Freire, Paulo. (2000).
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition). N. Y: The Continuum
International Publishing Group Inc.
$14.95 ISBN 0-8264-1276-9
Reviewed by Gail
Paulo Freire was exiled
from Chile in 1964. Freire was the first director of the
University of Recife's Cultural Extension Service that
provided literacy programs to thousands of peasants. Freire and
his co-workers taught the peasants not only skills for reading
and writing, but they also introduced participation in the
political process through knowledge of reading and writing as a
desirable and attainable goal for all Brazilians. He inspired
the poor to hope that they could have a voice in making life
decisions. The Brazilian military and landowners were threatened
by the peasant's desire for reform and to have their voices
heard; they considered Freire's teaching to be radical.
Freire was jailed, then sent into exile for his so-called
Status, power, and
domination of the oppressor are not possible without the
existence of the oppressed. The oppressor is dehumanized by the
act of oppression while the existential reality of oppression and
the internalization of the image of the oppressor dehumanize the
oppressed. Freire defines oppressors as those who deny personal
autonomy of others by imposing a worldview paradigm onto the
oppressed that denies them the power to direct their own lives.
By convincing the oppressed that their circumstances are
unalterable with the exception of intervention of the ruling
classes. The oppressors smother any possibility of action by the
oppressed that is in contradiction to this
According to Freire, the
pedagogy of the oppressed has two stages. In the first stage the
oppressed realize the extent of their oppression and through
reflection they commit themselves to the action of transforming
the world. In the second stage, the oppressed are no longer
oppressed and the oppressors no longer oppress. Freire argues
that those who oppress others dehumanize themselves and engender
the process that blinds them from seeing how their dominating,
manipulative behavior is self-destructive. True freedom means
ejecting the image of the oppressor and embracing autonomy and
responsibility, which for the oppressed can be a frightening act
in the face of reprisal from the oppressors or censure from
fellow oppressed who fear reprisals. Freire identifies
horizontal violence – when the oppressed attack
their kin; the oppressor exists within and they have lashed out
indirectly against him-as another aspect of behavior that stymies
transformative action. The oppressed are emotionally dependent,
and before they discover their dependence, they take their anger
and feelings of hopelessness out at home sometimes by drinking;
perhaps the only outlet to which they have access.
"It is only the
oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their
oppressors" (p. 56). The oppressed must claim their humanity
by freeing themselves and their oppressors from the power
struggle to "dehumanize" the oppressed and the
oppressors. This is an extremely difficult task when the
oppressors do not consider themselves to be oppressors and the
oppressed do not consider themselves to be oppressed. Freire
states that the act of oppression is an act of violence, so the
violence of the oppressed is in reaction to the violence of the
oppressors. The oppressors see this retaliatory violence or
resistance as criminal behavior and force the oppressors down in
the name of keeping the peace.
The oppressed cannot
switch places with the oppressors to achieve their freedom. They
cannot become oppressors themselves. The authentic solution of
the oppressor-oppressed contradiction does not occur by reversing
the positions. When the oppressed gain equal rights and an equal
voice in their lives the former oppressors feel they are now the
oppressed. They are familiar with oppressing others and when
that act of domination is taken away, they do not feel equal,
they feel they have lost their power of domination and
manipulation. The former oppressors are selfish and
self-centered; they seem to have an inability to see that
everyone deserves to be treated equally.
Oppressors believe that
to be, is to have; money is the measure of all
things, and profit is the primary goal (p. 58). The oppressors
dehumanize themselves through their egoistic pursuit to
have; they have so much that they lose themselves.
They feel they have a right to have, while others do not
have this right and do not deserve to have. The oppressed
do not have because they did not work hard enough and therefore,
they do not deserve to have. This theory gives the oppressed a
good reason (in their minds) to criticize, condemn, and judge the
oppressed. Now the oppressed are pathetic, marginalized people
who deserve to live in poverty and to be dehumanized and to be
treated as things.
