Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books

This website, dedicated to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), consists of a collection of reviews of his books and links to other pages on Freire. The books are listed in chronological order. When the book has been translated into English, the first date refers to the original publication. 

The website was created by Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Castells, Manuel; Flecha, Ramón; Freire, Paulo; Giroux, Henry A.; Macedo, Donaldo; and Willis, Paul, Introduction by Peter McLaren. 1999. Critical Education in the New Information Age. Maryland and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Review by Jennifer Maurice (OISE/UT)

            In Critical Education in the New Information Age Manuel Castells, Ramón Flecha, Paulo Freire, Henry A. Giroux, Donald Macedo, Peter McLaren and Paul Willis come together to explore the contending and conflicting discourses of educational and social reform in the new information age. Throughout the book the authors speak to the importance of new languages of criticism and interpretation, and a revolutionary praxis that is committed to emancipation and social justice.

In the introduction, Peter McLaren discusses the growing inequality and poverty that have resulted from neoliberal economic policy. He discusses the pan-national structures of production and distribution and communication technologies that have accelerated capitalism by enabling the instant worldwide financial transactions (Castels, et al, 1999, 3). Refuting Fukyama’s assertions to the contrary, McLaren insists that class inequalities in the West not only exist, but are growing (Ibid, 6). In the face of these disparities McLaren warns against an identity politics that pits groups against one another in a never-ending litany of competing claims of oppression. Rather he argues for the need to move beyond celebrating pluralism to an understanding of how discursive constructions of race and ethnicity are linked to economic exploitation (Ibid, 30).

Manuel Castells, in “Flows, Networks, Identities: A Critical Theory of the Informational Society" attempts to incorporate the social and economic impacts of new technologies into a broader system of social interaction. He describes the current information society as a society of flows, in which physically disjointed positions held by social actors are exchanged in purposeful, repetitive, programmable sequences (Castells et al, 1999, 57). The interactive relationship between technology and society is important, he argues because:

  1. The ability to use (and to some extent to produce) information technologies has become a fundamental tool for development…
  2. The whole world becomes interconnected in its economic functions through information and communication flows…
  3. The information economy, while connecting the whole planet in a series of networks of flows, does so selectively. (Ibid, 55)

 The power of organizations and individuals therefore depends both on their positioning with respect to these sources of knowledge and on their capacity to process such knowledge (Ibid, 60).

In “New Educational Inequalities,” Ramón Flecha argues that “education and social failure is the failure of an educational system and a society that can neither recognize nor make use of the cultural richness of different groups and individuals” (Castells et al, 78). The following chapter by Paulo Freire offers some important reflection on education and community involvement. Freire argues that the impossibility of being neutral in the world necessitates that we as educators position ourselves, and incorporate our educational practice in a way that is coherent with our political options. Progressive educators, he insists, must opt for development as opposed to educational packages, which he has also referred to in previous work as “banking education” (Kane, 2001, 38). In Freire’s view, the democratization of power plays a fundamental role in facilitating community involvement in education. In conclusion, Freire suggests that community involvement in the school should not be seen as a justification for states to escape the responsibility of providing quality education. Rather, “the idea is to privatize education but have the state finance it” (Castells et al, 1999, 91).

            In “Border Youth, Difference, and Postmodern Education,” Henry Giroux outlines the challenges for educators in understanding conditions of identity formation within electronically mediated cultures, and how they are producing a new generation of youth that exist between the borders of a modernist and a postmodern world. Giroux rejects the essentialist tendency of many intellectuals on the left who reject postmodernism as a style of cultural criticism and knowledge production, and suggests that postmodern discourses have an important role to play in understanding the proliferation of forms of diversity that contemporary youth experience (Ibid, 95).

            In “Our Common Culture: a Poisonous Pedagogy”, Donaldo Macedo highlights some of the failures of traditional educational curriculum using the example of E.D. Hirsch’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What All Americans Need to Know. He argues that through the selective omission of cultural facts, this work is part of the ongoing “poisonous pedagogy” designed in large part to instill obedience as a primary value in the education system (Castells et al, 1999, 118). Using Freirian techniques he counterposes Hirsch’s account of American history with another piece, “What every American needs to know but is prevented from knowing”.

