Reflections on Critical Pedagogy in America Latina: La Lucha Continua

pedagogía crítica en América Latina
pedagogía crítica en América Latina
pedagogía crítica en América Latina
Photo (left to right): Sergio Quiroz Miranda, Henry Giroux, Antonia Darder, Peter McLaren


EspañolThe first time I visited Mexico was 1987. My mentor, the Patron of Brazilian education, Paulo Freire, had invited me that year to speak at a conference in Cuba, and while in Havana I was honored to meet teachers from Mexico who, I found out later, had translated some of my essays into Spanish. They were aware that I would be speaking in Havana and to my surprise presented me with small gifts of appreciation. I was surprised that they were familiar with my work and had no idea that my work was being read outside of a small North American audience. They asked if I would be willing to come and visit with them in Mexico, and that year I made my first official visit to Mexico. Since that time, I have fallen in love with the people of Mexico, and visited Mexico almost every year since my first visit. In 2005, a brilliant Professor of Education that I had met a few years earlier in Mexicali, Sergio Quiroz Miranda, asked me if he could create an organization that he wanted to call, Instituto McLaren de Pedagogia Critica. Sergio was influential member of the Partido Comunista de México, and an admirer of Paulo Freire, and a well-respected professor at Centro Universitario de Tijuana. Sergio had learned that I was named “the most dangerous professor” at the University of California, Los Angeles, and that a right-wing organization had offered to pay 100 dollars to students who would agree to secretly audiotape my lectures, and fifty dollars to students who would make notes about my lectures and hand them over to the organization. When my name was put at the top of the list, there was a lot of media publicity and I received death threats. I didn’t receive much support in the U.S. I felt very alone and isolated. But support did arrive, and it came from comrades in Mexico and Venezuela. So Instituto McLaren was officially launched at the Centro Universitario de Tijuana and later it became an independent organization that operated first out of Mexicali and later Ensenada in the Baja Peninsula, where it remains to this day. It has an affiliation with teachers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Jalisco and many other parts of the country, including many indigenous communities. In 2005 I was also invited by the government of Venezuela to help in the education sector of the Bolivarian revolution, and I accepted this assignment with enthusiasm. For several years I made trips to Caracas, had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes, President Hugo Chavez, in Miraflores Palace, and was able to visit barrios and schools, where I lectured in English and sometimes in my broken Spanish, with translators to assist me. I have not returned to Venezuela since the death of President Chavez but still support the Chavistas who are struggling there against powerful forces of political repression, who are assisted by the most dangerous country in history–the United States.. When I would give talks in Mexico on critical pedagogy, I always told Sergio that I would talk about the struggle for educational reform in North America (I am a dual citizen of both Canada and the United States and grew up in the Canadian educational system). I still do not feel qualified to speak of the intricacies of educational reform in Mexico, or in other countries that I have visited—Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Cuba. Paulo Freire frequently reminded me not to import his work into the United States or other countries, but he expressed a wish that his work be reinvented in the contextual specificity of the countries in which people were struggling against oppression and exploitation. He said that it was possible for his work to be translated into the contexts of other countries but that this was something best done by the people living there. I told Sergio that I would follow the example of my mentor and speak about my struggles in North America and the various audiences in Mexico could, if they so desired, translate my ideas into the contexts of their own specific struggles—that is, if they found my ideas, concepts, and experiences to be of some help. Sergio agreed with me that this was the best approach for me to take in Mexico. In my most recent trips to Mexico I have spoken about the struggles of teachers under Trump, which includes the struggle against neoliberal educational restructuring efforts and attempts to privatize all education through the creation of for-profit charter schools. I find it highly problematic—and dangerous—that Betsy de Vos, U.S. Secretary of Education, is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the government services and security company Blackwater USA, now known as Academi, the largest private mercenary army in the world.

