Paulo Freire in Aotearoa/New Zealand

At the ACE Aotearoa Conference held in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington in June 2018, one of the speakers was Peruvian popular education leader Nélida Céspedes Rossel who talked about Paulo Freire. Nélida asked Catherine Delahunty, former Kotare education co-ordinator and now Kotare trustee, to write a page for her popular education network magazine in Peru about influence of Freire in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The article that Catherine wrote for Nélida also serves as an excellent introduction to the e-book Freire at the Flaxroots: Analysis and Action in Aotearoa which documents Freire’s influence in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Paulo Freire had considerable influence over popular education in my country and he still does. His visit in the 1970s is recalled as one of those crucial moments when the indigenous struggle was affirmed and the colonisers who thought they were so left wing were challenged. Educators who followed in his footsteps, such as Philippe Fanchette and Father John Curnow, are still revered for the structural analysis tools they shared with radical educators.

My father was one of the hosts of Paulo Freire and I still treasure the thank you letter from this inspirational man as my inheritance. Although too young to appreciate him when he was here, I have since read Pedagogy of the Oppressed many times and can see the influence of his ideas across social movements in this country.

His influence has been profound for people as diverse as church leaders against racism, indigenous language school principals and community workers fighting poverty.

The school for radical education, Kotare Research and Education for Social Change Trust, which opened in 1999, was deeply influenced by the ideas of both Paulo Freire and his comrade Miles Horton of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. These ideas have also influenced more mainstream practitioners but have sometimes been weakened into academic theoretical appreciation rather than transformative and revolutionary challenges to the neoliberal education system in our country.

During my decade as education coordinator at Kotare I worked with others to research the impact of Paulo Freire and produced a resource with the Auckland Workers Education Association titled Freire at the Flaxroots. The resource is a series of interviews with people who applied his ideas about education into a range of settings in this country. The experience was very powerful because the people we met had not only embraced Freirean ideas but had applied them to their unique work as indigenous women leaders, non-indigenous allies for justice, activists against poverty and unemployment and more. As one of the participants says, it was painful to take off the rose-coloured glasses and face the truth about the nature of power and oppression.

The indigenous educators of this country have their own models of transformative collective learning and, for many of us, the contribution of Freire has enriched our respect for their participatory education processes which support their struggle for self-determination.

So many of Freire’s ideas from praxis to rejecting “neutrality” have helped us to co-construct educational experiences with both adults and younger people that have increased activism and solidarity. Although popular education has been undermined by free market economics, the commitment to justice at the heart of our collective learning cannot be destroyed.

My mentor, who is now in her 80s, taught me to value the words of Paulo Freire in terms of understanding liberation and oppression, and the necessity for the oppressed to liberate both themselves as well as the oppressors. As a woman in patriarchy and an educator I think about those words every day. We are inspired by Paulo Freire and the international solidarity that keeps his profound analysis speaking powerfully in our work and our lives.

Catherine Delahunty