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).

Review of: Freire, Paulo (1973/2003). Education as the practice of freedom.  In Education for critical consciousness. New York: Continuum.

Review by Karen Sihra, OISE/University of Toronto, 2004

            Paulo Freire’s overall goal of social transformation through liberatory pedagogy requires a reestablishment of many working definitions we have embedded in our ways of knowing and learning.  His many books address how these necessary reestablishments can be achieved through education and pedagogy.  While Pedagogy of the Oppressed remains Freire’s most famous and influential books, many of the questions that arise out of its readings, especially regarding the philosophical distinctions he assumes, are addressed through an earlier work, namely Education as the Practice of Freedom.

Education as the Practice of Freedom can be read as an attempt to redefine conventional, dichotomous interpretations and understandings of objectivity and subjectivity.  Freire’s redefinition creates space for the type of dialectic he proposes in this work and subsequent works that calls for engagement in and with the world.  Freire begins with the classic comparisons of man to animals highlighting the ways man has historicity, consciousness, and relations with the world where animals do not.  While comparisons between humans and animals can be seen throughout political and social theory, this seems to be the only real commonality between Freire and Western political/social philosophers.  Freire’s philosophy is in radical opposition to the assumptions of Western philosophers.

            Freire insists that because human beings are in the world, they must integrate with society.  “Integration results from the capacity to adapt oneself to reality plus the critical capacity to make choices and to transform that reality” (p. 4).  His calls for integration is a significant shift from conventional understandings of objectivity.  Our subjectivity must inform how we reasonably assess right from wrong.  This is a far cry from conventional, liberal understandings of objectivity.  For example, the father of modern day liberalism, John Rawls, argues that true objectivity is to be found behind a ‘veil of ignorance’, where people move away from their place in society, from the social status, from the privileges they enjoy as a result of their talents or abilities, and from their own conceptions of the good.  In other words, for Rawls the best reasons for making judgements we trust (objectivity) are determined by understanding the individual as an object.

            Freire, on the other hand, argues that it is only when we understand the individual as subject that we can make judgements we trust.  The individual understood as subject relates to the world and can therefore begin to change it.

As men relate to the world by responding to the challenges of the environment, they begin to dynamize, to master, and to humanize reality.  They add to it something of their own making, by giving temporal meaning to geographic space, by creating culture.  This interplay of men’s relations with the world and with their fellows does not (except in cases of repressive power) permit societal or cultural immobility. As men create, re-create, and decide, historical epochs begin to take shape.  And it is by creating, re-creating and deciding that men should participate in these epochs. (emphasis in original) (p. 5).

For Freire, objectivity cannot come from the abstract realms of ‘reason’, but from subjective experiences, from our interpretations of those experiences, and from the ways we see those experiences affecting the world.

            Rawls’ approach, Freire would argue, denies authenticity to humanity, and therefore dehumanizes human beings.  “By separating his activity from the total project, requiring no total critical attitude toward production, it dehumanizes him” (p. 34).  Humanization, as can be seen most clearly in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a primary goal of education for critical consciousness (see chapter 1).  Anything that would threaten or confine ones’ capacities to become ‘fully human’ can be seen as oppressive.  Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ proposes that we willingly leave our subjectivities behind in an effort to determine the ‘best reasons’.  In effect, however, Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ requires dehumanization, a disengagement that, for Freire, is oppressive.

            What Freire suggests as a result of this new, integrated understanding of objectivity and subjectivity is dialogue.  The dialectic that emerges from interpretations of experiences bring rise to the key element of Freire’s liberatory pedagogy, namely conscientizaçao, the development of the awakening of critical awareness (p. 19).  Dialogue makes people ‘transitive’: “their interests and concerns now extend beyond the simple vital sphere.  Transitivity of consciousness makes man ‘permeable’.  It leads him to replace his disengagement from existence with almost total engagement” (p. 17).  For individuals to become ‘authentic’ human beings, this transitivity must be critical, and therefore highly permeable, interrogative, restless, and dialogical.

            Freire argues for such dialogue to occur, society must be open.  Using his Brazilian experiences, Freire describes difficulties that dialogue faces in closed societies.  Closed societies are characterised by submission, adaptation and adjustment in favour of those with power.  “The adapted man, neither dialoguing  nor participating, accommodates to conditions imposed upon him and thereby acquires an authoritarian and acritical frame of mind” (pp. 23-24).  In an open society, people can develop participation in common life, and therefore engagement in dialogue implies social and political responsibility (p. 24).

            The overarching goal of Education as a Practice of Freedom is to outline the ways democracy is best achieved in the face of non-democratic oppressions using critical consciousness and dialogue.  Educational dialogue is involved not only at a literacy capacity, but also, and perhaps more significantly, by “helping them move from naïve to critical transitivity, facilitate their intervention in the historical process” (pp. 44-45).  Here, dialogue is characterised by love, humility, hope, faith, and trust, which creates the space for critical inquiry (p. 45).  These are necessary characteristics of dialogue when education is pursued in the interest of critical awareness because of the way Freire intertwines objectivity and subjectivity.  Love, humility, hope, faith, and trust provide space for subjective experiences and space for objective interpretation and application of these experiences.  Dialogue with others therefore not only has the ability to accomplish social goals; it also ‘humanizes’ the individual through creating the “role of man as Subject in the world and with the world” (p. 46).

            Of course, Education as the Practice of Freedom is not solely a philosophical treaty; yet, philosophical inquiry into Freire’s work overall is facilitated through this text.  Questions of objectivity, subjectivity, autonomy, authenticity, and humanization that emerge from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and other texts are addressed and clarified in this earlier work.


Freire, P. (1973/2003). Education as the practice of freedom.  In Education for critical consciousness. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1970/2003).  Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Rawls, J. (1971).  A theory of justice. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univerity



To cite this review:

Sihra, Karen (2004). Review of Education as the practice of freedom.  In Education for critical consciousness, by Paulo Freire (1973/2003), In D. Schugurensky (ed), Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books. Available at Internet URL: <> (Access date).


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