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Paulo Freire

By Roberta Clare


PAULO FREIRE (1921-1997) is regarded as one of the most influential educators of the 20th century. Freire's pedagogy is synonymous with critical pedagogy, critical literacy, dialogical pedagogy and praxis learning. It has contributed to the development of popular education, participatory-action research and transformative learning theory. In light of Freire's contribution to adult education, it is surprising that biographical sketches of Freire in English remain incomplete. The absence of accurate information reinforces Freire's mystique. His reader follows Freire - the philosopher, writer, educator and social activist as he engages in his own conscientization. Freire struggles to reform institutions that promote banking education, narrow the gap between theory and practice in praxis approaches to social transformation, participate in the redevelopment of countries emerging from post-colonialism and revolution, and integrate epiphanic life experiences into his personhood and pedagogy. Raised in a Roman Catholic home, Freire insisted that he never abandoned his faith despite the strong influence of Marxist philosophy in his writing. Rarely mentioned in biographies is his participation in Catholic action movements and the influence of Latin American liberation theologians in the development of his ideas. (See John Elias, Daniel Schipani.) Four particular experiences shaped the development of the man and his pedagogy: childhood poverty, the abandonment of a law career, "homelessness" in exile and his later return "to relearn" his country, Brazil. Freire's insistence that his pedagogy is neither a system nor a method but an approach that educators must "create anew" in each context sustains both Freire's mystique and the dialogue among scholars and practitioners who continue to discover new insights from a pedagogy that remains dynamic long after Freire's death.

The development of this essay involved searching the standard bibliographic databases: Academic Search Complete, Academic Search Premier, ATLA, ERIC, Humanities International Index, International Political Science Abstracts, MLA International Bibliography, Social Work Abstracts, SocIndex with Full Text, EBSCO and ProQuest. This entry does not take into account literature written in other languages, including Freire's mother tongue, Portuguese.


Childhood and adolescence

Paulo Regulus Neves Freire was born on September 19, 1921, in the port city of Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco in north-eastern Brazil, one of the poorest regions in the country. Freire was the youngest of four children born to a middle-class family. His father, Joaquin Temistocles Freire, from Rio Grande de Notre, was an officer of the Pernambuco military police. Freire described him as "a living example of the human qualities of generosity, solidarity, and humility, without any sacrifice to his dignity" (Freire, 1994, p. 208). He writes that his father was a "spiritualist," but it was his mother, Edeltrudis Veves Freire, "Catholic, sweet, good, just," who was the primary religious influence in the family (Lownd quoting Fundamentos revolucionarios de pedagogia popular, p. 1). Freire recalls his parents teaching him to read by writing letters and drawing pictures in the earthen yard under the mango tree (Freire, 1996, p. 28). Freire's record of this memory suggests that the idea of codification to replace the traditional method of learning letters, words and sentences was rooted in the existential knowledge of his personal and social reality at an early age, an insight that would become a philosophical cornerstone of his pedagogical methodology.

Freire's father suffered from a heart condition that pressed him into early retirement. With the global economic crisis of 1929, "the precarious stability" of Freire's middle-class family finally gave way and Freire found himself "sharing the plight of the 'wretched of the earth'" (Freire, 1970, p. 30), an image to which Freire would often return in his writing. The family left Recife and settled in nearby Jaboatao where Freire spent the latter part of his childhood and early adolescence. Freire's father died in Jaboatao in 1934 and his mother struggled on an "insignificant" widow's pension (Freire, 1996, p. 21). "Many times, with no means to resist, I felt defeated by hunger while doing my homework … It was as if the words became pieces of food" (Freire, 1970, p. 30). These early experiences of poverty led Freire to discover the "culture of silence" of the poor whose ignorance and lethargy, he argued, are products of economic, social and political domination (Freire, 1970, p. 30). The dispossessed are kept "submerged" in their situation, he wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), and thereby prevented from gaining critical awareness of the "concrete realities of their world" and making response "practically impossible" (Freire, 1970, p. 30).

Despite the family's financial hardship, Paulo's mother was determined that her son should be well educated. She convinced the director of the Oswaldo Cruz private high school, Aluizio Pessoa de Araujo, to accept Paulo as a scholarship student. And so Freire returned to Recife for high school. Freire recalled that he was an awkward but intelligent adolescent who came from the outskirts of the city to make his way in a traditional, upper-class boys' high school. Although he admits he found it difficult to adapt to his new surroundings, he took his studies seriously but did not excel until his late teenage years: "I spelled rat with two 'r's until I was fifteen. At twenty, although I was at Law School, I had mastered Portuguese grammar and was just beginning my study of Philosophy and the Sociology of Language" (Lownd quoting Fundamentos, p. 10). Following graduation at age 17, Freire returned to the school to teach Portuguese.

From law to education

Freire entered law school at the University of Recife in 1943 but pursued an interest in philosophy and linguistics. In addition to his law courses, Freire studied philosophy (focusing on phenomenology), linguistics and the psychology of language.

In 1944 Freire married Elza Maria Costa de Oliveira, a primary school teacher. Freire documents her influence and support in his later works. The couple was involved in the Catholic Action Movement but quickly rejected the social conservatism characteristic of the institutional church at the time and directed their interest to the base church communities (Roberts, 2000, p. 4). At university Freire became familiar with the ideas of the radical Catholic student movement and read such authors as Jacques Maritain, Thomas Cardonnel, Emmanuel Mounier and their Brazilian interpreters, especially Alceu de Amoroso Lima, Henrique Lima Vaz and Herbert Jose de Souza among others (Gerhardt, 1993, p. 3). Freire followed the work of a group of Brazilian intellectuals who gathered at the Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasilieros (ISEB) in Rio de Janeiro. These thinkers were influenced primarily by European sociologists and philosophers including Karl Mannheim, Karl Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel.

Freire graduated in 1947 and passed the bar. He intended to establish a law career, but the encounter with his first client put an end to his plans. The client, a young dentist, had defaulted on a loan to purchase instruments for his practice. The dentist told Freire to take all of his material possessions as debt payment. "And then, laughing a shy laugh, without the trace of a sneer-with as much humour as irony-he finished up: 'only you can't have my 18-month-old baby girl!'" Freire responded, "'I'd also like to tell you that, like you, I'm closing down my career before it's even gotten started. Thanks.'" On hearing the story, his wife declared, "'I was hoping for that. You're an educator'" (Freire, 1995, pp. 15-16). Freire left law and turned his attention to literacy training, academics and the popular education movement.

