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 eduation must be given high marks for its student-centered emphasis. Students cannot learn what they do not understand, and they cannot communicate in a language that is unfamiliar to them. Arguments similar to Freire’s surfaced in the battle over ebonics and multilingual education that erupted in the 1980’s and 1990’s. An educator who consistently speaks “over the heads” of students may discover that he or she is not communicating because the students tend to stop listening to what they cannot comprehend. Freire’s implicit assumption that the prevailing order must ultimately be changed to create lasting freedom is generally considered valid. Freire did not believe in integrating minority cultures or groups into the majority but in creating a society in which all cultures, value systems, and people were held in equal regard. In this lies the crux of his humanism and also, perhaps, his lasting value as a philosopher.