As I continue to wade through Paulo Freire‘s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is easy to see its range of influence within faculties of education across North America. The intentions expressed in Freire’s praxis of critical pedagogy form the basis of (what I sense to be) most teacher-certification programs, graduate diplomas and masters programs. And yet we continue to work in a (North American) system of education that seems more and more taken with reforms that impose just the sort of oppression Freire fought against, an irony that probably doesn’t escape Chet Bowers, who introduces the collection of papers from the conference titled: Rethinking Freire | Globalization and the Environmental Crisis.
Bowers introduces the constructive critique that Freire’s ideals and insistence lead to an unsustainable “universalism.” By placing critical reflection at the center of the liberation process, an unintended consequence of Freire’s pedagogy is “the double bind inherent in promoting a universal vision of human nature and mode of inquiry in the current context where linguistic and species extinction are increasingly intertwined.” Bowers stresses the vital connections “between linguistic diversity and biodiversity,” and:
“The different indigenous ways of knowing, which are adapted in ways that take account of the characteristics of the local bioregions, are also the basis of intergenerational knowledge that contributes to self-sufficiency.”
He also frames “the efforts of Freire’s critics [as] directed toward strengthening local traditions of knowledge that are being threatened by the spread of Western-based monoculture.”
“The promotion of universals, whether in the form of representing critical reflection as the only valid approach to knowledge, the Western ideal of the autonomous individual, or the economic assumptions underlying the World Trade Organization, represents an effort to sustain a tradition of exploitation that current changes in the Earth’s ecosytems are forcing us to abandon.”
With the recent publication of the ICPP‘s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change stating even more emphatically the dire advanced state of the environmental crisis, Bowers seems to be directly on the point in saying that “The environment will […] force us to acknowledge that the future lies with the revitalization of local knowledge and cultures that are as diverse as ecosystems.”
There is an echo of the idea at the heart of my thinking about reconciliation, and survival:
Doesn’t our work as citizens in such a country then revolve around creating a narrative that allows for the continued expression of the country’s diverse elements?
Here the Canadian Multiculturalism Act provides an affirmation:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to:
- (a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage;
- (b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future;
- (c) promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation;
- (d) recognize the existence of communities whose members share a common origin and their historic contribution to Canadian society, and enhance their development;
- (e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;
- (f) encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character;
- (g) promote the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins;
- (h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures;
- (i) preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada; and
(j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada.
As we face the crumbling of many aspects of the Industrial / Imperial paradigm, whether through political terrorism and corruption, financial crises, or the mass extinction of human languages or living organisms, it is heartening to find enshrined in Canada’s governmental mandate an effort to achieve a notion of objectivity that is composed of, and sensitive to, our various cultural subjectivities:
The Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada.