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Paulo Freire’s Contribution in Philosophy of Education

Paulo Freire’s Contribution in Philosophy of Education

Paulo Freire

Paulo Reglus Neves Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy. He is best known for his influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is generally considered one of the foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

Richard Shaull, drawing on Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education which blended classical approaches stemming from Plato and modern Marxist, post-Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) can be read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern, rather than traditional, and anti-colonial- not simply an extension of the colonizing culture.

In pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire, reprising the oppressors-oppressed distinction, applies the distinction to education, championing that education should allow the oppressed to regain their senses of humanity, in turn overcoming their condition. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that for this to occur, the oppressed individual must play a role in their liberation.

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.

Likewise, oppressors must be willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own role in oppression if true liberation is to occur: “those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly”.

Freire believed education could not be divorced from politics; the act of teaching and learning are considered political acts in and of themselves. Freire defined this connection as a main tenet of critical pedagogy. Teachers and students must be made aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers, themselves have political notions they bring into the classroom.

Freire believed that “education makes sense because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as being capable of knowing-of knowing that they know and knowing that they don’t.

Criticism of the “banking model” of Education

In terms of pedagogy, Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which students are viewed as empty accounts to be filled by teachers. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects and attempts to control thinking and action, leading men and women to adjust to the world, inhibiting their creative power.” The basic critique was not entirely novel, and paralleled Rousseau’s conception of children as active learners, as opposed to a tabula rasa view, more akin to the banking model. John Dewey was also strongly critical of the transmission of mere facts as the goal change, stating that “education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness and that the adjustment of the individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction”. Freire’s work revived this view and placed it in context with contemporary theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what would later be termed critical pedagogy.

Culture of silence

According to Freire, unequal social relations create a ‘culture of silence’ that instill a negative, passive and suppressed self-image onto the oppressed, and learners must then develop a critical consciousness in order to recognize that this culture of silence is created to oppress. A culture of silence can also cause that “dominated individual to lose the means by which to critically respond to the culture that is forced on them by a dominant culture.”

He considers social, race and class dynamics to be interlaced into the conventional education system, through which this culture of silence eliminates the path of thought that lead a language of critique.

Legacy and impact

Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed has had a large impact in education and pedagogy worldwide, especially as a defining work of critical pedagogy. According to Israeli writer and education reform theorist Sol Stern, it has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs. Connections have also been made between Freire’s non-dualism theory in pedagogy and Eastern philosophical traditions such as the Advaita Vedanta.

In 1977, the Adult Learning Project, based on Freire’s work, was established in Edinburgh, Scotland in the Gorgie-Dairy neighbourhood. This project had the participation of approximately 200 people in the first years, and had among its aims to provide affordable and relevant local learning opportunities and to build a network of local tutors. In Scotland, Freire’s ideas of popular education influenced activist movements not only in Edinburgh but also in Glasgow.

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