Paulo Freire

I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge. -- Paulo Freire

It is impossible to understand the participatory methods of the PT without recognising the contributions made by Paulo Freire's ideas on education. -- Hilary Wainwright

Freire's philosophy of education is about people becoming aware of their power together to create something new as they overcome what is oppressive. That's the foundation of our participatory politics. -- Pedro Pondial

When I first read Paulo Freire, I was stunned and relieved and exuberant, for he was able to articulate what I knew and felt, but did not have the words for. -- David Diamond

But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or sub oppressors. The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradiction of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them to be men is to be oppressors. -- Paulo Freire

Submerged in reality, the oppressed cannot perceive clearly the order which serves the interest of the oppressors whose image they have internalised. Chafing under the restrictions of this order, they often manifest a type of horizontal violence, striking out at their comrades for the pettiest of reasons; the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction toward the oppressor and his way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration. In their alienation, the oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressor, to imitate him, to follow him. This phenomena is especially prevalent in the middle class oppressed, who yearn to be equal to the eminent men of the upper class. Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalisation of the opinion the oppressors hold of them. So often they hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything that they are sick, lazy and unproductive, that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness. -- Paulo Freire

It is essential for the oppressed to realize that when they accept the struggle for humanisation they also accept, from that moment, their total responsibility for the struggle. They must realise that they are fighting not merely for freedom from hunger but for freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well fed cog in the machine. It is not enough that men are not slaves, if social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be love of life but love of death. -- Paulo Freire

The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creation of people, people themselves, time, everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal. ... The oppressed, as objects, as things, have no purposes except those their oppressor prescribes for them. -- Paulo Freire

There is another fundamental dimension on the theory of oppressive action, which is as old as oppression itself. As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power. The minority cannot permit itself the luxury of tolerating the unification of the people, which would undoubtedly signify a serious threat to their own hegemony. Accordingly the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action, which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity. Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labelled as dangerous to the oppressors for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation. -- Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire Paulo Freire (1921-1997), Brazilian educator and political philosopher, born of lowly background. Freire believed there should be dialogue between pupil and teacher, that understanding the world was as important as understanding the word, that understanding should build social capital. He was especially concerned that the oppressed become the oppressors when given the opportunity and how to break the cycle. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). A founder member and leading guru of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT). The underlying philosophy of PT is the philosophy of Freire.

Paulo Freire grew up in the Northeast of Brazil where his experiences deeply influenced his life work. The world economic crisis forced Freire to know hunger and poverty at a young age. Because Freire lived among poor rural families and laborers, he gained a deep understanding of their lives and of the effects of socio-economics on education.

Freire became a grammar teacher while still in high school. Even then his intuition pushed him toward a dialogic education in which he strived to understand students’ expectations. While on the Faculty of Law in Recife, Freire met his wife, Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, an elementary school teacher and an important force in his life. They married in 1944 when Freire was 23 and eventually had five children, three of whom became educators. Gadotti asserts that it was Elza who influenced Freire to intensely pursue his studies, and helped him to elaborate his groundbreaking educational methods.

Freire’s arsenal of educational thought began to manifest with his appointment in 1946 as director of Education at SESI, an employer’s institution set up to help workers and their families. Here he began to see more disconnections between elitist educational practices and the real lives of the working class. Gadotti says, "Thus, a study of the language of the people was the starting point for the development of his work …". During this time Freire also participated in the Movement for Popular Culture, and supported the active exercise of democracy in lectures and in his PhD thesis, "Present-day Education in Brazil," written in 1959. His convictions would earn him the title of "traitor."

Freire’s pedagogy of literacy education involves not only reading the word, but also reading the world. This involves the development of critical consciousness (a process known in Portuguese as conscientização). The formation of critical consciousness allows people to question the nature of their historical and social situation - to read their world - with the goal of acting as subjects in the creation of a democratic society (which was new for Brazil at that time). For education, Freire implies a dialogic exchange between teachers and students, where both learn, both question, both reflect and both participate in meaning-making.

This pedagogy begins with the teacher mingling among the community, asking questions of the people and gathering a list of words used in their daily lives. The teacher was to begin to understand the social reality of the people, and develop a list of generative words and themes which could lead to discussion in classes, or "cultural circles". By making words (literacy) relevant to the lives of people, the process of conscientization could begin, in which the social construction of reality might be critically examined.

1962 saw the first experiments in Freire’s method when 300 farmworkers were taught to read and write in just 45 days. As a result, the government approved thousands of cultural circles to be set up all over Brazil. Unfortunately, the military coup of 1964 halted the work, and changed Freire’s life.

In June 1964, Freire was imprisoned in Brazil for 70 days as a traitor. After a brief stay in Bolivia, he lived in Chile for five years working in the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement. In 1967 he published his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom, bringing him acclaim and a position as visiting professor at Harvard in 1969. In 1968 he wrote his best known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published in Spanish and English in 1970, but not published in Brazil until 1974.

Freire was invited to Geneva in 1970 where he worked for ten years as a special educational adviser to the World Congress of Churches. During this time, Freire traveled worldwide helping countries to implement popular education and literacy reforms. Some of his most influential work was in Guinea-Bissau (a West African country) where he advised national literacy efforts and consequently published Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau.

In 1979, after 15 years of exile, Freire was allowed to return to Brazil and did so in 1980. He joined the Workers’ Party (PT) in São Paulo and, from 1980 to 1986, supervised its adult literacy project. With the triumph of the PT in 1988, Freire was appointed Minister of Education for the City of São Paulo.

In 1991 the Paulo Freire Institute was created, "congregating scholars and critics of his pedagogy, in a permanent dialogue that would foster the advancement of new educational theories and concrete interventions in reality …. [This work] is carried out by 21 scholarly nuclei located in 18 countries". The Institute is centered in São Paulo and maintains the Freire archives.

2 May 1997, aged 75, Paulo Freire died of heart failure.

Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Brazilian Workers Party) was founded in 1981. It grew out of the struggles against the military dictatorship. It has its roots in the poor, the landless, Marxism, Liberation Theology and was greatly influenced by the philosophy and teachings of Brazilian educator and political philosopher Paulo Freire.


further reading

Denis Collins, Paulo Freire: His Life, Works and Thought

Antonio Faundez and Paulo Freire, Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation. Trans. Tony Coates. New York: Continuum, 1992

Paulo Freire, Education For Critical Consciousness, Continuum, 1993

Paulo Freire, Letters To Christina: Reflections on My Life and Work, Routledge, 1995

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guniea-Bisseau. New York: Seabury Press, 1978

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope: Reviving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Robert R. Barr. New York: Continuum. 1995

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. Rev. ed. New York: Continuum. (1973) 1994

Paulo Freire, The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation. Trans. Donaldo Macedo. South Hadley: Bergin and Garvey, 1985

Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton. We Make the Road By Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990

Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990

Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter. London and New York: Routledge, 1993

Ira Shor, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987

Ira Shor (editor), Freire for the Classroom: A Sourcebook for Liberatory Teaching, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1987

Ira Shor and Paulo Freire, A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey, 1987

Hilary Wainwright, Reclaim the State, Verso, 2003

Literature ~ Thomas Paine
(c) Keith Parkins 2003 -- August 2003 rev 0