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Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in Recife, Brazil. In 1947 he began work with illiterate adults in North-East Brazil and gradually evolved a method of work with which the word conscientization has been associated.
Until 1964 he was professor of history and philosophy of education in the University of Recife and in the 1960s he was involved with a popular education movement to deal with massive illiteracy. From 1962 there were widespread experiments with his method and the movement was extended under the patronage of the federal government. In 1963-4 there were courses for coordinators in all Brazilian states and a plan was drawn up for the establishment of 2000 cultural circles to reach 2,000,000 illiterates.
Freire was imprisoned following the 1964 coup d’etat for what the new regime considered to be subversive elements in his teaching. He next appeared in exile in Chile where his method was used and the UN School of Political Sciences held seminars on his work. In 1969-70 he was visiting professor at the Centre for the Study of Development and Social Change at Harvard University.
He then went to the World Council of Churches in Geneva where, in 1970, he took up a post as special consultant in the Office of Education. Over the next nine years in that post he advised on education reform and initiated popular education activities with a range of groups.
Paulo Freire was able to return to Brazil by 1979. Freire joined the Workers’ Party in Sao Paulo and headed up its adult literacy project for six years. When the party took control of Sao Paulo municipality following elections in 1988, Paulo Freire was appointed as Sao Paulo’s Secretary of Education.
Pedagogy Of The Oppressed
Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education which blended classical approaches stemming from Plato and modern Marxist, post-Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, can be read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern, rather than traditional, as well as anti-colonial — not simply an extension of the colonizing culture. Freire considered the contemporaneous Chinese Cultural Revolution an exemplar of his notion of cultural action and praised Mao Tse-Tung’s innovations to Marxist theory and praxis
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 sense 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".
Friere argued that oppressors have little incentive to change this status quo, as most changes risk altering their wealth, their power, and their way of life. Their efforts at social change are therefore limited. He argued that in some cases, oppressors use explicit tactics to resist change:
“Concepts such as unity, organization, and struggle are immediately labeled as dangerous. In fact, of course, these concepts are dangerous — to the oppressors — for their realization is necessary to actions of liberation.”
Of course, Freire knew that while the oppressed have great incentive to unite and make social change, they often do not. He argued that this was ultimately because they cannot perceive the structures that their oppressors have created and how these structures oppress, or do not perceive that they can change them:
“As long as their ambiguity persists, the oppressed are reluctant to resist, and totally lack confidence in themselves. They have a diffuse, magical belief in the invulnerability and power of the oppressor.”
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 learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing—of knowing that they know and knowing that they don't".
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 of education. Dewey often described education as a mechanism for social change, stating that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of 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.
Conscientização (Critical consciousness)
Freire was teaching the poor and illiterate members of Brazilian society to read at a time when literacy was a requirement for suffrage and dictators ruled many South American countries. The term conscientização originally derives from Frantz Fanon's coinage of a French term, conscienciser, in his 1952 book, Black Skin, White Masks.
Freire argued in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that the only way to empower the oppressed is develop their critical consciousness, helping them see the dynamics of their situation and how power is woven through it:
“In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform. This perception is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for liberation; it must become the motivating force for liberating action.”
Freire argued that this awareness of the “limiting situation”, and each individual’s critical judgement of that situation on their life, is key to both recognizing and accepting their own humanity, and to generating the immense motivation necessary for making change through collective action.
Freire didn’t believe that such critical consciousness was easily developed. In fact, he strongly believed that most forms of education—a term he used broadly—did the exact opposite:
“Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.”
Rejecting these oppressive pedagogies, Freire believed that the only way to critical consciousness of the oppressed was through dialogue about one’s limiting situation. This did not preclude teachers or teaching, but it did reposition teachers as facilitators rather than authorities, helping the oppressed to perceive the structures and powers that shape their lives:
“A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.”
Freire states that human nature is dialogic, and believes that communication has a leading role in our life. We are continuously in dialogue with others, and it is in that process that we create and recreate ourselves. According to Freire, dialogue is a claim in favor of the democratic choice of educators. Educators, in order to promote free and critical learning should create the conditions for dialogue that encourages the epistemological curiosity of the learner. The goal of the dialogic action is always to reveal the truth interacting with others and the world. In his dialogic action theory, Freire distinguishes between dialogical actions, the ones that promote understanding, cultural creation, and liberation; and non-dialogic actions, which deny dialogue, distort communication, and reproduce power.
Action Research is a philosophy and methodology of research which seeks transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action and doing research, which are linked together by critical reflection. Kurt Lewin, then a professor at MIT, first coined the term "action research" in 1944. In his 1946 paper "Action Research and Minority Problems" he described action research as "a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action" that uses "a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of the action".
Freire believed that critical reflection was crucial for personal and social change. The participatory action research approach of Freire was concerned with empowering the poor and marginalized members of society about issues pertaining to literacy, land reform analysis, and the community.