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, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Freire, Paulo (1993/1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing Co.

Review by Karen McClafferty (UCLA)

Freire's central argument is that education is always a political act. It can be used to maintain the status quo or it can be used to bring about social change. Through what he calls "banking education," learners are not encouraged to think critically and consequently do not challenge their social and political position. Instead, they receive knowledge "deposits" which are absorbed without reflection. Their "oppression" is perpetuated by this inability to question. Failing to take into account the notion of agency, Freire assumes that the oppressed blindly follow what they are "taught" and that no resistance to this oppressor identity takes place.

Through dialogue, Freire argues, the nature of education is changed. The oppressed are able to actually experience their world, and as a result question it. In turn, "the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed" can be accomplished: "to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well" (p. 20).

Freire has described the pedagogy of the oppressed as consisting in two stages: First, "the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation. In the second stage, in which the reality of oppression has already been transformed, this pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed and becomes a pedagogy of all people in the process of permanent liberation" (p. 36). Freire's belief is that this critical reflection will lead to action on the part of all -- oppressor and oppressed -- involved.

This early example of Freire's work is useful for the revolutionary ideas it puts forth. By identifying all forms of education as political -- in both a positive and negative sense -- Freire calls to the reader's attention the danger of education as it is and the importance of recognizing it for its potential. As noted by many critics since the first publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, however, this book is limited due to the omission of issues surrounding gender, race, ethnicity, language, and multiple-class social structures.

Granted, Freire was writing about a particular populatin for whom some of these variables may not have been relevant. It is undeniable, however, that gender roles play a part in every society. How could Freire ignore issues of access and power within classes that are inevitable based on gender? Similarly, although he might argue that homogeneity of race, ethnicity and language was present within the population he was addressing, if his work is to be useful and applicable elsewhere, it must be addressed. Each of these variables, together with position within a social class (however that may be defined), requires the critical attention he has reserved only for class as defined by "oppressed" or "oppressor."

Taken alone, Pedagogy of the Oppressed contains numerous vague and ill-defined terms. Freire's descriptive techniques and sentence structure create a very dense, often difficult read. It seems that one problemative aspect lies in Freire's tendency to be both general and specific at the same time. More precisely, Freire talks very specifically about the process of liberatory education and its necessary components, but he rarely ventures to provide demonstrative examples of what he calls for. By leaving his discussion on a more abstract level, Freire limits the usefulness of this work for actual practice.


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