings, rather than as mere technicians or persons of knowledge” (2007, p. 60). When I was a swimming instructor (an act that, more than a classroom teacher, has the potential to be seen as a mere technician), a supervisor gave me a blank journal and recommended I use it to reflect on my swim lessons. This practice has stayed with me as I moved into the classroom and continues to stay with me to this day. When I engage in personal reflection, I find myself able to recognize to a greater degree when elements of power, particularly those that comprise the political landscape of my community and society at large, are influencing the classroom and my teaching. I find that I see my students and myself in a much greater light. Is your use of the word “reflections” in this poem, then, suggesting that reflective discourse can make it possible for teachers to see the politics inherent in our classrooms by allowing us to become more than mere technicians?
This is the sort of thing you talk about in some of your other work that I’ve connected with. In fact, I featured some of your work in a recent talk I gave about the value of teachers engaging in reflective practice. The teachers there were interested in the idea that teachers must recognize ourselves as learners too. I think these teachers would probably agree with your statement that “The educator’s biggest problem is not to discuss whether education can or cannot accomplish, but to discuss where it can, how it can, with whom it can, when it can; it is to recognize the limits his or her practice imposes” (2007, p. 64). For all teaching practice holds limitations, but through reflection we can acknowledge these limitations and find ourselves pushing the boundaries of such limitations.
The style of this post was inspired in part by the book, Dear Paulo: Letters From Those Who Dare Teach, edited by Sonia Nieto (2008). Next month I will be discussing another Freire-influenced book, Making It Happen by Patricia Richard-Amato (2010). If you have a book that you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.
Freire, P. (2007). Daring to dream: Toward a pedagogy of the unfinished. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Nieto, S. (2008). Dear Paulo: Letters from those who dare teach. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Richard-Amato, P.A. (2010). Making it happen: From interactive to participatory language teaching: Evolving theory and practice, fourth edition. White Plains, NY: Pearson.