Philosopher, educator, attorney, revolutionary, and later secretary of education in São Paulo, Paulo Freire is best known for his work on the themes of oppression and liberation. Literally hundreds of essays stemmed from Freire’s philosophical theories of education, democratization, and “conscientization.” Between 1947 and 1959, Freire was involved with literacy education in the northeast of Brazil, a center of poverty and illiteracy. In the early 1960s, he became more and more involved in literacy projects, usually centered among the student-dominated Popular Culture Movement. Among the Movement’s many goals was that of consciousness-raising among the poor. Freire and his followers had to suspend their efforts abruptly with the Brazilian military coup of 1964, at which time he was arrested; he later left Brazil for Chile, where he worked as a UNESCO consultant and with the Agrarian Reform Training and Research Institute.
During these tumultuous years, Freire traveled throughout the ‘Third World” and began refining his philosophy of education, first published in English as Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). The book was then published in Spanish because it was prohibited in Freire’s own country, Brazil.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire evolved his theory for the education of illiterate adults based on the conviction that every human being, no matter how “ignorant” or how far submerged in the “culture of silence,” is capable of looking critically at the world in a dialectical encounter with others. This dialogue can only be achieved if each person is conscious of his or her own position in society. Education, Freire argues, cannot be of the “banking” kind. “Banking” education—in which an authoritarian figure “deposits” bits of knowledge into a learner and the latter “receives” this deposit without question—is seen as an instrument of oppression. For Freire, educational systems in the Third World are the chief tools used by oppressive elites to dominate the masses. It is only through “conscientization” that individuals may become aware of true reality.
Freire did not deny the need for factual education—perhaps even some “banking” knowledge may be required; however, this type of learning is to be a step toward the democratization and equalization of the dialectical system. Freire insisted, in both thought and action, that words and themes used in literacy programs must be relevant and common among the people being educated. The content of education is to be determined jointly with the people who are to pursue the learning. Freire’s idea of “learning to question” reaches not only the learner but also the educator. It is only through the “conscientization of the educator that the learner will become more conscious of his or her oppression.” Educators, he maintained, must question their own philosophical stance.
Peter L.McLaren (1994) deconstructs Freire’s essays in a mirror-like opposition to “the discursive trail from consciousness to language, from the denotative to the performative, and from the hypothesis to the speech-act.” What Freire attempted in his own essays was to build from speech-act to performative to denotative to language to consciousness. Is this utopian paradox possible? In The Politics of Education (1985), Freire establishes once again that “it is necessary to have faith in the people, solidarity with them. It is necessary to be utopian.” If educators take this stance, he believes they will be able to carry out the project of “transforming and recreating the world.”
From the publication of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed through the publication of Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (1994), Freire thought and rethought his position as the consciousness-raising advocate of the early 1960s. He claimed that he “writes what he does”; his essays were merely “reports” of his activities.
Freire’s critics claimed that his utopian society is pointless in Brazil, a country dominated by a small elite. His followers expanded his theories to industrialized nations where the “banking” model of education has failed.
In the last 30 years, Freire’s work has been studied throughout the world. His philosophy has been one of the major influences to emerge from Latin America. In his own words, in an interview with Carlos Alberto Torres, Freire concludes, “the limits of education would bring a naive man or woman to desperation. A dialectical man or woman discovers in the limits of education the raison d’être for his or her efficiency. It is in this way that I feel that today I am an efficient Secretary of Education because I am limited.” Thus, Freire returned to his main thesis that it is only through the conscientization of the educator—the understanding of limitations—that dialogue begins.
CARMEN CHAVES TESSER
Born 19 September 1921 in Recife, Pernambuco. Studied at the University of Recife, Ph.D., 1959. Married Elza Maia Costa Oliveira, 1944 (died, 1986): three daughters and two sons. General coordinator of National Plan for Adult Literacy, northeastern Brazil, 1947–59. Professor of history and the philosophy of education, University of Recife.
Imprisoned briefly after military coup, 1964; moved to Chile, where he worked for UNESCO and the Chilean Institute for Agrarian Reform, for five years. Visiting professor, Harvard University School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1969. Consultant to the Office of Education, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1974– 81. Professor of education, Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, from 1981.
Secretary of education, São Paulo, 1988–91. Married Ana Maria Araújo, 1988. Awards: honorary degrees from 29 universities. Died 2 May 1997.
Essays and Related Prose
Educação como prática da liberdade, 1967; as Education for Critical Consciousness, 1973; as Education, the Practice of Freedom, 1976
Sobre la accion cultural: Ensayos escogidos, 1969
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated by Myra Bergman Ramos, 1970; revised edition, 1996
La demitiftcación de la concientización y otros escritos, 1975
Ação cultural para a liberdade e outros escritos, 1976
Cartas a Guine-Bissau: Registors de uma experiencia. em processo, 1977; as Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau, translated by Carmen St. John Hunter, 1978
The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation, translated by Donaldo Macedo, 1985
Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, translated by Robert R.Barr, 1994
Letters to Cristina, translated by Donald Macedo, 1996
Bullough, Robert V., Jr., and Andrew D.Gitlin, “Challenging Teacher Education as Training: Four Propositions,” Journal of Education for Teaching 20 (1994):67–81
Elias, John L., Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of Liberation, Melbourne, Florida: Krieger, 1994
Elias, John L., and Sharan B.Marriam, Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education, Melbourne, Florida: Krieger, 1995
Kanpol, Barry, and Peter McLaren, editors, Critical Multiculturalism: Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle, Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey, 1995
McLaren, Peter L., and Colin Lankshear, Politics of Liberation: Paths from Freire, London and New York: Routledge, 1994
Mayo, Peter, “Synthesizing Gramsci and Freire: Possibilities for a Theory of Radical Adult Education,” International Journal of Lifelong Education 13 (1994):125–48
Shor, Ira, and Paulo Freire, A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education, South Hadley, Massachusetts: Bergin and Garvey, and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987
Wong, Pia Lindquist, “Constructing a Public Popular Education in São Paulo, Brazil,”
Comparative Education Review 39 (1995): 120–41
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