Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books

This website, dedicated to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), consists of a collection of reviews of his books and links to other pages on Freire. The books are listed in chronological order. When the book has been translated into English, the first date refers to the original publication. 

The website was created by Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Freire, Paulo (1997). Pedagogy of the Heart. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.

Review by Deanna Yerichuk (OISE/University of Toronto), 2004

Pedagogy of the Heart is one of the last writings of Paulo Freire; contained within this small book are many reflections on his near-forty-year career in popular education. Freire connects his personal and professional experiences to a broader political, economic and social context, and true to his dedication to dialogism, he engages many theories and arguments in this book, including his own. Rather than a coherent treatise, however, Freire meanders his way through multiple topics, ideas, arguments and reminiscences, providing less a coherent argument than multi-layered thoughts, arguments and responses to his own life experiences and theories, as well as theories and arguments shaping pedagogical ideology.

Freire concentrates most of his writing on the prospect of creating truly democratic states in the face of globalized neoliberalism. The original title of this book was Under the Shade of This Mango Tree, and Freire uses the metaphor of the mango tree to uncover and discuss many key themes throughout the book. I will use the mango tree metaphor to uncover and analyze several of the major key themes that Freire covers in his book, including: the mango tree as history, the mango tree as reflection, and the mango tree as connection to the world.

Mango Tree as History

Freire's "first world was the yard in [his] house, with the mango trees…" (37), and so he begins linking his personal experience to historical national and international moments. Most important, however, is his discussion of history itself, taking on and unequivocally rejecting post-modernist positions on history. Freire appears to be responding to the post-modernist notion of "the death of history," arguing that the phrase alone "implies the death of women and men" (32). If post-modernism argues that there is no grand narrative, no totalizing History, that each moment of each individual's experience is constituted as we go, there actually seems to me to be a congruence between post-modernism and Freire's assertion that individuals' experiences and knowledge constitute the real history, not the textbooks or the oppressors. Perhaps where Freire differs from post-modernism is that at its most extreme, post-modernism resists any attempts to put individual experiences together in any collective way, which would create a structure that could again be totalizing. Freire instead argues that there must be room to synthesize experience into a collective history for us to work collectively together, to work in solidarity. Schugurensky in fact argues that Freire is walking a careful line between the determinism of modernism and the final hopelessness of post-modernism: "As the true revolutionary humanist, he never lost faith in the capacity of human beings to build a better world together. For this reason, while he cautioned us against the positivism and authoritarianism inherent in modernist projects, he also alerted us to the reactionary version of post-modernism that assumes the disappearance of dreams and utopias (1998, p. 21).

Freire's careful ideological path is critical to elucidating his pedagogical framework. The past must be seen as possibility if the future is to break out of a fatalistic determinism (36-37). Freire links "fatalistic determinism" to neoliberal discourse predicated on the assumption that the oppressed must suffer because things cannot be any different than how they are, therefore avoiding the possibility of critically analyzing the system. Freire's experience has been that so often the marginalized in society lack any sort of hope for the future because their personal histories have been filled with hopelessness (for a discussion on hope and education, see Freire 1994). Educators need to participate in the struggle to transform fatalism into a possible dream, what Freire terms "problematizing the future" (42). How is this transformation achieved? For Freire, the past links to the future through "today," and uses his own exile as an example, arguing that while in exile, he did not live only in the past, but existed in the present to prepare himself for possible return (67). The key is for the oppressed to engage in solidarity and action, to open their minds and experiences to hope and possibility through collective experience. He does not in any way pretend that this is an easy transformation: "hope of liberation does not mean liberation already. It is necessary to fight for it, within historically favourable conditions. If they do not exist, we must hopefully labour to create them" (44). Educators/activists must foster hope and visions to turn people towards possibility and away from fatalism, mobilizing toward actions for social change.

Mango Tree as Reflection

Freire connects reflections on his childhood to examining history as a way of gaining critical consciousness. For Freire, the retreat to his mango tree is an opportunity to reflect critically through dialogical thinking, "asking myself questions, or talking to myself" (29). Dialogue, or as Freire terms it in this book, dialogism, is emphasized as a key cornerstone of popular education. In fact, the very structure of this book is predicated on dialogism, as Freire nuances his own theories developed in the previous forty years by engaging with other theories and arguments. This dialogical approach to writing makes for difficult reading; the themes shift back and forth, as Freire circles over similar ground, diverts off to new topics and returns to deepen and nuance earlier arguments.

