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Paulo Freire

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Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire
Born (1921-09-19)September 19, 1921
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
Died May 2, 1997(1997-05-02) (aged 75)
São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Alma mater University of Recife
Occupation Educator, author
Known for Theories of education
Religion Liberal (Catholic)

Paulo Reglus Neves Freire (, Portuguese: ; September 19, 1921 – May 2, 1997) was a Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy. He is best known for his influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is considered one of the foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement.[1][2][3]


  • Biography 1
  • Theoretical contributions 2
    • Banking model of education 2.1
    • Culture of silence 2.2
  • Global impact 3
    • Recognition 3.1
  • Bibliography 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Freire was born September 19, 1921 to a middle-class family in Recife, Brazil. Freire became familiar with poverty and hunger during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1931, the family moved to the less expensive city of Jaboatão dos Guararapes, and on October 31, 1934 his father died.[4] In school, he ended up four grades behind, and his social life revolved around playing pick up football with other poor children, from whom he learned a great deal. These experiences would shape his concerns for the poor and would help to construct his particular educational viewpoint. Freire stated that poverty and hunger severely affected his ability to learn. This influenced his decision to dedicate his life to improving the lives of the poor: "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" (Freire as quoted in Stevens, 2002).[5] Eventually his family's misfortunes turned around and their prospects improved.

Freire enrolled in law school at the University of Recife in 1943. He also studied philosophy, more specifically phenomenology, and the psychology of language. Although admitted to the legal bar, he never practiced law. He instead worked as a teacher in secondary schools teaching Portuguese. In 1944, he married Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, a fellow teacher. The two worked together and had five children.

In 1946, Freire was appointed Director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the state of Pernambuco. Working primarily among the illiterate poor, Freire began to embrace a non-orthodox form of what could be considered liberation theology. In Brazil at that time, literacy was a requirement for voting in presidential elections.

In 1961, he was appointed director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University. In 1962 he had the first opportunity for significant application of his theories, when 300 sugarcane workers were taught to read and write in just 45 days. In response to this experiment, the Brazilian government approved the creation of thousands of cultural circles across the country.

In 1964, a military coup put an end to that effort. Freire was imprisoned as a traitor for 70 days. After a brief exile in United Nations. In 1967, Freire published his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom. He followed this with his most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in Portuguese in 1968.

On the strength of reception of his work, Freire was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard University in 1969. The next year, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in Spanish and English, vastly expanding its reach. Because of political feuds between Freire, a Christian socialist, and successive authoritarian military dictatorships, the book wasn't published in Brazil until 1974, when General Ernesto Geisel became the dictator president beginning the process of a slow and controlled political liberalisation.

After a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, Freire moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work as a special education advisor to the World Council of Churches. During this time Freire acted as an advisor on education reform in former Portuguese colonies in Africa, particularly Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.

In 1979, he was able to return to Brazil and moved back in 1980. Freire joined the Workers' Party (PT) in the city of São Paulo and acted as a supervisor for its adult literacy project from 1980 to 1986. When the PT prevailed in the municipal elections in 1988, Freire was appointed Secretary of Education for São Paulo.

In 1986, his wife Elza died. People close to him felt that he had given up after the loss of his wife and worried that he might die. Freire was teaching a graduate course, and became reconnected with Maria (Nita) Araújo from Recife, who once was a pupil in the school where he was a principal. Eventually, they fell in love. Freire married Maria Araújo Freire, who continues with her own education work. Freire often said that Nita saved his life: She was the culmination of the radical love he sought.

Freire died of heart failure on May 2, 1997 in São Paulo.

Theoretical contributions

"There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the 'practice of freedom', the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
— Richard Shaull, drawing on Paulo Freire[6]

Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education that came not only from the more classical approaches stemming from Plato, but also from modern Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. In many ways his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) may be best read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1961), which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (not simply an extension of the culture of the colonizer).