The SESI years: 1947-1959

During this period, Freire held a number of positions, often concurrently. He began his work in literacy training while still in law school. Freire worked for a short time with the Social Service for Industry (SESI) at the Regional Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the state of Pernambuco, a government agency established to use funds from a national conference of factory owners to create programs for the betterment of its workers. Freire was promoted to director of the Division of Education and Cultures the same year he graduated from law school (1947). In 1954 he was appointed as superintendent, a post from which he resigned in 1956. Freire's approach to literacy as a tool for social reform drew the attention of the national SESI office. In a bid to have Freire appointed national director of the Division of Research and Planning, an interdepartmental letter written in 1957 made the case that Freire's "experience and knowledge" would be invaluable in a division "encouraging studies and the recruitment of individuals able to provide us with the effective means to formulate viable solutions pertaining to the pressing social issues in the current state of the nation" (A.M.A. Freire and D. Macedo, 1998, p. 16).

Freire continued to assess the impact of his 10-year tenure at the SESI on the development of his ideas through his life. (See Freire, 1994, Pedagogy of Hope, 1994; Freire and Shor, 1987; Freire, 1986, pp. 175-176.) In this position, Freire's work in literacy training focused primarily on agricultural workers and the urban poor, although he also traveled widely as a consultant to other SESI programs. During this period, he became one of the founders of the Capibaribe Institute in Recife, a private school well known for its commitment to high-level scientific, ethical and moral education "toward democratic conscience"(A. Freire and Macedo, 1998, p. 16). Freire joined Recife's Educational Consulting Board in 1956. In 1961 he was appointed director of the Division of Culture and Recreation of the city of Recife's Department of Archives and Culture. And in 1963 Freire became one of the 15 "pioneer council members" chosen by state governor Miguel Arraes to preside over matters of education and culture in Pernambuco.

Freire's experience in literacy training presented an opportunity to bridge the gap between theory and practice and laid the groundwork for his scholarly work.

"The Brazilian present has been enveloped by these colonial legacies: silence and the resistance to it-the search for a voice-and the rebelliousness that must become more critically revolutionary. This was the central theme of my academic thesis, 'Education and Present-Day Brazil,' which I defended in 1959 at the University of Recife…I incorporated parts of this thesis in my first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom. My thesis reflected my experiences in SESI, which had significantly affected me. I combined my experiences at SESI with the critical reflection and extensive reading from a foundational bibliography." (Freire, 1996, p. 87)

Most biographies (including Ana Maria Araujo Freire's biographical introduction to The Paulo Freire Reader) state that Freire defended his thesis successfully in 1959, but only scholar Heinz-Peter Gerhardt writes that Freire's dissertation did not receive the approval of the university committee. Gerhardt suggests "the committee's decision was somewhat logical" given Freire's charge that Brazil's universities had refused to make necessary reforms to move Brazilian society toward democracy (Gerhardt, 1993, p. 4). Nevertheless, Freire continued his work at the university and was appointed Professor of History and Philosophy of Education at the University of Recife's Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters the following year (Freire, 1998, p. 16). Freire taught from 1961 until he was retired by the military coup in 1964.

Freire's participation in the Second National Conference on Adult Education in Rio de Janeiro in 1958 was significant. He was the primary contributor to Theme III of the Pernambuco Regional Commission's report, Education of Adults and Marginal Populations: The Mocambos Problem. (A mocambo was a village community of runaway slaves in colonial Brazil.) Freire proposed that adult education in mocambos areas must have its foundation in the consciousness of the existential knowledge of the personal and social reality of the people rather than in learning letters, words and sentences. Further, education for democracy could be achieved only if the literary process was not about or for learners but with learners and with their reality. Freire's adult education advocated cooperation, decision-making, participation, and social and political responsibility. The report was Freire's first published attempt to bring together his academic, institutional and lived experiences. It established Freire as "an educator of indignation."

The 1960s: The Popular Education Movement and The National Literary Program

Freire's attempt to establish a dialectic between theory and practice culminated in his participation in the popular education movements of the 1960s, most notably the Movement for Popular Culture (MCP) in Recife that he co-founded, the Cultural Extension Service (SEC) at the University of Recife, now the federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE), and the "Bare feet can also learn to read" campaign in the neighbouring state of Rio Grande de Notre, which Freire first introduced with 300 sugarcane sharecroppers in the interior village of Angicos in 1963. How successful were these reform movements? Brazilian historian Emmanuel de Kadt argues that, for the most part, they were short-lived, did not attract a large following and came to an abrupt end with the fall of President Joao Goulart's government (Elias quoting de Kadt, 1994, p. 3).

Because Brazil's Electoral College limited the right to vote to functionally literate adults, Freire's literacy campaign was politically progressive. When Freire's friend Paulo de Tarso became Minister of Education, Freire was invited to institute a national literacy campaign. De Tarso had been a liberal reformer and member of Catholic action groups. But the question remained, could Freire avoid the pitfalls of implementing a National Plan of Literacy Training (1963) within a state-run educational system, a plan based on "the meagre outcomes of a pilot campaign in Brasilia?" (Gerhardt, 1993, p. 6). Sources do not agree on the exact numbers of adults who benefited from the program but the most reliable source suggests that, under Freire's direction, "20,000 cultural circles were programmed to be set up for 2,000,000 illiterate people" (Gadotti, 1994, p. 15).

The National Literacy Program officially began on January 21, 1964. It was cancelled only three months later (April 14, 1964) by the military government after the coup d'état of March 31, 1964, deposed the Joao Belchior Goulart government and imposed military rule that lasted more than 20 years. Freire was with the national program in Brasilia when the military coup seized power. He was arrested twice and imprisoned in Olinda and Recife for 70 days for alleged "subversive activities." Although Freire was not tortured, his imprisonment had a lasting impact on his commitment to the liberation of the oppressed.

Freire went into exile. He sought refuge in the Bolivian embassy in Rio de Janeiro. His stay was short-lived. The high altitude of La Paz affected Freire's health (he was a heavy smoker) and, within two months of the family's arrival, Bolivia's political instability flared into a military coup d'état. Freire left Bolivia for Chile where he was granted political asylum. Freire and his family remained in Chile from November 1964 to 1969.

