Harvard Educational Review
  1. Gramsci, Freire, and Adult Education

    Possibilities for Transformative Action

    By Peter Mayo

    London: Zed Books, 1999. 211 pp. $22.50

    In counterpoint to those who proclaim that the practice of good teaching has neither a philosophical context nor an ideological framework, and subsequently suggest that we teachers should patch together whatever practice raises test scores, Peter Mayo introduces his book Gramsci, Freire, and Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action by placing mainstream educational systems squarely at the service of global capitalism. Mayo’s assertion — that schools and other educational programs train a work force in performances that maintain and reproduce the current political order — frames the dominant educational paradigm as subservient to the interests of those who control the planet’s productive capacities. From this perspective, the works of Brazilian philosopher-pedagogue Paulo Freire and Italian sindicalist and political theorist Antonio Gramsci shine in a positively critical light. Though they wrote in different halves of the twentieth century, Gramsci and Freire both provided theoretical frameworks for redressing social inequities by arming the have nots with the skills to analyze their material and cultural conditions.

    Early chapters examine the respective theoretical contributions of Gramsci and Freire to the field of education, with later chapters interrogating the relationship between these ideas and reviewing their utility in a new millennium. The book’s strengths lie in the author’s ability to articulate certain concepts from the educational theories of Gramsci and Freire in a way that sheds light on both their historic context and their current potentiality. Mayo’s descriptions of Gramsci’s organic intellectual and war of position and Freire’s praxis and dialogue are brief and tight, though not insular; moreover, his argument is clearest when showing how these authors were ahead of their time in combining issues of structural injustice with personal agency, that their work is complementary, and that their ideas should not be isolated from the goals of larger social movements.

    A fine introduction to the ideas of this seminal pair, Mayo’s work is more accessible, if not quite as rigorous as another recent work that contrasts the two, Paula Allman’s Revolutionary Social Transformation. When Mayo weaves his own analysis of the current political landscape, the chapters tend to loosen in their focus. The book also falters in not doing more to establish the particular connection between these invaluable theories of education and their particular connection to adult education. In fact, the connection to adult education, suggested by the volume’s title, hangs on lists of ambiguous citations and the equally equivocal phrase, “I would describe a theory of transformative adult education as one which recognizes the political nature of all educational interventions” (p. 24).

    It could be argued that learners of any age are engaged in adult education when they become implicated in the adult task of transforming the world. In any case, it is precisely the author’s determination to establish the political nature of education and to include his own political analysis and argument that transforms this book from a simple synopsis of great ideas to the kind of intellectual endeavor that would make Gramsci and Freire proud.

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    Book Notes

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    Gramsci, Freire, and Adult Education
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