Popular education has transformed Quebec. With the civic struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, it enabled many people from the most modest Quebec communities to learn to organize, express themselves and make demands. When Freire’s approach, which he developed in Brazil to make the poorest literate, was disseminated in Quebec, it quickly won the favor of the most committed adult education teachers here.
On September 19, the 100e Paulo Freire’s birthday. Its influence can be seen all over the planet, as hundreds of organizations from both North and South develop awareness-raising educational practices. Today, critical pedagogies have diversified to include feminist, anti-racist, decolonial and global citizenship approaches.
His first book, which made them and his method known, is called The pedagogy of the oppressed. It was reissued in Quebec this year, 47 years after the first publication in French by Éditions Maspero. According to 2016 research, the book ranks third among the most frequently cited books in the humanities and social sciences. It is obviously in Latin America that educational practices inspired by Freire developed. Moreover, the commemorations that will take place there are intended as a response to the ideological offensive of the most retrograde currents of Latin American society, which are in power in Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere.
Freire became known in Quebec in 1970 through the adult education and popular literacy networks. His influence is also found in social work, particularly in the Quebec Conscience Collective, as well as in international cooperation and solidarity organizations. This is how Freire’s approach took root in Quebec organizations for popular education and independent community action.
Today, many of these movements are under pressure because of the cutbacks and the pandemic. As popular education opposes neoliberal performance-based visions, organizations are pushed to favor a perspective of inclusion and capacity building, which are of course necessary. Popular mobilization for collective transformation is absolutely necessary. The confinement has eliminated the contacts present and created enormous constraints for social engagement, not to mention the increase in resources and technical skills.
However, the shock of climate challenges creates new perspectives for citizen action, at odds with conspiratorial currents. As is the case for the whole of society, the scale of the environmental challenges has shaken the community and popular education movements, which are called upon to renew and unite.
Critical pedagogies require decoding reality and becoming aware of inequalities, injustices and power relations. Knowing and understanding them is one thing, being aware of them and acting on them is another. As Freire said, we can educate people about the reality of injustices, but the mere transmission of knowledge does not transform societies. It’s the people who transform it.