No one likes to admit
they are victims, the same way people are hesitant to admit they
are oppressed. Without a clear view of their oppression, many
times the oppressed will attack his peer. "Because the
oppressor exists within their oppressed comrades, when they
attack those comrades they are indirectly attacking the oppressor
as well" (p. 62). At some point, the oppressed become
attracted to the oppressors and want to imitate them, to have
what they have. One can observe these dynamics in advertising.
People want what they associate with happiness,
success, and fulfillment. The oppressed want
to be like the oppressors. It may even be why the oppressors
want to have all they have; they believe this will provide all
the components of happiness.
The oppressed all share
the characteristic trait of self-depreciation. This belief is an
example of hegemony, domination without violence. Once the
oppressed are forced into submission, hegemony keeps them and
future generations in the position of oppression. The oppressed
suffer from low self-esteem and are not aware of their full
capabilities. They do not realize that without a formal
education, they still "know" things. There are many
essential things the oppressed know that are just as essential to
life as the things the oppressors know. The oppressed must be
made to understand that they are as valuable as the oppressors
and they deserve to be treated humanly, with dignity and
When the oppressed
believe in themselves, they must reflect and act on changing
their world. To have a true revolution, the leadership must
practice co-intentional education. In banking education, the
teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the
students are objects or containers that are filled by deposits of
information. The more full the container, the better the
teacher. Those students easiest to fill are judged the better
students, and those students who resist being filled are
"problem" students. Banking education isolates the
learner from the content and process of education. It assumes
the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing. The
teacher narrates, prescribes and deposits information, which the
student then must mechanically receive, memorize and repeat.
This transfer of information becomes an emblem and an instrument
of oppression that inhibits inquiry, creativity and dialogue.
Freire makes it clear that banking education dichotomizes
consciousness and the world, thereby domesticating reality. The
students are integrated into the world of the oppressor, a world
that is based on the dehumanization of the oppressed.
poses the problems of human beings in their relations to the
world. "Liberating education consists in acts of
cognition, not transferals of information. It is a learning
situation in which the cognizable object intermediates the
cognitive actors-teacher on the one hand and students on the
other" (p. 79). "Through dialogue, the
teacher-of-the-students and the student-of-the-teacher cease to
exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with
students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely
the-0ne-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue
with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.
They become jointly responsible for a process in which all
grow" (p. 80). The students are active learners, who
internalize the problems and link them to existing experiences to
reflect on. Through problem-posing education students are not
only taught facts and information as in banking education, they
learn along with the teacher how to "think", to
reflect on their lives, experiences, and the activities of others
around them. They are no longer passive learners, nor are they
passive in their community. They now know and are
aware of their humanity, and their voice deserves to be heard.
For them to stay silent is to continue to inhibit themselves in
and the oppressors from true humanization.
plan is to form a group of investigators who will determine the
area, in which they will work, then initiate the first stage of
the investigation. The investigators find people who will attend
an informal meeting to discuss objectives in their community.
The investigators make it clear that trust is essential to the
success of the project. If they agree to both the investigation
and process, the investigators will ask for volunteers to be
assistants. "During their visits, the investigators set
their critical "aim" on the area under study, as if
it were for them an enormous, unique, living "code"
to be deciphered. They regard the area as a totality, and visit
upon visit attempt to ‘split' it by analyzing the
partial dimensions, which impress them. Through this process
they expand their understanding of how the various parts
interact, which will help them penetrate the totality
itself" (p. 111).
During this stage, the
investigators record the people's vocabulary, expressions,
and syntax. The investigators observe the people in all
different vocations and components of their lives, at work, home,
leisure time, etc. Next, the investigator writes a report
to discuss with the team and assistants. This evaluation meeting
is the second stage in the decoding of the unique living code.
The investigators select some contradictions found to develop the
codifications to be used in the thematic investigation.
"The codifications reflecting an existential situation must
objectively constitute a totality. Its elements must interact in
the makeup of the whole. In the process of decoding, the
participants externalize their thematics and thereby make
explicit their 'real consciousness' for the world.
As they do this, they begin to see how they themselves acted and
thus reach a ‘perception of their previous
perception'" (p. 115).
