Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Paulo Freire?
Freire was born September 19, 1921 to a middle class family in Recife, Brazil. Freire became familiar with poverty and hunger during the 1929 Great Depression. These experiences, though brief, would shape his concerns for the poor and would help to construct his particular educational viewpoint. Eventually his family’s misfortunes turned about, and their prospects improved.
Freire enrolled at Law School at the University of Recife in 1943. He also studied philosophy, more specifically phenomenology, and the psychology of language. Although admitted to the legal bar, he never actually practiced law but instead worked as a teacher in secondary schools teaching Portuguese. In 1944, he married Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, a fellow teacher. The two worked together for the rest of their lives and had five children.
In 1946, Freire was appointed Director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the State of Pernambuco, the Brazilian state of which Recife is the capital. Working primarily among the illiterate poor, Freire began to embrace a non-orthodox form of what could be considered liberation theology. In Brazil at that time, literacy was a requirement for voting in presidential elections.
In 1961, he was appointed director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University, and in 1962 he had the first opportunity for significant application of his theories, when 300 sugarcane workers were taught to read and write in just 45 days. In response to this experiment, the Brazilian government approved the creation of thousands of cultural circles across the country.
In 1964, a military coup put an end to that effort. Freire was imprisoned as a traitor for 70 days. After a brief exile in Bolivia, Freire worked in Chile for five years for the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 1967, Freire published his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom. He followed this with his most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in Portuguese in 1968.
On the strength of reception of his work, Freire was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard University in 1969. The next year, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in both Spanish and English, vastly expanding its reach. Because of the political feud between Freire, a Christian socialist, and the successive authoritarian military dictatorships, it wasn’t published in his own country of Brazil until 1974, when General Ernesto Geisel became the then dictator president beginning the process of a slow and controlled political liberalisation.
After a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, Freire moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work as a special education advisor to the World Council of Churches. During this time Freire acted as an advisor on education reform in former Portuguese colonies in Africa, particularly Guinea Bissau and Mozambique.
In 1979, he was able to return to Brazil, and moved back in 1980. Freire joined the Workers’ Party (PT) in the city of São Paulo, and acted as a supervisor for its adult literacy project from 1980 to 1986. When the PT prevailed in the municipal elections in 1988, Freire was appointed Secretary of Education for São Paulo.
In 1986, his wife Elza died. Freire married Maria Araújo Freire, who continues with her own educational work.
Freire died of heart failure on May 2, 1997.
What is Pedagogy of the Oppressed?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most widely known of educator Paulo Freire’s works. It was first published in Portug
uese in 1968 as Pedagogia do oprimido and the first English translation was published in 1970. The book examines the struggle for justice and equity within the educational system and proposes a new pedagogy.
Dedicated “to the oppressed, and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side,” Freire includes a detailed Marxist class analysis in his exploration of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Rooted in his own experience helping Brazilian adults to read and write, the book remains popular among educators in developing countries. According to Donaldo Macedo, a former colleague of Freire and University of Massachusetts professor, the text is still revolutionary, and he cites as evidence students from totalitarian states risking punishment to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The book has sold over 750 000 copies worldwide and is one of the foundations of critical pedagogy.
Translated into several languages, most editions of Pedagogy of the Oppressed contain at least one introduction/foreword, a preface, and four chapters.
The first chapter explores how oppression has been justified and how it is overcome through a mutual process between the “oppressor” and the “oppressed”. Examining how the balance of power between the colonizer and the colonized remains relatively stable, Freire admits that the powerless in society can be frightened of freedom. He writes, “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” (47) According to Freire, freedom will be the result of praxis–informed action–when a balance between theory and practice is achieved.
The second chapter examines the “banking” approach to education — a metaphor used by Freire that suggests students are considered empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher. Freire rejects the “banking” approach, claiming it results in the dehumanization of both the students and the teachers. In addition, he argues the banking approach stimulates oppressive attitudes and practices in society. Instead, Freire advocates for a more world-mediated, mutual approach to education that considers people incomplete. According to Freire, this “authentic” approach to education must allow people to be aware of their incompleteness and strive to be more fully human. This attempt to use education as a means of consciously shaping the person and the society is called conscientization, a term first coined by Freire in this book.
This chapter developed the use of the term limit-situation with regards to dimensions of human praxis. This is in line with the Alvaro Viera Pinto’s use of the word/idea in his “Consciencia Realidad Nacional” which Freire contends is “using the concept without the pessimistic character originally found in Jaspers”(Note 15, Chapter 3) in reference to Karl Jaspers’s notion of ‘Grenzsituationen’.
The last chapter proposes dialogics as an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics which use conquest, manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule. Freire suggests that populist dialogue is a necessity to revolution; that impeding dialogue dehumanizes and supports the status quo. This is but one example of the dichotomies Freire identifies in the book. Others include the student-teacher dichotomy and the colonizer-colonized dichotomy.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum. First printed in 1970.
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What is Critical Pedagogy?
Critical pedagogy is a teaching approach that attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate. In other words, it is a theory and practice of helping students achieve critical consciousness. Critical Pedagogy includes relationships between teaching and learning. It is a continuous process of unlearning, learning and relearning, reflection, evaluation and the impact that these actions have on the students, in particular students who have been historically and continue to be disenfranchised by traditional schooling.
