Paulo Freire, culture and education

Marika Mäkelä, Untitled, Oil collage on paper and cardboard, 48,5 × 64,5 cm, 1986.


Preface to the recently released book by Débora Mazza

Why Paul? And more: why still Paulo Freire?

Because, after all, Pedagogy of the Oppressed It was written over fifty years ago. And, as happened and continues to happen with other writings in his field of knowledge, some time ago this and other books by Paulo Freire should have moved from the bookshelf of books on education to books on the “history of education”.

I must confess that, as an anthropologist, I entered education through the door, or through the path, of culture. Just as I imagine it happened to a large extent with Paulo Freire, at the time of the popular culture movements of the beginning of the “1960s – the decade that did not end”. We must not forget that he and his team from the Cultural Extension Service of the then University of Recife promoted and coordinated a First National Literacy Meeting of Popular Culture Movements in Pernambuco, in 1963.

I imagine that, throughout the geography of the world and the history of the ages, rare were the educators whose writings remained so present, so read, so consulted and so debated inside and outside the world of universities. And not just for the purpose of knowing an accomplished past, but to establish projects and base pedagogical practices of the absolute present.

Between Anísio Teixeira, Lourenço Filho, Florestan Fernandes, Darcy Ribeiro (whose centenary of birth should be celebrated in 2022), Marilena Chauí and Demerval Saviani, from the beginning of the XNUMXth century until now we have had, in the recent past – and continue to have – notable people dedicated to thinking, proposing and practicing education. However, it was Paulo Freire who became an educator still so assertively alive and effective. A personality that is universally present, recognized, fought against, discussed, read and reread, in addition to being highly honored.

Between Pestalozzi, Rousseau and Montessori, does anyone else dedicated to education have their own, exclusive dictionary? And it will have deserved the immense amount of studies, meetings and lives (in times of a pandemic) this man from Pernambuco who soon gave up on a frustrated “lawyer career” and who, for a few years, was a beadle and teacher of “Portuguese language” – his first passion – at a small school in the neighborhood in Recife?

Would another educator of recent years have deserved a book entirely dedicated to him, with 606 pages in English, with articles written by 31 scholars of his work from the five continents, including career educators and other names from inside and outside the academy? Behold, side by side, I have on my shelf: the Paulo Freire dictionary, from 2008; Pedagogy of the Oppressed – The Manuscript, from 2018; and the Wiley handbook of Paulo FreireOf 2019.

The bibliography on Paulo Freire continues to be astonishingly large and varied. And so many years later, it continues to be as Brazilian as it is Spanish-American and, to a lesser extent, international. Here's something that almost suggests the qualifier "amazing". And why not? As a scholar of popular cultures and religions, I would almost dare say that what is happening with the active presence of Paulo Freire among us is more in the realm of mysteries than in the field of dilemmas.

However, it is not so much the amount of past and present studies about Paulo Freire that should call our attention. What is most surprising is that, so many years after writing one of his last books in life, and even after the publication of fragments of his “posthumous work”, Paulo Freire remains a thinker who is read, studied, discussed and contradicted as a founder of theories, proposals and projects within and beyond education, by people from the most different fields of knowledge and social action.

Here is a thinker of the human through education read and studied “all over the world, and by everyone”, among pedagogues, teachers “on the school floor”, scholars of education, social sciences, social work, health, Art. Here is a strange man whose work feeds educators, researchers, teachers, poets and prophets to this day.

And the fact that in recent years the federal government of his own country has launched a vicious and frustrated campaign, between his defamation and his erasure, is perhaps the best evidence of the strong presence of Paulo Freire's thought among us. And it is precisely in the political, cultural and pedagogical indigence of the writings and proclamations against “professor Paulo Freire”, the unfortunate cultural place in which we find with more evidence the indigence of knowledge and critical reflection capacities present among his detractors.

Therefore, why another time-consuming and meticulous study about it, as in this Paulo Freire, culture and education: thinking about the shadow of a mango tree? After the amount of studies in books, collections and magazines, especially in these last three years, will there be room for a few more? I think so. And I base my opinion based on different moments of his life, when, live or in writing, Paulo Freire urged anyone who read and followed him to: “overcome myself”. And I understand his appeal not as something “upwards” in the academic space, but as something “forwards”, in human-cultural and socially political time.

Débora Mazza brings in this book, a set of previous writings, revisited and stitched together. A collection of plantings at different times, like fruits between memory and research, in which, with sensitivity and wisdom, she brings together little-known personal memories of moments shared with Paulo Freire, placed alongside a fruitful series of extremely relevant to understanding the real “person of Paul”.

Here is what could be just another “biography of Paulo Freire”, but it is, in fact, an excellent and indispensable work, elaborated from the investigation of deeds and facts rarely present in other writings about Paulo Freire. And this “exercise of revelation” comes from a careful research of the events of the “constitution of an educational thought”, portrayed since the 1930s in Brazil, the 1960s in Pernambuco, to the vicissitudes for hiring “professor Paulo” in State University of Campinas, where Débora was his and my student and, later, a student, a partner in travel, research and work, and where Paulo and I became lifelong friends, more than just colleagues.

Amidst the fertile plurality of writings “about”, “since”, or “through” Paulo Freire, Paulo Freire, culture and education: thinking in the shade of a mango tree happily accomplishing what I read “from the inside out” was also the interaction of Paulo Freire's feelings, thoughts and work: writing from life and its moments; writing from the person and thought; write from memory and the present. And, if possible, write science between poetry, sociology and pedagogy.

And for what reasons does Débora Mazza begin the book with obvious song, the well-known poetry of Paulo Freire? Was it written “in the shade of a mango tree”? Probably because it starts like this:

I chose the shade of this tree to
Rest from the lot why will I do
While I'll wait for you.

*Carlos Rodrigues Brandao He is a retired professor emeritus at the Department of Anthropology at Unicamp and a senior visiting professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU). Author, among other books, of The culture on the street (Papyrus).


Debora Mazza. Paulo Freire, culture and education: thinking in the shade of a mango tree. Campinas, Editora da Unicamp, 2022, 232 pages (

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