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Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Paulo Freire publishes Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Prepared by Sarah Hendriks (OISE/UT)

Twenty-five years after the first publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the influential text which has been hailed by many as the canon of radical educational pedagogy, Paulo Freire set out to revisit this text--to unveil its meaning, to confront its critics, to describe its process, and to legitimate its relevance within the context of progressive post-modernity. In Pedagogy of Hope, Freire accomplishes these tasks with honesty and intense self-reflection, highlighting again his conception of a dialogical and anti-authoritarian practice of education. For Freire, the writing of Pedagogy of Hope was "an adventure in unveiling" (p. 7), an opportunity to relive and excavate the process and journeys which directed the development of his pedagogical thought. Utilizing a confessional voice, Freire's words reflect both his personal and political conception of an education which cannot, or rather, should not be politically neutral. This is more than just an "adventure in unveiling" since Freire utilizes this book as an opportunity to provide a discerning assessment of education in the past twenty-five years. In essence, Pedagogy of Hope attempts, as Freire says, to provide "a better restatement of what I have already said" (p. 52).

However, Pedagogy of Hope achieves more than simply restating Freire's original thought. Indeed, he seeks "to do some 'new' saying...by speaking of hope" (p. 52). This expansion of his pedagogical thought is perhaps not new, but rather it has become more focused and defined. Freire discusses, analyzes and finally defends the concept of hope as an integral component of progressive education. Freire presents his readers with an understanding of hope which is neither static nor solely emotional. Rather, hope is an active force which is imperative to the success of problem-posing education and the conscientization process. Conversely, hopelessness is a "concrete entity" (p. 8) created by economic, historical and social forces of oppression, and is intensified in the absence of a "critical knowledge of reality" (p. 30).

In a clearer voice than was articulated in Pedagogy of the Oppressed1, Freire reminds us that a critical understanding of oppression will not succeed in and of itself in achieving liberation from oppression. Nevertheless, the comprehension of oppression is "indispensable" (p. 31) to a new vision of the world based on justice and freedom. Hope helps us to "understand human existence, and the struggle needed to improve it.." (p. 8). In other words, hope is imperative, yet in isolation it is insufficient: "Alone, [hope] does not win. But without it, my struggle will be weak and wobbly" (p. 8). Hope then , inspiring and inspired by understanding is, as Freire repeatedly states, an "ontological need" (p. 8), essential to both our being and knowing, integral to both epistemology and ontology.

Freire's message of hope, amongst others, applies to a variety of readers. Freire is not writing for any single intended audience since the first person voice that he employs suggests that he has written Pedagogy of Hope as a quasi-confessional piece. In addition, Freire writes for the intellectuals of the 1970s who have succumbed to the neo-liberal temptation of complacency and also for the men and women around the world "who have fallen in the just fight" (p. 195). Freire also writes for his family and friends who have been a significant part of the process and history of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, including his wife (p. 64), his Chilean friends (p. 62) and other various rural workers (p. 44). Lastly, Pedagogy of Hope is written for the progressive educators of today who desire direction and clarification of an effective methodology for popular education.2 Thus, the book appeals to both those who are very familiar with Freire's philosophies and those to whom his radical pedagogy is new.

Regardless of one's knowledge and background of Freire, or what has become known as the 'Freirean method' of education, Pedagogy of Hope effectively clarifies the central elements espoused in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire continues to discourse on the theme of political education through expanding upon the differences between an authoritarian 'banking method' of education versus a dialogical 'problem-posing' education. Specifically, Freire's focus in Pedagogy of Hope revolves around the significance of pedagogical dialogue in both the language and content of education which is based upon a democratic relationship between teacher and student (p. 119).

Freire carefully deconstructs language as a powerful tool capable of cultivating either dominance or freedom. Freire begins by sharing his personal experience during a one day seminar in the 1950s when he received "the clearest and most bruising lesson" (p. 24) in his life as an educator. The lesson which influenced Freire so distinctly was delivered through a labourer who sat in the audience that night listening to Freire's presentation. After Freire concluded, the labourer stood up and directly challenged Freire to understand the world and its reality of the people to whom he addressed. Through the use of his "labourer's syntax and rhythm" (p. 26) and through the employment of metaphors "so common to popular discourse" (p. 26), this labourer, whom Freire tells us he has never forgotten, painted a picture of the people's existence, including their poverty, language, homes and families, and thus greatly influenced the development of Freire's pedagogical conception of education. Consequently, Freire shares and develops this challenge with all potential progressive educators: to understand, appreciate, and respect the "knowledge of living experience"3 as expressed through the specific language of popular discourse. Thus, the task of democratic progressive education includes the enabling of "the popular classes to develop their language...which, emerging from and returning upon their reality, sketches out the conjectures, the designs, the anticipations of their new world" (p. 39). It is language which forms a knowledge of living experience that is essential to the practice of a pedagogy of hope.

