Paulo Freire Research Paper Starter

Paulo Freire

Brazilian Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was known for his mass literacy campaigns for Latin American education. His approach to education was a critical reflection of his own practices as an adult educator as he examined authoritarian educational systems. In his many writings, Freire reflected upon the pedagogical activities that represented the political and historical milieu in the 1960's and 70's. He created a theory of education linked to issues of oppression and struggle and coined a term, "banking concept" of education (Jackson, 2007). Freire's most important text is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a critical reflection of his own practices as an adult educator in Brazil.

Keywords: Banking Concept; Consciousness-raising; Critical Theory; Domesticating Education; Dialogue; Freire, Paulo; Liberating Education; Liberation Pedagogy; Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Problem-posing Education; Praxis

Overview

Brazilian Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was known for his mass literacy campaigns for Latin American education. Philosophically, Freire was influenced by existentialism and Critical Theory (Gutek, 2009). As an intellectual as well as educator of adult learners, he developed a liberating conception of teaching and learning that is structural, purposeful and academically rigourous (Roberts, 1996). His approach to education was a critical reflection of his own practices as an adult educator, as he examined authoritarian educational systems. In his many writings, Freire reflected upon the pedagogical activities that represented the political and historical milieu of the 1960's and 70's. He created a theory of education linked to issues of oppression and struggle (Jackson, 2007).

Freire's most important text is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a critical reflection of his own practices as an adult educator in Brazil. He worked with impoverished workers in Brazil, peasants who participated in Freire's cultural circles. Through Freire's methodologies, they realized an understanding about their culture and improved their literacy skills in just 40 days (Schugurensky, 1998). For Freire, learning "never takes place in a vacuum; learning always occurs in a social context, under specific political conditions" (Roberts, 1996, p. 4). His works promoted a new view of teaching that moved the oppressed to better understand themselves in their world. To Freire, teaching becomes "a necessary interventional occupation, implying a commitment to a given ethical and political position, from which pedagogical principles and practices derive" (Roberts, 1996, p. 3).

Views of Society

To Freire, society is characterized by the relationship between power and domination over those who do not have power. Those in power, called the oppressors, exert power over those who are powerless, the oppressed (Mayo, 1993). Freire applied a dialectical analysis to what he considered to be bourgeois education. A bourgeois education supports certain characteristics of the interaction between teacher and learner. The teacher and learner are at "direct opposites, or in dialectical contradiction" (Allman, 1994, p. 8). The teacher possesses knowledge that the learner needs; the learner is subordinate and dependent on the teacher. This relationship is said to limit the learning and creative potential of both the teacher and the learner. Freire coined the term banking education to illustrate this point; teachers deposit the information and the learners acquire it (Allman, 1994). Freire proposes that this oppressive concept "perpetuates inequalities and injustices and stifles creativity" (Roberts, 1996, p. 2). This form of education becomes an oppressive social function supported by the political entities that support education.

The Banking Concept

Friere often criticized the version of mainstream education he found in most Latin American countries, which he termed "Banking Education." In the banking concept of education, the teacher controls the information that he or she deposits within the learner. Mayo (1993) defines the banking concept of education as "a top-to-bottom approach to knowledge transmission through which the teacher is the sole dispenser of knowledge and students are the passive recipients" (¶ 2).

For example, the teacher may research a topic for his or her lecture, preparing the notes and organizing the presentation. The teacher chooses what the learner is to know and transmits this knowledge to the learner, with no active participation occurring on the part of the learner. The learner receives the information, without question or dialogue (Allman, 1994). As a passive learner, he or she may memorize the material and repeat it back to the teacher. In this manner, Friere believed that knowledge becomes "a gift to be bestowed by teachers upon voiceless, patient and ignorant students; knowledge becomes lifeless and static" (Roberts, 1996, p. 2). This type of education dissuades critical thinking by the student and lead to domestication, which allows the further political oppression of citizens by an authoritative government.

McCarter (2013) views the "learned helplessness" of contemporary American high-school students as being very closely related to Freire's banking concept. He writes, "Instead of allowing their students to wallow in the complexity of the world in which we live, high school teachers must construct a static reality that can be memorized and then spewed out onto a multiple choice exam when test time comes." He likens this to Freire's banking concept of education (McCarter, 2013).

Liberating Education

Friere supported changing the approach to this teacher-learner relationship to a liberating education model. He conceived teaching and learning as two internally-related processes that occur within each person. To Freire, teachers must relinquish their authoritarian control over the learner and become part of the learning process. The learner joins together with the teacher "in a mutual process of teaching and learning" (Allman, 1994, p. 8). Promoting Freire's problem-posing theory changes the dynamics of this relationship (Roberts, 1996, p. 2). Within problem-posing education, learners begin "to understand their world in a depth hitherto unknown to them" (p. 3). Academic rigour is a characteristic of problem-posing education. Expectations are that teachers prepare themselves to be conversant in their content area of study, always learning more and more about the subject through their interaction with the material. Only through study can teachers prepare themselves to become facilitators of the process of learning (Roberts, 1996).

This can best be accomplished through dialogue. Dialogue is a problem-posing approach to effectively using questions to advance critical thinking. Dialogue is not random, but has a clear structure, generally supported through curriculum decisions reflected in a syllabus. Dialogue has a meaningful definitive focus that cohesively reflects the objectives of the lesson (Roberts, 1996) Critical thinking is required for dialogue to occur, and dialogue creates even further critical thinking. Dialogue becomes "a pivotal pedagogical process," as the teacher communicates and "re-learns" the material with the learner (Roberts, 1996, p. 2). Both learners and teachers relate to one another in a horizontal, rather than hierarchical manner (in which the teacher controls the discussion) (Roberts, 1996). Instead of using the Socratic method to analyze Great Books, the focus of dialogue is on problem-posing.

In this critical theory, knowledge is not static and is viewed as transformational; learners scrutinize what they know and "constantly test its adequacy as a tool for illuminating…the real condition and informing our action" (Allman, 1994, p. 2). Knowledge helps learners understand the characteristics of their lives; they constantly test and question their conditions. Knowledge can best be developed through this dialogue, where all participants "seek…to know, gather, reflect and pose problems" (p. 2).

The liberating teacher becomes a...

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