Coffee Break Series: The Global Impact of Freire’s Pedagogy

When the new issue of the American Evaluation Association’s New Directions for Evaluation arrived in the office, our whole team was excited to talk about it. The fall 2017 volume explored the theories of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian teacher and author whose work focused on social justice issues, such as education, decolonization, labor, and politics. Due to the density of the issue, we focused on one segment, “The Global Impact of Freire’s Pedagogy”, by Moacir Gadotti, which applied Freire’s pedagogy to evaluation.

One idea in the article that struck a chord with us was thinking about the difference between evaluation conducted on/for people and evaluation conducted in collaboration with people. Freire’s pedagogy aligns with the latter, as a “participatory” model of evaluation. Gadotti writes,

“Freirean education is aligned with this other society project in which there is no place for oppressors and oppressed, but for citizens with equal rights living together in a radical form of democracy. Teacher and student, project leader and members of the team, evaluators and people being evaluated are producers and managers of a knowledge that will be used to transform reality.”

As in Freire’s pedagogy, in the participatory evaluation process, all participants are invested and empowered. Additionally, the participatory process guarantees that all stakeholders learn from the evaluation experience. Unlike the traditional model where the evaluator provides findings to the client (and likely not at all to evaluation participants) at the end of the study, all evaluation participants “democratically” work together to conduct the study, which helps everyone understand the evaluation process. Then, through reflection and implementation, everyone can apply study findings to improve their work and lives.

This collaborative and democratic evaluation process complements Freire’s belief that education helps individuals think critically and independently, which liberates them by providing tools so they can make personally and socially beneficial choices. Freire believed this approach could lead to a utopia of “universal human ethic,” dismantling social inequalities. As evaluators, we are often extremely pragmatic, which does not leave a lot of room for thinking about utopias. But discussing these concepts allowed us to ponder the aspirational possibilities for our work.

Coffee Break Series: Writing as Design

As a primarily qualitative researcher, a big part of my job is translating heaps of interview transcripts and observation notes into clear and succinct narrative.  It’s not easy work.  I have always enjoyed writing, but I often struggle to translate my messy web of ideas into coherent sentences and well-organized paragraphs.  So, in an effort to be more deliberate about honing my writing skills, I gathered RK&A around our kitchen table back in September to discuss the article “How to Be a Better Writer: 6 Tips from Harvard’s Steven Pinker.”  The article summarizes ideas from cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker’s book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

One idea that stuck out to me relates to complexity: research shows that concepts that are easy for our brain to process feel truer than those that require work to understand.  This makes intuitive sense—when an idea is simply and clearly expressed, it is easier to believe.  Thus, enters design thinking.

Perhaps the most intriguing point Pinker makes about writing comes from his book (which the article inspired me to read)—the idea that a coherent piece of text is a “designed object.”  He writes:

“There is a big difference between a coherent passage of writing and a flaunting of one’s erudition, a running journal of one’s thoughts, or a published version of one’s notes.  A coherent text is a designed object: an ordered tree of sections within section, crisscrossed by arcs that track topics, points, actors, and themes, and held together by connectors that tie one proposition to the next.  Like other designed objects, it comes about not by accident but by drafting a blueprint, attending to details, and maintaining a sense of harmony and balance.”

I’d never thought to frame writing as a design process or text as an object, but I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head.  Like anything designed, a text must be approached with intention.  This includes lots of revision.  As Pinker notes, a coherent text never comes about on the first try.  Seems obvious—but, like good design, good writing isn’t easy.  Take this post an example—I went through about 10 versions before publishing!