Understanding El Che

Che Guevara is given a lot of room by my contemporaries, radicals and liberals alike. Because of his practical and applied radicalism, they regard him as a sort of martyr for all kinds of movements. One of my teachers, Peter McLaren, even wrote a book about Paulo Freire and El Che, comparing their leftist politik from a modern critical consumption.

However, in the standard American practice of parsing words from historical figures in order to prove a point, some of my people are misinterpreting Che’s words. A facebook friend recently did this, citing  the following Guevara quote in order to incite his peers to action:

Education is the property of no one. It belongs to the people as a whole. And if education is not given to the people, they will have to take it.


The challenge of El Che’s perspective here, in this quote alone, is that it positions “education” as an item, a product to be manufactured and consumed. This is one of the dilemmas of citing ideologists out of context. The perspective of this single quote isn’t what education is. Instead, education happens any time learning happens with purpose. That cannot be taken or given, and only comes from the people. If we keep positioning education as a commodity that can be bought, sold, and controlled by any force, we continue to surrender our ability to make, propagate, and promote learning with purpose.
We must not cut out the source from the fruit; an apple without a tree isn’t an apple anymore. El Che without the radically dispossesive nature of his philosophy is no longer El Che. 

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