Transcription of the episode “Global citizenship education: Building on the legacy of Paulo Freire”

[00:00:15] Amy H-L: I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. 

[00:00:16] Jon M: And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Dr. Carlos Alberto Torres. Dr. Torres is a Distinguished Professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Founding Director of the UCLA Paolo Friere Institute, and UNESCO Chair in Global Learning and Global Citizenship Education. This is part one of a two-part interview. Welcome Dr. Torres. 

[00:00:42] Carlos T: I have worked for the last years on global citizenship education. Some of the arguments you probably have seen in my lecture in Cairo. My point now is that we need a global ethics and that’s the reason I was suggesting that if you can interview and he will be a good ambassador with Enrique Dussel. Dussel is in his 80s now, but he has a photographic memory. He can quote in the same sentence 15 different scholars, summarize them, analyze them, criticize them, and explain why he’s not using them, and then go on. I know it’s unbelievable, but he’s very powerful as a speaker and I have a book on religion from 1992. He wrote the preface because I was, at the time, very interested in making critical analysis, first situating the sociology of religion at around three main thinkers — Marx, and then I wanted to go into a systematic analysis of the situation with the Catholic church in Latin America, because it’s a tragedy. And then in Argentina particularly, because I had to leave–a self-imposed exile because my life was at risk in the coup d’etat of 1976. And the tragedy is that all these army officers who essentially created [inaudible] of the opposition, they created this Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, the AAA, they were Catholic. They were very traditional, conservative Catholics. And what happened that if the Catholic Church would have condemned the activities, the killing of 30,000 people will not have happened, but the Catholic Church either endorsed or became silent. One of my professors of theology, I studied in a Jesuit university and we have three courses of theology, was Carlos Mojica. Mojica, now being considered by the Pope, because he was Argentinian and he was a Jesuit himself, as a candidate to be a martyr, because he was assassinated coming out of celebrating mass in a very humble neighborhood. And he was assassinated because he was really a very powerful figure in a theology of liberation, he was living in a shanty town, et cetera. So there were other people assassinated, even a bishop [inaudible] so the responsibility of the authorities of the Catholic Church deserve to be inspected. And I wrote this book as an attempt to identify that, and I did in 150 pages, 500 years of the Catholic church in Argentina. In synthesis, I think somebody like a Dussel can expand upon that kind of arguments.

[00:03:59] Jon M: That would be wonderful. If you could send us contact information or the best way for us to reach him, we would definitely follow up on that. 

[00:04:07] Carlos T: Thank you very much, Jon. Thank you very much. It’s an honor to be in this conversation and certainly an issue that requires the most serious attention, which is ethical schools. And we’ll argue a global ethic. I start thinking of what was missing in the context of the pandemic. And to me, what was really missing was the fact that the concept of global citizenship education was an attempt to bring together global solidarity. And what was missing in this attempt to deal with the first pandemic, large pandemic of the 21st century was global solidarity and that requires then a serious conversation around ethical issues in the moment of globalization. 

Now, one of the elements of the conversation that I like to outline is the question of the need to recalibrate the fundamental principles for global citizenship education in the post pandemic. Global citizenship education issue was developed most recently in 2012, by the then Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon. Ban Ki-moon did what in the history of the UN, will be the first global educational initiative. And this global education initiative was based on two principles that are very traditional principles for equity, access, et cetera. 

One was, of course, the question of education for all, education for all being how we can create a model in which all children or youth and adults can have access to a basic principle of learning in different areas. The second argument that was presented in this education global initiative was the question of quality because it makes no sense to have schools that provide access when the quality of education is not good enough. Those two elements were very traditional, nothing new there, but important to reaffirm and continue struggling for that to happen.

But then the third element, the third pillar. There are three pillars. The third pillar, beyond access and quality, was global citizenship education, which was considered a linchpin of the whole model. It was in that context that I began to think of the global commons. I think what we are facing now is the need for ethical, or if you put in different ways, global ethics of the global commons. Now the global commons tend to be considered anything that can not be easily privatized. Anything that cannot be easily sold or put a price on it, and usually connect with the outer space, connect with the ocean, which is really the main area in which we breathe in the planet, or in some cases talking about the forest, particularly the Amazon. My sense is that this is correct, but it’s insufficient. I think what we need to do is to think of the global commons as the three elements that articulate these new ethics and articulate the global citizenship. 