Likewise, Freire maintains a progressive vision premised upon the democratic participation of families, social organizations and communities in choosing the content of education. In the same way that language must begin with an understanding of popular discourse, so too should the programmatic content of education be chosen by the people. The simultaneous reading of both context and text, or what Freire terms a "reading of the world and a reading of the word" (p. 105), is integral to the content of problem-posing education. Freire's vision of "democratizing the power of choosing content" (p. 100) does not imply the complete withdrawal of the educator. Rather, a dialogical relationship between both the educators and the educands will ensure that the content is situated within the people's "reading of the world" (p. 111), and within an environment in which the educator can also offer his or her own analysis of the world.4 This formulates Freire's defence of adult literacy education which empowers people to engage in dialectical solidarity through a critical awareness of the world. Moreover, Freire asserts that the acquisition of language developed through the democratization of education is instrumental to the formation of identity: "Dialogue is meaningful precisely because the dialogical subjects, the agents in the dialogue, not only retain their identity, but actively defend it, and thus grow together" (p. 117). Problem-posing education which is based upon participatory dialogue is imperative to the praxis of education and thus directly relates to the people's assertion of their human rights, or, in Coben's words, their "battle for citizenship".5 For Freire, democratic popular education provides the means of empowering people to own their language and thus attain citizenship (p. 39).6 Thus, the importance of a dialogical relationship which merges teacher and student is reaffirmed in Pedagogy of Hope through Freire's defence of popular discourse and the democratization of content in education.

Although Freire reiterates his fundamental themes expressed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he devotes a large section of Pedagogy of Hope to the defence of his progressive thought which has come under attack over the past twenty-five years. Freire directly responds to the critics who deemed Pedagogy of the Oppressed as an idealized, inconsistent and localized analysis of the power relations which contribute to the continued existence of a world polarized by the inequalities of wealth and poverty, freedom and oppression. According to Denis Collins, the entire book is "an elaboration on [Freire's] dissatisfaction with all the labels critics have burdened him with".7

Firstly, Freire responds to the criticism that erupted in the 1970s against the sexist language which, in his words, "marks the whole book" (p. 65). Freire acknowledges and concurs with this criticism, apologizing for his use of neo-colonial and discriminatory language which is incompatible with his message of liberation (p. 65). Although some feminists remain critical towards Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in spite of the inclusive Twentieth Anniversary Edition, others seek to differentiate between his message of liberation and the language of which he employed.8

The language utilized in Pedagogy of the Oppressed was further criticized for being pompous, inaccessible and elitist. Freire responds to this criticism by asserting that aesthetic language should be a universal pursuit (p. 71). However, Freire's language contradicts the very essence of his pedagogy. While Freire advocates that educators gain an understanding of the "knowledge of living experience" through popular discourse, he does not likewise reflect this appeal in his own writing. Freire is inconsistent--he agrees with the criticism against his sexist language but refuses to apply this dictum to the rest of his discourse, therefore limiting his text to a specific audience. While he asserts that "changing language is part of the process of changing the world" (p. 68), Freire does not leave room for the inclusion of popular discourse within the text of his own pedagogy.

Criticized for promoting cultural invasion, Freire affirms his commitment to a pedagogy of political education by reasserting his vision of an anti-sectarian and anti-authoritarian practice of education. Freire does not deny that his methodology contains social and political purposes which, if misused, are potentially manipulative. However, he asserts that true respect for popular knowledge, enacted with humility, consistency and tolerance will necessarily imply respect for the cultural context of the educands.

Freire likewise rejects the suggestion that his focus on popular knowledge limits the educands' understanding of global structures. In defence of popular knowledge, Freire declares that such knowledge must be the starting point of popular education, with the purpose of going beyond this knowledge to a critical analysis of the world. Rejecting the assumption that his pedagogy was locally bound, Freire asserts himself by stating that "never, however, have I said that these programs...ought to remain absolutely bound up with local reality" (p. 86). The existential experience of the people must first become the source of analysis before global economic structures can be integrated.

