This chapter introduces students to the political and educational philosophy of Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Freire’s philosophy of education builds upon former notions of ideology critique, dialectic, praxis, and social intelligence advocated by previous generations of philosophers. For instance, Freire’s use of the term conscientização represents his major educational objective or theme. The term refers to learning how social, political, and economic institutions function as the illusive and reified objective conditions that otherwise conceal and perpetuate oppression and inequality in society. The essence of learning in Freire’s educational philosophy centers on liberating or emancipating students by helping them rise above (or beyond) their objective and passive state of existence. Learners experience what psychologists might refer to as a Gestalt switch in their understanding of the world, their place in it, and how they can act to change the world for the better.
Upon completing this module, students will be able to:
- Understand Freire’s analysis of dehumanization and how it is represented as oppression.
- Understand the meaning of freedom in Freire’s thought and connections that could be made with previous philosophers, particularly Aristotle and Dewey.
- Articulate the essential ingredients of Freire’s pedagogy and its purposes.
- Explain problems with what Freire refers to as the “banking concept” of education and its disadvantages.
- Explain how the “banking concept” of education is oppressive, functional, and static.
- Articulate Freire’s replacement for the “banking concept” of education and why he views this change as a humanizing process.
- Analyze his notion of “problem-posing education,” and explain how this approach differs from traditional approaches that focus on cultural transmission.
- Develop similarities and differences between Marx’s dialectical approach and Freire’s approach.
- Explain why Freire utilizes the concepts of dialogue, love, and critical thinking as a teaching practice.
- Analyze and articulate the purposes of and the potential benefits from the utilization of Freire’s culture circles.
- Articulate how you may incorporate Freire’s themes of critical pedagogy in your classroom, as well as any difficulties you may encounter.
Part 1, Chapter 8 Preface to Readings
For students who have completed readings in previous chapters you will recognize a variety of approaches in Freire’s work that appear familiar. For instance, one can pull from Freire’s work similarities with Socrates, Aristotle, Rousseau, Marx, and Dewey. The pivotal theme in Freire’s work consists of ideology critique. The fundamental purpose of education beyond literacy is helping raise students’ awareness or critical consciousness (conscientização) of the social, political, and economic structures in society that maintain and perpetuate their oppression and inequality. Initially, the oppressed have reified their social status, considering it as a natural phenomenon outside human control. It is often the case that the oppressed are not conscious of their oppression, according to Freire, since they view their circumstances unreflectively as fixed; an objective social and economic environment within which they exist. They do not connect their oppression (for initially they fail to see it as oppression) as circumstantially resulting from individual design or purpose. Poverty, for example, is unreflectively accepted as simply part of life and not a result of intention. The intent behind Freire’s critical pedagogy is to help the oppressed understand the causes of their oppression, which are historically connected to existing structural or institutional arrangements that perpetuate power relations in society.
While Freire’s work was primarily intended for adult education, his objectives and themes are applicable in various ways to learners in secondary education. His focus on poverty and inequality stem from his own experiences growing up in Recife, Brazil during the Great Depression Era., and like the social reconstructionists who wrote before him, he learned from concrete realities that poverty and injustice are both preventable and remedial. The following provides a general outline of Freire’s critical pedagogy.
Education for Humanization and Liberation
For Freire, any objective (real-life) circumstances that prevent individuals from seeking and realizing their full potential, distorts human nature and is, therefore, a form of dehumanization. There are obvious and extreme forms of dehumanization, such as slavery, but in modern society, dehumanization occurs more subtly. Its presence and maintenance exists in the intricate web of social structures in a given society. Since this form of oppression occurs within and through institutions, making the oppression appear as a natural outgrowth of social relationships, the key is helping students reflect on their given circumstances (how they have been “domesticated”) and to broaden their consciousness so that they comprehend the realities of structural oppression. The goal is to liberate the oppressed through an educative process of reflection, followed by action, ensuing in transformation. This is a process referred to in earlier literature and adopted by Freire referred to as praxis. For Freire, freedom is not achieved merely through contemplation and metaphysical thinking, but an experience that must be lived in real, practical, concrete terms. Freedom is achievable by doing and positively transforming the conditions of existence with (and not for) the oppressed.
Characteristics that prevail among the oppressed include a passive acceptance of one’s life-conditions. In other words, the oppressed view their circumstances as natural and therefore, not a result of purposeful oppression. Poverty is viewed by the oppressed as having developed naturally and that it is unalterable or static. This creates a sense of alienation among the oppressed who experience unworthiness and contemptible. By adopting the prescribed attitudes and ways of thinking imposed by the oppressors (through institutions like formal schooling), the oppressed see their place in society as that of spectators who should remain silent and accept their natural state of affairs. This domestication process, as Freire refers to it, helps maintain or reproduce the status quo. In other words, the oppressed have been illusively accepted their status and have learned to functionally operate in ways that maintain their oppression since they do not see their oppression as socially created.
