Paulo Freire’s 100th Birthday: Celebrating his legacy in education

by Paula Teixeira de Castro and Sebastián Ansaldo

Paulo Freire is currently being celebrated for his 100th Anniversary, and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed has now more than fifty years since its original release. Considering that half a century has passed, his theory and concepts still retain a profound influence and global impact. In 2016, an analysis of social science works available on Google Scholar identified Pedagogy of the Oppressed as the third most-cited such text in the world – ahead of landmark texts by Marx, Foucault and Bourdieu, among others.

To celebrate his legacy and engage critically with the work of Paulo Freire, the Cambridge Latin American Research in Education Collective (CLAREC) organized “Paulo Freire 100th Anniversary: Celebrating his legacy in education” a two week-long set of events that included several seminars, talks, discussions, workshops, reading groups and even a student conference. 

Around 1260 people from different parts of the world, especially Latin America and Europe, participated in the 14 events. The events, many of them using a blended format (online and face-to-face), were organized by CLAREC with the support from over 16 organizations, including universities, research clusters, study centres, academic societies, social movements, collectives and institutes.

This fortnight event brought together researchers from various fields of knowledge, students, educators, community agents and social entrepreneurs not only interested in learning about Paulo Freire’s thinking but also moved by the desire to know the man behind the poignant discourse of liberation.

The events were a fruitful encounter to commemorate the work of Freire, but also to recontextualize and rethink his theory and concepts from a present-day perspective, considering today’s problems and social concerns. Thus, there were contributions and discussions about how to engage with concepts like dialogue, oppression, critical pedagogy, freedom, and others with issues such as climate change, feminism, digital education, decolonial thought, etc. Amongst the several dialogic spaces, some featured a relevant approach to the debate where ideas and arguments were shared in different languages, allowing for the richness of the interlocutor’s mother tongue – something increasingly rare in an increasingly Englished academia. Similar discussions also took place in the digital world, and the online magazine Post-Pandemic University, in collaboration with CLAREC, featured a special issue of contributions that reflects about critical pedagogy in today’s digital environment.

It can be said that there was an intergenerational encounter that convened some of Freire’s colleagues and contemporaries’ thinkers from different universities worldwide, many of his former students and young people who reflect on his writings “in the shade of a mango tree“, echoing the title of one of his books, in which the author recalls how his strong Brazilian North-eastern roots gave him the strength to endure exile.

Undeniably, there are still many exiled in the world – those who inhabit the space of hunger, those who roam the “non-space” as wanderers without a destination, those who have lost their freedom because some have seized power and those who are exiled from themselves, without identity, like displaced refugees.

Indeed, we learnt a lot together during this event, and we still have a lot to learn. This celebration reached the minds and hearts of those who sow freedom and want to reap equality and dignity. Celebrating Paulo Freire’s centenary granted us the opportunity to review one of his most relevant lessons: it is necessary to reduce the distance between what is said and what is done until our discourse becomes real action.

When we do enact this lesson in our existences, it will then have been worthwhile to delve into the work of Paulo Freire.

The series of events closed with the installation of a bust of Paulo Freire, specially delivered from Brazil, which now will be showcased in the Faculty of Education of the University of Cambridge, reminding us of the importance and legacy of this remarkable Brazilian. The display of Freire’s sculpture has already called the attention of national and international media. Unquestionably it symbolises the resistance to the attacks on education, representing the unremitting action needed to challenge undemocratic forms of power worldwide.

Published by Alexandre da Trindade

I am a Brazilian doctoral student at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. My research examines the role of higher education which goes beyond the traditional functions of teaching and research. I am particularly interested in how universities engage with communities, social movements and other sectors of society, contributing to the development of alternative futures (eg. Buen Viver, human flourishing), social justice, democratic societies and emancipated individuals. In this academic journey, I have a particular motivation to explore dialogical and ethnographic approaches and the philosophy of critical realism. I have a degree in marketing, where for 20 years, I worked mainly with technology and innovation projects. I have a special interest in engaging with networks such as the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Education (Anped); Culture, Politics and Global Justice (CPGJ) research cluster; Center for Global Higher Education (CGHE); Faculty of Education Research Students’ Association (FERSA); Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research (CEDiR); Cambridge Global Challenges (CGC); Cambridge University Brazilian Society (CUBS).

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