Context (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Having survived a childhood of extreme poverty, Paulo Freire was intimately aware of the dehumanization that deprivation creates. At a young age, he vowed to dedicate his life to the “struggle against hunger,” and as an adult, he kept that vow by undertaking the education of thousands of illiterate Brazilian and Chilean peasants who were the victims of paternalism, indigence, and disenfranchisement. His views on education and the struggle for liberty are captured in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the first of his writings to be translated and published in the United States and, therefore, the work that introduced his research and methodology to the American academic world and general public. Some critics found the work vague, redundant, and needlessly complex, however, the greatest objections were caused by its content. Some felt the work advocated revolution and others criticized the work for its liberal use of quotes and concepts from socialist and communist leaders Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, and others. It was obvious, however, that Freire had developed a unique educational method that worked within the parameters of his environment.
(The entire section is 181 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Literacy and Liberty (World Philosophers and Their Works)
During the twentieth century, South America was a region marked by political unrest and turmoil. Although a democratic election policy was in place in Brazil, the population consisted largely of peasants whose illiteracy made them legally unqualified to vote. In an effort to remedy this problem, the University of Recife in Brazil created the Cultural Extension Service, which undertook the literacy training of thousands. Freire was named the first director of this organization.
When he began the education process, Freire was appalled at the curriculum and texts that were then in use. The curriculum was structured in accordance with what he labeled the “banking system of education,” wherein the teacher speaks and the students listen, memorize, and recite. The textbooks were compiled using a sophisticated vocabulary and imbued in middle-and upper-class values. Freire felt this information would be of little use to a primarily agrarian, impoverished population. Therefore, he devised a workable system based on the milieu of the people, employing their day-to-day language and concepts and encouraging dialogue and critical thinking. He felt that true education could not be accomplished until the teacher and student realized that each simultaneously plays both roles. Additionally, he believed peasants should be empowered through the educational process, so he undertook their political, sociological, and historical training.
He was intimately aware...
(The entire section is 310 words.)
Humanization and Freedom (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Freire posited that this process could be achieved through humanization. He held that humankind’s “vocation” was the struggle to recover its lost humanity. Humanization can be achieved only when people realize they have been subjected to dehumanization through injustice, exploitation, oppression, and violence. Furthermore, the oppressed must recover from the fear of freedom by refusing to conform to the ideas of others and thereby breaking the cycle of repression and violence. He observed that when a person is elevated from slave to overseer, the theories of the oppressor persist, and violence worsens to appease the owner. When the prevalent order has not been altered, the oppressed take on the values of the oppressor, and the cycle of violence continues.
Freedom requires autonomy and responsibility, and Freire compares liberation to childbirth in that the oppressed individual emerges as a new person. The educational model, or pedagogy, for this liberation is created in two stages: First, the oppressed sees the world as it is and commits himself or herself to its transformation; second, that vision of the world becomes shared by everyone as the old myths are expulsed and permanent liberation begins. This utopian view frees the oppressed from being objects or things with no purpose other than that prescribed for them by their oppressors. Furthermore, it eliminates public assistance systems, which were considered the pathology of an otherwise healthy...
(The entire section is 360 words.)
Conscientization (World Philosophers and Their Works)
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire critiques what he labels the “banking system of education,” wherein the teacher narrates and the students listen, memorize words and concepts of little relevance to their lives, and regurgitate the information in order to excel on an examination. In this process, the student is viewed as a container, an object, to be filled by the all-knowing instructor, and Freire states emphatically that education is suffering from “narration sickness.” Bankers, he feels, are against any form of critical thinking because it jeopardizes the status quo; by considering student ignorance as absolute, teachers can justify their own existence. On the other hand, conscientization teaches transformation of the social order to allow the oppressed to become “beings for themselves” rather than to merely adapt to the prevailing order. This view was considered radical, subversive, and dangerous by many who observed Freire or read his work.
Freire believed this transformation could be achieved through dialogical education, “problem posing” carried out via conversations that constantly unveiled reality. Dialogue must include both action and reflection and requires faith, humility, hope, and critical inquiry from all involved. It creates communication, and communication creates true education. Communication could be fostered only through a common language; rather than attempting to raise the students’ language to the level...
(The entire section is 306 words.)
Old Myths (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed concludes with a discussion of cultural revolutions, and an in-depth discussion of the oppressor. Freire deduces that society is impeded by old myths, such as humanity is free, jobs are available if one seeks them, entrepreneurism is always possible, all people are equal, and the elite are inherently good because of their charitable contributions. Further, he insists that these myths must be replaced by a new order before humanity can be fully liberated.
Oppressors, according to Freire, have their own set of myths that encode as behaviors. The most prevalent myth is messianism, wherein they see themselves as saviors of the people, which logically leads to paternalism. Others include the belief that it is best to force others to adapt to the status quo, which engenders cultural invasion, and the practice of dividing and ruling, which translates into manipulation.
(The entire section is 143 words.)
Education and the Route to Freedom (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Many of Freire’s ideas, as expressed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, were utopian although some were socialistic. Whatever his political viewpoint, Freire serves as a universal model for the ability to use education to forward liberty, and he must be credited for fearlessly taking on the system to offer freedom to the oppressed of the Third World. In 1964, Freire’s beliefs were considered a threat to the political regime in Brazil, and he was imprisoned, stripped of his citizenship, and exiled. A man of passionate optimism in spite of adverse circumstances, he successfully continued his work in Chile and later imported his methods to the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Freire believed that although education is the true route to freedom, antiquated systems often reinforce the old order and become a major source of oppression. He believed that the memorization and recitation mode of learning was passé and needed to be replaced. Subsequent educational research supported Freire’s idea that students learn more completely through discussion, projects, and hands-on activity than through memorization. In this respect, Freire resembles educators such as John Dewey, Ivan Illich, and Socrates, who were considered radical in their time, and his efforts with literary training and consciousness-raising can be compared to movements for equality for African Americans, women, and the poor in the United States.
Freire’s theory of...
(The entire section is 376 words.)
Bibliography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Collins, Denis. Paulo Freire: His Life, Works, and Thought. New York: Paulist Press, 1997. This book, written by a Jesuit educator, provides biographical information and an overview of Freire’s educational and sociological theories.
Elias, John L. Conscientization and Deschooling. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976. The work compares and contrasts the educational and theological theories of Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich. It contains some biographical information and illustrates the effect religion had on Freire’s educational philosophy and content. An extensive bibliography for both Freire and Illich is included.
Elias, John L. Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of Liberation. Malabar, Fla.: Kreiger Press, 1994. The text analyzes the historical background of Freire’s work and the concepts included in his theories of education. It also examines the influences on his work, from existentialism to Catholic theology to Marxism, and explores the impact of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, and others on his beliefs.
Horton, Myles, and Paulo Freire. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. One of two works that Freire created in collaboration, the book is written in interview format and...
(The entire section is 356 words.)