Exile 1964-1980

Freire lived in exile for 16 years and continued his life work in education in Chile, the United States and Switzerland. First, in Santiago (1964-1969), Freire worked with a governmental institute called ICIRA (Institute for Training and Research in Agrarian Reform) and with the governmental Special Bureau for Adult Education. He also took a post as a professor at the Catholic University of Santiago and worked as a special consultant to UNESCO's regional office in Santiago. Freire worked with economist Jacques Chonchol on a program to address the injustices of the capitalistic modernization of Chilean agriculture that featured technical-scientific domination of the South by the North while property and wage structures remained intact. This work led to the publication of two small books in 1967: Extension or Communication and Education as the Practice of Freedom. Freire had begun both of these books while in prison in Brazil. These works appeared in one volume in English in 1973 as Education for Critical Consciousness. They established Freire as a leading authority in adult literacy and radical political education.

Freire also wrote his best-known book while in Chile: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published in 1968. Translated into English in 1970, the book is available in 35 languages. The book proposes a radical pedagogy by which adults can learn to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and take action against the oppressive elements of reality in a process Freire called conscientization. The book was banned in many countries.

In 1969 Freire was invited to teach at Harvard University as a visiting scholar in the Faculty of Education's Center for the Study of Development and Social Change for two years. At Harvard he wrote two articles for the Harvard Educational Review, which were soon published as a monograph, Cultural Action for Freedom (1970), and later reprinted in The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation (1985). These works comprised a comprehensive study of the contrast between cultural action and cultural imperialism. Freire wrote another well-known work while in exile that also addressed the transition of Brazil to a democratic society. Education: The Practice of Freedom (1976) presented a compilation of ideas previously published in various articles and in his doctoral thesis (1959). In this work, Freire addresses Brazil's problems of industrialization, urbanization and illiteracy that, he writes, can only be resolved by building a new society. He proposes pedagogy to address the transition from a colonial agrarian society to an independent, industrialized society. This work represents a significant shift in Freire's epistemology - a more radical, political definition of transformation and conscientization (Elias, 1994; Gerhardt, 1993).

Freire completed only one year at Harvard. In 1970 he moved his family to Geneva to take a position with the World Council of Churches in the Department of Education. Among his responsibilities, Freire served as an educational consultant to Third World governments as they emerged from the colonialism in post-revolution years. Freire traveled extensively to countries including Peru, Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome, Principe and Nicaragua.

It is difficult to trace Freire's travels and lectures while he was in exile, but he did give a number of conferences and seminars in Canada, the United States, Italy, Iran, India, Australia and New Zealand. In the late 1960s, Freire also spent two summers at Ivan Illich's Centro Intercultural de Documenacion (CIDOC, or Intercultural Documentation Center) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

While in Geneva in 1971, Freire joined other Brazilian exiles to found the Institute for Cultural Action (IDAC), an organization for study and experimentation of conscientization. Freire served as its president.

During his 10 years in Geneva, Freire also lectured at the University of Geneva's College of Education.

The return to Brazil: The Workers' Party, teaching and writing

When Brazil granted amnesty to exiles in 1979, Freire made his first visit home in 16 years, declaring to the press in June that he had returned "to relearn my country" (Freire, 1994, p. 22). During that visit, he taught a course at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

A year later, in June 1980, Freire returned permanently to Brazil. He lived in Sao Paulo and accepted teaching positions in the education department of the Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC) and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) until he was reinstated as education specialist within the Cultural Extension Service at the Federal University of Pernambuco in 1990, teaching in the Supervision and Curriculum Program.

Freire was a founding member of the Workers' Party (1980) and, when the party won the Sao Paulo municipal elections in 1988, Freire took office as Secretary of Education (1989-1992). Freire was responsible for implementing a new, ambitious educational model for the city's rundown schools that served almost a million children. He also introduced MOVA, a new adult literacy program based on his ideas but implemented by local organizations and NGOs. After two years, Freire transferred his leadership role to a team of colleagues and returned to teaching and writing. When the Workers' Party lost the 1992 municipal elections, doubt was once again cast on the efficacy of Freire's pedagogy of conscientization (Torres, 1991; Gerhardt, 1994).

From 1980 until his death in 1997, Freire wrote a number of articles and books. While some scholars have argued these later works do not add anything substantive to Freire's social and educational philosophy, others point out they represent a significant reworking of Freire's essential ideas that seem "to have taken him from seeing education as key to the revolutionary struggle … to a somewhat more explicitly faith-based passion that societies will be more just and humane through the assistance of an ethically responsible education for critical consciousness" (Cavalier, 2000, p. 13). Further, in these later publications Freire discusses the complexity of his original ideas, including the relationship between teacher and student, the distinction between authority and authoritarianism, the tension between freedom and authority, multiple sources of oppression, and the need for teachers to work outside the school or educational setting - in social movements or political parties, for example (Mayo, 2004).

Freire also uses these later works to review the major influences on his thought. For example, in Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1994), Freire chronicles his 10 years at SESI, which provided the research for both his dissertation (1959) and his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom, published while he was in exile in Chile (Freire, 1996, p. 87). He writes: "One of our tasks as progressive educators, today and yesterday, is to use the past that influences the present. The past was not only a time of authoritarianism and imposed silence, but also a time that generated a culture of resistance to an answer to the violence of power" (Freire quoted in Lownd, p. 2).

The Politics of Education (1985) presents a collection of papers, articles and talks written during the previous 20 years. Freire collaborated with Donald Macedo in Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, (1987), a book of papers, essays and conversations in response to criticism that focused on the failed literacy training program in Guinea-Bissau (specifically, the use of Portuguese instead of Creole in that program), the literacy issues in the United States, the act of reading, and the importance of libraries in promoting literacy.

Two "spoken books" with respected scholars and practitioners capture Freire's attempt to rethink this earlier ideas in detailed conversations. In A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education (1987), Freire discusses with Ira Shor many of the issues facing First World education. The second spoken book, a conversation with the Chilean professor of philosophy Antonio Faundez, covers topics of educational philosophy (specifically the role of ideology), politics and education, popular culture, and the controversy over Guinea-Bissau (Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation, 1989). Faundez had left Chile in 1971 with the fall of the socialist Allende government and joined Freire at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Freire was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

From 1987-1995, Freire served on the UNESCO International Jury, a body that meets annually in Paris to choose the best literacy project and experience from five continents.

Freire's first wife, Elza, died in 1986. During their marriage, they raised five children: Maria Madalena, Maria Cristina, Maria de Fatima, Joaquim and Lutgardes. Three of his children are educators, most notably Maria Christina.