So I define these in three principles. The first one is the planet, should we also consider an oppressed entity. Paulo Freire, in conversation with several of us, and so many years of conversation with Paulo. One day, he said to me, “Carlos, you know, there is a missing chapter. It is the chapter of the planet as an oppressed entity.” So in the recent book that I edited in 2019, The Wiley Handbook of Paulo Freire, with a former student of mine who was one of the great experts on ecopathology, we wrote using Freire’s statements. That missing chapter, we called it. He will have called it ecopathology. So how do you blend together the model of a pathology that is also connected with a very powerful ecology. So having said this, my argument will be that we need to create a model of education which promotes simultaneously global citizenship education and sustainability, and particularly what I will call the global social justice and natural justice for the planet. So that would be one of the premises of this global commons. 

The second premise of the global commons is that global peace is an intangible cultural good of humanity within material value. That is a new topic but realizable [inaudible]. Let me put it this way. From the time that we have an atomic bomb, the possibility of a catastrophic war is in the cards, is very much the case that if things are not organized in such a way that we can prevent another war, another world war, the possibility that in the end, that war will end through an atomic confrontation. Atomic confrontation will create what is known as a nuclear winter, and with a nuclear winter there will be no possibility for agriculture plus the oceans will move around these level of atoms, which are very dangerous for human life and civilizations. Very few places on earth will be safe. So the idea of peace now becomes absolutely central in this conversation. 

Now the third one is what I will call the creation of our global commons. That depends on the cultivation of human desire and the ability to find ways for people to live together democratically in an even more diverse world, fulfilling their own individual and cultural interests by achieving their unalienable rights, which the founding fathers of the American Constitution so cleverly defined as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But see these founding fathers– they were all males–put it in the right order. First life, not liberty. This is the great debate in the US, in my opinion. We know, because of the constant people who go get killed by guns, is that many people claim they need to have liberty in order to have their own lives. But what kind of liberty it is that that allows people to kill other people, simply because they have access to guns. So is life and liberty and then the pursuit of happiness.

Now it’s interesting because when I began to explore the pursuit of happiness, I wondered to what extent the pursuit of happiness should be an academic endeavor. And then I discovered that there are all sort of papers written even by economists on the economic returns of happiness. And I have always suspected this. Since I travel a lot all over the world and I eat a lot all over the world, I have concluded that when you go to a restaurant and things are well organized, that people seem to be at peace with themselves, that the place is clean. You just need to check the bathrooms to make an assessment. And that is a norm that I discovered all over the world. Invariably, the quality of the food is very good. Usually they are not places which belong to chains. Usually they are the small entrepreneurs who have this satisfaction of offering food to the spirit and to the body. So talking with many friends throughout the years, I concluded that it is exactly that, the return of happiness, that you will have extraordinary good food at an affordable price. And with people that feel good about what they’re doing, making you feel good for being there. And that is really one clear return, an economic return if you want just simple good meal, breaking bread with your friends. 

Now we are now in a most difficult situation because democracy is under threat. And it’s under threat because we have two paradoxical elements. On the one hand, over the last 15 to 20 years, it has been an enormous impetus to create more and more democracy. The US mistakenly has been trying to produce democratic societies by invading them and trying to use the enormous political and military power of the only reigning superpower. And certainly it’s still very far away from the possible number two superpower, which is China, and therefore the 21st century we’ll see which one of the two will eventually learn to go ahead. It’s still at 33-34 trillion dollars of gross domestic product. The US is far ahead of China, which is never passing more than nine, maybe 10, trillion of gross domestic product. And even in terms of actual fire power and troops, the US continues to be infinitely more well prepared to conduct not one, but eventually two different wars at the same time.

