Revolutionary Love: Antonia Darder's 'Reinventing Paulo Freire'

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Chris Thinnes


It has been a while since I posted on this blog — most recently because of my commitments to the Redlands Summer Institute for Social Justice and NAIS’s “Call to Action”, but primarily since I’ve waded neck-deep into learning with new colleagues in LMU’s EdD Cohort 11. This made me think it would be a shame to disconnect my learning and sharing in this space from my inquiry and research in my doctoral studies. So I decided that, once in a while, I’ll share the kind of thinking I’ve been exploring in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program at LMU



9780813339689The timelessness and timeliness of Antonia Darder’s (2002) exhortation in Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love is perhaps most succinctly captured in Peter McLaren’s claim that “the consolidation of neo-liberal educational policies demands not only vigorous and ongoing engagement with Freire’s work, but also a reinvention of Freire in the context of current debates” (p. 251, italics mine). Darder’s work responds to that call with a contemporary explication of Freireian pedagogy serving both as a tribute to the impact of Freire’s transformative praxis and an elucidation of the principles we must bring to bear on the current, historically specific dynamics of dehumanizing education policy to which we now bear witness, and upon which we must reflect and act, should we wish to have a voice or hand in the shaping of the future of American education.

To grapple with the obligations we have inherited requires an interrogation of the relationship between history and human agency. For Freire, any coherent response to fundamental questions about the future of American education requires an engagement with history (and, thus, ‘the future’) resistant to a fatalistic or otherwise teleological or deterministic frame. Contrary to the neoliberal myth that the future of our schools will follow from the interplay of market forces, a Freireian orientation insists the future is a possibility we must create and claim. A dialectical engagement with human consciousness (understanding events as both shaping human consciousness, and shaped by human consciousness) – requires that we devote ourselves to a fuller exploration of human subjectivity, and a deeper faith in social agency, through reflection on the world, and action on it: it is not ‘markets,’ but people, who will build the future of our schools. According to Freire, “We need an education which helps us to be not solely objects of history but also subjects of history” (Darder, 2002, p. xii) — and education, thus, represents not only a process through which transformative attainment of the fullness of human subjectivity might be cultivated, but an institution within which it might best be realized.

The purposeful cultivation of this subjectivity by and for students and teachers is the exercise, on Darder’s account, of a revolutionary love: a love for the transformative capacity of human agency; a love for the infinite possibilities of history when it is understood this way; a love for the fullness of human subjectivity remaining to be realized for both the oppressed and the oppressor as the result of our reflection and action on the world, rooted in related strategies and commitments:

our rejection of the oppressive conditions of domination, the establishment of solidarity with others, the existence of meaningful choices in our lives, the recognition of ourselves as historical beings, a developed capacity to speak out when necessary, and a well-developed sense of empowerment to create, recreate, and transform our world in the interest of social justice, human rights, and economic democracy (p. 54)

Thus we should understand this ‘pedagogy of love’ as rooted in an explicit moral, ethical, and cognitive obligation – both in our schools, and for our schools – not only to generate new structures to explore the many “untested feasibilities” (p. 41) that might humanize our schools and conscientize our communities, but also to interrogate and resist the structures, systems, forces, and agents that create and sustain hegemony.

With regard to the contemporary barrage of market-based reforms – driven by an abiding faith in standardization, instrumentation, competition, and accountability; sponsored by private interests “that pray for crisis the way drought-struck farmers pray for rain” (Klein, 2012, p. 12) – we must remember, as conventional wisdom has it, that love is not a feeling but an action. Yet the fierceness with which policy must be interrogated and, when necessary, resisted gives many educators pause: for generations, schooling has been construed as a fundamentally apolitical exercise, in a tradition that defines scrutiny of the politics of oppression, power, and privilege in the classroom, or activism to resist the structures that sustain hegemony, as betrayals of the so-called ‘objectivity’ and ‘neutrality’ of critical thought appropriate to the teacher-as-technician in a scientistic frame. Yet, according to Freire:

Coming to terms with this essential issue of acknowledging teachers’ power is central to a revolutionary vision of schooling. Teachers must not only accept responsiblity for the power they hold within their classrooms, schools, and communities but also make wise decisions about how they will use their power in the interest of constructing a revolutionary practice. (Darder, 2002, p. 71)

We might take great faith, therefore, in a historically unprecedented wave of resistance by students, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents – these last six months in particular — to the neoliberal project of standardization, instrumentation, depersonalization, competition, and privatization inside and outside our classrooms’ walls. This week’s censure of the Secretary of Education by the nation’s largest teachers unions, following his endorsement of the Vergara verdict, is only the most recent case that tells us

‘No! Paulo Freire isn’t finished. Paulo Freire is still here.’ And he’s still here because history is here, waiting for us to do something with it, waiting for us to confront the fatalistic culture of neoliberalism… 1

We might understand these brave acts of interrogation and resistance to the neoliberal project as fulfillments of the promise Dr. Darder makes to Paulo Freire, to “reinvent your ideas, build on them, transform them… and lay foundations for the children of the future” (p. 256).


1. Cited in Daniels (2014).


Daniels, E. (2014). Pedagogy of commitment (review). Teachers College Record, July 11, 2014. Retrieved from

Darder, A. (2002). Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of love. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Klein, N. (2007). Shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books.

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