On March 27, 1988, Freire married Maria Araujo Freire, the daughter of the owner of the Oswaldo Cruz School in Recife. A graduate of the school, Freire had returned following graduation to teach Portuguese before entering law school. Maria was a young child at that time. Many years later, Freire was the adviser for her master's thesis at the Catholic University.

Freire died on May 2, 1997, in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, after suffering a massive heart attack.

Paulo Freire Institutes

A number of Paulo Freire Institutes have been established in countries around the world to further Paulo Freire's work. Many of these institutes were founded by a network of Freire's colleagues, friends and proponents of his pedagogical approach who are renowned for their work on Freire in sociology, education, philosophy and political science. Many of the co-founders and directors of these institutes continue to collaborate on scholarly works and innovative projects in local communities around the globe. Paulo Freire Institutes have been established at UCLA (where renowned scholar Carlos Alberto Torres is director), Instituto Paulo Freire in Sao Paulo, Brazil (headed by Moacir Gadotti), Catedra Paulo Freire (Pontificia Universidad Catolilca de Sao Paulo, Brazil), Paulo Freire Kooperation (PFK, Germany) and Paulo Freire in Korea (JINBO, South Korea). Other American projects underway include Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed (a method elaborated by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal) at the University of Nebraska and Adult and Popular Education at the National-Louis University, as well as programs at the University of Northern Iowa and Lesley University.


More than 30 universities have conferred the title of Doctor (honoris causa) on Paulo Freire, and more than 35 organizations have granted him awards, medals and prizes. In 1986 Paulo and Elza Freire were presented with UNESCO's prestigious Award for Peace Education. During his lifetime, Freire was named an honorary citizen of more than a dozen Brazilian cities. Even before his death, numerous schools and institutions worldwide adopted Paulo Freire's name. The most comprehensive listing of awards, prizes and honorary titles available in English can be found in Ana Maria Araujo Freire's biographical introduction to The Paulo Freire Reader (1998, pp. 27-33).


Paulo Freire has been called "foremost a teacher and an educator of teachers" (Elias, 1994, p. 32). His legacy is extensive. Although Freire's writings are theoretically complex and often difficult to read, their enduring influence is evidenced by the fact that they are available in 35 languages. Most scholars agree Freire's contribution does not consist of an introduction of new ideas but an eclectic mix of leading thinkers in philosophy, educational theory, theology, political science, sociology, anthropology, history and linguists. "Freire provided one of the most creative syntheses of the 20th century adult education theory" (Schugurensky, 1998, p. 19). (Proponents of this view include John Elias, Fauto Franco and Peter Taylor.)

Six major influences dominate Freire's social and educational philosophy: liberalism, existentialism, phenomenology, humanism, liberation theology and Marxism. Among major thinkers who influenced his thought are Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, Juan Segundo, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, Edmund Husserl, Emmanuel Mounier, Martin Buber, Frantz Fannon, Albert Memmi, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Louis Althusser, Erik Fromm, Miguel de Unamuno, Kosik, Furter, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Mannheim, Jacques Maritain, Herbert Marcuse, John Dewey, Leszek Kolakowski, Camilo Torres (a Brazilian revolutionary priest), Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, as well as the Bible.

Freire's work continues to inspire scholars, practitioners and social activists alike, including Carlos Alberto Torres, Donaldo Macedo, Moacir Gadotti, Daniel Schipani, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, Daniel Schugurensky, Stanley Arnowitz, Kathleen Weiler, Tom Heany, Myles Horton, Peter Mayo and Peter Lownd among others. Freire's work was foundational in the development of participatory action research, transformative learning theory (see Jack Mezirow, 1991; Patricia Cranton, 2006) and the popular education movement (Jane Vella, 2002). In his preface to Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, Cornel West sums up both the appeal and dangers of advocating and implementing Freire's pedagogy: "Paulo Freire's thought and work is revolutionary, but continuously in danger of being domesticated, as many authors suggest, by the 'progressives' in Western cultures into mere methodology" (McLaren, 1992, xii).

Contributions to Christian Education

Although Freire's watershed work in adult education is not explicitly religious, his theories have had a powerful impact on contemporary progressive and radical religious educators. Freire's entrance with liberation theology onto the American educational scene in the 1960s was well-timed. It reinforced a movement toward social justice and social reform that was rapidly developing within the mainstream culture. But liberation theology lacked a framework by which educators could translate the central theme of the transformation of society into other contexts. Freire's method helped Christians rediscover the prophetic call to social change that not only was part of their biblical heritage but had, in fact, been an integral part of the history of adult education in the United States (Clare, 2000).

Two key Freirean concepts have had the greatest impact on religious education: conscientization, defined as the process of coming into critical awareness of the social, political and economic contradictions of reality that leads to humanization, and praxis referring to the attempt to keep theory and practice in a balanced dialectic so that one acts reflectively and thinks for action. Freire's praxis approach affirms critically reflective action and critical reflection informed by and validated in practice. In his terms, the interrelation of self-awareness and action constitutes a "permanent, constant dynamic of our attitude toward culture itself" (Schipani quoting Freire, 1988, p. 13). For Freire, education is inherently political, never neutral. Education either domesticates people by imposing the values and culture of the dominant class or it frees people by helping them to become critical, creative, free, active and responsible members of society. A liberating education has a reconstructive character: it involves a commitment to overcome the forces of oppression and thereby reconstruct society.

Conscientization connotes more than consciousness-raising by underscoring two additional dimensions. First, it must be seen as a disciplined or intentional action-education process that Freire discusses as cultural action; i.e., "the way we culturally attack culture. It means to see culture always as a problem and not to let it become static, becoming a myth or mystifying us" (Schipani quoting Freire, 1988, p.13).

In brief, these are Freire's five key principles of adult education: (1) education is never neutral, (2) content must reflect the experience and issues of the participants (as defined by the participants), (3) education should hinge on problem-posing (as opposed to "banking education," a process by which teachers deposit information into passive receptacles, the students), (4) reflection must be linked to action in praxis, (5) radical transformation should be the final result. Freire's early work with problem-posing education was directed primarily to literacy programs. His method of helping peasants to read by means of investigating their situations, generating key themes (often using slides, photographs and tape discussions) and codifying those themes into significant vocabulary words ("generative words" such as "shanty," "plow," "slum," "work") provided a sharp contrast with literacy programs built upon simplistic, meaningless sentences and vocabulary.