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Freire, reprising the oppressors–oppressed distinction, differentiates between the positions in an unjust society: the oppressor and the oppressed. Freire makes no direct reference to his most direct influence for the distinction, which stems back at least as far as Hegel in 1802.

Freire champions that education should allow the oppressed to regain their sense of humanity, in turn overcoming their condition. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that for this to occur, the oppressed individual must play a role in their liberation. As he states:

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption (Freire, 1970, p. 54).[7]

Likewise, the oppressors must be willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own role in the oppression if true liberation is to occur: "those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly" (Freire, 1970, p. 60).

Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of critical pedagogy. Teachers and students must be made aware of the "politics" that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers, themselves, have political notions they bring into the classroom (Kincheloe, 2008).[8]

Freire believed that "education makes sense because women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing—of knowing that they know and knowing that they don't" (Freire, 2004, p. 15).[9]

Banking model of education

In terms of pedagogy, Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the "banking" concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. He notes that "it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power" (Freire, 1970, p. 77). The basic critique was not new — Rousseau's conception of the child as an active learner was already a step away from tabula rasa (which is basically the same as the "banking concept"). In addition, thinkers like John Dewey were strongly critical of the transmission of mere facts as the goal of education. Dewey often described education as a mechanism for social change, explaining that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction" (1897, p. 16).[10] Freire's work, however, updated the concept and placed it in context with current theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what is now called critical pedagogy.

Culture of silence

According to Freire, the system of dominant social relations creates a 'culture of silence' that instills a negative, silenced and suppressed self-image into the oppressed. The learner must develop a critical consciousness in order to recognize that this culture of silence is created to oppress.[11] A culture of silence can also cause the "dominated individuals [to] lose the means by which to critically respond to the culture that is forced on them by a dominant culture."[12]

Social domination of race and class are interlaced into the conventional education system, through which the "culture of silence" eliminates the "paths of thought that lead to a language of critique."[13]

Global impact

Freire's major exponents in North America are Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, Donaldo Macedo, Joe L. Kincheloe, Carlos Alberto Torres, Ira Shor, and Shirley R. Steinberg. One of McLaren's edited texts, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, expounds upon Freire's impact in the field of critical education. McLaren has also provided a comparative study concerning Paulo Freire and the Argentinian revolutionary icon Che Guevara. Freire's work influenced the so-called "radical math" movement in the United States, which emphasizes social justice issues and critical pedagogy as components of mathematical curricula.[14]

In 1991, the Paulo Freire Institute was established in São Paulo to extend and elaborate upon his theories of popular education. The institute now has projects in many countries and is headquartered at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies where it actively maintains the Freire archives. The director is Dr. Carlos Torres, a UCLA professor and author of Freirean books including A praxis educativa de Paulo Freire (1978). Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has achieved near-iconic status in America's teacher-training programs, according to Sol Stern, a social commentator critical of the entry of Freire's Marxist-inspired teachings into the mainstream curriculum. Connections of Freire's non-dual theory and pedagogy has also recently been made with eastern philosophical traditions such as the Advaita Vedanta.[15]

In 1999 PAULO, a national training organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK. PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field.

The Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference is held each spring and is guided by the theory and practice of these two liberatory practitioners. The conference networks a wide variety of people with interests in Freire and Augusto Boal—liberatory education and theatre, community organizing, community-based analysis, TIE, race/gender/class/sexual orientation/geography analysis, performance/performance art, comparative education models, etc.

The Paulo and Nita Freire Project for International Critical Pedagogy was founded at McGill University. Here Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg worked to create a dialogical forum for critical scholars around the world to promote research and re-create a Freirean pedagogy in a multinational domain. After the death of Kincheloe the project was transformed into a virtual global resource: THE FREIRE PROJECT: Critical Cultural Community, Youth, and Media Activism (

In 2012 a group of educators in Western Massachusetts received permission from the state to found the Paolo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which opened in September 2013.[16]

At his death, Freire was working on a book of ecopedagogy, a platform of work carried on by many of the Freire Institutes and Freirean Associations around the world today. It has been influential in helping to develop planetary education projects such as the Earth Charter as well as countless international grassroots campaigns in the spirit of Freirean popular education generally.

