The following is a lecture by Frei Betto translated by Troika Kollective's Kahlil I. Sankara from Portuguese into English. To read the authors work in Portuguese and Spanish click here
Note from the Translator: Frei Betto is a Brazilian Liberation Theolegist and Educator. His work ranges from workers education, bridging dialogue between socialism and religious practices, educational work and lectures in both Cuba and Nicaragua, and policy for Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores . Here we have a lecture given in Revolutionary Cuba translated into English from Porteguese for the very first time.
The Role of Educators on the Political Formation of Students
Lecture presented by Frei Betto, on February, at the 2014 World Congress of Universities, held in Havana, Cuba
The 9th International Congress of Superior Education, held on February 12th, 2014
The Socialist Bloc disintegrated before completing a single century. The Soviet Union disintegrated, leaving the countries that formed it to adopt capitalism as an economic system and democracy as its synonym. Everything that Socialism intended and, in some way, achieved - reduction of social inequality, guarantee of full employment, free and quality health and education, inflation control, etc. - disappeared, giving way to all the inhuman characteristics of neo-liberal capitalism: the person viewed, not as a citizen, but as a consumer; life's ideals reduced to hedonism; the exploitation of the labor force and the private appropriation of surplus value; financial speculation; the degradation of the human condition through prostitution, the pornographic industry, crime and the increasing consumption of alcohol and drugs.
It is our duty, as men and women of the Left, to question ourselves. What are the causes that led to the disappearance of socialism in Europe? We all know that there is a wide range of causes. These causes range from the economic situation of a bipolar world hegemonized by capitalism to war-like pressures due to the Cold War.
Among the many causes I highlight one of a subjective nature, ideological, which gives concern to our theme for today: the role of the Educator in the political formation of students.
I must say that, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I had the opportunity to visit China and Poland; twice I visited Czechoslovakia and East Germany; and the Soviet Union on three occasions.
European socialism made the error of assuming that people born in a Socialist society would naturally be Socialists. As if the altruistic values and the Marxist conception of the world were genetically transmissible. They forgot Marx's claim that consciousness reflects the material conditions of existence, even more so, that it also influences and modifies those same conditions. Wherever it enters, there is a dialectical interaction between subject and reality.
In our first instance, when we are born, we are all self-centered, only in the end does this change. Lenin would say,”Love is a cultural product.” It results from the unfolding of our ego. This is to be obtained through practice, practices that instill altruistic values, gestures of solidarity, and collective ideals by which life gains meaning and death is no longer seen as failure or defeat.
According to Lyotard, what characterizes post-modernity is not knowing how to answer the question: what is the meaning of life? This is the role of the educator: not only transmitting knowledge, pedagogically facilitating access to the cultural heritage of the nation and humanity, even more raising revolutionary spirit and militancy in education, the search for new men and women mirrored, here in the case of Cuba, in the examples of Martí, Che Guevara and Fidel.
However, this will never be possible if a process of ongoing formation is not provided for the education of educators. We would be mistaken to think that teachers from a socialist country, even if affiliated with the party that led the Revolution, are revolutionaries. No one among us is totally invulnerable to seductions of capitalism, to the attractions of individualism, to the temptation of compromising, and indifference in the face of others' suffering and collective needs.
We are all permanently subjected to the harmful influences that satisfy our ego and tend to immobilize us when it comes to taking risks and giving up prestige, power, and money. Corruption is a weed inherent in capitalism and Socialism. There will never be a social system in which ethics stands out as a virtue inherent in everyone who lives and works.
If it is not possible to achieve the utopia of ethics in politics, it is necessary to conquer the ethics of politics. Creating a political institutionality that prevents us from “falling into temptation” due to the lack of ethics. This will only be possible in a system in which corruption is not accepted, there is no desire to corrupt and there is no impunity for corruption. Such an objective is not achieved through repression and penalties, although they are necessary. The most important is pedagogical work, moral emulation, a task in which teachers play a leading role, insofar as they deal with the formation of new generations' consciousness and practice.
A revolutionary teacher must have attitudes based on the construction of human identity. A human identity- in which there is a match between essence and existence. This teacher must manage his school discipline- in context to the historical context in which he is inserted.
The educator's number one role is not to train skilled or qualified labor for the job market. It is to form happy, dignified human beings, endowed with critical conscience, active participants in the permanent challenge of improving Socialism, which I consider the political name of love. Therefore, it is up to the educator to arouse in the students appreciation for the values that encourage altruism, solidarity, disinterested service to collective causes, even if the source of these values is not strictly ideological, but also religious or spiritual.
To move in this direction implies overcoming some of the challenges in the current moment. The first, overcoming the overwhelming neoliberal process of de-historicizing history. Without a historical perspective, there is no critical consciousness or political projects. In declaring that "history is over", neoliberalism wants to instill in us the conviction that time is cyclical, as it was for the ancient Greeks, and any attempt to historicize history- is useless. Because, as the neo-liberals preach, humanity has already reached its highest level of civilization, embodied in the capitalist system. The only system they see capable of supporting the only possible democracy …
Martí, having already foreshadowed this issue, insisted on education as a process, a formative process of historical consciousness: “In order to study the possibilities of the future of mankind, it is necessary to master the knowledge over the realities of mankind's past. So much is spoken on Human progress, more and more it appears to become vulgar to speak on it. It cannot be predicted how mankind will progress, without knowing how he has progressed (...) ”(José Martí,“ Exposición de la electricidad ”, La América, New York, March 1883, T. 8, p. 347).