Freire's efforts to bridge the divide in his theory and practice of adult religious education, by means of these five principles, has been taken up by leading religious education scholars, practitioners and social activists who advocate his pedagogy and attempt to "create it anew" (as Freire instructed) in their own social existential and social realities. Daniel Schipani (1988) and William Bean Kennedy's work on ideology (1989) presented a theoretical framework for implementing Freire's approach. One of the first works to address the challenge of methodology was Freire's collaboration with Myles Horton, We make the road by walking (1990). Pedagogies for the non-poor (1987) presents case studies of projects that implemented Freirean principles (with varying success) to conscientize and empower North American middle-class learners as agents of social change. A review of Freire's influence on religious education is incomplete without Thomas Groome's seminal work on "shared Christian praxis," a Christian education approach that has become foundational in religious education programs and models of theological reflection (1980, 1991).

In a 1990 interview with Carlos A. Torres, Paulo Freire mused, "What is my legacy?" Freire answered his own question: "I think that it is possible to be said about Paulo Freire, when I die, that Paulo Freire was a man who loved, who could not understand life's existence without love and without knowing. Paulo Freire lived, loved and tried to know. Paulo Freire was constantly curious and asking questions to himself" (Schugurensky, 2007).


Works by Paulo Freire in English

  • Freire, P. (1970a). Cultural action and conscientization. (1970). Harvard Education Review 40, (3), 452-477.
  • Freire, P. (1970b). The adult literacy process as cultural action for freedom. Cambridge: Harvard Educational Review, 40 (2), 205-225.
  • Freire, P. (1970c). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1970d). Cultural freedom in Latin America. Human rights and the liberation of man in the Americas, ed. L. Colonnese. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Freire, P. (1972a). Conscientizing as a way of liberating. Washington, DC: LADOC II.
  • Freire, P. (1972b). A letter to a theology student. Catholic Mind 70, 1265.
  • Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1975a). Conscientization. Geneva: World Council of Churches.
  • Freire, P. (1975b). Miscellaneous writings by Paulo Freire. Berkeley: Education-Psychology Library, University of California.
  • Freire, P. (1976). Education, the practice of freedom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.
  • Freire, P. (1978). Pedagogy in process: The letters to Guinea-Bissau. New York: Seabury.
  • Freire, P. (1984a). Education, liberation and the church. Religious Education, 79 (4), 524, 544-545.
  • Freire, P. (1984b). Know, practice and teach the gospels. Religious Education 79 (4), 547-548.
  • Freire, P. (1984c). Conscientization. Cross Currents 24 (1), 23.
  • Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power and liberation. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the city. New York: Continuum Press.
  • Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
  • Freire, P. (1996). Macedo, D., Macedo, Q., and Oliveira, A. (Trans.) Letters to Cristina: Reflections on my life and work. New York & London: Routledge.
  • Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the heart. New York: Continuum Press.
  • Freire, P. (1998a). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Freire, P. (1998b). Politics and education. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications.
  • Freire, P. (1998c). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Boulder, CO.: Westview Press.
  • Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of indignation. Boulder and London: Paradigm.

Works with others

  • Castells, M., Flecha, R., Freire, P., Giroux, H., Macedo, D., and Willis, P. (1999). Critical education in the new information age. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Escobar, M., Fernandez, A., Freire, P., and Guervara-Niebla, G. (1994). Paulo Freire on higher education. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Freire, P., and Faundez, A. (1989). Learning to question: A pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum Press.
  • Freire, P., Fraser, J., Macedo, D., McKinnon, T., and Stokes, W. (1997). Mentoring the mentor: A critical dialogue with Paulo Freire. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Freire, A.M.A., and Macedo, D. (Eds.). (1998). The Paulo Freire reader. New York: Continuum.
  • Freire, P., and Horton, M. (1990). We make the road by walking: Conversations on education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Freire, P., and Macedo, D. (1995). A dialogue: Culture, language, and race. Harvard Educational Review, 65 (3), 377-402.
  • Freire, P., and Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Boston, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Freire, P., and Macedo, D. (1985). The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation. South Hadley: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Freire, P., and Shor, I. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: Dialogues on transforming education. London: MacMillan.

