Paulo Freire – the humanist legacy

Image: Ivan Rivero


An educator committed to his time, who fought with undeniable passion throughout his life to develop a humanist and libertarian pedagogy

“Nobody knows everything and nobody doesn't know everything; no one educates anyone, no one educates himself, men educate each other mediated by the world” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

On September 19, 1921, Paulo Freire was born, the Brazilian thinker who most influenced the development of humanities and education worldwide. Throughout his fruitful life, Freire was an actor and author of enormous consistency, dedicating himself to the struggle to build a pedagogical method that would help generate the conditions for people's emancipation and simultaneously help to transform the world.

From the beginning, as the creator of the National Literacy Program of the government of João Goulart, this illustrious man from Pernambuco put into practice his conception of a type of literacy that recovered the knowledge of literate subjects in a concrete historical context. His pedagogy was based on a critique of the devices of domination that exist in societies to perpetuate and consolidate the power and privileges of a minority that holds economic, political, cultural, ideological and educational resources.

His contesting perspective of the forms of reproduction of power through educational mechanisms led him to conceive pedagogy as an emancipatory practice linked to the fact that it is the subjects themselves who undertake the process of their formation, becoming aware of their place in the world and of a reality shared with others who find themselves in the same situation of subordination.

we all know something

For Freire, then, the pedagogical craft represents a path of self-discovery, in which teaching does not simply mean transferring knowledge from those who have it to those who do not. Quite the contrary, in fact: teaching in Freire implies generating possibilities for the production and construction of knowledge in a joint and collaborative way.

This presupposes the need to situate the pedagogical process in each particular context and to remove from this reality the liberating potential of students in a perspective of transforming the living conditions of subaltern groups, in order to overcome what he called “the relationship between colonizers and colonized”. ”. In other words, the “oppressed” discovers in the dialectical pedagogical action what is the reality in which he is inserted and what are the conditions that will allow him to transform this social context.

Here, Freire's reflection points to a structural understanding of the relationship of domination that was established through sacralized pedagogical mechanisms present in the school system that involve a transfer or "deposit" (banking education model) from those who historically appropriated knowledge to those who were excluded or who do not have any knowledge.

This unique modality of the educational craft has been consecrated throughout history, and operates as an instrument of class domination. In this way, education becomes an act of depositing, and the only margin of action offered to students is to receive these deposits, keep them and file them, making educational action a mere uncritical process of transferring knowledge, values ​​and worldview of the dominant classes.

In the implementation of his alternative educational proposal, Paulo Freire introduced eminently innovative elements of the pedagogical craft and the ways in which it is possible to articulate teaching with the concrete conditions of life and work of young people and adults who participate in the learning process. Freire recognizes and assumes that illiterate adults have their own knowledge and culture, which can and should be considered as the starting point for any teaching process.

For this reason, the analysis of the educational phenomenon proposed by Freire presupposes the students' awareness so that, based on this understanding of the position they structurally occupied within the educational process, they overcome the disenchanted and demobilizing view that "formatted" them to incorporate a perspective critical that allows them to become active subjects of the educational process, as a shared search praxis and, consequently, emancipatory and transforming.

It is the students themselves who must open their consciences to fight against domination, oppression and injustice. That means figuring out why I'm in the condition I'm in and how I can overcome this situation through a collective project. “Reading the world in order to transform it”: therein lies the “subversive” character of Freire's proposal and the reason why it has been systematically attacked by spokespersons of the establishment.

There is an idea as simple as it is central to Freire's conception: no one educates himself. People educate each other mediated by the world and, in achieving this purpose, popular educators are fundamental actors – although not exclusive –, since the educational challenge requires the participation of all those involved. Naturally, the educator must master the methodology. But the pedagogical process is, above all, a collaborative effort.

we all ignore something

With the experience accumulated in the education of adults in rural areas, Freire wrote a remarkable book entitled Extension or communication?, in which he begins by questioning the concept of “extension” – traditionally used in intervention projects in the agricultural sector – and reveals it as a form of “cultural invasion”, precisely because in the classical view it is assumed that knowledge must be an extension to based on knowledge legitimized by science, which is introjected or inoculated among peasants who do not have it.

