Remembering a Great Teacher

Lars Dahlström 7 june1942 - 23 January 2018

“If schooling is to be a source of empowering enlightenment rather than an instrument of domesticating indoctrination, its intellectual content must recruit the creative imagination of the growing child. And if the consequences for the local community are to be cultural enrichment and socio-economic progress, rather than debilitating social conflict, cultural demoralization and economic stagnation, an active dialogue is required among the varied perspective of its multiple interest groups.”
Serpell R (1993) quoted in Dahlström L. Post-Apartheid Teacher Education Reform in Namibia 2002:62

In 2004–2005 I studied for a pivotal year under Lars Dahlström at Umeå University in Sweden. Among many things, he introduced me to the work and ideas of Paulo Freire. Lars had been working in Namibia during the war for independence. He helped set up schools for SWAPO, to the point of even being in combat. He was a fascinating and wise man who had known Freire and he had a lasting impact on my own thought and work. Lars’s thesis based on the experiences in Namibia and using the philosophy of Freire is available here.

For three years between 2013 and 2016 Lars cataloged his work and ideas on a website called Global South Network, and it is still available as an archive. In Lars’ words: “The Global South Network is based on solidarity with educators and people in the Global South. The goal is to develop more humane educational systems for all through approaches like critical practitioner inquiry”.

Upon Lars’s death, in The Namibian the former Prime Minister of Namibia, Nahas Angula remembered Lars as a comrade and educator:

The Swedish International Development Agency assigned Lars Dahlstrom to join our reform efforts in our ministry. His task was to lead a team of teacher educators in the formulation of a new teacher education programme. This programme came to be known as the basic education teacher diploma (BETD).

The team worked with teacher training colleges to introduce this new programme for new teachers in independent Namibia. Lars led this programme from 1993 to 2000. Comrade Lars truly made an invaluable contribution to the development of education in Swapo and in Namibia. While we mourn his passing, at the same time we celebrate his courage, commitment and dedication to solidarity work in favour of the oppressed and the down- trodden. We join his family in sharing their sorrow. But above all, we celebrate the bond of friendship between the people of Sweden and Namibia. Sweden stood with us during our protracted struggle and contributed immensely to state formation in Namibia.

Lars was born on a sunny summer day, June 7, 1942, the eldest of three siblings. Growing up on the west side of Umeå, Ängesvägen, was at that time like living in the country, with two farmers, Andersson and Pettersson. The cows walked in the meadows by the house and with the farmer Knut, the children got to ride on the hay wagon many times.

Lars spent the summers with his family in the family cabin in Norrmjöle, where he sun baked and bathed in the ocean, built huts, played fun games with village children and summer neighbors. The family spent two weeks in the summer in August at a boarding house in Båstad or on Gotland.

Lars’ schooling began in 1948 with a six-year elementary school at Hedlundaskolan in Umeå. Secondary school and student at Östra gymnasium. Lars trained as a teacher at the teacher training college in Umeå. Lars’ first job was in Örträsk, where he also had to act as a substitute principal.

Lars had at that time met his life partner Gunilla, whom he married in 1969. Their son Olle was born in 1972. Lars would work eventually with the teacher training course at Umeå University.

In August 1980, Lars began his first work abroad, in Botswana and later also Namibia and Laos. Lars received his doctorate in 2002 from Umeå University and his work abroad continued for periods right up to his retirement at the age of 67. Lars had a network of contacts all over the world and kept in touch with many almost until his death.

Lars was a kind but fearless intellectual and teacher who lived his ideas and was always ready to help others. Lars introduced me to many ideas and concepts, particularly, Action Research, the Global South and Critical Pedagogy. These concepts have set the course of much of my professional life over the past 20 years.

I would like to see Lars’ collected writings published in a single volume and more research done on them. I have compiled a collection of 47 articles and planning documents either written or edited by Lars that can be downloaded here.

Lars’s words are more relevant today than ever, for example:

“Neoliberal and conservative political ideas started to get a hold on government policies in the 1970s. This continually accelerated as the only way forward for all political parties in the 1990s including social democrats, leaving only left-wing socialist parties struggling against the stream for the continuation of state-governed welfare systems. The consequence became that market-thinking started to make intrusions into the welfare sector and this intrusion soon became the political norm in many countries, including Sweden. Many international observers considered Sweden to have the most advanced national welfare systems in the world. Today that welfare system is history. It has been undermined and destroyed by the neoliberal berserk fury beyond what is the common international perception about the situation in Sweden of today.” (Dahlström 2013)

More can be found here. May the work continue.

Jan 2017

Lars Dahlstrom

Nice to hear from you James even though not in Umeå any longer. I am sure that you do a good work in culture in Tensta and other places. My present email is maybe we can still keep in touch. Hoping for the best in 2017 in spite of the dreadful world around us.
Being retired I still keep on writing in the local paper VK and also some odd academic papers. Especially in the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS)
Best wishes



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James Barrett

James Barrett


Freelance scholar. Humanist. Interested in language, culture, music, technology, design & philosophy. I like Literature & Critical Theory. Traveler. I am mine.