So if that is the way that our superpower is, we have problems. Because in the world, what we should do really to have an evolving logic of peace and having only the ability of applying the power of force when they are limits that can not be controlled. Let me give you an example. I think the best intervention of the US in a war was against Nazism because it was very clear that without the sacrifice of two million Soviet citizens and Stalingrad that stopped the advance of this German on the Eastern front. And I’m now in the Eastern part of Germany, and here that conversation is very known, that it was that that stopped the advance of the very effective and highly systematically well organized German Nazi forces, but also the intervention of the US put an end to the possibilities of Nazism to continue to evolve by taking control of Europe. So I think if there is anything that the US should be very proud of, it is to have stopped one of the most evil models of a social organization and governance, but that is not an excuse for trying to do that every time the US feels that it has to intervene. The population of the US now is convinced of this. And that’s the reason of the way is so chaotic, but so necessary that the us left Afghanistan, et cetera, et cetera. So having said this, I think peace continues to be a requisite for survival and a requisite for survival in the context of any potential conflict or confrontation in which the world will be put into the limit of their inability to survive by a confrontation to a nuclear war. 

[00:17:12] Jon M: I had a number of questions actually from everything you’ve been saying. One is the, is how. In terms of the global commons, how can educators in the United States at this particular moment be integrating this, into the schools in a way that it currently mostly is not is my sense.

[00:17:32] Carlos T: It’s a good question. And I don’t really have an off the shelf answer. I have some principles, which I think are very important. The first one, one of the problems we have, in the US in particular, is that the political culture is decreasing in its democratic ability and intellectual democratic tenor. One of the things that I learned in the post war, through my work in adult education, was the question that UNESCO asked itself, and I will put it as an example to all the most prominent Nazi experiences, Italy and Germany. Look at these two societies in Europe. When you look at classical music, they are accessible. When you look Western philosophy, they are exemplary. When you look even to science and technology, they are exemplary. So how is it possible that in two societies that represent the best of the humanist spirit, with all the limitations because this human spirit [inaudible]. But if you really look at questions like Kant. Kant, on the one hand, you can certainly argue that he was a racist. On the other hand, his theory of hospitality towards the foreigner is crucial today to understand how we can receive in immigrants, refugees, et cetera. So in a way you can argue back and forth about Kant, but the principles of Kant with peace and eliminate literally the borders to allow for a much more global system are centered. Kant himself created a paradox that everybody has to deal with. And I think that paradox has never gone away, which is the following how could a global system that claims to be democratic be democratic if the constitutive unit of the system are not all of them democratic? And the paradox is the other way around. How is it possible that each unit in the global system that is not democratic could become democratic because the system trying to be a democratic global system? So that paradox is a Kantian paradox. And it’s very important to understand the dilemma of liberal democracy today.

But let me go to your question. So what could teachers do? First, we have to realize the sixth of January was a very good example of the decay of the political culture of the US and that political culture is the same decay of the political culture in the adult population in Germany and Italy after the crisis of 1929, 1930. And in that context, what UNESCO thought that the problem is is adult education or other learning education. So at this moment, UNESCO is preparing the GRALE, the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education to be usedfor CONFINTEA 7, which is a meeting every 12 years. And in that meeting, we revisit the question of the status of adult education. So my point is, simply put, number one, if we continue having this problem of political culture, in which democracy is a casualty rather than being a hero, there is nothing we can do in the US to revert the Trumpist model that has captured the imagination of a sustainable amount of people. I would say between 20 to 25% of people is his base in the Republican party. And the party is responsible because it has not done anything to try to control or prevent that to happen. When politics is just to obtain power, it’s a problem. 

But the second element, besides the question of adult education, because we can not separate so easily, is what happens in political culture of the school system. And the political culture of the US has consistently become bureaucratic. It has become almost monolithic in terms of what we need to do to prevent that racism exists in this society. But the problem is not only racism. It’s homophobia. The problem is not only homophobia, it’s classism. The problem is not only classisim, it’s a question of gender, et cetera, et cetera. So what we need to do is to create a political culture in our schools in which the conversation is about peace, about the global commons, and about this idea of pursuing your desire as an utopia of life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is fundamental, the idea of constructing what in other places is called civic culture. So civic culture at the school level, particularly in the middle school or high school, is fundamental, but now I’m working with some people about how to introduce this in elementary, K-8, how to do that from kindergarten in the transition to early school education.. All of those are great challenges. I personally don’t have an answer, but I think the question is important. You put a real question and the people working in curriculum and instruction, should really pay attention to that. 