Sergio died this year, not long after he so generously invited me to become a honorary member of the Partido Comunista de México. Sergio left an important legacy through his work in education and politics. He and his family were able to build an organization that offered teachers (many of whom were teacher union leaders) doctoral degrees in critical pedagogy. He recruited radical professors from Venezuela (such as Luis Bonilla, a former advisor to President Chavez), Argentina, Cuba and throughout Mexico to teach courses at the Ensenada campus. Famous leftist thinkers such as Enrique Dussel and Marta Harnecker were honored guests at Instituto McLaren. Indigenous leaders became members of the institute. Once Serigo and I visited numerous indigenous communities throughout Mexico, and were honored guests of the Rarámuri (Tarahumara).I joined students of the institute in visiting the Purépecha (Tarascans) community of Cherán, during the time in they were developing their “autodefensas” against the drug cartels who were stealing truckloads of trees from their forests. The current government of Mexico has invited Instituto McLaren to a meeting in Mexico City to discuss educational reform in Mexico. All of this happened because of the courage and of vision of Sergio Quiroz Miranda.

In my most recent visits to Mexico, I warned teachers about Trump’s domestic and foreign policies. Already the teachers were outraged about the manner in which refugees and immigrants from Mexico and Central America were being treated—children were separated from their parents and put in cages. Refugees were tear-gassed. Under orders from Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began raiding factories and workplaces all over the country in record numbers.

Trump is not only shamefully complicit in the escalation of white supremacist ethno-nationalism, misogyny, racism, corruption and climate change denial, he is responsible for the creation of a plutocratic “pathocracy” that has thrown the trappings of democracy into a lime pit after hacking it to bits with a meat cleaver. According to the Washington Post’s fact checker database, by September, 2019, Trump had lied or made misleading statements more than 12,000 times. Hestands above the citizenry like an orange colossus in order to dominate the people rather than with the citizenry in order to protect them from injustices. Trump not only betrays a chronic incapacity to establish a relationship of understanding and kinship with the people but rather purposefully, if not dogmatically, creates a relationship of domination, paranoia, and fear of non-whites, especially people of color and immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Trump understands the fear that white Americans have of becoming a racial minority, and he encysts such rage in the disease of violence and in so doing seals our fate as a country in the vault of pre-history. The only freedom Trump leave us with is freedom to hate. The only “free cheese” is in the mousetrap. Under Trump, Americans are discouraged from going beyond the limited freedom of market determinations with its laws of supply and demand or the laws of motion of capital. I hold a primitive faith in socialism. That makes me, along with all progressive journalists, an “enemy of the state.” After all, is not faith what makes all knowledge possible? Trump wants to prevent the U.S. from being contaminated by what he describes as the sub-human ‘infestation’ of people of color, those ‘rapists’ and criminals from America Latina, those ‘snakes’ from Syria, those black people that come from ‘shithole’ countries in Africa, those ‘treasonous’ critics of Trump, those ‘enemies of the people’ otherwise known as journalists, and those hateful ingrates from ‘The Squad’ who refuse to ‘go back’ to the ‘crime infested places from which they came.’ Trump is only too eager to take action against “The Squad.” In July, President Donald Trump targeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, IIhan Omar and fellow Democratic Reps. Ananna S. Pressley and Rashida Tlaib in a series of racist tweets, demanding that they all “go back” and “help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” They were all born in the U.S. Trump’s attacks against these four progressive female freshmen Congresswomen of color and the supposed prevalence of “socialism” that they have brought into the political scene in Washington are designed to create a new McCarthyist panic among conservatives.The old McCarthyism in the 1950s was mostly a condemnation and persecution of communists alleged to have infiltrated the government and other institutions, the new Trumpian McCarthyism is directed with a specially tutored vehemence against non-Anglo Americans, citizens whose ancestors came from countries outside of Europe. Of course, the old anti-communism is still very much present. And the country is, more than ever before, headed towards oblivion. All this proves that, in the case of Trump, horrid people make compelling characters for the media. The entire country is addicted to his antics, and many have becoming emotionally traumatized by his presidency.