If accessibility is considered important, this is one of my critiques of the book. Without understanding Freire's underpinning theoretical concepts, and without some familiarity with the arguments and theories of others to which Freire responds, the book becomes bewildering, as Freire assumes a fair amount of knowledge on behalf of his reader. The Foreword (by Carnoy), the Preface (by Dowbor), and the extensive and detailed notes provided by Ana Maria Araújo Freire, all serve to provide global and local (Brazilian) context for Freire's writing, but Freire seems more than ever to be engaging the reader in a dialogical conversation. For novice readers, the effect is similar to walking into a conversation that's well over half-way complete. However, for readers familiar with Freire's work, theories and arguments, this book deepens and enhances Freire's pedagogical framework, inspiring readers to be satisfied with a more complex analysis, or perhaps even encouraging the reader to engage even further in the dialogue, and respond back.

Freire addresses dialogism directly within the content of Pedagogy of the Heart. For Freire, communication lies at the heart of dialogism (92), and demands that the oppressed, educators and progressive governments alike engage in true dialogue. In fact, Freire argues that dialogism is the heart of democracy, asserting that "democracy is taught and learned through the practice of democracy" (91), in which all participants including leaders must sincerely engage in listening, problem-solving and honest communications. To engage in dialogism, in true democracy, Freire calls for a balance of humility, which respects "adverse judgement from the people," and an unwavering commitment to "utopia of democracy" (60). The role of democratic leadership specifically is to overcome "authoritarian systems and create the conditions for decision making of a dialogic nature" (61). Freire discusses his work with the Sao Paulo Department of Education in 1989-1992 as an example of effective democratic leadership, pointing specifically to implementation of new policies and programs such as teacher professional development with a critical reflection and decentralizing decision-making powers to School Councils. Dialogism "is a requirement of human nature and also a sign of the educator's democratic stand." (92) For Freire, dialogism is fundamental not just to a democratic education but to democracy itself.

Several times in this book, Freire asserts (as he did consistently throughout his career) the importance of critical reflection and analysis in education, which he calls 'positive reflection' (30). His focus on neoliberalism makes this assertion all the more important, given that a neoliberal vision of education "reinforces a pseudoneutrality of the educational practice, reducing it to the transfer of informational content to learners" (47) - a phenomenon that Freire (1970) has referred to in the past as "banking education." Freire takes to task formerly progressive academics who now try to move "above and beyond ideology," which he believes is ultimately tantamount to a conservative position, reinscribing neoliberal ideology by pretending it does not exist. The depoliticization of education has always worked in the interest of the dominant classes and for Freire, critical reflection is a critical cornerstone for the marginalized to begin fighting oppression.

In this book, Freire is careful to balance critical thinking with skills development. He notes that technical mastery is just as important for students as political understanding is for a citizen. Still holding firm to his belief of reading the text/word and reading the context/world, Freire appears to be arguing that for this equation to make sense, educators cannot forget about the text/word (skills building) and focus solely on the context/world (critical consciousness). Then, balanced focus is necessary for true pedagogical success and transformational change.

Mango Tree as Connection to World

The mango tree also represents location and connection for Freire, moving from the local to the global. He appears to be responding to the criticisms that his pedagogical paradigm is too rooted in the local and specific contexts, with little acknowledgement of a global context. Here Freire argues that "the more rooted I am in my location, the more I extend myself to other places so as to become a citizen of the world" (39). Freire walks another careful line here in trying to remain optimistic and hopeful without becoming delusional or ignoring the hardships within a given local context, again likely responding to criticisms from both sides that his pedagogy falls either too far on the negative or too far on the positive. Instead, Freire works to hold a local social/economic/cultural context in all of its contradictions, and assumes all do the same. In reflecting on his homeland, Freire writes: My homeland is, above all, a space in time that involves geography, history, culture. My homeland is also pain, hunger, misery. It is also hope of millions who remain hungry for social justice. (40)

Freire goes on to give the example of a privileged university professor who experiences his privilege but also must live in the midst of the cruel reality of millions dying of hunger. Through this example, Freire understates the importance of actively bringing contradictions to light, and leaves the impression that they are self-evident simply because we exist in them. Freire's point that people of privilege must live within, and therefore must be aware of, such contradiction does not necessarily bear out, within a global neoliberal paradigm. Neoliberalism is so pervasive and so difficult to fight because it encourages people of privilege not to see contradictions. Instead, neoliberal discourse falsely insists that the life of the privileged is the life of everyone; if it is not, it is through the choices of particular individuals, and not because society is structured to ensure that some hold power and knowledge while many others are marginalized. It seems likely that Freire would argue that critical thinking must be in place to be able to see and hold these contradictions, but his writing suggests that we all naturally exist in, and therefore see, the contradictions around us. Critical thinking on the parts of the privileged as well as the oppressed must be necessary to fully see, acknowledge and understand not only the contradictions, but the reasons behind them.

