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Paulo Freire’s Life, Philosophy and Teachings Research Paper

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Updated: May 7th, 2019


According to Gadotti (1994), one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century was Paulo Freire. Born and raised in Brazil, Freire was subjected to living in poverty, which later influenced his works. Freire is well known for advancing the theory of pedagogy by authoring the piece of work known as the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. This piece of work is termed as the main foundation on which the critical pedagogy movement was based. Freire made a great contribution to the theory, as well as by his actual deeds during his lifetime.

Thus, his works can be compared to the works of other theorists and educators like John Locke, Plato, John Dewey, Booker T. Washington, and Jean-Jaques Rousseau among other renowned philosophers. This paper explores life, philosophy and teachings of Paulo Freire. In the discussion, the paper takes an analytical comparison of the teachings and philosophies of Freire with those of other renowned philosophers, like Rousseau, Dubois, Locke, and Plato.

An overview of the works of Paolo Freire

Freire contributed a lot to philosophy as observed in the introduction. It is critical to look at a number of philosophical works of Freire in order to comprehend the scope of his study. Freire is considered as one of the most remarkable thinkers in education of the 20th century, who did a lot for development of the educational theory and philosophy.

The works of Freire can be traced back to the mid 1940s when he was working at the Department of Education and Culture in Pernambuco, one of the states in Brazil. His tenure with the department exposed him to an environment where he was working with the poor and illiterate population.

The nature of his work made him start thinking about developing a liberation theology to help salvage the masses from poverty and illiteracy. For one to participate in presidential elections in Brazil, one had to be literate. Owing to the fact that most people were illiterate, only the few literate had the chance to take part in the presidential elections, locking out a vast number of the people from taking part in this critical exercise.

Apart from the liberation theology, which resulted in a political uprising in the country forcing him to left the country, the other works of Freire include ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’. The ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ gave Freire his identity as a true educator because it explained most of the issues that were impeding the advancement of education.

This work was quite enticing as it had a lot of information on the interplay of factors in education, which impeded the development of the society. It was one of the most influential tools for liberalization the society from the antecedents of poverty, illiteracy and political suppression. He became a sought after education advisor (Gadotti, 1994).

The contribution of Freire to the philosophy of education is outstanding. It can be compared with both, an intense classical philosophical approaches by Plato and neo-classical approaches like the ones utilized by Karl Marx and other thinkers. A great number of his works can be easily interconnected with the neo-classical pieces of work in philosophy. It is vital to bring out the main argument in Freire’s work, ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, in order to understand the point and dimension of the argument about social change in the society.

A study of the philosophical work of Freire, particularly his contribution to educational theory and philosophy, reveals that education can be used as a tool for demolishing the structures of domination in the society, besides promoting social transformation. When compared with other works by other classical philosophers, it comes out that illiteracy is a form of oppression that cannot be washed away. People get oppressed because of their failure to understand the society in which they live (Schugurensky, 2011).

Understanding the theoretical underpinning in ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’

It should be noted that ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, was published in the year 1970, but it was accepted in Brazil only four years after because political regime in the country did not like the content of this work, which strongly addressed the issue of justice from the educational point of view.

The inspiration to develop this piece of work came from the situation of illiteracy in Brazil, which was utilized to support control over the people and authorize justice in the country. According to Freire, education ought to be used for liberating the oppressed by giving them a sense of humanity, which is critical to help people fight the oppressive conditions.

However, Freire reiterated that it could not be attained without the participation of the people who were oppressed. This implies that liberation is a process that begins with self. Therefore, the oppressed have to play a greater role in their redemption by showing the willingness to change their ways of life. This can be attained through careful thought and a re-examination of the role that can be played by the oppressed in the liberation movement (Freire, 2004).

According to Freire, it is quite difficult to separate education from pedagogy. This argument is based on the view that education is considered to be a political act. Freire was of the opinion that politics must be ”a diet for students and their teachers”. The manner of teaching and the education content itself act to fulfill political goals.

He argued that teachers in their own sense often have political notions, which they explore in the classrooms. According to Freire, education provides people with a lot of benefits, since through education men and women attain the sense of responsibility, which comes from the commitment of knowing the unknown (Freire, 2004).

Freire attacked what he referred to as ‘banking’ on education. This concept implies that the student is an empty entity that has to be filled by the teacher. Therefore, under this concept, the teachers are seen as the main sources of content in education.

This is undesirable according to Freire, as it makes teachers have absolute dominance over the students, who are only seen as the receivers of the content from the teachers. This inclination of the learning environment is undesirable as it depicts the control of thought, which is critical to the adaptation of people in the world.

The transformation of students into receiving entities suppresses the creative power of the students. There is a close relationship between the synthesis of education by Freire and the conception of education by Jean-Jaques Rousseau. In his conceptualization of education, Rousseau saw children as a critical part of the learning process. He termed them as active learners, meaning that they were not just meant to be receivers, but also contributors to the learning process (Golby et al., 1975).

The conceptualization of educational theory and philosophy by Freire

In the theoretical explanation of his philosophy, Freire made emphasis on the role of both teachers and students in what can be termed as a liberated education environment. Teachers are critical elements of every teaching environment, same as students. A simple reasoning is that the learning environment cannot be complete without the presence of either teaches or learners.