Lastly, Pedagogy of Hope speaks directly to the Marxist criticism of the 1970s which condemned Freire for neglecting the class struggle in his analysis of the oppressed. This criticism maintains that Freire utilized a "vague concept of the oppressed" (p. 89), which Freire rejects by asserting that the oppressed do not need to have social classes defined on their behalf. Freire's wants to avoid reducing the people "to a pure reflex of socio-economic structures" (p. 89). Freire likewise rejects the presumptions that his pedagogy presents an idealistic or utopian vision of humanity and social transformation. Here, it is important to consider the pragmatic aspects of Freire's work.9

In light of the above criticism, it is ironic that Freire has simultaneously been condemned for placing too much emphasis on the class struggle in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. These critics claim that Freire limits his conception of oppression to an understanding of economic oppression within an authoritarian political structure. In Pedagogy of Hope Freire expands his conception of oppression to include the complexities of both racial and gender oppression. Although Freire recognizes the interconnected relationships between racial, gender and class discrimination, he nevertheless gives pre-eminence to classism as the dominant form of discrimination, In Freire's eyes, an understanding of social class acts as the apex to the understanding of all oppression: "Without a reference to the division between the classes, however, I, for one, fail to understand either phenomenon--racial discrimination or sexual--in its totality..." (p. 156). Freire blames anti-racist and anti-sexist movements for neglecting to integrate a concept of social class within their analyses of discrimination. This perspective of class as the predominant form of oppression is both inconsistent and simplistic given that it neglects to accommodate, as Coben points out, the "multifaceted and contradictory nature of differential power relationships in terms of gender, class or any other social category".10

Moreover, Freire utilizes a discourse of human rights in order to contextualize his central themes. Even here, however, his conception of human rights is bound up by a preoccupation with class divisions. While Freire promotes human rights education and incorporates the necessity of a rights-based culture within his pedagogy, he limits his analysis by focusing on the structural failures of society that create class inequalities which ultimately result in the denial of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that Freire calls for "unity in diversity" and a "respect for differences" (p. 157), his absorption with the class struggle does not leave room for the existence of oppression within social groups. Indeed, Freire's focus on class discrimination ignores the reality that, as Daniel Schugurensky points out, human beings can be simultaneously oppressed and oppressors according to their different identities (class, gender, race, age, ability, religion, etc.).11

Finally, Pedagogy of Hope addresses the current neo-liberal discourse which denies the continued existence of social classes within the context of a post-Cold War world. Freire rejects this assumption by reasserting that the relationship between classes remains a major force in the movement of politics today. Freire warns all progressive educators to be wary of the discourse which, as he states, "masquerades as post-modernity" (p. 187). Freire remains optimistic that the continued existence of social classes in today's world provides educators with an opportunity to seek "the socialist dream, purified of its authoritarian distortions..." (p. 96).

Twenty-five years after the first publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire's message of liberation, critical consciousness, solidarity and hope continues to impact the world today. Translated into numerous languages, and having sold more than five hundred thousand copies world-wide, Pedagogy of the Oppressed continues to be read, debated and discussed all over the world by progressive educators (and others) who seek to embrace Freire's radical pedagogy. Freire's last book before his death, Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a testimony to the relevance and on-going influence of his central thematic concerns in education, namely, the unification of action and analysis, the centrality of dialogue in the relationship between educators and educands, and the significance of critical awareness as imperative to the process of learning. Indeed, Freire's anti-sectarian and anti-authoritarian defence of critical radicalism is further defined and clarified within the text of Pedagogy of Hope.

Why do these texts maintain their popularity and influence today? The universal appeal of Freire's message partially explains the on-going relevance of his works. The application of Freire's central themes is not limited to the arena of education, but also maintains considerable influence in other disciplines such as political science, anthropology, post-colonial theory, liberation theology, international development studies, urban planning, feminism, and sociology.

