PAULO FREIRE (pronounce it "Fr-air-ah" unless you can make a
Portuguese "r") is one of the most influential radical educators of our world.
A native of Recife, Brazil, he spent most of his early career working in
poverty-stricken areas of his homeland, developing methods for teaching
illiterate adults to read and write and (as he would say) to think critically
and, thereby, to take power over their own lives. Because he has created a
classroom where teachers and students have equal power and equal dignity,
his work has stood as a model for educators around the world. It led also to
sixteen years of exile after the military coup in Brazil in 1964. During that
time he taught in Europe and in the United States and worked for the Allende
government in Chile, training the teachers whose job it would be to bring
modern agricultural methods to the peasants. Freire (1921-1997) worked
with the adult education programs of UNESCO, the Chilean Institute of
Agrarian Reform, and the World Council of Churches. He was professor of
educational philosophy at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo. He is the
author of Education for Critical Consciousness, The Politics of Education,
The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Revised Edition (from which the following
essay is drawn), and Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation (with
Antonio Faundez). For Freire, education is not an objective process, if by
objective we mean "neutral" or "without bias or prejudice." Because
teachers could be said to have something that their students lack, it is
impossible to have a "neutral" classroom; and when teachers present a
subject to their students they also present a point of view on that subject. The
choice, according to Freire, is fairly simple: teachers either work “for the
liberation of the people-their humanization-or for their domestication, their
domination." The practice of teaching, however, is anything but simple.
According to Freire, a teacher's most crucial skill is his or her ability to
assist students' struggle to gain control over the conditions of their lives, and
this means helping them not only to know but "to know that they know."
Freire edited, along with Henry A. Giroux of Miami University in Ohio, a
series of books on education and teaching. In Literacy: Reading the Word
and the World, a book for the series, Freire describes the interrelationship
between reading the written word and understanding the world that
My parents introduced me to reading the word at a certain moment
in this rich experience of understanding my immediate world.
Deciphering the word flowed naturally from reading my particular
world; it was not something superimposed on it. I learned to read
and write on the grounds of the backyard of my house, in the shade
of the mango trees, with words from my world rather than from the
wider world of my parents. The earth was my blackboard, the sticks
For Freire, reading the written word involves understanding a text in its
very particular social and historical context. Thus reading always involves
"critical perception, interpretation, and rewriting of what is read."
The “Banking” Concept of Education
A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any
level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally
narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject
(the teacher) and patient listening Objects (the students). The
contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in
the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified.
Education is suffering from narration sickness.
The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static,
compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic
completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His
task is to "fill" the students with the contents of his narration --
contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the
totality that engendered them and could give them significance.
Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow,
alienated, and alienating verbosity.
The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education,
then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power. "Four
times four is sixteen; the capital of Para is Belem." The student
records, memorizes, and repeats these phrases without perceiving
what four times four really means, or realizing the true significance
of "capital" in the affirmation "the capital of Para is Belem," that is,
what Belem means for Para and what Para means for Brazil.
Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to
memorize mechanically the narrated account. Worse yet, it turns
them into "containers," into "receptacles" to be "filled" by the
teachers. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a
teachers she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves
to be filled, the better students they are.
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the
students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead
of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes
deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.