Frierean literacy methods have been widely adopted throughout the developing world. In the Philippines, Catholic "basal Christian communities" adopted Freire's methods in community education. In Papua New Guinea, Freirean literacy methods were used as part of the World Bank funded Southern Highlands Rural Development Program's Literacy Campaign. Freirean approaches also lie at the heart of the "Dragon Dreaming" approach to community programs that have spread to 20 countries by 2014.


  • King Baudouin International Development Prize 1980. Paulo Freire was the first person to receive this prize. He was nominated by Dr. Mathew Zachariah, Professor of Education at the University of Calgary.
  • Prize for Outstanding Christian Educators with his wife Elza
  • UNESCO 1986 Prize for Education for Peace
  • Honorary Doctorate, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 1996, along with Augusto Boal, during their residency at the Second Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Omaha.
  • An independent public high school in Holyoke, Massachusetts, called the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School, won state approval on 28 February 2012 and was scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.[17]
  • Honorary Degree from Claremont Graduate University, 1992
  • Honorary Doctorate from The Open University, 1973
  • Inducted, International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame, 2008 [18]


Freire wrote and co-wrote over 20 books on education, pedagogy and related themes.[19]

Some of his works include:

  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. (1970). Cultural action for freedom. [Cambridge], Harvard Educational Review.
  • Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York, Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1975). Conscientization. Geneva, World Council of Churches.
  • 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, A Continuum Book: The Seabury Press.
  • Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, Mass., Bergin & Garvey.
  • Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the city. New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. (1997). Mentoring the mentor : a critical dialogue with Paulo Freire. New York, P. Lang.
  • Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy and civic courage. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Freire, P. (1998). Politics and education. Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center Publications.
  • Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: letters to those who dare teach. Boulder, Colo., Westview Press.
  • Faundez, Antonion, and Paulo Freire (1992). Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation. Trans. Tony Coates, New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. and A.M.A. Freire (1994). Pedagogy of hope: reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. and A.M.A. Freire (1997). Pedagogy of the heart. New York, Continuum.
  • Freire, P. and D.P. Macedo (1987). Literarcy: reading the word & the world. South Hadley, Mass., Bergin & Garvey Publishers.
  • Freire, P. and I. Shor (1987). Freire for the classroom: a sourcebook for liberators teaching.
  • Freire, P. and H. Giroux & P. McLaren (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: towards a critical pedagogy of learning.
  • Freire, P. and I. Shor (1988). Cultural wars: School and society in the conservative restoration 1969–1984.

See also


  1. ^ "The New Observer" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  2. ^ Sima Barmania (2011-10-26). "Why Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" is just as relevant today as ever". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  3. ^ "Paulo Freire and informal education". 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  4. ^ Freire, P. (1996). Letters to Cristina: reflections on my life and work. New York, NY: Routledge
  5. ^ Stevens
  6. ^ Gramsci, Freire, and Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action, by Peter Mayo, Macmillan, 1999, ISBN 1-85649-614-7, pg 5
  7. ^ Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
  8. ^ Kincheloe, J.L. (2008). Critical Pedagogy Primer, 2nd Ed. New York: Peter Lang.
  9. ^ Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder: Colorado, Paradigm.
  10. ^ Dewey, J. (1897). My Pedagogic Creed
  11. ^ "Marxist education:Education by Freire". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  12. ^ "Paulo Freire". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  13. ^ (Giroux, 2001, p. 80) (A Presentation by) John Cortez Fordham University. "Culture, Power and Transformation in the Work of Paulo Freire by Henry A. Giroux" (PDF). 
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ Bharath Sriraman, ""On the Origins of Social Justice: Darwin, Freire, Marx and Vivekananda", The Mathematics Enthusiast, Monograph 1, 2007
  16. ^
  17. ^ Hampshire Gazette
  18. ^
  19. ^ "bibliography « Pedagogy of the Oppressed". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 


  • Mann, Bernhard, The Pedagogical and Political Concepts of Mahatma Gandhi and Paulo Freire. In: Claußen, B. (Ed.) International Studies in Political Socialization and ion. Bd. 8. Hamburg 1996. ISBN 3-926952-97-0
  • Aronowitz, Stanley (1993). Paulo Freire's radical democratic humanism. In P. McLaren & P. Leonard. (Eds.), Paulo Freire: A critical encounter (pp. 9-)
  • Kincheloe, Joe L. (2008). Critical Pedagogy. 2nd Ed. New York: Peter Lang.