Works about Paulo Freire and his pedagogy

  • Araujo Freire, A.M. (Ed.). (2007). Daring to dream: Toward a pedagogy of the unfinished. Translated by A.K. Olivereira. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
  • Blackburn, J. (2000). Understanding Paulo Freire: Reflections on the origins, concepts and possible pitfalls of his educational approach. Community Development Journal, 35 (1), 3-15.
  • Cavalier, W. (2002). The three voices of Freire: An exploration of his thought over time. Religious Education 97 (3), 1-30.
  • Caulfied, P.J. (1991). From Brazil to Buncombe County: Freire and posing problems. The Educational Forum, 55 (4), 307-317.
  • Clare, R. (2000). The Ethical Choices Workshop: A Freirean pedagogy for the North American middle class. Ann Arbor, MI. UMI Dissertation Services.
  • Clare, R. (2006). Putting faith into action: A model for the North American middle class. Religious Education 100 (5), 368-389.
  • Collins, J.L. (1997). Paulo Freire: His life, works and thought. New York: Paulist Press.
  • Cranton, Patricia. (2006). (2nd edition). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Elias, J. (1976). Paulo Freire: Religious educator. Religious Education, 71 (1), 40-56.
  • Elias, John L. (1994). Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of liberation. Malabar, FL.: Kreiger Press.
  • Evans, A.F., Evans, R.A., & Kennedy, W.B. (Eds.). (1987). Pedagogies for the non-poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
  • Gadotti, M. (1994). Reading Paulo Freire: His life and work, New York: SUNY Press
  • Gerhardt, H. (1993). Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 23 (3-4), 439-458.
  • Giroux, H.A. (1993). Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter. London & New York, Routledge.
  • Glass, R. (2001). On Paulo Freire's philosophy of praxis and the foundations of liberation education. Educational Researcher, 30 (2), 15-25.
  • Goodwin, B. (1978). Reflections on education. Atlanta: Goodpatrick Publishers.
  • Groome, T. (1980). Christian religious education: Sharing our story and vision. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
  • Jarvis, P., Walters, N. (Eds.). (1993). Adult education and theological interpretations. Malabar, FL.: Kreiger.
  • Kennedy, W.B. (1984). Conversation with Paulo Freire. Religious Education, 79 (4), 511-522.
  • Kennedy, W.B. (1989). Toward an ideological analysis of theological education in North America: In doing theology in different contexts (pp. 96-109). Geneva: World Council of Churches.
  • Lange, E. (1997). Fragmented ethics of justice: Freire, liberation theology and pedagogies for the non-poor. Convergence, 79, (1&2), 81-93.
  • Lownds, P. A. Brief biography of Paulo Freire. Retrieved April 2, 2008, from
  • Mayo, P. (1998). Gramsci, Freire and adult education: Possibilities for transformative action. New York: Zed Books.
  • Mayo, P. (2004). Liberating praxis: Paulo Freire's legacy for radical education and politics. Westport: Praeger.
  • McLaren, Peter and Lankshear, C. (1994). Politics of liberation: Paths from Freire. London: Routledge.
  • McLaren, P. and Leonard, P. (Eds.). (1993). Freire: A critical encounter. London: Routledge.
  • Pazmino, R.W. (1994). Latin American journey. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press.
  • Prevost, R. (1998). The prophetic voice of the religious educator: Past, present and future. Religious Education 93, (3), 288-306.
  • Roberts, P. (2000). Education, literacy, and humanization: Exploring the work of Paulo Freire. Westport, CT.: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Schipani, D.S. (1984). Conscientization and creativity: Paulo Freire and Christian education. Lanham, Md.: University Press of American.
  • Schipani, D.S. (1988). Religious education encounters liberation theology. Birmingham, AL.: Religious Education Press.
  • Schugurensky, D. (1998). The legacy of Paulo Freire: A critical review of his contributions. Convergence, 31 (1/2), 17-29.
  • Schugurensky, D. History of education: Selected moments of the 20th century. (2007, April 7). 1968: Paulo Freire publishes Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Retrieved from
  • Shaughnessy, M.F., Galligan, E., and de Vivas, R. H. (Eds). (2008.) Pioneers in education: Essays in honour of Paulo Freire. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
  • Taylor, Peter. (1993). The texts of Paulo Freire. Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Torres, C. A. (1998). Education, power, and personal biography: Dialogues with critical educators. New York: Routledge.
  • Vella, J. (2002). Learning to teach: The power of dialogue in educating adults. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Weiler, K. & Mitchell, C. (Eds.). (1991). Rewriting literacy culture and the discourse of the other. Bergin & Garvey.

Reviews of the work of Paulo Freire

  • A search of the following databases on April 4, 2008, listed 1,603 reviews of Freire's work: Academic Search Complete, Academic Search Premier, ATLA, ERIC, Humanities International Index, International Political Science Abstracts, MLA International Bibliography, Social Work Abstracts, SocIndex with Full Text, EBSCO and ProQuest.

Excerpts from Publications

Freire, Paulo. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into 'containers,' into 'receptacles' to be 'filled' by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better the students are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the 'banking' concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the works, and with each other.

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as the necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher's existence-but unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.

The raison d'etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students. (p. 53)

Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform their world. To exist, humanly is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection …

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming-between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression. (p. 69)

But human activity consists of action and reflection: it is praxis; it is transformation of the world. And as praxis, it requires theory to illuminate it. Human activity is theory and practice; it is reflection and action. (p. 106)

Let me emphasize that my defence of the praxis implies no dichotomy by which this praxis could be divided into a prior stage of reflection and a subsequent stage of action. Action and reflection occur simultaneously. A critical analysis of reality may, however, reveal that a particular form of action is impossible or inappropriate at the present time. Those who through reflection perceive the infeasibility or inappropriateness of one or another form of action (which should accordingly be postponed or substituted) cannot thereby be accused of inaction. Critical reflection is action. (p. 109)

Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them. So often do 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…

They call themselves ignorant and say the 'professor' is the one who has knowledge and to whom they should listen. The criteria of knowledge imposed upon them are the conventional ones. 'Why don't you,' said a peasant participating in a culture circle, 'explain the pictures first? That way it'll take less time and won't give us a headache.'

Almost never do they realize that they, too, 'know thing' they have learned in their relations with the world and with other women and men. Given the circumstances which have produced their duality, it is only natural that they distrust themselves.

Not infrequently, peasants in educational projects begin to discuss a generative theme in a lively manner, then stop suddenly and say to the educator: 'Excuse us, we ought to keep quiet and let you talk. You are the one who knows, we don't know anything.' They often insist that there is no difference between them and the animals; when they do admit a difference, it favours the animals. 'They are freer than we are.' (p. 45)

Authentic education is not carried on by 'A' for 'B' or by 'A' about 'B', but rather by 'A' with 'B', mediated by the world-a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or opinions about it. These views, impregnated with anxieties, doubts, hopes, or hopelessness, imply significant themes on the basis of which the program content of education can be built. (p. 74)

Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Seabury Press.

Experiences as the Coordinator of the Adult Education Project of the Movement of Popular Culture in Recife led to the maturing of my early educational convictions. Through this project, we launched a new institution of popular culture, a "cultural circle," since among us a school was a traditionally passive concept. Instead of a teacher, we had a coordinator; instead of lectures, dialogue; instead of pupils, group participants; instead of alienating syllabi, compact programs that were "broken down" and "codified" into learning units.

In the cultural circles, we attempted through group debate either to clarify situations or to seek action arising from that clarification. The topics for these debates were offered [to] us by the groups themselves. Nationalism, profit remittances abroad, the political evolution of Brazil, of development, illiteracy, the vote for illiterates, democracy, were some of the themes which were repeated from group to group. These subjects and others were schematized as far as possible and presented to the groups with visual aids, in the form of dialogue. We were amazed by the results. (pp. 41-42)

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Boston, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.

The great problem that literacy campaigns face with respect to multiple discourses is dealing with the process of rewriting society. In principle, this rewriting breaks down the rigid hierarchical order of social classes and thereby transforms the material structures of society. Let me reemphasize one point: we should never take literacy as the triggering of social transformation. Literacy as a global concept is only a part of the transformative triggering mechanism. There is a difference of quality between a political crusade and the experience of literacy, even in Brazil today. I recall that in the world conference of Persepolis organized by UNESCO in 1975-participating countries included the Soviet Union, the United States, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Peru, Brazil, and numerous European countries-one of the central themes was the evaluation of literacy campaigns throughout the world. "The Letter of Persepolis," published by UNESCO, states, among other things, that the relative success of literacy campaigns evaluated by UNESCO depended on their relation to the revolutionary transformations of the societies in which the literacy campaigns took place.

