Centenário Paulo Freire

Memories that rescue the legacy of Paulo Freire

Settlers of the MST from Rio Grande do Sul and Pernambuco tell how the thinker marked their educational experiences
Photo: Paulo Freire Institute’s archives

By Maiara Rauber
From the MST webpage

Paulo Freire set himself in a reflection to understand the dilemmas of his time, and this triggered a new look on the socialization of knowledge. His entire work carries the legacy of someone who was committed to the political struggle, with and for the liberating education of his country.

“He set out to understand the roots of Brazil’s problems and to build a new project based on education and with an eye to the demands of the people,” says Gheidlla Mendes, national coordinator of popular cursinhos of Rede Podemos Mais*. Illiteracy was a path to be fought, but, according to her, Brazilian education lacked the organizational potential for developing people’s consciousness, which led Freire to follow this path.

By taking a stand on the side of the class struggle, Paulo Freire understood that it was necessary to trace a new path in his life. It was through education that he found this place of a being that acts and transforms the world.

“This memory of Paulo Freire’s legacy makes us see that he was the first to experience it, to put his hand to the wheel. He was an organic intellectual who experienced and suffered the dilemmas of his time”, says the coordinator. 

According to Gheidlla, this is the key to the learning that education bequeathed from the thinker, because one should not think about education from the shelf, separated from the project of Brazil, it is essential to involve all structures of society.

The pedagogy of the oppressed, elaborated by Freire, makes the educational process, functional, of life or of daily practice a construction of human emancipation, of the development of a critical consciousness. “He said that this was for the freedom of the oppressed subject,” emphasizes Gheidlla.

Therefore, Paulo Freire’s centennial, which is related to the element of memory, opens up great questions for the present time. “The pedagogy of hope is for us a horizon, a source of inspiration and understanding that the popular struggle and the construction of a popular project for Brazil cannot be made from a shelf of hope,” concluded the national coordinator of Rede Podemos Mais.

Freire influenced and still influences pedagogical practice in many schools. In the Movement of Landless Rural Workers, education in the settlements bears the teachings of this thinker. Below we present two experiences and memories that have crossed with Paulo Freire’s legacy.

The influence of a photo

A childhood without the opportunity to study and help the family work is the summary of many who lived in the countryside years ago. And that was also the beginning of the story of João Benedito dos Santos, a settler in the Santa Elmira settlement in the municipality of Hulha Negra, in the Campanha region of Rio Grande do Sul.

Her inclusion in the Landless Rural Workers Movement was the door for her to return to her studies. “I had always seen myself participating in the leadership of the MST, but I still had a deficiency in writing and reading due to my poor education. That is why, in mid-1989, a project for adult literacy classes using the Freirian methodology was launched, taught by fellow settlers, and I felt the need to participate in these classes,” Santos says.

Bust of Paulo Freire will be exposed in a possible museum at the 15 de Junho School, in the region of Campanha, RS. Photo: MST in RS

Paulo Freire innovates in his time by creating a methodology that considers the context of the learner and his specificities, since the learner is the student and the method must meet his development. Autonomy, dialogue and relationships are the basis of his theory.

This literacy methodology was implemented in the Movement’s camps and settlements, taking into account the reality of each place. Lucas Cupsinski, João Benedito’s teacher, used this method in his classes. “I even found it quite funny at the beginning because it was not the way I had started my learning. I started to enjoy it, it was participatory. We debated, talked, proposed the theme for the next class, there was a whole process of Freirian methodology,” Santos recalls. 

In the mid-1990s Paulo Freire, then secretary of education for the state of São Paulo, scheduled a visit to Agrarian Reform settlements in the Campanha region of Rio Grande do Sul. The purpose of his presence was the dissemination of his revolutionary projects in education with his methodologies.

At that moment, João Benedito’s life crossed paths with Freire again. The young settler did not yet realize the importance of that interaction, for him he was just another politician. “I was chosen to give a speech, to give my statement about what I had learned, what was my need to learn and what was my objective. I remember I trembled a lot, I was nervous standing there next to Paulo Freire. I got a hug from him and was applauded at that moment,” said the landless man.

According to him, the event did not mark him at the time. Some days later, he received a photo of Friar Sérgio Antônio Görgen, in which he was standing next to Paulo Freire in his speech, a portrait that would be much used in the future.

João Benedito recounted his school experience in the presence of Paulo Freire. Photo by MST in RS

Some time later, the Landless began to systematize the regional history of the border settlements. At this point, they began the search for photos that marked the presence of the thinker Paulo Freire in the region. João Batista then offered his.

At the time, according to the settler, the photo was scanned and reproduced in various spaces. In addition to the historical account, it was also used in MST lectures and in some universities. “I was very impressed by the value of that photo. It was then that I sought to know more about Paulo Freire and to learn more about his written books”, he points out.

João Benedito Santos followed his quest for knowledge, finishing his high school in 2006. Soon he entered the college of Social Licenciature, however, for lack of resources managed to attend only seven subjects.

In the meantime, the settler passed a competitive exam for the Bagé Regional Coordinator, and started working in a rural school in the Conquista da Fronteira settlement, in the municipality of Hulha Negra. This gave him the support to go back to college, but this time to study Pedagogy, which he completed in 2010. According to the pedagogue, his work at the school changed when he became vice-principal in 2011, where he continues after 18 years, now in school management.