            In the final chapter, “Labor Power, Culture and the Cultural Commodity” Paul Willis analyzes popular culture in the context of increasing commodification of cultural materials and electronic media. He argues that while relations of production are instrumentalist, new consumption relations are expressive. He then proposes a pedagogy reconstructed to illuminate the different relations and tensions between these, and their role in the formation of labor power. Such an approach is fundamental, he argues to the educator’s ability to engage in emancipatory practices.

The book provides a strong analysis of some key issues for popular educators in the information age. The chapters build on each other, drawing out key debates around postmodernism and identity politics, challenging the reader to consider her understanding of these issues and to develop an integrated analysis drawing from diverse schools of thought. Giroux’s discussion of postmodernism and agency may be refreshing for the reader who has become disillusioned by the debates of postmodern cultural criticism. “Instead of claiming that postmodernism’s critique of the essentialist subject denies a theory of subjectivity”, he argues, “it seems more productive to examine how its claims about the contingent character of identity, constructed in a multiplicity of social relations and discourses, redefines the notion of agency” (Castells et al, 1999, 97).

            Castells, by exposing the structural power held by technocrats sheds new light on the politics of marginalization and oppression, offering new strategies for educators wishing to address these. The increasing speed and flexibility of production and communications processes have fundamentally changed social and economic relations. A theory of the information society, Castells insists, must place the world’s new economic interdependence at its heart if it hopes to maintain relevance for the purpose of understanding the new social structure of our societies (Ibid, 44). As educators, our ability to understand this increasing interconnectedness and to adapt to constantly shifting power relations will play an important role in our ability to work toward individual and community empowerment.

 The discussions around equality, difference and pedagogy (critical and contraband) provide some important insight for educators working to bring together class and identity issues in their struggle for social justice. McLaren, for example, calls for a contraband pedagogy that builds upon class solidarity while at the same time forging alliances across race and gender affiliations (Castells et al, 1999, 32). Similarly Flecha insists that attempts to highlight diversity in the classroom cannot replace the large goal of equality. In order to achieve equality he suggests, communication between education and cultural workers with other social movements and sectors of society who are working against corporatism in schools is essential. In addition Flecha’s support of Freire’s vision of utopia offers a message of hope to educators who continue to believe in and work for change. He emphasizes the necessity of imagination, in keeping alive the “utopian spark that today’s leading social theorists (Habermas, 1988, Giddens, 1990) consider essential in all Progressive analysis” (Ibid, 78).

 Specific proposals provide like Macedo’s to awaken popular memory through the construction of museums of slavery, a museum of the quasi-genocide of American Indians, and a Vietnam museum alongside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial not only validates popular educators working to challenge dominant histories and ideologies, but also offer a powerful strategy for organizing. Freire’s call to increase community involvement in the school while maintaining state funding is equally powerful (Castells et al, 1999, 91), and opens up an interesting discussion between those who would work with schools and those who would prefer to see popular education remain in the realm of community organizing initiatives. The proposal is a profoundly political one too, demanding that the state take concrete steps to ensure universal access to education while at the same time critically analyzing educational practice and the fundamental assumptions of the curriculum.

One shortcoming of the book is that although the different chapters cover similar themes the concluding chapter leaves the reader rather abruptly. McLaren’s introduction provides an outline, drawing out key issues and debates but Willis’s final chapter fails to refer back to these. Although proposals for action are suggested throughout, bringing them back together as complimentary pieces in a common struggle could have left the reader with a greater sense of empowerment and a clearer strategy for action.

References

Castells, Manuel; Flecha, Ramón; Freire, Paulo; Giroux, Henry A.; Macedo, Donaldo; and Willis, Paul, Introduction by Peter McLaren. 1999. Critical Education in the New Information Age. Maryland and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr., F. J. Kett, and J. Tuefil. 1988. Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Kane, Liam (2001). Popular Education and Social Change in Latin America. London: Latin American Bureau.

To cite this review:

Maurice, Jennifer (2004). Review of Critical Education in the New Information Age, by Manuel Castells, Ramón Flecha, Paulo Freire, Henry A. Giroux, Donaldo Macedo, and Paul Willis (1999), In D. Schugurensky (Ed), Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books. Available at Internet URL: <http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/freire/jm.html> (Access date).

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