Further reading

  • Coben, Diana (1998), Radical heroes. Gramsci, Freire and the Politics of Adult Education, New York: Garland Press.
  • Darder, Antonia (2002), Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, Boulder: Westview.
  • Elias, John (1994), Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of Liberation, Florida: Krieger.
  • Ernest, Paul; Greer, Brian; Sriraman,Bharath(eds.), "Critical Issues in Mathematics Education", The Mathematics Enthusiast: Monograph Series in Mathematics Education, Information Age Publishing; Charolotte, NC, ISBN 978-1-60752-039-9
  • Freire, Nita. Vittoria, Paolo "Dialogue on Paulo Freire". Interamerican Journal of Education for Democracy.Vol. 1. no. 1 RIED-IJED, 2007.
  • Freire, Paulo (1997) "Mentoring the mentor: a critical dialogue with Paulo Freire", Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education, Vol 60, 1997, ISBN 0-8204-3798-0
  • Gadotti, Moacir (1994), Reading Paulo Freire. His Life and Work, Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Gibson, Rich (2004), "The Promethean Literacy." Unpublished dissertation online.
  • McLaren, Peter (2000) Che Guevara, Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of Revolution, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • McLaren, Peter and Leonard, Peter (eds.) (1993), Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, London and New York: Routledge.
  • McLaren, Peter and Lankshear, Colin (eds.) (1994), Politics of Liberation. Paths from Freire, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Mayo, Peter (1999), Gramsci, Freire and Adult Education. Possibilities for Transformative Action, London and New York: Zed Books.
  • Mayo, Peter (2004, 2008), Liberating Praxis. Paulo Freire's Legacy for Radical Education and Politics, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger; Rotterdam and Taipei: Sense.
  • Morrow, Raymond A. and Torres, Carlos .A. (2002), Reading Freire and Habermas. Critical pedagogy and Transformative Social Change, New York and London: Teachers College Press.
  • O’Cadiz, Maria del Pilar, Wong, Pia L. and Torres, Carlos A. (1997), Education and Democracy. Paulo Freire, Social Movements and Educational Reform in São Paulo, Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Roberts, Peter (2000), Education, Literacy, and Humanization Exploring the Work of Paulo Freire, Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Rossatto, Cesar A. (2005), Engaging Paulo Freire's Pedagogy Of Possibility: From Blind To Transformative Optimism, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Schugurensky, Daniel (2011). Paulo Freire. London: Continuum.
  • Sriraman, Bharath (2007), On the origins of social justice: Darwin, Freire, Marx and Vivekananda, The Montana Mathematics Enthusiast, Monograph 1, pp. 1–6, University of Montana Press.
  • Taylor, Paul V. (1993), The Texts of Paulo Freire, Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Torres, Carlos A and Noguera, Pedro (eds.) (2008), Social Justice Education For Teachers. Paulo Freire and the Possible Dream, Rotterdam and Taipei: Sense.
  • Torres, Carlos A (2014). First Freire: Early writings in Social Justice Education. New York: Teachers College.

External links

  • Inquiry-Based Learning at DMOZ
  • International Journal for Transformative Research
  • Digital Library Paulo Freire (Pt-Br)
  • by Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed
  • PopEd Toolkit - Exercises/Links inspired by Freire's work
  • Interview with Maria Araújo Freire on her marriage to Paulo Freire
  • A dialogue with Paulo Freire and Ira Shor (1988)
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