Sunday, September 27, 2009

Love, Love, Love: Part 4

After taking a look at the question of love and teaching, delving into Freire's concept of radical love, and getting together a background on applied theatre, I tried to break down the concept of radical love in the applied theatre space.

I've made connections between radical love and applied theatre by looking at four areas:
  • Courage, Envisioning and Imagining Change
  • Community Work
  • Facilitating Challenging Dialogue
  • Representation of the Other
Courage, Envisioning and Imagining

As I began to explore the idea of radical love in my own practice as an applied theatre practitioner and through conversation with other practitioners, the first recognition was that the context in which Freire spoke and wrote was certainly very different than that of my own. Christina Marin, Assistant Professor of Educational Theatre at New York University, noted that coming into the applied theatre or Theatre of the Oppressed space from a privileged and academic perspective is quite different from the original context of Freire’s pedagogy and Boal’s adaptation in the theatre (personal communication, April 3, 2009). The Instructional Coordinator of the Adult Learning Center at Lehman College’s Institute for Literacy Studies spoke of her frustration applying Freire’s pedagogy within a modern context:
It is very hard to feel like you are doing something radical and revolutionary in times where people are not rising up at all, but trying to survive and fit in and be successful within the system. I think it would be much more like Freire to teach within the context of social change movements, than the kind of teaching that I do. (personal communication, July 14, 2009)
Thus, our adaptation or judgment of the applicability of Freire’s radical love may be skewed by our belief that we are not in a revolutionary context or time of major social change. Are we in the context of a social change movement? And should we be? Do we believe in the potential for change in the present context?

Oppression may carry a different meaning at the present time within Western culture than it did in Freire’s historical context. In Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education (5th Edition), Peter McLaren (1998) offers a newer take on oppression that sees oppression beyond the deliberate practice of evil (p. 18). McLaren (1998) states, “oppression can exist even in the absence of overt discrimination” and is perpetuated by well-meaning individuals in the routine decisions of life (p.18).

Consequently, it may be more difficult to contextualize radical love in a situation where oppression is not so obvious or palpable. In recognition of this in her own work, one adult literacy coordinator concludes,
It’s a different book now that would be written. [Pedagogy of the Oppressed is] a product of history, when we really felt like the whole world was going to have a socialist revolution, and it was so obvious that this was going to happen and people were going to embrace it. And now, that’s not so obvious. They always used think that revolution was right around the corner, and I’d love to feel that way again. (personal communication, July 14, 2009)
In the re-contextualization of Freire’s radical love, the concept of revolution may be outdated or irrelevant for some educators coming from an American standpoint. It may be more difficult for us to envision dramatic, revolutionary change in our communities and societies. Still, Freire (1998) encourages us that love breeds bravery that inspires us to try “a thousand times before giving up” (p. 3). Yet, in order to persist, we must be able to envision liberation.

Envisioning another future requires believing in the possibility of change—change that can be brought about through education, and in our work, through the use of theatre. Marin describes this poetically as “love of the potential” (personal communication, April 3, 2009). She continues to describe this as, “loving what can be. What we haven’t achieved yet. And if you feel that kind of love for a potential, you work harder toward it and you work more in community toward it“ (personal communication, April 3, 2009). In the applied theatre context, potential is explored in a theatrical dialogue.

According to Boal (2002), “Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it” (p. 16). By reflecting on our lives, our world and our actions within the world, exchanging ideas, pondering alternative realities, and trying out and rehearsing possible options and solutions to oppressive situations, theatre can transform communities and help us to create new possibilities.

Appropriately, the imagination is at the center of social change, the foundation for the ability to love and persist in the creation of a new world. In Releasing the Imagination, philosopher and social critic Maxine Greene (2000) shares,
it may be the recovery of imagination that lessens the social paralysis we see around us and restores the sense that something can be done in the name of what is decent and humane. My attention turns back to the importance of wide-awakeness, of awareness of what it is to be in the world. (p. 35)
It is difficult to scientifically measure the change that the power of the imagination, personal connections, dialogue, human interaction and trust can spark. These scientific measurements are the ones that our society currently values and privileges. But it is even more difficult to argue that personal connections, dialogue, human interaction and trust are meaningless. Humans are the most powerful tools in social change—the only tools.

To recognize the sacredness of the human ability to identify and reflect is to place a profound respect toward our ability to transform our communities, our world and ourselves. In order to truly engage in loving action that leads to liberation and transformation, we must first believe in the possibility of change. In the applied theatre realm, that possibility can be articulated with dramatic techniques.

Up next: Exploring Community Work.