In his reflection, Freire postulates that the extension process, analyzed from a gnoseological point of view, cannot do more than show the existence of new information. Therefore, the construction of knowledge must be conceived as a mutual and interconnected process in which the curious presence of people in relation to what happens in the world is fundamental. And in this essay, he seeks to shed light on a central theme of his pedagogical proposal: every educational action must consider that men – as active and conscious subjects of the process as a whole – work essentially for their own human fulfillment. Thus, knowledge also implies a transforming action of life, a permanent invention and a reinvention of reality.

In Paulo Freire, the notion is crystallized that the educational phenomenon seeks the formation of a critical and transforming conscience in which the subjects incorporate the essence of a politically oriented objective and that assumes the pedagogical project in its entirety, that is, as part of a process of social change and not as mere training aimed at acquiring skills, competences and capabilities to better fit into the productive structure defined by the civilization of capital.

A transcendental factor in sustaining the educational practice would consist in establishing a dialogue and continuous reflection between educators and students, making the latter the center of learning within a framework of respect and generosity. For Freire, there is no dialogue if there is not enough humility to recognize that the other can offer us much based on his experience and his personal knowledge. This recognition that we know something, but that we also don't know many things, is part of a fundamental conviction of Freire's educational project.

For the Brazilian pedagogue, freedom concretely consisted of an activity carried out on a daily basis by subjects through awareness of the world and the staging of critical thinking as a result of carrying out the principle of action-reflection-action. Thus, by assuming the literacy program as part of a larger project, those who participate in it increasingly develop their reflective capacity through a critical positioning around the culture that has become historical consciousness to transform reality.

For this very reason, the relationship between knowledge and action is at the center of Freire's reflection and has its correlate in the later developments of political pedagogy and the dialectical process established between revolutionary theory and practice. As Jorge Osorio argues, this worldview and method of popular education relies conclusively on epistemological tools that relate to a philosophy of transformative action, with its propensity for theorizing, which implies a permanent reflection on action and its feedback on new pedagogical practices.

This allowed the constant enrichment of the postulates outlined so far and their fruitful dialogue with other theoretical perspectives and areas of knowledge ranging from Liberation Theology to decolonial thought (Decolonial Pedagogies), passing through community education, the pedagogy of otherness, theories of care and the Epistemologies of the South. These movements and ideas are even more relevant in a period in which the emergence of reactionary and obscurantist thinking is also observed in some backward corners of the planet.

That's why we always learn

Since the time when Paulo Freire worked with adult education in Pernambuco, he was convinced that, strictly speaking, there are no illiterates in the world, but rather people with different readings of reality who, precisely by becoming aware of their condition of oppressed , become capable of participating in a collective project of learning and liberation.

For him, self-awareness of one's own practice will always be a fertile field of research to understand how “men” read the world and how they can share this everyday experience of life to try to transform social reality. His method, which privileged the knowledge that is part of all human beings, is still used in thousands of pedagogical experiences across the planet, enshrined many years ago under the name of Popular Education.

This Popular Education model has not been free of problems and criticism, as demonstrated by the fact that this resource has often been applied mainly as a formula for organizing the popular sectors, losing in this attempt the pedagogical and critical dimension as conceived by the Brazilian thinker. . However, Paulo Freire's emancipatory conception continues to inspire thousands of educators on five continents, as a valid way to form conscious and lucid subjects about their insertion and their role in the world.

This is the essence of Paulo Freire: an educator committed to his time, who fought with undeniable passion throughout his life to elaborate a humanist and libertarian pedagogy that is more relevant today than ever. As he himself pointed out to a group of popular educators on one of his trips through Latin America: “I didn't come here to bring a pedagogical discourse, with an air of originality, but to tell them that I give my whole body to the things I do and in that I participate. I'm not just mind, I'm passion, I'm feeling, I'm fear, I'm reticence. I am questions, doubts, desires and utopias… I am a project”.

*Fernando De La Cuadra is a teacher of Sociology at the Catholic University of Maule (Chile).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

Originally published in the magazine Jacobin Latin America.

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