The second challenge is to overcome cultural mimicry, this is typical in the colonized consciousness, which delegates the oppressive model to be imitated by the oppressed. Something Paulo Freire very clearly denounced in his works. I have always observed, during the three decades that I frequented Cuba, that people here are compared to US standards, and Latin America standards. If all Cubans were aware that this nation, compared to Latin America as a whole, is more advanced in health, education, social rights and equal access to essentials for a quality life, the level of dissatisfaction of those who utilize these social programs would certainly be much lower. American consumerism is viewed as a standard of development, without taking into account the thousands of US citizens excluded from free access to the essentials needed to have a life with quality. Today, in the US, more than 40 million people are threatened by poverty. This includes the US having more Black people in prison today than slaves in the 19th century!
The third challenge- to cultivate spirituality; in a world dominated by the hegemony of the commodification of all dimensions of life and all aspects of nature. “It is necessary to maintain men in the knowledge of the land and in the durability and importance of life” (Martí, “Maestros ambulantes”, La América, New York, May 1884, T. 8, p. 288).
Martí anticipates Paulo Freire by emphasizing that the student must be the protagonist of the educational process. “(...) there is no better system of education system than one that prepares [all] children to learn for themselves” (José Martí, La América, New York, November 1883, T. 8, p. 421). This is what he will repeat in La Edad de Oro: “[...] Men must learn for themselves, and not to believe without asking, to not speak without understanding, to not be slaves who are forced to have their thoughts decided by others [...] ] ”(José Martí, A paseo por la tierra de los anamitas, T. 18, p. 459).
Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, emphasized that true education is one that brings the contradictions of the world to the students awareness; structural contradictions, superstructural contradictions or inter-structural contradictions. These contradictions, once made aware, discomfort the student, impelling him to become an agent or protagonist in the transformation of reality. To reach this goal, Freire points out 10 symptoms of what he describes as “the banking-concept of education” which need to be avoided or eradicated: 1) the educator is the one who educates; the students are educated; 2) the educator knows; the students do not know; 3) the educator is what he thinks; the students are to apprehend thoughts as absolute truths; 4) the educator is the one who says the word; the students are docile recipients; 5) the educator is the one who disciplines; the students are the ones disciplined; 6) the educator decides and prescribes his option; the students, take the prescription; 7) the educator acts; the students’ acts are illusions of action, only alluding to the educator; 8) the educator chooses the syllabus; students never heard they had a choice, they are accommodated to it; 9) the educator identifies the authority of knowledge with its functional authority, which antagonistically opposes the freedom of learners; students must adapt to the determinations of this knowledge of authority; 10) finally, the educator is the subject of the process; students objects in the process. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rio, Paz e Terra, 1974, PP. 67-68).
Education must be dialogic, conscious, problem-solving, contextualizing, in order to overcome the educator-educating contradiction and become a permanent exercise in the practice of freedom. In Martí’s Guatemala brochure, published in Mexico in 1878, he praises the pedagogy of the Central University of Guatemala: “And youth are encouraged. They criticize the teacher, the text, the consultation book. They reject masterful imposition, which is also good. They desire to know to believe. They aspire for the truth through experience; a way to solidify talent , the virtues firm and the energetic character ” (Quoted in Diego Jorge González Serra, Martí and psychology, São Paulo, Scriptures, 2001, p. 81).
An education that is reduced to being mere orthophony: endless repetition of concepts, petrified by the voice of authority. Will deprive the student of critical sense and imprints on him the idea that the Revolution is a historical fact of the past, and not a perennial challenge for each new generation. To have revolutionary students the educational process must be equally revolutionary. Meaning we must transform schools into laboratories. Laboratories establishing strategic interconnections between all disciplines. Teaching becomes permanently connected to national and international circumstances. Doctors become not only one who knows how to deal with the sick organ, but also knows the social, historical and psychic causes of the production of diseases and arouses in his patient the strength to fight them. An administrator who does not limit themselves to taking good care of the company entrusted to him, but also someone who awakens in their employees the ethical sense of the service that the company provides to the public; preventing deviations, corruptions and waste. Computer technicians’- masters of the functions of electronic equipment that seeks to improve it, but understands the political role of social networks, the power of information technology in relations between nations. Or run the risk that virtual reality will grow distant from, and forgive me if sounding redundant, real reality.
We all know that the Cuban Revolution is at a crucial moment. Unlike the Special Period, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the moment today is not of extreme need. Today there is an abundance of ideas, proposals, and suggestions for how the Revolution will live up to the legacy received from its three great luminaries - Martí, Fidel, and Che. How it will adapt to the 21st century, preserving and improving their ethics; of not exploiting the work of others and private appropriation of wealth; their social rights, such as food, health and education for all, without discrimination and loss of quality; their freedom to fully exercise and express their thoughts, artistic creativity, religious conviction; its morality, of preserving for all that belongs to all, eradicating corruption, absenteeism and the dilapidation of public assets; its internationalism, instilling in the new generations a sense of solidarity, service to the most needy, and sharing of talents and goods.
We all know that the Revolution faces powerful enemies, such as the White House’s blockade on Cuba; the unjust imprisonment of the five Cuban heroes in the USA; the neoliberal media pressure, riddled with prejudice and affronts; the difficulties in obtaining credits and in obtaining Cuban products in the market. The main enemy, however, is not out there. It's inside Cuba. And it can be easily identified: it is “the banking-concept” of education; it is discouragement in the face of challenges; it is individualism that seeks its own profit, without considering collective rights; it is the lack of care for public goods; it is indifference to the most needy and aging; in short, it is selfishness that makes each one of us a virus capable of corroding and weakening the healthy social organism. This internal enemy is the most dangerous and lethal.
Fortunately, it is also the easiest to fight when effective methods of liberating education, of moral emulation, of cultivating spiritualities are adopted that, each day, awaken in each of us what we most desire and which Martí summarizes in these words: "(...) the gift of love, is what makes genius fruitful." (La America, New York, August 1883).