[00:23:44] Amy H-L: Carlos, what does that look like at sort of the micro level, within a classroom, in terms of how students interact with one another and with their teachers?

[00:23:56] Carlos T: Well, I would answer from a Freirian perspective, which is the one that I personally endorse. First of all, if at the micro level students don’t feel respected, we have a big problem. Because respecting the students, we shall be respecting the rules, regulations, traditions, cultures that come from the households. In other terms, we should be respecting the popular ethos and the popular culture that navigates through all these individuals. Secondly, what we need to do is to figure out that this popular culture, this popular ethos, needs to be in dialogue with the most advanced intellectual development of our cultures. The dialogue between what is popular vis-a-vis the dialogues of the highbrow culture, social sciences, for instance. And people should begin to understand that this dialogue is very complicated.

And we should understand that this dialogue needs to be defended on an empirical basis. In other terms, teaching at level has to be done also through empirical data. And by talking about empirical data, I’m confronting this idea of fake news, fake data, or alternative data as represented in Trumpism. Yet this also speaks about another problem, which is a problem of capitalism, that is that capitalism, in the way that has evolved. Capitalism has very good points. Let me give you one, the ability to create new knowledge by investing resources, with ideas [inaudible] money, but creating new knowledge. Look at what happened with the recent creation of vaccines. Yes, it’s true that this virus had been studied in other characteristics, but when did we get a vaccine in one year that works? Prior to this experience of last year, the vaccine that we had before, I don’t remember which one that was was obtaining for years now, we obtain a vaccine that works in one year. That is science at its best, but science at its best because we are not creating fictitious ideas. We have empirical data and empirical data need to be negotiated constantly in our class. 

Finally, I will argue that in addition to respect the students, respect their cultures, respect their language, respect their families, and bringing together that dialogue between the dialectics of the global and the local at the classroom level, we need to figure it out how we create models of peace education inside our classrooms. Recently in Virginia, apparently nobody died, but four people or three people went to the hospital, a dispute around students and that being with somebody with a gun, shooting four people. There will be never the possibility of eliminating disputes in our classroom, period. Classrooms are full of contradictions and conflict. The idea of negotiating difference, the idea of negotiating contradiction and conflict is an art that should be skillfully managed by teachersand fully managed by the most senior students. 

And let me just give you one example and I stop here. Most recently, we were surprised that, and I apologize if I am too political, but Arizona turned into a purple, more than a purple, state. For the first time, two senators elected are Democratic senators. Why did it happen? Well, we can talk about a number of things, but I give you one possible explanation. Over the last 10 years, in the school system, particularly in Phoenix because being a movement. Let me put it in this way. Participatory action research, in which the students began to talk about how they are using their budgets, continues to be central in a school system. In your life, in my life, budgets are budgets. But when budgets are decided by authorities or bureaucrats, it’s one thing. When budgets are decided through a model of participatory budgeting in the school systems, they have a different conclusion. Over the last, I would say, 10 years, and a former student of mine was the initiator, Daniel Schugurensky from Arizona State University, you should interview him about this particular experience. More than 50,000 youth graduated from a school systems in which they actually participated in decision-making. If they do that in the school system, in their classrooms, in dialog with their teachers, professors, you have a different logic. And this different logic also implies a different understanding of democracy. Voilá. Now that you have a completely different model in Arizona itself. Just one example. We can go all over the world and there are many more, but I stop here. 

[00:29:49] Jon M: This is, of course, the hundredth anniversary of Freire’s birth. And Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a pedagogy of liberation, and what you were just describing in terms of what people achieved in Arizona, which certainly is far from a state of liberation, is very exciting. How do you see the struggle? I mean, one of the things that we talk to a lot of the people that we interview about is what can that struggle look like at this point, particularly in the United States, in schools? I know you’ve talked, for example, about the importance of public schools being sites of social justice education or popular education. And at the same time, of course, we have the contradiction that these are instruments of the state, which is clearly not interested in school being an institution of liberation. How do we resolve that? And how can people apply Freire’s thinking to those issues here now?

[00:30:52] Amy H-L: Wait to hear Dr. Torres’ answer to this question and for the continuation of this interview with Dr. Carlos Alberto Torres. 

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