"You cannot uneducated the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."

--Cesar Chavez

Education as a Force to Transform the World: The Work of Paolo Freire

Critical Consciousness

At the heart of Friere’s unique view of education lies what he calls critical consciousness or conscientization. This term meaning, “consciousness raising” is about understanding the social and political contradictions of the world and taking action against them in one’s own life. This is developed in his best-known book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

According to Freire, freedom will be the result of praxis or informed action when a balance between theory and practice is achieved. Understanding these contradictions is necessary especially in situations of extreme poverty, because oppressors create a culture of silence that propagates a negative self-image of the oppressed. The student/learner needs a critical consciousness to realize that this culture of silence is created to oppress. With a critical consciousness it will become evident that freedom from oppression is possible through engaged political change.

Method: Democratic Transformation Through Education

Pedagogy of the Oppressed was written for the poor, oppressed, ignorant, Brazilian peasants and workers who are excluded from the political process and cultural development, but this pedagogy can be used as model for liberation through education all over the world. This teaching method is rooted in Freire’s own experience helping Brazilian adults to read and write. The book remains popular among educators in developing countries.

In Marx, Freire finds the subjective basis for his work. He uses class analysis to show that only a minority benefits from the status quo. This “culture of silence” is the political reality of Brazil. The ruling class or elite definitely benefits from the masses being silent, without a voice of opposition. This “tradition” goes back to the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Domination in Brazil, as in most other countries, is based on religious, political, and economical influence of the elite minority, which has enslaved the poor for centuries. This domination is especially easily upheld when people think that the hardships in their lives are fate, God-given, and/or unchangeable.

What makes Freire’s pedagogical model so unique is that he does not view the learner as an empty vessel, which needs to be filled with the knowledge the teacher will impart at his/her discretion. Unlike this so-called “banking model,” critical pedagogy considers the student to be an active learner. The teacher is just as much a participant of learning as is the student, who also takes part in the teaching. The learning and the teaching are based on dialog. There is no set curriculum, because the dialog depends on the interests and needs of the group and will vary from group to group and region to region. Furthermore, each student has a history, culture, and language. All this accumulates into knowledge.

According to Freire, the educational work towards democracy can only be achieved if the literacy process is not about or for man, but WITH man.

Education as an Instrument to Liberate, Not Dominate

Critical consciousness or conscientization (consciousness raising) doesn’t come naturally as a byproduct of economic change. It must grow out of critical education. Therefore, the student must come to the realization that he/she is a maker of culture and transformer of the world through gaining and experimenting with knowledge.

The student is a subject in the world and with the world, no longer just an object or a participant in the “culture of silence.” The student becomes a subject in gaining and experimenting with knowledge. New levels of awareness can be reached, wherein the learner is no longer an “object” of others’ will, but a self-determining “subject.” The ultimate goal of critical education is the creation of a democratic society.

With the consciousness of time comes a consciousness of history, which is necessary for a critical perception of reality. The student must learn to question her/his status and reason for being. This can be achieved through reflection and action or, in other words, by achieving a critical consciousness. Once this critical consciousness is reached, then people are aware that it is necessary to constantly unveil appearances designed to protect injustice. At the same time the educator must relearn what he/she “knows” through the interaction with the students. The educator must be deeply involved with the day-to-day lives of the students, questioning their historical and social situations.

All pedagogy for Freire is a call to action in a society animated by inequality and authoritarianism. The student becomes a part of the process for change, for liberation. This can only be achieved by raising consciousness about social and political contradictions. Therefore, no form of education can be neutral.

Critical Pedagogy: Teaching Method

The use of Freire’s "see-judge-act" student-centered methods can lead to critical consciousness through:

(1) A careful study of students' surroundings and everyday lives is followed by

(2) a "codification session" with students where key factors of life are drawn as pictures.

(3) Students are then urged to look at the pictures not as simply reality, but as problems: first as individual problems, then as collective problems with underlying reasons. As codification leads to problem solving, relevant words (generative words, see below) are linked with the students' drawings of the world, and reality is repositioned as a human creation.

(4) Students are finally called on to use their newly won literacy as a way to make plans for change. 

Generative Words:

Freire worked with people to learn which words were really important to them. From a single word that they learned to read, he could break down syllables in the Portuguese language. Then he could teach them new words with those syllables. Here is a rough approximation in English:

If students found the word "rain" important to them, and learned to read it. Freire could quickly show them how to read "drain," "brain," "rainbow" and any number of other words. Proceeding thus from what was really important to the students, new words could be easily generated.

