Paulo Freire

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What purpose does today's education structure serve, according to Paulo Freire?

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According to Paulo Freire, education, as it is structured today, prevents people from expanding their knowledge bases. The traditional purpose is to deposit knowledge from parents and teachers into their children as vessels for absorption. As an alternative, Freire promotes dialogue and critical thinking to motivate people to learn on their own.

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Paulo Freire (1921–1997) was a Brazilian philosopher and humanist who had an enormous impact on how the world views methods of educating poor and oppressed people living under less-than-adequate social conditions. After some four hundred years of European colonization and slavery in Brazil, large multitudes of indigenous peoples and former slaves of African descent lacked formal education and many had been kept illiterate. Freire recognized the need to find a way of educating masses of marginalized people. His philosophy on education was heavily influenced by the likes of Erich Fromm, Karl Marx, humanism, and existentialism.

Freire understood that one of the causes of continued lack of education in the twentieth century among natives of South America was the acceptance of the ideologies of those who originally oppressed them. He began the formulation of his overall educational plan by studying what it meant to be a human being. He looked for ways to empower individuals and protect them from negative influences. He reasoned that poverty-stricken people could improve their plight in life through work. Freire also understood that access to formal education in Brazil was traditionally limited to members of the upper societal class. Thus, for the masses, success through work could only be achieved by finding ways for the poor to educate themselves. This became a core principle in Freire’s vision as to how academic learning should be structured in the twentieth century.

Influenced by the growing modern philosophy of existentialism, Freire believed that people living in poverty conditions were free to choose the paths of their lives for themselves. He theorized that they were not bound by the oppression of the past. They were free to learn from each other. He concluded that the attempt to learn from other illiterate peasants in Brazil must be coupled with a plan to eradicate illiteracy among the masses.

In his famous work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire outlined his overall plan to re-structure the education system in Brazil for the purpose of eliminating the specter of illiteracy on a large-scale basis. He studied the “cultural circles” and discovered numerous social and political changes that needed to take place if mass education was to meet with success. For example, working-class Brazilian families raised their children in a very authoritarian manner. Children were not afforded the opportunity to freely express themselves and exchange ideas that would foster their overall education. Teaching itself was “top-down.” What Freire called “the banking method” of education had to change. Students were envisioned as receptacles obligated to absorb whatever was being fed to them by parents and teachers. Changing this dynamic to allow children to think critically would improve the knowledge base for millions of people if they were free to exchange thoughts and ideas with their teachers.

Freire launched a lifelong campaign to teach literacy to the impoverished. Education structured by dialogue and critical thinking enables learners to grow in confidence and expand on what they already know, instead of being stymied by what they do not know due to lack of formal education in their communities. This process fosters literacy and improves conditions for working-class people. It motivates students to self-learn.

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Paulo Freire, a socially, politically, and intellectually radical educator, believed that the dominant structure of education in his home country of Brazil, and indeed in many capitalist countries, was rooted not in a true pursuit of knowledge for students, but rather in a pursuit of obedience and conformity. Freire powerfully depicted how low-income students were essentially streamlined through the education process with the goal of becoming obedient workers who would enter the workforce as passive, noncritical workers. Freire criticized the "banking model" of teaching that he viewed as creating an oppressive dynamic between teacher and student, in which the teacher commands absolute obedience and unquestioning acceptance of her teachings, and the student passively acts as an empty retainer in which knowledge is deposited. Freire opposed this hierarchical relationship of teacher and student and encouraged a system of education in which students are active participants in their own learning. Freire advocated for the "problem-posing" educational model in which students are actively involved in their learning process through critical thinking, dialogue, and non-hierarchical relation to the teacher. For Freire, without critical thinking and active participation by students in their own learning processes, education simply existed as a means of enforcing submission and obedience.

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In his essay "The Purpose of Education," Paolo Freire makes very clear that his views on this point are influenced by his background as a Brazilian from a troubled and unsettled region, but who yet believes that "any period in history is a time of possibilities." According to Freire, we are all responsible for making history--we must reinvent the world by planning, dreaming, and understanding our own limits. Education assists us in doing this by helping us to develop ourselves, understanding both our place within the social order and our own individuality. According to Freire, we educate partly because of "curiosity with regard to our history": education about what has happened before helps to encourage intellectual curiosity and explore what we can become. Teachers, Freire says, "have to maintain curiosity," which is natural in young children but often beaten out of them by certain schooling systems. 

Freire believes that part of the purpose of education is to help children develop the ability "to ask good questions." It is through this ability that education can help us in our journey towards liberation and freedom through intellectual curiosity. 

Ultimately, Freire believes education "is a matter for the community," but should be committed to achieving a better quality of life for those who are reinventing history in the world. 

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The Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire began to challenge his country's educational system in the late 1950s when he started to work for the Department of Education and Culture of the state of Pernambuco. Freire thought that the system was structured to preserve the status quo and the existing social order, thus keeping the lower urban and peasant classes to the margins of society. Education is

an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity.

He argued that for the pupils coming from these social realities school had no meaning as the standard school texts tended to reproduce bourgeois values which had no meanings for them. On the contrary, Freire argued for an educational system that creates meaningful contexts in which pupils can relate to and learn. He claimed that education should be "the practice of freedom", making individuals capable to look critically at their workd and enabling them to change it. Freire's most influential work is Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), whose translation caused controversy in many Western countries for its advocacy of a Marxist framework.

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