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Pedagogy of the Oppressed – what is it and why its still relevant.

I originally wrote this for the forthcoming book, Beautiful Trouble. Because so much of Practicing Freedom's work is inspired by it, I thought I repost the mini-chapter here: I'd love feedback!

Not just the title of a book by Paulo Freire, a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an approach to education and organizing to transform oppressive structures and create a more equitable, caring and beautiful world through action and reflection that is co-created with those who have been marginalized and dehumanized.

In 1962, Paulo Freire created culture circles in Northeastern Brazil to support 300 suger-cane workers to teach each other how to read the word and their world in 45 days, which enabled them to register to vote. These Culture Circles that began with Sugar Cane workers, catalyzed thousands more. Each with the purpose of not just literacy, but conscientization, or which involves people joining with their peers to name their world by reflecting on their conditions, imagining a better world, and then taking action to create it. This approach, developed as much by Freire as the workers he educated, was so galvanizing that he was jailed and exiled by the Military Government within two years.

Over a lifetime of working with revolutionary organizers and educators both in exile and back in Brazil, Freire offers a compass to direct us towards liberation from structures of oppression. This compass is both an approach to education and organizing and a lens through which to understand systems of oppression in order to transform them. It flips mainstream ideas of education and organizing on their heads by insisting that true knowledge and expertise already exists with people – they need no deposits of information (what Freire calls Banking Education) or propaganda to convince them of their problems. What is required is dialogue, respect, love for humanity, and praxis or action and reflection to transform the world.

Pedagogy of the Opressed is an education as a practice of freedom, which Freire contrasts with education as a practice of domination:

Problem-posing Education; Education as a practice of freedom Banking Education; Education as the practice of domination
  • Primary goal is conscientization.
  • Primary goal is to adapt people to their oppressive conditions.
  • Both educator and educand (Freire’s word for student in an attempt to convey a more equitable relationship) teach and learn from each other as partners..
  • Teacher attempts to control thinking and action of the students who are ignorant objects
  • Assumes that the world, everything and everyone is interrelated..
  • Assumes that people are merely in the world, not connected to it or each other.
  • Begins with context; the educands’ “historicity” , “dynamic present” and incomplete future..
  • Removes students from their historical, current and future context. Teaches reality as complete and unchangeable.
  • Dialogue about topics that the educand has some prior experience of..
  • Lectures about topics the students have no connection to.
  • Words are thick with meaning and have transforming power..
  • Words are empty and alienating.
  • Educands are posed with problems that relate to their lives and respond by creatively posing new challenges and new understandings..
  • Students are meekly filled as empty containers (and tested to see how much leaked out)
  • Seeks to transform society to rehumanize both the oppressed and oppressor..
  • Treats oppressed people as on the margins of a healthy society who need to be incorporated into it.
  • Integral to the revolutionary process – not something to get to after the revolution.
  • Integral to maintaining systems of oppression as they a
















How do you take the ideas above and translate them into a classroom or community setting? While methods have been documented, Freire wanted them to be constantly recreated and adapted to fit different realities, struggles, and generations. Saying that, here are some common practices guided by a Pedagogy of the Oppressed and used in the associated fields of Popular Education, Critical Pedagogy, Theater of the Oppressed, and Ecopedagogy.

  • Dialogue: Freire explains that what most people think of as dialogue is really a debate, where people compete to deposit ideas into the other or name the world on behalf of the other as an end in itself. However “true dialogue” is means for deeper understanding, in which the world is named through both lived experience and theory and explores common patterns among the participants as an act of creation and re-creation of knowledge in order to generate action.
  • Participatory Action Research: In this thorough process of reflection and action, people explore the problems they face in their community, and then find solutions through gathering data from their peers, analyzing the data and then taking informed action. It’s a model of community organizing that builds the capacity and expertise of people on the front-line of a problem.
  • Coding: Freire’s literacy method begins with generating “codes” or images that speak a thousand words about the world of the participants. These codes become the subject of subsequent dialogues and through a “decoding” of the group’s life circumstances, the student-teachers recognize their right to a worldview -- one in which they’ve been screwed. This new confidence and clarity of vision leads directly to praxis.