When the codifications
have been prepared and the interdisciplinary team has studied
them, the investigators can begin the third stage of the
investigation. A psychologist and a sociologist note and record
significant reactions of the group of the decoders. The
coordinator must listen to the participants and challenge them to
internalize, through dialogue, their opinions, feelings, and
emotions. When the decoding is completed, the last stage of the
investigation is ready to begin. The investigators pursue
systematic interdisciplinary study of their research. They
listen to tapes of the recording session and study the notes from
the psychologists and sociologist. They list the themes agreed
on during the discussions. The themes are classified according
to several social sciences.
"Once the thematic
demarcation is completed, each specialist presents to the
interdisciplinary team a project for the ‘breakdown'
of his theme. In breaking down the theme, the specialist looks
for the fundamental nuclei which, comprising learning units and
establishing a sequence, give a general view of the theme. As
each specific project is discussed, the other specialists make
suggestions. These may be incorporated into the project and/or
may be included in the brief essays to be written on the
theme" (p. 120). The essays are valuable for training
teacher-students to work in the "culture circles".
Next, the channel of communications is chosen for each theme and
its representation. After the thematics have been codified, the
visual didactic materials are prepared.
"The first task of
the basic-education teachers is to present the general program of
the educational campaign. The people will find themselves in
this program; it will not seem strange to them, since it
originated with them. The educators will also explain the
presence in the program of the hinged themes, and their
significance" (p. 122). When the people discuss their
world, they broaden their level of awareness and begin to think
critically of everything around them. They are no longer empty
vessels waiting to be filled.
Cooperation can only be
achieved through communication. True revolutionary leaders must
be in harmony with the people they lead. The example of
Guevara's awareness that the guerrillas must integrate
with the peasants and his awareness of their potential and needs
was very touching. He valued the peasant's goals and
needs. Many times revolutionary leaders merely replace the
former leader by oppressing the peasants like their predecessor,
and there is no difference between the two. When the
revolutionary leader focuses on the people's needs, a true
revolution may begin without the oppression. The true
revolutionary leader has the power to liberate both the oppressed
and the oppressors.
It is relatively simple
for the elite to separate and divide the oppressed, but it is a
difficult struggle for revolutionary leaders to unite them.
The leaders must unite with themselves and with the people. One
big obstacle for the oppressed individual to overcome is the idea
that they are oppressed and that they do have hope
to overcome it. Once a person becomes aware of their potential,
they become a true, self-aware person. "In order for the
oppressed to unite, they must first cut the umbilical cord of
magic and myth which binds them to the world of oppression; the
unity which links them to each other must be of a different
nature" (p. 175).
Freire does a wonderful job of
clarifying exactly what it means to be oppressed. He possesses
wonderful insight into people's souls. He finds every
human worthy of respect, dignity, and trust. It is
uplifting to read and understand his empathy for others and their
plight. However, it is difficult to believe that it is
possible to have a classless society where no one is oppressed.
The whole process of the
investigative team and the volunteers seems vague and
inefficient. It seems that this would only work with a small
number of people at a time and would not be possible on a
large-scale. It is not a feasible action plan for an
entire community or town. The whole point of the investigation
is to reflect the people's voice and there really is no way
for everyone to be heard. Oppression as an ongoing
constant struggle; the oppressor will evolve and resurface in
each generation as well as the oppressed. Freire does not give a
theory of stopping this cycle from reproducing over and over
Moreover, it would be
extremely difficult to get the investigative groups together and
functioning well enough to complete the investigation and put it
into practice. It is an intricate process to be developed over
time and I think the groups would fall apart before the goal was
accomplished. In spite of these doubts, I nonetheless
credit Pedagogy of the Oppressed with heightening
awareness of the plight of the oppressed; society
has benefitted greatly from its ideas.
Gail Kidd holds a
Bachelors degree in Elementary Education from Millikin
University. She is currently a middle-school teacher in the
Lebanon (IN) Community School Corporation. She will graduate from
Purdue University with a Master's degree in Curriculum and
Instruction in December, 2001.