May 2nd marked the death anniversaries of both Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal, both significant influences and inspirations for the pedagogical approach that Theatre Action Project (now Creative Action) was founded upon. To celebrate their lives and work, here is biographical information and resources for further study:
Paulo Freire (1921-1997)
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). Freire was able to draw upon, and weave together, a number of strands of! thinking about educational practice and liberation.
He was born on September 19, 1921 in Recife, a port city of northeastern Brazil. Freire said of his parents that it was they who taught him at an early age to prize dialogue and to respect the choices of others-key elements in his understanding of adult education. His parents were middle class but suffered financial reverses so severe during the Great Depression that Freire learned what it is to go hungry. It was in childhood that he determined to dedicate his life to the struggle against poverty and class oppression.
After his family situation improved, Friere entered the University of Recife where he enrolled in the ! Faculty of Law and also studied philosophy and the psy! chology of language while working part-time as an instructor of Portuguese in a secondary school. During this s period he read the works of Marx and also Catholic intellectuals, all of whom strongly influenced his educational philosophy.
In 1944, Freire married Elza Maia Costa Oliveira of Recife, a grade school teacher who eventually bore three daughters and two sons. As a parent, Paulo’s interest in theories of education began to grow, leading him to do more extensive reading in education, philosophy, and the sociology of education than in law. In fact after passing the bar he quickly abandoned law as a means of earning a living in order to go to work as welfare official and later as director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the State of Pernambuco.
His experiences during those years of public service brought him into direct contact with the ur! ban poor. The educational and organizational assignments he undertook there led him to begin to formulate a means of communicating with the dispossessed that would later develop into his dialogical method for adult education. His involvement in adult education also included directing seminars and teaching courses in the history and philosophy of education at the University of Recife, where he was awarded a doctoral degree in 1959.
In the early 1960’s Brazil was a restless nation. Numerous reform movements flourished simultaneously as socialists, communists, students, labor leaders, populists, and Christian militants all sought their own socio-political goals. It was in the midst of this ferment and heightened expectations that Freire became the first director of the University of Recife’s Cultural ! Extension Service, which brought literacy programs to thou! sands of peasants in the northeast. Later, from June 1963 up to March 1964, Freire’s literacy teams worked throughout the entire nation. They claimed success in interesting adult illiterates to read and write in as short a time as thirty hours!
The secret of this success is found in the resistance of Freire and his co-workers to merely teaching the instrumental and decontextualized skills of reading and writing (“banking education”), but rather by presenting participation! in the political process through knowledge of reading and writing as a desirable and attainable goal for all Brazilians.
Freire won the attention of the poor and awakened their hope that they could start to have a say in the day-to-day decisions that affected their lives in the Brazilian countryside. Peasant passivity and fatalism waned as literacy became attainable and valued. Freire’s methods were incontestably politicizing and, in the eyes of the Brazilian military and land-owners anxious to stave off land reform, radical.Eventually, the military overthrew the reform-minded Goulart regime in Brazil in April of 1964. All progressive movements were suppressed and Freire was thrown into jail for his “subversive” activities. He spent a total of seventy days there where he was repeatedly questioned and accused. In prison he began his first major educational ! work, Education as the Practice of Freedom. This book, an an! alysis of Paulo’s failure to effect change in Brazil, had to be completed in Chile, because Freire was sent into exile.
After his expulsion from Brazil, Freire worked in Chile for five years with the adult education programs of the Eduardo Frei government headed by Waldemar Cortes who attracted international attention and UNESCO acknowledgment that Chile was one of the five nations of the world which had best succeeded in overcoming illiteracy.The mid-to-late 1960s were a period of broad social change in the United States when opposition to the country’s involvement in Southeast Asia brought police and militias onto university campuses. Racial unrest had, since 1965, flared into violence on the streets of American cities. Minority spokespersons and war protesters were publishing and teaching, and they influenced Freire profoundly. His reading of the America! n scene was an awakening to him because he found that repression and exclusion of the powerless from economic and political life was not limited to third world countries and cultures of dependence. He extended his definition of the third world from a geographical concern to a political concept, and the theme of violence became a greater preoccupation in his writings from that time on.
Toward the end of the 1960’s, Freire’s work brought him into contact with a new culture that changed his thought significantly. In 1969, at the invitation of Harvard University Freire left Latin America to come to the United States where he taught as Visiting Professor at Harvard’s Center for Studies in Education and Development and was also Fellow at the Center for the Study of Development and Social Change. It is during this period that Freire wrote his famous work, Pedagogy of t! he Oppressed, which was first published in 1972! . Education is to be the path to permanent liberation.
Five elements of Paulo Freire’s work appear as notable themes:
- Dialogue – mutual respect, awareness of others’ perspectives, efforts to work together
- Praxis – informed action
- Conscientization – developing consciousness and its power to effect transformative learning
- Awareness of experiential learning and locating educational activity in the communities where adult learners live – accessibility
- Religious/spiritual metaphors – the ‘class suicide’ or ‘Easter experience’ of the teacher. “The educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the deep significance of Easter.” Quoted by Paul Taylor (1993: 53). This approach must have resonated strongly in the lives of the predominantly Catholic Brazilian underclass.
After leaving Harvard in the early 1970’s, Freire ! served as consultant and eventually as Assistant Secretary of Education for the World Council of Churches in Switzerland and traveled all over the world lecturing and devoting his efforts to assisting educational programs of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, such as Tanzania and Guinea Bissau.
He also served as chair of the executive committee of the Institute for Cultural Action (IDAC), which is headquartered in Geneva.
In 1979, Paulo Freire was invited by the Brazilian government to return from exile, under an amnesty agreement. Freire took a faculty position at the University of Sao Paulo. In 1988 he was also appointed Minister of Education for the City of Sao Paulo-a position which made him responsible for guiding school reform within two-thirds of the nation’s schools.
In 1992, Paulo Freire celebrated his 70th birthda! y in New York with over two hundred friends-adult educators, educational reformers, scholars and “grass-roots” activists. Three days of festivity and workshops, sponsored by the New School for Social Research, marked the ongoing, vital impact of the life and work of Paulo Freire.
Paulo Freire died in Rio de Janeiro on May 2, 1997, at the age of 75. He leaves behind a legacy of commitment and hope for oppressed peoples throughout the world; “Paulo Freire Centers” around the world continue his work of adult education.
Many educators and educational theorists have presented critical analyses of his work in recent years, and it is true that the absolute, either/or, strictly Sociali! st approach that appears in Freire’s work is not necess! arily applicable in a post-Soviet, globalized trade environment. However, the sincerity and dedication Freire espoused in promoting education will always be relevant.
Further Resources on Paulo Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
The Freire Institute: http://www.freire.org/
The Freire Project: http://www.freireproject.org/
The Freire Institute of UCLA: http://www.paulofreireinstitute.org/
Read Pedagogy of the Oppressed: http://www.users.humboldt.edu/jwpowell/edreformFriere_pedagogy.pdf
Resources on Pedagogy of the Oppressed the book: http://www.pedagogyoftheoppressed.com/