This demonstrates the extraordinary role that the reading of the world and reality place in the general reinvention of education and the revolutionary society. It also shows that even in societies with great limitations due to their reactionary stance, for instance, although one would expect less successful results, a literacy campaign can still succeed and help other key factors trigger the transformation of this society. However, it is impossible and inadvisable to forget the linguistic issue. (pp. 107-108)

Freire, P. (1984a). Education, liberation and the church. Religious Education, 79 (4), 524, 544-545.

The prophetic church, like Christ, must move forward constantly, forever dying and being reborn. In order to be, it must always be in a state of becoming. The prophetic church must also accept an existence which is in dramatic tension between past and future, staying and going, speaking the Word and keeping silence, being and not being. There is no prophecy without risk. This prophetic attitude is accompanied by a rich and very necessary theological reflection … the theology of liberation-a prophetic, utopian theology, full of hope. (p. 524)

Thus … education must be an instrument of transforming action, as a political praxis at the service of permanent human liberation. This does not happen only in the consciousness of people but presupposes a radical change of structures in which process consciousness will itself be transformed. (pp. 544-545)

Freire, Paulo. (1993). Pedagogy of the city. New York: Continuum Press.

Terra Nuova: Talk a little bit about the Paulo Freire Method-Conscientization or Literacy? How do you position yourself in relation to the criticism you receive in that respect?

Freire: Maybe the best way to address the question you pose is to insist that every reading of the word is preceded by a reading of the world.

Starting from the reading of the world that the learner brings to literacy programs (a social and class-determined reading), the reading of the word sends the reader back to the previous reading of the world, which is, in fact, a rereading.

Words, sentences, articulated discourse do not take place up in the air. They are historical and social. It is possible, in cultures with primarily or exclusively oral memory, to discuss, in projects of progressive education, the greater or lesser extent to which the subordinate group's reading of the world at any given time is a critical one, without the reading of the word. What does not seem possible to me is to read the word without a connection to the learner's reading of the world. That is why, for me, the literacy process with adults necessarily implies the critical development of the rereading of the world, which is a political, awareness-generating task. What would be wrong, and what I have never suggested should be done, is to deny learners their right to literacy because of the necessary politicization there would not be time for literacy in the strict sense of the term.

Literacy involves not just the reading the word, but also the reading of the world. (pp. 58-59)

Freire, Paulo. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Educators need an understanding of the meaning their festivals have as an integral part of the culture of resistance, a respectful sense of their piety in a dialectical perspective, and not only as if it were a simple expression of their alienation. Their piety, their religiousness, must be respected as their right, regardless of whether we reject it personally (and if so, whether we reject religion as such, or merely do not approve the particular manner of its practice in a given popular group).

In a recent conversation with Brazilian sociologist Professor Otavio Ianni, of UNICAMP, I received a report from him of some of his encounters with young activist of the Left, one of them in prison, in Recife, in 1963. Ianni not only made no effort to hide his emotion at what he had seen and heard, but approved and endorsed the way these militants respected popular culture, and within that culture, the manifestations of their religious beliefs. "What do you need," Ianni asked the young prisoner.

"A Bible," he answered.

"I thought you'd want Lenin's Que fazer? (What is to be done?), said Ianni.

"I don't need Lenin just now. I need the Bible. I need a better understanding of the peasant's mystical universe. Without that understanding, how can I communicate with them?"

Besides the democratic, ethical duty to proceed in this way, incumbent on the progressive educator, such a procedure is also demanded by requirements in the field of communication, as the young person in Recife had discerned.

Unless educators expose themselves to the popular culture across the board, their discourse will hardly be heard by anyone but themselves. Not only will it be lost, and inoperative, it may actually reinforce popular dependency, by underscoring the much-vaunted 'linguistic superiority' of the popular classes. (pp. 106-107) What is altogether impermissible, in democratic practice, is for teachers, surreptitiously or otherwise, to impose on their pupils their own 'reading of the world,' in whose framework, therefore, they will not situate the teaching of content. The battle with authoritarianism of the Right or the Left does not lead me into that impossible 'neutrality' that would be nothing but a cunning way of seeking to conceal my option.

The role of the progressive educator, which neither can nor ought to be omitted, in offering her or his 'reading of the world,' is to bring out the fact there are other 'readings of the world,' different from the one being offered as the educator's own, and at times antagonistic to it.

Let me repeat: there is no education practice without content. The danger, of course, depending on the educator's particular ideological position, is either that of exaggerating the educator's authority to the point of authoritarianism, or that of a voiding of the teacher's authority that will mean plunging the educand into a permissive climate and an equally permissive practice. Each of the two practices implies its own distinct manner of addressing content. (111-112)

In 1960, I wrote, for the symposium, 'Education for Brazil,' sponsored by the Recife Regional Center for Educational Investigations, a paper entitled, 'A Primary School for Brazil' … I shall cite a brief passage from the text …

'The school we need so urgently [I said in 1960] is a school in which persons really study and work. When we criticize, on the part of other educators, the intellectualism of our schools, we are not attempting to defend a position with regard to the school in which the study disciplines, and the discipline of studying, would be watered down. We may never in all of our history have had more need of teaching, studying, learning, than we have today. Of learning to read, write, count. Of studying history, geography. Of understanding the situation or situations of our country. The intellectualism we fight is precisely that hollow, empty, sonorous chatter, bereft of any relationship with the reality surrounding us, in which we are born and reared and on which, in large part, we yet feed today. We must be on our guard against this sort of intellectualism, just as we must be on our guard against a so-called ant traditionalism that reduces schoolwork to mere experiences of this or that, and which excuses itself from performing the hard, heavy work of serious, honest study, which produces intellectual discipline.'

It is precisely the authoritarianism, magical comprehension of content that characterizes the 'vanguardist' leaderships, for whom men's and women's awareness is an empty 'space' waiting for content-a conceptualization I have severely criticized in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And I criticize it again today as incompatible with a pedagogy of hope. (pp. 113-114)

Faundez, Antonio, and Freire, Paulo. (1992). Learning to question: A pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum Press.