What is most troublesome for me is that Trump has appointed the notorious Eliott Abrams as his Venezuela Envoy. In the 1980s, Abrams provided logistical and financial support to the Contras, ferrying trained killers into Nicaragua to incite violence to murder, rape and drive insane teachers, doctors and campesinos, killers who adopted the immeasurably pragmatic CIA guerrilla warfare strategies from training manuals provided by your clandestine operatives. To this day, Abrams defends a now deceased Guatemalan dictator who was found guilty of genocide. Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people in Guatemala in the 1980s. Ríos Montt was later convicted of mass murder. His death squads exterminated 662 rural villages across the savannas and rain washed hills of the Northwest Mayan highlands, executing campesinos with weapons purchased through U.S. military aid programs, crucifying peasants, raping pregnant women, gouging out the eyes of farmers and stuffing their genitals into their mouths. The death squads Abrams so vigorously defends left bodies of women with their breasts cut off lying side-by-side with their decapitated children. Labor unionists and student activists and Catholic Action catechists were forced to wear rubber hoods filled with insecticide before they were slaughtered. Under the supervision of Abrams, the U.S. supported through arms, training and logistics, the massacre of Guatemala’s Mayan Ixil people, (an event that the government in Guatemala formally ruled that constituted genocide). Abrams supported the use of death squads by military junta in El Salvador, the killing of nuns and Catholic priests who embraced liberation theology, and the torture, dismemberment and murder of tens of thousands of peasants. Abrams to this day defends right-wing dictatorships in Latin America. He shows no sympathy for the victims of attempted coups and atrocities, including the murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador their housekeeper and her daughter, on the campus of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA El Salvador). In El Salvador, in the village of El Mozote, a U.S.-trained battalion massacred more than 500 civilians, raping women and young girls and slitting the throats of children, and cutting off the genitals of their victims and stuffing them in their victims’ mouths. Abrams maintained that such a massacre could not be confirmed. This was shown to be a lie. The El Salvador Truth Commission issued a report saying that more than 85 percent of the atrocities during the conflict in El Salvador had been committed by the government armed forces and its death squads, and yet Abrams considered the Reagan administration’s involvement in El Salvador a “fabulous achievement.” This is the man whom Trump appointed to be in charge of the campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela. Abrams already helped to orchestrate the failed 2002 coup against the Hugo Chavez administration. And now Abrams has been given another chance to succeed. Many Latin Americans fear Abrams, and for good reason.

When I speak in Mexico, I support efforts there to create a revolutionary critical pedagogy—one that has not been domesticated and depotentiated by neoliberal dogma. This means the inclusion of a decolonial pedagogy which challenges the “coloniality of power” (patron de poder colonial) that still resides at the heart of post-colonial societies. I would advise as a central, overarching goal of critical pedagogy the struggle for a socialist alternative to the “value form of labor” that exists in capitalist societies throughout North and South America, and that such efforts must be transnational in scope since capitalism is now transnational in scope. Here in the U.S. I support alternatives to property tax in funding schools. School funding and property taxes are too closely enmeshed. Almost half the funding for public elementary and secondary education comes from property tax revenue. Approximately 45 percent of public school funding is from local governments and more than 80 percent comes directly from the property tax. The federal government puts in about 9 percent of the total revenue of public schools, and 46 percent is provided by state governments. This is capitalist schooling at its worst. This creates social reproduction—public schools in affluent areas get more funding, have more resources and their children have a better chance of getting into college. This constitutes structural inequality, and there is a component that is racialized, as neighborhoods structured by class are also structured by race. And we know that for-profit charter schools, pushed by billionaire Betsy DeVos egregiously exacerbate racial segregation, as the percentage of minority students in charter schools has increased exponentially, and these are schools that are unaccountable and unregulated. Public funds must not be used for charter school expansion! Fund the public schools, I argue, don’t privatize them by turning them into for-profit ventures that benefit the private equity firms. And those charter schools that already exist need to open themselves up to unionization. As a former Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World), I would like to see charters support a teacher’s right to join a union. And I would argue that half the charter school boards should be made up of parents and teachers. These ideas are those that comprise the campaign initiatives of socialist Bernie Sanders, who is currently running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.