For learning to result in the social transformation and the liberalization of the society, both teachers and learners must play their roles. No one can conceive a teaching environment without the presence of teachers and students. According to the conceptualization of learning by Plato, Freire, and Buber, learning helps in the development of individuals who later play a major role in development of the society. Through imparting of knowledge to the individuals in the society, teachers also gain the sense of self realization.

Teachers are supposed to bringing about a socially conscious society. To attain this, the teachers should be in a position to understand the society. Therefore, the direct contact and participation of teachers in the developments taking place within society is a vital feature of attaining the goal of developing social consciousness (Shim, 2008).

It can be said that the active participation of Freire and Plato in the society acted as a means of understanding the society and a means of addressing the issues affecting the society through education. In his book, ‘The Republic’, Plato presents a two fold depiction of the society, a human being with education and a human being without education. Plato sought to derive an explanation of the role that is played by education in the life of man (Rosen, 2005).

On the other hand, Freire discovered the values of education by assessing the measure of education in the society. In an era where education was supposed to be the key to liberalizing the society, Freire discovered that it was being used as a tool for dividing and suppressing people in the society. Therefore, the philosophical concept of education was developed as a means of streamlining the role of education, as opposed to the manner in which it was being conducted in Brazil (Shim, 2008).

Education, according to Plato, is taken as a gradual process which aim is to lead to understanding. Therefore, Plato argued that human beings often exist in darkness, which implies the state of ignorance. The realization of the existence in the status of ignorance acts as the ignition to the search for light, which in this case means the search for education.

Plato heavily relied on abstractions when explaining the essence of education in the society, which was then marred by illiteracy, which compounded the rate of suffrage of people (Beck 1985). Freire conceived the status of illiteracy in the society by experiencing it. His argument about the liberalization of the society comes from the fact that the elites in the society were taking advantage of the state of illiteracy for pursuing the political and social goals.

Freire’s work also shows that education was the most valid way of propelling people from the bondage of darkness. Teaching is a facilitative process that requires consciousness on the part of the society, as well as the teachers. The freedom of human beings is highly dependent on the knowledge that freedom exists. Education enables men live, communicate, and think, which in turn helps in improving the life of men (Shim, 2008).

The role of teachers is expanded by the virtue that they have to aid students in synthesizing knowledge. Teachers are required to go beyond the teachings as coded in the learning materials used in imparting knowledge in students. By the virtue of borrowing from the happenings in the society, teachers have to help students stand against social change (Roberts, 2003).

This is a precursor to the attainment of a just society. A just society implies a society that embraces democracy and the observance of the rights of human beings. However, just as was opined by Socrates, the attainment of a just society is a complex exercise that requires a combination of numerous factors. Both teachers and students need to constantly and consistently play out their roles, something that is quite daunting to attain (Noddings, 2003).

Unlike the theoretical explanation of education, such as utilization of education as a means of attaining status in the society, as explained by John Locke, Freire’s approach to education is more radical as it entails the search for social order through participatory education. There are calls for revolution in the works by Freire, which are meant to free the oppressed people in the society through education. The issue of oppression is revealed in the philosophical works of Freire.

Therefore, the essence of education is making the oppressed realize the origins of their oppression. If education is to bring about social order and liberalize the society, then it has to be cultivated in such a way that the students are made to realize the need for education. On the same question of oppression, John Locke had emphasized the need for the development of human potential in all aspects as a way of promoting reason.

In the theory of social contract, Locke dwelled on the address of the issue of individual liberties by the government as one of the ways of attaining social order. Locke dwelt on the role of the state as a facilitating tool for the achievement of individual liberties. The same issue of individual liberties was expressed by Freire through educational activism, where the fate of individual liberty was seen as lying so much within the same individual (Wall, 2001).

The promotion of an educational environment that allowed people learn in a participative environment allows people to realize the sources of the oppressing factors. Freire further advanced that freedom of an individual is not only dependent on the sources of power in the society, but also on the ability of the individual to decentralize the opportunities, to learn things that are critical to the development of a balanced social state in the society.

Locke influenced Freire by bringing about the issue of individual liberties and the need to attain them in order to gain social justice and balance in the society. As a believer in practice rather than sheer praxis, Freire saw the need for actualizing the liberalization of individuals, which he did through active sensitization on how to attain liberalism through education (Eagan, 2010).

Freire reiterated that the setup of the education environment was critical to the attainment of liberation, and went further to explain how education ought to be structured to meet its objective. Contrary to the theoretical underpinning of Locke, Freire sidelined the role of the state and emphasized on the role of the teachers and the students (Ornstein & Levine, 2006).

Dewey developed a phonological insight into fear and what it brings in learning. Freire, on the other hand, sought to put away the aspect of fear in learning and education by emphasizing on the position and role of individuals in the attendance of knowledge. Fear, which is an emotional state, can be used to bar individuals from opening up to learning, which is a key to liberation (English & Stengel, 2010).


Paulo Freire is one of the renowned theorists of the 20th century. He is widely known for active contribution to the theory and philosophy of education. This paper has explored the life and the contribution of Freire to the theory and philosophy of education through the comparison of his work with the works of other classical and neo-classical philosophers.

From the research conducted in the paper, it can be stated that philosophy of education remains a wide field that can only be understood by exploring the diverse arguments from classical times to the contemporary theories. According to the paper, the contribution of Freire is based not only on the theoretical underpinnings of other philosophers, but also his active participation in advocating for liberty in the society through education.


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