The Life of Paolo Freire:

Paolo Freire was born September 19, 1921 in Recife, Brazil. He grew up in a middle class family, but later became familiar with poverty and hunger during the 1929 Depression. Freire studied law, philosophy and psychology of language at the University of Recife while instructing Portuguese part-time. He never practiced law. Instead he became more interested in education, educational theory, and sociology of education. Freire worked as a welfare official and later became director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the State of Pernambuco.

In the 1960s Freire was named the first director of the University of Recife’s Cultural Extension Service, bringing literacy programs to many adults in the northeast of Brazil. During this time illiteracy was so widespread among Brazilians that only about 50% of the people eligible to vote could do so, based upon their ability to read and write. This situation led Freire to develop a method for adult literacy.

His method was highly successful and he taught 300 illiterate adults (sugar cane workers) to read and write within 45 days. The Brazilian government was supportive of these efforts and granted the creation of thousands of cultural circles countrywide.

The expansion of these circles and the literacy program halted abruptly after a military coup in 1964. Freire was imprisoned for subversive activities. It was here in prison where he began writing his first book on education, Education as the Practice of Freedom. This book was completed in Chile where Freire was sent in exile. Working in adult education and agrarian reform in Chile he became aware of the problem of traditional extension education: modernizing without achieving more holistic development of the individuals involved and expecting a return for the offer of education. He published his most famous book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in 1968 (in Portuguese).

In 1969 Freire came to the United States. He was invited by Harvard University’s Center for the Study of Education and Development and the Center for the Study of Development and Social Change in Cambridge, Massachusetts to teach, give seminars and hold conferences. During his stay in the US Freire was able to establish contacts with many North American colleagues. The translation of his books and other writings into Spanish and English in the following year helped make his method, philosophy, and thoughts become more widespread and accessible.
While in the United States, Freire published several scholarly papers that outline the situation of the illiterate and marginalized in the Third World. In those papers he emphasized the importance of dialogue and the recognition of the levels of consciousness in his methodology using Marxist elements of interpretation such as class analysis. His work in the United States and other parts of the Western world brought him heavy criticism from many Latin Americans who wanted to see him continue his grassroots efforts.

Freire did not return to Brazil until after spending ten years mainly working for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, but also in many other countries such as: Chile, Mexico, Guinea-Bissau, Canada, England, and more. He and his family returned to Brazil in 1980.
In Brazil Freire continued to publish on his theory and methodology, however, without adding much substantive material. From 1980 until 1986 he supervised the Worker’s Party’s literacy project. It was in 1986 that he also received the UNESCO Prize for Education, a testimonial to his global reputation and to the importance of his ideas on problem-posing education and critical consciousness. In 1988 he was appointed Secretary of Education for Sao Paulo. At the age of 75, Paolo Freire died in Sao Paolo on May 2, 1997.

Some of Freire’s books:

1. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. [New York]: Herder and Herder, 1970.
2. Freire, Paulo. Cultural action for freedom The Harvard educational review. Monograph series, no. 1. [Cambridge]: Harvard educational review, 1970.
3. Freire, Paulo. Cultural action for freedom Penguin education. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
4. Freire, Paulo. Education for critical consciousness. [1st American] ed. A Continuum book. New York: Seabury Press, 1973.
5. Freire, Paulo. Education, the practice of freedom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, 1976.
6. Freire, Paulo. The politics of education: culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey, 1985.
7. Freire, Paulo, and Antonio Faundez. Learning to question: pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum, 1989.
8. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the city. New York: Continuum, 1993.
9. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New rev. 20th-Anniversary Ed. New York: Continuum, 1993.
10. Freire, Paulo, and Ana Maria Ara?o Freire. Pedagogy of hope: reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1994.
11. Freire, Paulo. Teachers as cultural workers: letters to those who dare teach The edge, critical studies in educational theory. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998
12. Freire, Paulo, Ana Maria Ara?o Freire, and Donaldo P. Macedo. The Paolo Freire reader. New York: Continuum, 1998.
13. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage Critical perspectives series. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.


- Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. [New York]: Herder and Herder, 1970.
- Freire, Paulo. Education for critical consciousness. [1st American] ed. A Continuum book. New York: Seabury Press, 1973.
- http://www.paulofreireinstitute.org/
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Freire
- http://www.richgibson.com/
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscientization
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy_of_the_Oppressed
- http://books.google.com/books?id=xfFXFD414ioC&dq=Paulo+Freire&printsec= frontcover&source=an&hl=en&ei=bLvnSsbeLZSENPv96KcI&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct =result&resnum=4&ved=0CBcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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