Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Freire & Egypt’s Revolution – Critical Revelation & Creative Transformation

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

How appropriate that I’ll be writing about Freire and the Egyptian revolution just before the 4th anniversary of Egypt’s Jan 25 revolution…

The first time I read Freire was maybe in 2006, and it was Education for Critical Consciousness and I remember I was watching the film Martin Luther at the time and seeing connections. Freire talked about how, the beginning of consciousness-raising can result in chaos and disorder and violence before it can result in praxis.

(for some odd reason, our university library did not have Pedagogy of the Oppressed (and btw, it still remains my favorite work of Freire’s, although Pedagog of Hope and We Make the Road by Walking with Horton are competing now).

But re-reading chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed for #moocmooc, I found some really interesting insights into the Egyptian revolution (something my colleague Sherif had pointed out once to me a few months ago, but without referring to details). I wrote about these in my #fedwiki recently, but I’ll copy with some editing, and expand here, for #moocmooc

In Chapter 2 of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, there is a particularly poignant quote on page 78:

“The dominant elites consider the remedy to be more domination and repression, carried out in the name of freedom and order, and social peace (that is, the peace of the elites). Thus they can condemn – logically, from their point of view- “the violence of a strike by workers and [can] call upon the state in the same breath to use violence in putting down the strike” (Reihnhold Niebur 1960 p. 130 – the part between quotes at the end).

The part just before it also talks about turning to charismatic leaders which is a perfect connection to what has happened to Egypt in the last presidential election.

I had written on critical citizenship back in the summer of 2013 after the June 30 ousting of Morsi:

“Higher education’s role, as I see it, is to help society reflect beyond activism and resistance, necessary and important as they are. There is a need to develop critical citizens capable of negotiating multiple conflicting interests in a process of creatively co-constructing a better future.”

Looking again at Freire’s chapter two, I remember being struck by how often he uses the word “creative” and not just “critical” and I had a small epiphany today, because I had been wondering aloud for a while why it is that I spent 7 years researching critical thinking for my PhD, then started teaching a course on creative thinking…

Freire says (p. 73)

The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity servers the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed, nor to see it transformed.

Reading this made me think of how praxis is an intertwined reflection/action that involves critical revelation of reality (consciousness-raising) such the the oppressed become aware of how the are being oppressed; and an act of creatively transforming their reality for the better, challenging the status quo, and co-constructing a new, better reality.

And why is that particularly important for Egypt today? Because pre-Mubarak, people had started to be critical. I don’t believe it was the most reflective criticism, but they were critical enough to take some action. But since then, we have been moving slowly backwards, become less critical as a society (though many individuals remain critical) – and much of this is because of a lack of creativity on the parts of post-revolution activists – no one has come up with a creative way to move forward to transform our reality (myself included) – and so teaching creative thinking to undergraduate elite students, as I do now, is definitely one way to go (but of course, more grassroots work is needed as well).

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So here is a small personal note of thanks (a love letter of sorts) for my colleague Hoda, who designed the creativity course at AUC and invited me to co-teach the educational game design module when I first came back from maternity leave. For her openness and willingness to share the power and exhilaration of this course with me and others, allowing me room to experiment and innovate without ever questioning me about it, and for giving me the opportunity to teach one of the most transformative and personally satisfying courses I have ever taught, and encouraging my efforts as I went along. Other people in the world would have hogged a course like that to themselves and refused to share with others, lest they take away their glory. You seem to glow more when you spread that glory and joy around – and I will always be grateful to you doing that. And boy, am I glad my daughter has your name 🙂

I do hope that you and I (and others) will one day do an open access or MOOC-like critical and creative thinking course someday soon inshallah because this country and this region need it.

4 Comments

  1. The quote within a quote that you cite from page 78 of Freire also resonates with the recent protests against police violence in the U.S. The protests have brought out the anxiety of the elite because of their threat to the established order, and a fear that black people organized and acting for a political objective will be violent. The murder of New York police officers by Ismaaiyl Brinsley was seized upon as “evidence” that the anti-police brutality movement was “responsible” for violence; the rank-and-file New York police officer, incited by the demagogue leader of the NYPD union (whose name escapes me), has apparently determined that New York mayor De Blasio’s mere mention of the existence of police violence directly led to the murder of their brothers in blue.

    A meme circulated that satirized the media’s response to mass murder: if the killer is Muslim, he’s a terrorist; if the killer is black, it discredits all other black people; if the killer is white, he is “mentally ill” or a “lone wolf” who has absolutely no connection to the rest of the white world. There is substantial evidence that Brinsley was mentally imbalanced, but that evidence is mostly ignored in favor of an emphasis on the fact that he claimed to be avenging the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. On the other hand, after white supremacist Jerad Miller murdered two law enforcement officers in Nevada, there was no mainstream critique of Fox News or other right-wing rhetoric that might have influenced Miller to begin what he called a “revolution” with the murders.

    Meanwhile, the violence used by police (and sanctioned implicitly by the state) is not critically examined by the establishment or the media – or at any rate, is not examined critically very often.

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