Many of our movements today are fueled by non-profit organizations that strategize behind closed doors and advance their campaigns through “organizing” people to support their agendas. Imagine movements led by people on the frontlines of the crisis’s we face. Imagine popular education, creative dialogue and participatory action research generating the solutions that the people are supported and funded to implement themselves. This, according to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, can transform our world.

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10 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Pedagogy of the Oppressed – what is it and why its still relevant.”

  1. John O'Malley February 18, 2016 at 1:33 am

    Trying to get on your mailing list.
    Not having any luck.


    • levana May 17, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Hey Jack – this website is essentially dead – didn’t realize that this particular web page was still available. Our new website is http://www.collabchange.org – the email list is easy to get on over there

  2. Jan May 13, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    During my studies in education, this book was the most difficult, but significant one, I was ever assigned to read and interpret to my peers. Although I am not a Marxist, it completely changed my way of thinking and revealed to me, exponentially, a view applicable to many situations in life. It is still so relevant to many social issues in 2016 that I believe it should be a required reading for many or most disciplines. Here I am again, using this book for reflection and answers.

  3. Roberto November 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    I agree Jan. It was required reading for me in Social Philosophy. I am now using it 30 years later as I teach community water resources. I find great resistance from “development professionals” but fantastic support from participants once we get rolling and they take over.

  4. Anthony December 13, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Jan, Thank you for such a perspicacious comment! Currently, I am taking Educational Psychology at my Alma Mater in order to ameliorate my ability to motivate convicted felons and other GED students. Apart from our textbook, no other books were required or recommended, per se. Ergo, I’m sure you can guess what one of the books I will be reading during the forthcoming holiday hiatus. As an autodidact, I read “The Closing of the American Mind”, which was profoundly prescient. Upon reading it, you may or may not agree wirh Bloom’s analysis of academia. Thanks again and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  5. Josue January 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    This is a great reading. Because everyone can learn from each other.
    Little to big education can make an impact in the world with the right people.

  6. Payton January 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Education and learning should be a give and take relationship . Whether you are learning from a peer or a professor . The banking education is more like a dictatorship where they force you to learn and teaching doesn’t seem fun or practical. Problem posing education is more humane for sure and your guaranteed to get better results. Pedagogy the method and art of teaching as a practice is very important because studying better ways and methods of how we learn as people w unlock and change the way we learn tomorrow .

  7. winfield bickley March 13, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. (1) Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

    [Footnote # 1: The current movements of rebellion, especially those of youth, while they necessarily reflect the peculiarities of their respective settings, manifest in their essence this preoccupation with people as beings in the world and with the world — preoccupation with what and how they are “being.” As they place consumer civilization in judgment, denounce bureaucracies of all types, demand the transformation of the universities (changing the rigid nature of the teacher-student relationship and placing that relationship within the context of reality), propose the transformation of reality itself so that universities can be renewed, attack old orders and established institutions in the attempt to affirm human beings as the Subjects of decision, all these movements reflect the style of our age, which is more anthropological than anthropocentric.]

    But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet it is affirmed by that very negation. It is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; it is affirmed by the yearning of the oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity.

    Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within history; but it is not an historical vocation. Indeed, to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to cynicism or total despair. The struggle for humanization, for the emancipation of labor, for the overcoming of alienation, for the affirmation of men and women as persons would be meaningless. This struggle is possible only because dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.

    Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

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The Practicing Freedom Collective supports communities to generate and enact their own solutions while strengthening their relationships through Popular Education practices. We amplify the liberatory, participatory and humanizing potential of programs, schools, campaigns, organizations and businesses working to create systemic social and cultural change. We believe that if we want our institutions, and political and economic systems to be participatory and democratic, then each step of the process to transform them should be participatory and democratic as well.

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