The “Banking Concept” in Education
Freire perceived traditional forms of education –lecture, teacher-centered, rote memorization, and the generational transmission of culture from teacher to students –as part of the domestication process that reproduces the status quo. This form of teaching does nothing to transform objective social relations that maintain the contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed. Indeed, this form of education is intended to perpetuate unequal power and dehumanization. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire refers to the Hegelian notion of conflict mentioned elsewhere as the master-slave dialect wherein the power embedded in the teacher’s identity (often without realizing it) is dependent upon her students and their comparatively inferior status. The teacher (similar to the master) exercises patriarchal control over the student by depositing prescribed information in the student’s mind. It is also the purpose of “banking” education that it refrain from critical thinking; hence, “domestication.” The “banking concept operates as a functionalist and regulatory method of social reproduction.
In its place, Freire advocates critical pedagogy that treats students, not as means to an end, but as Immanuel Kant asserted, as ends in themselves. Rather than “integrating” the oppressed “into the structure of oppression,” they are liberated by becoming participants in a shared educational experience that results in uncovering hidden forms of oppression and bringing to light lived forms of oppression and possibilities for freedom and emancipation from existing conditions. This transforming relationship between teacher and student is referred to by Freire as “reconciliation.”
Critical thinking is always potentially dangerous to the status quo in any society. Therefore, it must be utilized in order to develop effective self-reflection and subsequent action. The value in critical thinking is referred to by Freire as “demythologizing” the notion that society is natural and unalterable. Dialogue must be the medium that is used to reach a higher level of critical consciousness. Hence, dialogue helps students actualize their potential, which is similar to Aristotle’s suggestion that citizens become more fully human when they take part in politics or when Dewey refers to educational growth. Dialogical participation serves the innately existential and creative process of becoming more comprehensively human. Freire argues that people are always incomplete; they are always adapting to their environment in order to survive, but that a liberating education assumes that there is always untapped potential to be realized within each individual. The key is developing the kind of learning experiences that will facilitate becoming. This description of critical pedagogy and liberation are examples of humanization that flow into educational spaces that erupt and overturn the “banking” method of learning.
Another fundamental feature of the dialogic method of education is its grounding in love. In other words, substantive dialogue with others requires recognition among the participants carrying out the dialogue critically, meaning with the intention of improving the human condition for everyone. “Love,” asserts Freire “is commitment to others…and their cause –the cause of liberation.”
Questions to Consider:
- What are your thoughts about Freire’s “banking concept” of traditional education?
- What does the “banking concept” of education say about the history of American schooling, or schooling in most countries?
- Is Freire, like others before him, expecting too much from education and teachers? How realistic is his critical pedagogy?
- Are there other methods that the oppressed can utilize in order to remedy their oppression?
- What tends to happen in a society with traditional forms of schooling (teacher-centered education) when any student among the “oppressed” groups experiences social mobility? Does this student become an oppressor?
- What is “humanizing” about Freire’s critical pedagogy? How is it liberating?
- What human characteristics or traits are used by Freire to identify those who submit to oppression (knowingly or unknowingly)?
- What human characteristics does Freire use to describe students who become humanized through the process of critical pedagogy?
- In spite of the social structures or institutions that reproduce power relationships in society, and hence, oppression, why do oppressors oppress? What human traits do the oppressors and the oppressed share, if any?
- What similarities and differences exist between and among Freire and other philosophers you have studied?
- What would a Freirean classroom look like?
- Can you provide examples of “problem-posing” questions you may use in your classrooms?
Freire, Paulo. (2013). Education for Critical Consciousness. London: Bloomsbury.
Freire, Paulo. (2011). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Anniversary Edition. Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.
Have groups of students choose a contemporary issue and attempt to develop within each group of their respective groups a deliberative process that parallels Freire’s educational philosophy.
Have students compare Freire’s educational philosophy with one of the following philosophers: Socrates, Marx, Dewey, Social Reconstructionism.
Have students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Freire’s educational philosophy and whether how his ideas could be used today, if at all.
Have students discuss why Freire’s educational philosophy is connected to social justice.
External Readings & Resources
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Sonoma State University) Summary
Ira Shor (2006). “Education is Politics: Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy.” In Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter (pp. 25-35). Edited by Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard. New York, NY: Routledge.