Paulo Freire

From Academic Kids

Paulo Freire (Recife, Brazil September 19, 1921 - So Paulo, Brazil May 2, 1997) was a Brazilian educator and influential theorist of education.



Born to middle class parents in Recife, Brazil, Freire knew poverty and hunger during the Great Depression, an experience that would shape his concern for the poor and his view on education.

Freire entered the University of Recife enrolling in the Faculty of Law, but also studying philosophy and the psychology of language.

After passing the bar, he left law, and worked as a teacher in secondary schools teaching Portuguese. In 1944, he married Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira a fellow teacher. The two would work together for the rest of her life while raising four children.

In 1946, Freire was appointed Director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the State of Pernambuco. In working with the poor, Freire developed his ideas of about education and the needs of the poor.

In 1961, he was appointed director of the Department of Cultural Extension of the University of Recife, and in 1962 he had the first opportunity for widespread application of his theories, when 300 farmworkers 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, and resulted in the imprisonment of Freire as a traitor for 70 days. After a brief exile in Bolivia, Freire worked in Chile for five years for the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement. In 1967, Freire published his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom.

The book was well received, and Freire was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard in 1969. The previous year, he wrote his most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed which was published in Spanish and English in 1970. It wasn't published in Brazil until 1974.

After a year in Cambridge, Freire moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work as a special education adviser to the World Council of Churches.

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

In 1986, his wife Elza died and Freire remarried Maria Arajo Freire, who continues with her own radical educational work.

In 1991, the Paulo Freire Institute was established in So Paulo to extend and elaborate his theories of popular education. The Institute maintains the Freire achives.

Freire died of heart failure on May 2, 1997.


  • King Balduin Prize for International Development
  • Prize for Outstanding Christian Educators with his wife Elza
  • UNESCO 1986 Prize for Education for Peace

Theoretical Contributions

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

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. Of course, this is not really a new move — Rousseau's conception of the child as an active learner was already a step away from the tabula rasa (which is basically the same as the "banking concept"), and thinkers like John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead were strongly critical of the transmission of mere "facts" as the goal of education. Freire's work is one of the foundations of critical pedagogy.

More challenging, however, is Freire's strong aversion to the teacher-student dichotomy. This dichotomy is admitted in Rousseau and constrained in Dewey, but Freire comes close to insisting that it should be completely abolished. This is hard to imagine in absolute terms (there must be some enactment of the teacher-student relationship in the parent-child relationship), but what Freire suggests is that a deep reciprocality be inserted into our notions of teacher and student. Freire wants us to think in terms of teacher-student and student-teacher, that is, a teacher who learns and a learner who teaches, as the basic roles of classroom participation.

This is one of the few attempts anywhere to implement something like democracy as an educational method and not merely a goal of democratic education. Even Dewey, for whom democracy was a touchstone, did not integrate democratic practices fully into his methods. (Though this was in part a function of Dewey's attitudes toward individuality.) However, in its early, strong form this kind of classroom has sometimes been criticized on the grounds that it can mask rather than overcome the teacher's authority.

See also


eo:Paulo FREIRE fr:Paolo Freire zh-min-nan:Paulo Freire nl:Paulo Freire ja:パウロ・フレイレ pt:Paulo Freire


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