Settlers from the region of Campanha pay tribute to Paulo Freire by creating a forest of native trees. Photo: MST in RS

Currently, the movement’s rural schools are celebrating Paulo Freire’s centennial. The region of Campanha adds another celebration, which is the 30th anniversary of the thinker’s visit to the settlement. The region held a tribute to celebrate and immortalize the teachings provided by Freire’s methodology. “Inside the school we created the Paulo Freire Woods, it is an area of approximately six hectares with native seedlings”, concludes Santos. One of the initiatives of the MST at a national level was the production of the Bust of Paulo Freire, which was destined for the settlement where Freire visited and for this reason, another project organized by the school is being considered: the organization of a Paulo Freire museum inside the 15 de Junho School.

An experiment that worked

In the northeast of the country, in Pernambuco, Tatiane dos Santos tells us about her story and the relationship between her work and Paulo Freire’s methodology. Daughter of farmers, she joined the MST in 2004. After joining the movement, her parents went camping and are now settlers.

Tatiane, who had graduated as a teacher, continued her work with youth and adult education in the encampments and settlements. She soon joined the MST’s education sector and in 2006 began working with the Youth and Adult Education (YAE) program in the Agrarian Reform areas, which at the time still lacked public policies.

“I was never satisfied with the education that was set out for us. Why did so many people have opportunities and others not so much?” questions the teacher. 

Educators distribute printed content to students due to the precariousness of internet in the settlements. Photo: MST Dissemination in PE

Paulo Freire’s practices and ideas were used in the state of Pernambuco through the Program Semeando Letras, and Tatiane had the opportunity to be a youth and adult education educator in the settlements for two years.

Another educational program initiated was Saberes da Terra. The first experience took place in the Normandia Settlement in Caruaru, in the Agreste of Pernambuco. “After the success of the education method based on Freirean thinking, new classes of Land Knowledge were formed,” says Tatiane. 

In the second version of the program, according to the teacher, the classes started to operate in the communities themselves. At that point, Tatiane became the class coordinator, where she still works today.

Paulo Freire’s pedagogy has become an instrument of change and social transformation. In the settlements where the Freirean method has been used, from 2007 to the present day, illiteracy has been reduced to zero.

“This was a very great achievement, because, in addition we have a committed educational team, where society, families are together in school. We have a political pedagogical project focused on the reality of the subject where he has within this curriculum the integration of knowledge with school time and community time” Tatiane emphasizes, stressing that this is the main point of the Freirian methodology.

The sharing of knowledge and the socialization of daily problems allows the student not only to learn, but also to experience directly and indirectly the reflection of action and reflection, which go together in the social environment. “The practices, experiences, knowledge, searches, and stories of the students are integrated into a school project that we want to build because education happens not only inside the school but also outside of it,” reflects the pedagogue. 

Another issue reported by Tatiane is the importance of Freire’s method for farmers. According to her, taking it into the schools strengthens the identity of the subject so that he can get an education, but remain in the countryside. “To make social transformation, we work within the pedagogy of the Landless Movement, where we have a process of student organization,” she points out.

This year, the MST brought to the school spaces pedagogical journeys focused on Paulo Freire’s centennial. But with the Covid 19 pandemic, new challenges presented themselves when it came to working on school content.

Classes held via digital platforms on the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo: MST Dissemination in PE

Classes held via digital platforms on the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo: MST Dissemination in PE

The precariousness and difficult access to internet in the communities so that the students can access the digital platforms and participate in the classes is the biggest obstacle. “We, educators, are taking printed activities to the communities with didactic sequences focused on their reality,” said the teacher.

In addition, didactics is also related to the centenary Paulo Freire, which is focused on the educator and the works carried out in the classes that dialogue with social transformation and intervention within the community.

“It is important to emphasize the culture circles, which are dialogues aimed at theatrical dramatizations, lectures and seminars of all forms, experienced by all educators, coordinators, students, communities and families, is a project that is integrated in all municipalities here in the Sertão de São Francisco. And this work is being developed by teachers with workshops and lectures via digital platforms such as Meet and Zoom depending on each reality”, Tatiane points out.

One of the main culture circles, according to the pedagogue, is to place the school as a space for knowledge construction that aims to discuss its role in the teaching-learning process and in the formation of the new man and the new woman in the Freirian vision.

Freire’s thought was adopted by Tatiane as an educator and pedagogical coordinator, and with this she seeks the greater involvement of people in collective constructions. “I believe that these collective constructions define the creation of public policies where we intervene with the government to claim rights, the solidarity of the group that is one of the main issues and is one of the fundamental and social roles of the school according to Freire”, she concludes. 

The school is an instrument of change, breaking paradigms and beyond all is part of social transformation.

The Podemos+ Network of popular courses emerged in 2017, through the sharing of initiatives that were already being carried out by young people from all over Brazil, during the 3rd National Meeting of Levante Popular da Juventude. A strategic space for solidarity, the network is based on the principles of popular education proposed by Paulo Freire and is active in 15 states, with around 50 classes open and collective action with educators, educators and young people who join as conscious and organized students in student movements.

**Edited by Fernanda Alcântara