I’m taking a class in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Havana called Teorías y Política de Desarrollo with a brilliant and stern-faced professor who expects her students to pay close attention to the information so that we can take appropriate and informed action afterwards. From what I’ve observed, transformative action is almost always the objective of education here in Cuba, which I find extremely refreshing after so many years in U.S. schools wondering “when am I ever going to use this?” I was rightly yearning for a practical aspect of education— something that I could apply to the real world rather than to a standardized test.
Popular Education, a concept developed by the great Brazilian Christian educator Paulo Freire, is a pedagogy commonly used here. It is a method of education first used in Brazil as a tool used by the oppressed to overcome their oppression and liberate themselves through dialogue and cooperation. I was first introduced to the concept in a neighborhood “proyecto comunitario” outside of Havana. There neighborhood organizers provide an adult education program, an program that works with mentally disabled elderly people, children’s activities, and cultural appreciation activities. They also strive to be a base that can serve to support local development initiatives. They explained to me that they use the method Popular Education as a way of educating adults. I was intrigued by the concept and researched more. Since then I’ve read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” talked with community organizers about Popular Education in Cuba, and now I’m reading a book on the subject by Cuban authors that work at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center where I’m doing research for my CEDEM project. I now recognize Paulo Freire’s immense contribution to the field of education and I find it indicative of the backwardness of U.S. formal education that I hadn’t heard of him before now.
Frei Betto, the man who gained approval from Comandante Fidel Castro to formally introduce Popular Education in Cuba, said
El socialismo es el nombre político del amor. Vivir en el socialismo es saber compartir, ser generoso, pensar primero en lo comunitario antes de lo individual, donar la vida como han hecho Luther King, el Che, Jesús y tantos otros, para que otros tengan vida. Esto es socialismo, esto es amor, pero eso significa un proceso educativo. Cada generación tiene que hacer trabajos de educación, para crear amor o, si quie- ren, educación para el socialismo, educación para la Revolu- ción. Ese es el sentido de la Educación Popular.
I’ll do my best translating: “Socialism is the political name for love. To live in socialism is to know how to share, how to be generous, to think first in the community before the individual, to dedicate one’s life as Luther King, Che, Jesus, and so many others have done, so that others might be able to live. This is socialism, this is love, but it implies a educative process. Each generation has to work at educating to create love, or, if they wish, education for socialism, education for the Revolution. That is the sense of Popular Education.”
I found this quote to be inspiring because it carries Freire’s and Che’s spirit of loving the people fearlessly and recognizing that love necessitates difficult social transformation. I have been glad to see Freire’s pedagogy put into practice in real life here in Cuba, but it’s vitality is lacking in formalized education. I say this because all of my university classes are lecture based with a few seminar sessions that involve discussion. I still find the academics at the university to be very progressive in many ways— they teach with critical and transformative action as an objective for example, and they are anti-imperial and anti-neoliberal without using political propaganda. I would like to hear more input from my Cuban peers in the classroom, because what I have heard so floor has impressed me beyond words.
I was about to say that my education in Cuba has inspired me to be a more independent thinker, but this isn’t true at all. In reality it has inspired me to be more critical thinker who recognizes the importance of cooperation and dialogue in the process of learning and taking action.