Freire also examines the relationships and differences between what he calls the "right" and the "lefts," the distinction being that "the singularity of the right has to do with the ease with which its different currents unify before danger." However, unity among the left is always more difficult and cumbersome (76). Freire is quite clear that building alliances with the Right is counter-productive to leftist visions of social change, too often meaning co-optation and compromise rather than achieving any true progress (51). In fact, he argues that it is not enough for progressives to be the "Right's Limit," that is to act as guard dog and limit the policies and reach of the right. The left must always strive towards their own vision of the future that is not simply in response to conservative forces. Freire goes on to encourage the left to become a movement of "unity within diversity," bridging differences and moving together through dialogism.

While Freire's pedagogical framework presented in Pedagogy of the Heart further develops the analysis of the relationships between oppressors and oppressed, I still find his divisions between Left and Right to echo his earlier simplistic divisions of Oppressed and the Oppressors. In lived experience, who is truly an enemy and who is a friend? While on a political landscape, parties on the right and on the left are easier to identify, many individuals and even groups may not as clearly align either Right or Left. In her work on Pedagogy for the Privileged, Ann Curry-Stevens (2004), argues that there is room to critically educate those who might otherwise be perceived as enemies (right-leaning) to transform them into allies, which seems an important bridge to forge in any truly transformative endeavour. Freire's warnings of co-optation by the Right are well-taken, but the principles of dialogism that he has laid should open up space for transformation of at least some conservative or non-leftist groups.

In fact, Freire's framework of a right-left understanding of politics opens itself up to some major critiques. His argument is predicated on the central notion that the oppressor creates the system unilaterally, and that the oppressed are left to fight against it. However, the system was created, and is constantly being re-created through the diffuse exercise of power by a multitude of individuals. Sometimes the exercise of power by different actors conflicts, and sometimes it runs together, creating a nexus of activity and interest, which often looks like a monolithic structure if it is not examined closely enough.

Further, the complexities of oppression make "unity within diversity" a difficult task, although granted a critical one. Yet again, it must be pointed out that there are levels of internal oppression within the left, and once more the question needs to be asked: What groups and differences should be bridged and what groups are enemies and not worth reaching out to? In Freire's own words, "it is necessary for the oppressor to convert to the cause of the oppressed, and for the oppressed to commit to their own fight for liberation," (62). This assertion suggests the necessity of a pedagogy of privilege that appeals oppressors to better understand their location in the social structure and eventually to join the struggle for transforming such structure.

In closing, Pedagogy of the Heart provides nuanced thoughts and arguments to educators and activists already familiar with the foundations of Freirean popular education, and educator/activists from around the world will find useful pieces within these pages, even given its focus on the Brazilian context. Throughout the book, Freire's emphasis rests on increasing democratic spaces, particularly in Brazil, and to achieve 'democratic intimacy'. He notes that "it is not possible to make Brazilian society more and more democratic without starting by attacking hunger, unemployment, the health crisis, and that of education" (89) - a lesson and cornerstone we can each take in our struggles to create truly democratic states throughout the world.


Curry-Steven, Ann (2004). Pedagogy for the Privileged: Critical junctures in reaching the economically privileged learner, in K. Mundel and D. Schugurensky (eds.), Lifelong Citizenship Learning, Participatory Democracy and Social Change. Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT, pp. 619-638. Available online at: 

Freire, Paulo (1997). Pedagogy of the Heart. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.

Freire, Paulo (1994). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. translated by Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.

Schugurensky, Daniel (1998). The legacy of Paulo Freire: A critical review of his contributions. Convergence 31:1 - 2.

To cite this review:

Yerichuk, Deanna (2004). Review of Pedagogy of the Heart, by Paulo Freire (1997), In D. Schugurensky (ed), Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books. Available at Internet URL: <> (Access date).


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