Confronting Paulo Freire’s ideas on education, knowledge, the meaning of freedom and class dynamics is to re-examine the human condition anew and seek to engage in the discovery of true freedom.
To confront Paulo Freire’s ideas on education, knowledge, the sense of freedom and the dynamics of the classroom, is to come across new ways of looking, seeking and acting. It’s about seeing the world through a new lens and looking for radical new methods of thinking, working and coexistence (as opposed to “learning to live with” – something that I hope you will discover later. in this article). It is re-examining the human condition and seeking to engage in the discovery of true freedom.
Early life and influences
One of the most influential educational philosophers of the 20th century, Freire was born on September 19, 1921 in Recife, northeastern Brazil. Political and economic instability weighed heavily on his family, compounded by the death of Freire’s father in 1934. Forced to drop out of school and support the family financially, Freire experienced hunger and poverty. He then managed to return to school and then studied law between 1943 and 1947, teaching Portuguese at a school allied to his university to compensate for the reduced fees charged to him. The later course of his life was influenced both by his own early experiences and by his specific context which was more or less a product of the tormented history of Brazil since the 15th century.
Brazil was a Portuguese colony from 1500 to 1822. For the Portuguese, Brazil was a commercial enterprise and their interest was to exploit its resources in order to economically outsmart England and Holland and become the dominant European power. Three centuries of brutal colonization had decimated the indigenous population, brought in large numbers of Africans as slaves, and caused most Brazilians to live in poverty even after it nominally became an independent nation in the 19th century. Despite political independence, even in the middle of the 20th century, many Brazilians lived in a state of near scarcity.
In 1947, while Freire was still teaching Portuguese, he began working at the Serviço Social da Indústria (SESI), a government agency that sought to provide social services in the areas of health, housing, education and services. recreation for the Brazilian working class.
At SESI, he observed first-hand the life of the Brazilian working class and the workings of the Brazilian school system which influenced how he later developed as a teacher and political thinker. Later, Freire accepted a consultant position for the Research and Planning Division. Freire did not see education simply as academic accreditation or as a path to professional success through the acquisition of professional skills. He believed that learners should understand their social issues and discover themselves as creative agents. His research in adult education began to be noticed nationally and he quickly established himself as a progressive educator.
Freire’s early work in education
In 1961, the mayor of Recife asked Freire to help develop literacy programs for the city. The purpose of these programs was primarily to encourage literacy among the working class, foster a democratic climate, and preserve indigenous traditions, beliefs and culture. Freire chose to use the term “cultural circles” instead of literacy classes given the negative connotation of the word “illiterate”. The teachers in these circles were deliberately not called teachers, but coordinators, and the students were called participants. Instead of traditional lectures, dialogue was encouraged. Freire also chose not to use the ABCs of traditional languages because their content was often unrelated to the cultural realities of the peasants and workers he taught.
Freire’s ideas on education involved not only “reading the word” (literacy), but also reading the world, that is, the development of critical awareness (conscientização in Portuguese). The formation of a critical conscience would allow people to question their historical and social situation – to read their world – with the aim of creating a democratic society (which was new for Brazil at that time).
Freire emphasized the dialogue between teachers and students, where both learned, questioned, reflected and participated in the creation of meaning. His pedagogy emphasized that the teacher mingles with the community, asks questions of people, understands their social reality, and develops a list of generative words and themes that could lead to discussions in cultural circles. By making words (literacy) relevant to people’s lives, the process of awareness raising could begin with a critical examination of reality.
The year 1962 saw the first experiences of Freire’s method when 300 farm workers learned to read and write in just 45 days. Soon, thousands of “cultural circles” were created all over Brazil to implement Freire’s ideas.
Unfortunately, the military coup of 1964 (backed by the CIA) interrupted his work and changed the course of Freire’s later life.
Exile and fame
After being briefly imprisoned after the coup, Freire and his family lived in exile from 1964 to 1980. Living first in Bolivia and then in Chile, Freire continued his literacy project with Chilean farmers. These meetings made it possible to realize that although people were no longer slaves, literate and sometimes even landowners, they did not consider themselves free. One of Freire’s goals now is to create the circumstances for his students to discover themselves as human beings. Coupled with his earlier work on making education more meaningful and relevant, later in the 1960s Freire published his ideas in two books: Education as a practice of freedom in 1967 and the pioneer Pedagogy of the oppressed in 1968.
In Pedagogy of the oppressed, Freire was critical of the traditional educational model (he called it the “banking model”) in which the teacher taught and students imbibed, often in silence, with little participation or input. It was a system that discouraged critical thinking and reflection and reproduced autocracy. True to his previous work in adult education, Freire proposed a reciprocal relationship between teacher and students in a democratic environment that allows everyone to learn from each other.
Freire also believed that education and politics were closely linked. Teaching and learning were political acts and how and what students were taught served a political agenda. Moreover, an education that aimed to ostensibly serve the oppressed in a way that the oppressed over time assume the role of oppressor was not really an education that liberated or enabled the creation of a better world.
Liberation was a mutual process requiring both the oppressed and the oppressor to engage in dialogue and simultaneously move towards the path of true freedom where each had their autonomy. Leaders were responsible for coordinating and facilitating this dialogue among citizens, but, as Freire pointed out, leaders who denied the participation of the people they were ostensibly trying to help, effectively undermined their very purpose of to help.
Freire’s ideas resulted in invitations from Harvard University where he taught in 1969-70 and later from the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, where he lived between 1970 and 1980. Freire worked for the WCC as a consultant to the Bureau of Education. and popular education reform. Throughout, Freire continued to take a deep interest in the affairs of colonized countries and closely followed the liberation struggles of Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Guinea-Bissau. . In 1975, the newly formed government of Guinea-Bissau invited Freire to help them organize a literacy campaign.
Return and inheritance
In 1980, Freire returned to Brazil. In 1989, Freire became Secretary of Education for the City of Sao Paulo until 1991. He worked on curriculum reform to create an environment where students would be happy to learn and teachers would be encouraged to. valuing students’ backgrounds. , cultures, values, interests and languages making education a truly democratic and participatory process. He died on May 2, 1997.
Pedagogy of the oppressed has exerted influence around the world. It has been widely translated and its model of emancipatory teaching adopted in many countries. In a certain sense, Freire’s work addresses all “isms” (communism, capitalism, modernism) without being limited to these ideologies. It does not provide any ready-made models that policy makers can emulate or replicate and emphasizes self-discovery through dialogue. This holistic nature of its work and its perceived lack of solutions have been criticized.
Either way, Freire is an inspiration. Original thinker, he is a titan of thought like the one we witness once in a generation.