Allies are often necessary but beware of the baggage they bring!

The three first graders in the theme photo don’t know a thing about allies, but the powerful form of education they received wouldn’t have been possible without a host of allies that worked with the village in a variety of ways.  From Padre Luis Gurriarán, the Spanish priest who provided the initial support and training for the settlers of the new village, and on into the future, allies have played vital roles in the development of liberating education in the village.  Randall (Rolando) Shea first became a middle school teacher to SMT refugee students in Mexico and then joined the reunited community in Guatemala in 1994 and became the organizing principal of the new Santa María Tzejá middle school and drew on his US funding network to support the school.  My church in Needham, MA became a partner ally of the village and provided the money to make it possible for the teachers to work full-time in the village schools.  A Roman Catholic agency, PRODESSA, provided amazing training in liberating education for the teachers drawn form the village population.  There were many others, but these were the key to the unfolding educational process of the village.  But there is a down side, as well.

Clearly the main actors in the drama of the unfolding explosion of education in SMT are the people of the village themselves.  The pioneering settlers of the village in 1970 drew on the wisdom and skill of Padre Luis, but those pioneers had the intelligence and will to develop the campesino (peasant) farming community.  They shaped the infrastructure of the community and provided its leadership.  Their children, in turn, had the intelligence and will to respond to respond to the teachers that Padre Luis invited to the village in the early years.  Successor student generations came to thrive on the liberating  education provided by excellent teachers who were themselves adult members of the community.  Those teachers give due credit to the material and emotional support they have received from allies.  But the central, underlying truth is this, that the residents of the village, teachers, parents and children alike, provide ample evidence that when members of  a community  are given the opportunity to learn in a stimulating, supportive environment, they will seize it.  And where that education is truly liberating its learners will become leaders in creating a more just and oppression-free society.
But there is big “BUT” when it comes to allies: they bring “baggage.”  Paulo Freire, my educational mentor in liberating education, emphasized that  in his writings.  The baggage roots in the potential allies’ sense of cultural superiority.  If they are from a wealthier social strata than the people they seek to ally with, they may believe that their ideas and money should prevail.  The threat of paternalism—“father knows best”—is an issue that needs to be addressed at every step of the way.  Lila Watson, an Australian aboriginal (indigenous) woman spoke in a defining way to a delegation of missionaries: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with my liberation, then let us work together.”  The challenge for those who would be allies is to name and come to terms with what they/we need to be liberated from.  To the extent that would-be allies can enter into a mutual liberation process, their role can be critically important.  Edwin, one of the young leaders from the village, went so far as to say that it can be revolutionary.
I invite you to leave a comment below.
Seeds of Freedom: Liberating Education in Guatemala.  This is the fifth weekly post about the issues raised in my book that is a case study of liberating education in a remote village in northern Guatemala.

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