It was by travelling all over the world, it was by travelling through Africa, it was by travelling through Asia, through Australia and New Zealand, and through the islands of the South Pacific, it was by travelling through the whole of Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe-it was by passing through all these different parts of the world as an exile that I came to understand my own country better. It was by seeing it from a distance, it was by standing back from it, that I came to understand myself better. It was by being confronted with another self that I discovered more easily my own identity. And thus I overcame the risk which exiles sometimes run of being too remote in their work as intellectuals from the most real, most concrete experiences, and of being somewhat lost, and even somewhat contented, because they are lost in a game of words, what I usually rather humorously call 'specializing in the ballet of concepts.' (p. 13)

What is attempted in an authoritarian way by imposing silence for the sake of order is precisely stifling people's ability to ask questions … One of the starting points in the training of educators in a liberating democratic approach would be this apparently very simple thing: asking what it means to ask questions. In this regard, let me tell you about an experience I had which touches me very much. It was in Buenos Aires, where I had gone when I was still working here in the Council, just after the return of Peron. I was invited by the ministry of education, and its staff teams, headed by government minister Tayana, Peron's former doctor, for which he had to pay dearly after the military coup, arranged an excellent full-time programme of work for me over a week. It was my first visit to Argentina, and until recently I have not been able to return there by express command of the military.

The programme consisted of daily seminars with university teachers, rectors, technical staff from various departments of the Ministry, and artists, but an integral part of the programme was also visits to the poor areas of Buenos Aires. One Sunday morning I went to one of those areas. We met with what would have been a sort of residents' association. An immense number of people. I was introduced by the educator accompanying me.

'I have not come here,' I said, 'to make a speech, but to talk with you. I shall ask questions, and so must you. And our answers will make our time spent together here worthwhile.'

I stopped. There was a silence, which was broken by someone who said: 'Very good. I think that's the right way. We don't really want you to make a speech. I've got a question.'

'Let's have it,' I said.

'What does it actually mean to ask questions?'

On that Sunday morning that man in a slum area of Buenos Aires asked the basic question. Instead of answering him by myself, I tried to draw out of the group what they thought it meant to ask questions. At each moment I attempted to throw light on the points made, emphasizing the curiosity which is expressed in asking questions. You are right. Perhaps this should be one of the first points to be discussed in a training course for young people preparing to be teachers: what does it mean to ask questions? I must stress, however, that the point of the question is not to turn the question. 'What does it mean to ask questions?' into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students. The problem which the teacher is really faced with is how in practice progressively to create with the students the habit, the virtue, of asking questions, of being surprised.

For an educator with this attitude there are no stupid questions or final answers. Educators who do not castrate the curiosity of their students, who themselves become part of the inner movement of the act of discovery, never show disrespect for any question whatsoever. Because, even when the question may seem to them to be ingenuous or wrongly formulated, it is not always so for the person asking it. In such case, the role of educators, far from ridiculing the student, is to help the student to rephrase the question so that he or she can thereby learn to ask better questions. (pp. 36-37)

I think it important to note that there is an undeniable relationship between being surprised and asking questions, taking risks and existence. At root human existence involves surprise, questioning and risk. And, because of all this, it involves action and change. Bureaucratization, however, means adaptation with a minimum of risk, with no surprises, without asking questions. And so we have a pedagogy of answers, which is a pedagogy of adaptation, not a pedagogy of creativity. It does not encourage people to take the risk of inventing, or reinventing. For me, to refuse to take risks is the best way there is of denying human existence itself. (p. 40)

Freire, P. (1996). Macedo, D., Macedo, Q., and Oliveira, A. (Trans.) New York & London: Routledge. dissertation

Because I had experienced poverty, I never allowed myself to fall into fatalism; and … because I had been born into a Christian family, I never accepted our precarious situation as an expression of God's wishes. On the contrary, I began to understand that something really wrong with the world needed to be fixed. (p.14)

During the 1970s, in an interview in Australia, I told some greatly surprised reporters that it was the woods of Recife, refuge of slaves, and the ravines where the oppressed of Brazil live coupled with my love for Christ and hope that He is the light, that led me to Marx. The tragic reality of the ravines, woods, and marshes led me to Marx. My relationship with Marx never suggested that I abandon Christ. (p. 87)

One of the advantages I have had over intellectuals who intellectualize is that certain ideas were never poured into me as if they came from nowhere. On the contrary, my knowledge came from my practice and my critical reflection, as well as from my analysis of the practice of others. Because of my critical thinking abilities and my profound curiosity, I was led to theoretical readings that illuminated my practice and the practice of others and explained the level of success or confirmed the level of error that took place.

On one hand, my progressive perspective has an implied ethical position, an almost instinctive inclination toward justice and a visceral rejection of injustice and discrimination along the lines of race, class, gender, violence, and exploitation. On the other hand, my character also tends to reject knowledge that is antibook or antitheory. I prefer a knowledge that is forged and produced in the tension between practice and theory. (p. 85)

What progressive educators need to do is bring life itself into their classrooms. They need to critically read day-to-day life and analyze, with learners, the shocking facts and disjunctures of our democracy. They need to expose learners to examples of discrimination taken from daily experience (race, class, and gender discrimination), and examples of disrespect for public things, examples of violence, examples of arbitrariness. These examples should be analyzed to reveal their aggressive contradiction of what I have been calling men and women's orientation toward being more, which has been constituted as our nature throughout history. Also, they contradict the authenticity of democratic life. In fact, a democracy where discrimination and disrespect occurs without punishment still has a great deal to learn and to do in order to purify itself. (pp. 155-156)

Freire, A.M.A., and Macedo, D. (Eds.). (1998). The Paulo Freire reader. The Paulo Freire reader. New York: Continuum.

'Donaldo, I don't want to be imported or exported. It is impossible to export practices without reinventing them. Please tell your fellow American educators not to import me. Ask them to re-create and rewrite my ideas.' (p.6)

  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1996). Macedo, D., Macedo, Q., and Oliveira, A. (Trans.) Letters to Cristina: Reflections on my life and work. New York & London: Routledge.
  • Freire, P. and Horton, Miles. (1990). We make the road by walking: Conversations on education and social change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Elias, John L. (1994). Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of liberation. Malabar, FL.: Kreiger Press.
  • http://www.paulofreireinstitut...

  • Author Information

    Roberta Clare

    Roberta C. Clare (M.Div., STM, Ed.D.) holds a doctorate in education from Columbia University. She is the director of a national lay leadership program at St. Andrew's Hall (The Presbyterian Church in Canada) and adjunct faculty at The Vancouver School of Theology, University of British Columbia. Her interests are transformative models of adult education (specifically, ethical thinking to political action) and cyberspace teaching and learning.