To support a system that is segregated by race and class goes against my Catholic social justice teaching, and could hardly be called democratic. When you have a predatory capitalism that serves the rich, and leaves out the poor, it’s to be expected. This is why I support free university tuition. Free tuition would release the amount of debt graduates are forced to carry today, allow more people to attend university, give students a greater stake in their own education, and it would actually be beneficial overall to our economy. Loan debt prevents many students from getting married, purchasing a house, or having children. This would very much help support American family life. For a student who graduates from a public four-year university, carrying a debt of close to $30,000, it’s no easy feat to keep food on the table and a roof over your head when you searching for a job, and readying yourself for a productive and fulfilling life, still called The American Dream but which has become, in reality, the American nightmare. We can make free tuition happen in the U.S. if we had the courage and fortitude to shut down all the tax loopholes that are in play for large corporations, to increase tax rates on the wealthiest 0.1% in the U.S, and to tax in a robust way speculative investments, investments that don’t contribute to anything except putting more money in the pockets of hedge fund grifters. If the hedge fund slime masters could leverage into their schemes the tears of the poor, and to find a way to profit from them, they would. And of course, we could do it by decreasing the military budget. The military budget is already being ransacked by President Trump, to build his hideously unforgiving southern border wall. I would argue that this money would be better served by offering free university tuition. Government funding should ensure students with disabilities are able to get quality education regardless of the neighborhoods they live in. And teacher pay is crucial. The current starting salaries for teachers are shameful, and need to be substantially increased. We need to use the perspective of “ecopedagogy” in teaching students about the effects of human activity on climate change and develop ways to create sustainable environments, beginning in our own communities. The entire country is horrified by domestic terror attacks on schools by white supremacists and other deranged individuals. I’m all for gun violence prevention laws being brought into the schools. The best way to keep students safe is to change the gun laws in the United States. And we need to make sure LGTBQ students are safe from bullying and harassment. Suicide prevention is important in our schools, and that’s always a fundamental concern, especially in this time of rampant social media trolling and bullying. Bernie Sanders supports all of these efforts. In schools of education, we teach courses on critical multiculturalism and study the socio-historical, ideological, and political dimensions of racism, the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality— from micro-aggressions against people of color to the role capitalism plays in generating racism—and the psychological dynamics of racism when racism takes on a life of its own, as it has throughout the USA. Obviously, this work we have been doing has not filtered through to the general population in the USA.

When I discuss these reforms in Mexico, teachers are sympathetic. They know that what happens in the U.S. will both immediately or eventually impact their country. One can understand the sentiment, cuando Estados Unidos se resfría, México se contagia de neumonía. Or one often hears the phrase, sin perro, no hay rabia.

In many ways our futures are inextricably intertwined. And Trump’s psychopathic demagoguery and dark right-wing accelerationist politics (the need to destroy existing institutions, policies and practices in order to usher in his own pathological vision of a United States in chaos, steered by lies and conspiracy theories designed to create quisling admirers in a cult-like thrall of Trump’s sinister and sadistic authoritarian leadership) makes it all the more necessary to create a Latin American and North American alliance of educators premised on the creation of a decolonial, socialist, revolutionary critical pedagogy that carries the potential to change the course of education in both these continents and thus the course of their histories.

La lucha continua. ¡Hasta la Victoria siempre!



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Doctor en Educación por la Universidad de Toronto, Canadá.

Docente Distinguido de Estudios Críticos, Universidad Chapman, Estados Unidos.

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