In addition, Freire's personal commitment to critical analysis and reflection is a model of learning and teaching which maintains lasting appeal with his readers. Freire unites theory and practice not only in his conception of education, but also in the very style of writing which he employs in Pedagogy of Hope. Indeed, Freire's dialogical method of writing, as if he were letting us read the very pages of his personal diary, captivates his audience and thus his message becomes personally applicable to our own lives and practice of education. Freire's willingness to be vulnerable with his readers, to let us draw near to his inner thoughts and emotions, challenges us to be constantly evaluating the consistency of our words and actions as educators. By exemplifying a search for knowledge, consistency and transparency in his own life, Freire then invites other progressive educators to do the same, to "keep their eyes always open, along with their ears, and their whole soul...Hence the exigency they must impose on themselves of growing ever more tolerant, of waxing ever more open and forthright, of turning ever more critical, of becoming ever more curious" (p. 80). Freire's willingness to let us witness through his writing the emotional foundations of his pedagogical thought becomes a model of progressive education which is not severed from emotion. Indeed, Freire writes Pedagogy of Hope, chronicling his personal journey of learning, in "rage and love" (p. 10). He reminds us that the theoretical basis espoused in Pedagogy of the Oppressed must not be detached from our "feelings, passion, desires, fear, insight, the courage to love, to be angry" (p. 180).

The social and political climate of the 1990s which Pedagogy of Hope has met seems very different to the historical context of Pedagogy of the Oppressed when it was initially published in the early 1970s. Freire tells us, with much emotion, of his difficult experience living in exile and of the many barriers which Pedagogy of the Oppressed faced upon publication. Freire wrote this influential text during an "intensely troubled moment in history" (p. 120) when much of Latin America, and indeed the world, was under authoritarian regimes. However, Freire rejects the neo-liberal assumption that the disintegration of authoritarian socialism will bring about the end of social classes and social injustice. Instead, Freire reminds us that our times today are still distinctly tumultuous. Given the increase of world wide poverty, the prevalence of food insecurity, the detrimental impact of structural adjustment programs, Freire's message of liberation and oppression is still relevant today. We are not, he reminds us, living in a "new history" (p. 197). In fact, the struggle between social classes is still very real, as is the ideology of freedom declared by Freire in his pedagogy. Thus, Pedagogy of Hope is a defence of critical radicalism and progressivism in the post-modern world of the 1990s and beyond. Freire's message of hope will reaffirm our commitment to a new world based on justice and freedom. This is Paulo Freire's legacy.


1. The significance of hope in Pedagogy of the Oppressed is evident, though not as straightforward. For example, Freire links the process of liberation with the people's perception of their condition: "...they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting--and therefore challenging" (1998: 66).

2. Freire tells us that he is specifically writing in order to differentiate between "a progressive educator from his or her reactionary colleague" (p. 46).

3. Pedagogy of the Oppressed likewise stressed a pedagogy of education which begins with the present reality of the people's lives: "...the point of departure must always be with men and women in the 'here and now', which constitutes the situation within which they are submerged, from which they emerge, and in which they intervene" (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1998: 66).

4. In Freire's words: "The role of the progressive educator, which neither can nor ought to be omitted, in offering her or his 'reading of the world' is to bring out the fact that there are other 'readings of the world', different from the one being offered as the educator's own, and at times antagonistic to it" (p. 112).

5. Diana Coben, Radical Heroes: Gramsci, Freire and the Politics of Adult Education (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998) 199.

6. Daniel Schugurensky points out the integral relationship between citizenship, education and human rights given that Freire "was interested in furthering the notion of radical citizenship and...the development of a citizenship education that focuses on civil and political rights". See Daniel Schugurensky, "The Legacy of Paulo Freire: a critical review of his contributions," Convergence 31.1 & 2 (1998): 26.

7. Denis E. Collins, "From Oppression to Hope: Freire's Journey toward Utopia," Anthropology and Education Quarterly 29.1 (March 1998): 122.

8. For example, bell hooks states that Freire's exclusive language is "a source of anguish for it represents a blind spot in the vision of men who have profound insight. And yet, I never wish to see a critique of this blind spot overshadow anyone's (and feminists in particular) capacity to learn from the insights...Freire's sexism is indicated by the language in his early works notwithstanding that there is so much that remains liberatory". See bell hooks, "bell hooks Speaking about Paulo Freire--the Man, His Work." Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter. Eds. Peter McLaren and Peter Leonard (London: Routledge, 1993), 148.

9. Peter McLaren draws our attention to Freire's influence upon the influx of international literacy campaigns as proof of his pedagogy of "practical awareness that presages critical action". See Peter McLaren, "Paulo Freire's Legacy of Hope and Struggle," Theory, Culture & Society 14.4 (1997): 147-153.

10. Coben, op. cit., p. 97.

11. Schugurensky, op. cit., p. 23.

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