Paulo Freire

Freire, P. (1990). Education for Critical Consciousness 4th Edition. London:Sheed & Ward.


Education for Critical Consciousness contains two essays written by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. The first, Education as a practice of freedom written in 1965, is an historical account, by Freire, of the socio-political and economic development of Brazil from the 16th century to 1964. The main thrust is how Brazil’s colonial past, its reliance on slavery, and disjoined governing by the elites, created a country which was disenfranchised from itself, one without an indigenous culture and one which was not rooted in democracy. As the country began to become more industrialized and democratic, its lack of history in those areas and its paralyzing illiteracy established the foundation from which Freire developed his philosophy of education and his now famous literacy approach, which is more detailed in its description in this volume than in the much more famous work: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970.

The second essay, Extension or Communication, written in 1968, is a cumbersome and, to be honest, difficult analysis of the agro-extension programmes in Latin America. Freire, at his pedantic best, laboriously explores the semantic nuances of the word extension as it relates to the agro-progamme, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that it is not a form of humanistic education, and is in fact, not education but a form of oppression; which is a reoccurring theme within his earlier works. An interesting aside to this specific article is Freire’s concept of how agricultural aid is an expression of oppression, as it is little more than a gift whose recipients become objects instead of subjects. It would not be too far of a stretch to intuit that this really was a criticism on foreign aid policies of many countries, notably those of the U.S. Freire believes that only through communication and dialogue can actual learning take place: educator-educatee with educatee-educators. In this way, knowledge is created, comprehended and re-invented, a theme akin to Mezirow’s Transformative Theory.

In both works, Freire reveals his educational philosophies and theories. As these were some of his earliest publications in English, much of it shows his political leanings, as he was exiled from Brazil in 1964 due to his highly controversial work educating the illiterates, which was not just limited to words and numbers, but showing the masses how to gain a critical consciousness of the social, political, and economic contradicting elements of their society.

I chose this work as Freire falls within the domain of educational writers exploring Critical Pedagogy, an aspect of education that holds a keen interest for me.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed 30th Anniversary Edition, New York: Continuum

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is, undoubtedly, the best know work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. It is a work which can be interpreted on many levels, and in this regard would not look out of place along side Machiavelli’s The Prince, in that both were written as socio-political manuals. Machiavelli’s to maintain political control, and Freire’s to drive socio-political change.

Often deemed a pedagogy for revolution more than a revolutionary pedagogy, much of the work describes Freire’s vision on how to effect social change using critical consciousness [ conscientiazacao in his terms] to assist the oppressed to achieve cultural liberation. In other words, helping them see their reality and using praxis [ reflection and action together ] to transform that reality into a reality that is more just and one which will allow them to achieve their potential. In Freirean terms this process seeks “humanization”.

Freire appears to have been heavily influenced by Catholicism and, oddly, Marxist teachings. Much of the work discusses class struggle and how the dominate class oppresses the dominated class by using varying methods which includes, most notably, what he calls the “Banking Concept of Education”: teachers simply deposit facts into student’s heads for withdrawal at a later date. A concept discussed by Lindeman and also by Malcolm Knowles in much earlier writings. This leads us to one of the major criticisms of Freire: that of limited references to educational literature. Freire seems to be either unaware of, or simply refuses to acknowledge, the work of others, which remarkably resembles his train of thought.

Another criticism of Freire is the opinion that his writings have limited applicability out side of the Third World ( Griffith, 1972, Taylor, 1993 ). However, revolutions take many forms and are not limited only to over-throwing governments. One need only to try to install major computer systems in a large organization, or develop contemporary educational curricula to see the politics involved.

While I consider his approach utopian [ and Freire is the first to state that it was not his intent to develop a universal method ], Freire is also unabashed in his purpose. His work was intended as a guide for socio-political change, under the guise of pedagogy, to help those who are submerged within the reality of their oppression; a blueprint for Cultural Revolution, so to speak, and while many may not consider it “the” blueprint, it probably is as good a blueprint as any.

Freire, p. (1985). The Politics of Education. Culture, Power, and Liberation. New York: Bergin and Garvey.

This collection of essays contains many of Freire’s reoccurring themes with respect to education: that it should be liberating, convey humanism, and that one needs to be watchful of the signs of the contradictions that are ever present in society due to the dominant class’ influence on the oppressed.

More specifically, Freire cautions us as to how our view of educational topics, in this case literacy, can cause our good intentions to be domesticating instead of liberating. As an example, Freire points out that by viewing illiteracy as a scurge upon the land, a disease, or as a form of malnourishment there can arise a mechanistic view of illiteracy such that the illiterate is percieved as the hollow man, or the starving man, and using Banking Education models, the individual is simply filled with words and thus literate.

But to Freire, literacy, as in all things educational, is a political process and one that requires the educatee and the educator to respect each others position; and to ensure that there is cultural relevance in the delivery of the programme or the process will not be liberating. Freire acknowledges in the work that there is a fair amount of repetition among the many chapters, but each reinforces his thought and builds upon the prior. For my purposes, as an ESL instructor, it is important that I understand that my participants are not hollow vessels awaiting to be filled; they are individuals embarking on an educational journey and it is important that we learn together if what we are learning is to take root and grow within the participants of the process.

Freire’s work is not without its reoccurring criticisms which, when seen as flaws, may somewhat dilute the impact of his thoughts upon the reader. First, Freire only see things in black and white, there is never a middle ground. I find this interesting as one of the hallmarks of Freires’ work is the promoting of dialogue as an educative practice; somehow this strikes me as a contradiction. Secondly, Freire writes his history and espouses his views of his Latin American experience as absolute truths, with little to no reference to support his historical context. Outside of the occassional mention of Marx, Guevara and other “revolutinnaries”, there is little third party collaboration to support his environmental views during that period…everything is stated as a fact; a curious trait since he is someone who so often documents the hegemony and solipsism of the dominant class.


About bzd7y3

non-global citizen
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