Education and Paulo Freire

This article appeared in Truthout. While it does not have direct and immediate application in the same way as an article about health insurance reform or terrorism or the messy job of immediate political maneuvering, it does have the seeds that underlie much of what we do.

When I lived and worked in Brazil in the late 1960s, it was Paulo Freire’s ideas and leadership which drove our effort. These were the same ones that got us kicked out of Brazil by the military dictatorship which considered teaching poor people to read and write were subversive activities. Indeed they were correct. True education–not just technical training–is subversive of the injustice of the current economic and political system. Real subversion doesn’t have to do with guns and bombs. It has to do with people waking up to their true plight. That’s why we need to help people understand when they support policies which are against their own interests. They do it because they simply don’t understand the results. Like the woman who told the Congressman to keep the government’s hand off of her Medicare, they are often misinformed by the corporate interests.

The article is too long to copy completely. I hope you will become interested enough to follow the link to the original in Truthout

Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom: Paulo Freire and the Promise of Critical Pedagogy

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Paulo Freire is one of the most important critical educators of the 20th century.[1] Not only is he considered one of the founders of critical pedagogy, but he also played a crucial role in developing a highly successful literacy campaign in Brazil before the onslaught of the junta in 1964. Once the military took over the government, Freire was imprisoned for a short time for his efforts. He eventually was released and went into exile, primarily in Chile and later in Geneva, Switzerland, for a number of years. Once a semblance of democracy returned to Brazil, he went back to his country in 1980 and played a significant role in shaping its educational policies until his untimely death in 1997. His book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” is considered one of the classic texts of critical pedagogy, and has sold over a million copies, influencing generations of teachers and intellectuals both in the United States and abroad. Since the 1980s, there has been no intellectual on the North American educational scene who has matched either his theoretical rigor or his moral courage. Most schools and colleges of education are now dominated by conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to instrumentalized accountability measures and run by administrators who lack either a broader vision or critical understanding of education as a force for strengthening the imagination and expanding democratic public life.

As the market-driven logic of neoliberal capitalism continues to devalue all aspects of the public good, one consequence has been that the educational concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while the notion of schooling as a public good has largely been reduced to a private good. Both public and higher education are largely defined through the corporate demand that they provide the skills, knowledge and credentials that will provide the workforce necessary for the United States to compete and maintain its role as the major global economic and military power. Consequently, there is little interest in both public and higher education, and most importantly in many schools of education, for understanding pedagogy as a deeply civic, political and moral practice – that is, pedagogy as a practice for freedom. As schooling is increasingly subordinated to a corporate order, any vestige of critical education is replaced by training and the promise of economic security. Similarly, pedagogy is now subordinated to the narrow regime of teaching to the test coupled with an often harsh system of disciplinary control, both of which mutually reinforce each other. In addition, teachers are increasingly reduced to the status of technicians and deskilled as they are removed from having any control over their classrooms or school governance structures. Teaching to the test and the corporatization of education becomes a way of “taming” students and invoking modes of corporate governance in which public school teachers become deskilled and an increasing number of higher education faculty are reduced to part-time positions, constituting the new subaltern class of academic labor.

But there is more at stake here than a crisis of authority and the repression of critical thought. Too many classrooms at all levels of schooling now resemble a “dead zone,” where any vestige of critical thinking, self-reflection and imagination quickly migrate to sites outside of the school only to be mediated and corrupted by a corporate-driven media culture. The major issue now driving public schooling is how to teach for the test, while disciplining those students who because of their class and race undermine a school district’s ranking in the ethically sterile and bloodless world of high stakes testing and empirical score cards.[2] Higher education mimics this logic by reducing its public vision to the interests of capital and redefining itself largely as a credentializing factory for students and a Petri dish for downsizing academic labor. Under such circumstances, rarely do educators ask questions about how schools can prepare students to be informed citizens, nurture a civic imagination or teach them to be self-reflective about public issues and the world in which they live. As Stanley Aronowitz puts it:

“Few of even the so-called educators ask the question: What matters beyond the reading, writing, and numeracy that are presumably taught in the elementary and secondary grades? The old question of what a kid needs to become an informed ‘citizen’ capable of participating in making the large and small public decisions that affect the larger world as well as everyday life receives honorable mention but not serious consideration. These unasked questions are symptoms of a new regime of educational expectations that privileges job readiness above any other educational values.”[3]

Against this regime of “scientific” idiocy and “bare pedagogy” stripped of all critical elements of teaching and learning, Freire believed that all education in the broadest sense was part of a project of freedom, and eminently political because it offered students the conditions for self-reflection, a self-managed life and particular notions of critical agency. As Aronowitz puts it in his analysis of Freire’s work on literacy and critical pedagogy:

Thus, for Freire literacy was not a means to prepare students for the world of subordinated labor or “careers,” but a preparation for a self-managed life. And self-management could only occur when people have fulfilled three goals of education: self-reflection, that is, realizing the famous poetic phrase, “know thyself,” which is an understanding of the world in which they live, in its economic, political and, equally important, its psychological dimensions. Specifically “critical” pedagogy helps the learner become aware of the forces that have hitherto ruled their lives and especially shaped their consciousness. The third goal is to help set the conditions for producing a new life, a new set of arrangements where power has been, at least in tendency, transferred to those who literally make the social world by transforming nature and themselves.[4]

What Paulo made clear in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” his most influential work, is that pedagogy at its best is about neither training, teaching methods nor political indoctrination. For Freire, pedagogy is not a method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, but a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to expand the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy. Critical thinking for Freire was not an object lesson in test taking, but a tool for self-determination and civic engagement. For Freire, critical thinking was not about the task of simply reproducing the past and understanding the present. On the contrary, it offered a way of thinking beyond the present, soaring beyond the immediate confines of one’s experiences, entering into a critical dialogue with history and imagining a future that did not merely reproduce the present. Theodor Adorno captures the spirit of Freire’s notion of critical thinking by insisting that “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation…. Open thinking points beyond itself.”

The rest is at


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