Critical pedagogy was heavily influenced by the works of Paulo Freire, arguably the most celebrated critical educator. According to his writings, Freire heavily endorses students’ ability to think critically about their education situation; this way of thinking allows them to “recognize connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.” Realizing one’s consciousness (“conscientization”) is a needed first step of “praxis,” which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression while stressing the importance of liberating education. “Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory. Social transformation is the product of praxis at the collective level.”
Postmodern, anti-racist, feminist, postcolonial, and queer theories all play a role in further explaining Freire’s ideas of critical pedagogy, shifting its main focus on social class to include issues pertaining to religion, military identification, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, and age. Many contemporary critical pedagogues have embraced postmodern, anti-essentialist perspectives of the individual, of language, and of power, “while at the same time retaining the Freirean emphasis on critique, disrupting oppressive regimes of power/knowledge, and social change.” Contemporary critical educators, such as bell hooks appropriated by Peter McLaren, discuss in their criticisms the influence of many varied concerns, institutions, and social structures, “including globalization, the mass media, and race/spiritual relations,” while citing reasons for resisting the possibilities to change.Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have created the Paulo and Nita Freire Project for International Critical Pedagogy at McGill University . In line with Kincheloe and Steinberg’s contributions to critical pedagogy, the project attempts to move the field to the next phase of its evolution. In this second phase critical pedagogy seeks to truly become a worldwide, decolonizing movement dedicated to listening to and learning from diverse discourses from peoples around the planet.
Kincheloe and Steinberg are intent on not allowing critical pedagogy to become merely a North American phenomenon or a patriarchal one. In this listening and introspective phase critical pedagogy becomes better equipped to engage diverse peoples facing different forms of oppression in emancipatory experiences. Taking a cue from Sandy Grande and her discussion in Red Pedagogy of the fruitful negotiation between indigenous peoples and critical pedagogy, Kincheloe and Steinberg envision such dialogue with peoples around the world.
Whath is Critical Consciousness, Conscientization, or Conscientização?
Critical consciousness, conscientization, or conscientização (Portuguese), is a popular education and social concept developed by renowned Brazilian pedagogue and educational theoristPaulo Freire which focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions. Critical consciousness also includes taking action against the oppressive elements in one’s life that are illuminated by that understanding.
What are some of Paulo Freire’s theories?
Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education that came not only from the more classical approaches stemming from Plato, but also from modern Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. In fact, in many ways his Pedagogy of the Oppressed may be best read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (not simply an extension of the culture of the colonizer).
Freire is best-known for his attack on what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. The basic critique was not new — Rousseau’s conception of the child as an active learner was already a step away from tabula rasa (which is basically the same as the “banking concept”), and thinkers like John Dewey were strongly critical of the transmission of mere “facts” as the goal of education. Freire’s work, however, updated the concept and placed it in context with current theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what is now called critical pedagogy.
More challenging is Freire’s strong aversion to the teacher-student dichotomy. This dichotomy is admitted in Rousseau and constrained in Dewey, but Freire comes close to insisting that it should be completely abolished. This is hard to imagine in absolute terms, since there must be some enactment of the teacher-student relationship in the parent-child relationship, but what Freire suggests is that a deep reciprocity be inserted into our notions of teacher and student. Freire wants us to think in terms of teacher-student and student-teacher – that is, a teacher who learns and a learner who teaches – as the basic roles of classroom participation.
This is one of the few attempts anywhere to implement something like democracy as an educational method and not merely a goal of democratic education. Even Dewey, for whom democracy was a touchstone, did not integrate democratic practices fully into his methods, though this was in part a function of Dewey’s attitudes toward individuality. In its strongest early form this kind of classroom has been criticized on the grounds that it can mask rather than overcome the teacher’s authority.
Freire’s work has also been subject to criticism. Rich Gibson has critiqued his work as a cul-de-sac, a combination of old-style socialism (wherever Freire was not) and liberal reformism (wherever Freire was). Paul V. Taylor, in his “Texts of Paulo Freire,” comes close to calling Freire a plagiarist, while Gibson notes Freire borrows heavily from Hegel’s “Phenomenology.” Gibson’s dissertation which examines Freire’s theory, practice, and history in a Marxist context is the sharpest critique of Freire to date.
Freire’s major exponents in North America are Peter McLaren, Donaldo Macedo, Joe L. Kincheloe, Ira Shor, and Henry Giroux. One of McLaren’s classic texts, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, expounds upon Freire’s impact in the field of critical education. In Mexico, La Fundacion McLaren has developed an ongoing conversation with Freire’s work at http://www.fundacionmclaren.org/
In 1991, the Paulo Freire Institute was established in São Paulo to extend and elaborate upon his theories of popular education. The Institute now has projects in many countries and is currently headquartered at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies where it actively maintains the Freire archives. The director is Dr. Carlos Torres, a UCLA professor and author of Freirean books including La praxis educativa de Paulo Freire (1978).
The Paulo and Nita Freire Project for International Critical Pedagogy (http://freire.education.mcgill.ca/) has been founded at McGill University. Here Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have worked to create a dialogical forum for critical scholars around the world to promote research and re-create a Freirean pedagogy in a multinational domain.
Paulo Freire’s work also had a profound impact on Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa.
At his death, Freire was working on a book of Ecopedagogy, a platform of work carried on by many of the Freire Institutes and Freirean Associations around the world today. It has been influential in helping to develop planetary education projects such as the Earth Charter as well as countless international grassroots campaigns per the spirit of Freirean popular education generally.
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