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 (1973). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing.

Review by Stéphanie Levine and Maryam Nabavi, OISE/University of Toronto, 2004 


            Education for Critical Consciousness was first published in English by Continuum International Publishing (1973). The book is composed of two essays, Education as the Practice of Freedom (1965) and Extension or Communication (1968).  It is important to note that both essays were written prior to Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970) and were published, according to Freire, to capture the ‘naïveté of his thought’. The first essay presents the development of a critical consciousness and the empowerment of people as cultural actors as the basis for social change within which literacy becomes an important tool.  The second explores oppressive tendencies in non-formal educational settings, particularly as they pertain to extension work, and the necessary steps which must be taken to create a space of liberation and social engagement for all.  The two essays, written in 164 pages, are complimentary in that they both draw on dialogue and communication as well as a sense of autonomy over ones social and political consciousness as central tenants in the shift from being passive Objects to engaged Subjects.

            Understanding the basis of Freire’s later work is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of concepts such as conscientização, the basic components of his literacy methods and the practice of dialogical education in the context of extension work to increase conscious action in transforming the world.  This book review will explore each essay separately, exploring themes and will conclude with a critique of both, drawing out the complimentary and unifying themes.  The book’s relevance today, particularly from an anti-colonial and transformative learning perspective, will be highlighted.

Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Education is an act of love, thus an act of courage.” (Freire, 1973: 38)

            Throughout this essay (despite the sexist language), Freire’s belief in people’s potential and purpose as agents of change is strongly felt.  Empowering people to see themselves as cultural actors is the basis of his approach and literacy is presented as a tool with which to ‘transform the world’.  However, essential to this process is critical consciousness. 

            The ability of ordinary people to shape their reality is often crushed by social forces and is largely determined by their historical context.  In the case of Brazil, the colonial experience and slavery have given people little opportunity to experience democracy.  Freire also refers to the manipulative role of advertising, a point that is all too relevant today.  Having a critical outlook on the world enables people to move from a reactionary to a progressive position where they can shape their reality. 

            Freire describes the development of a critical consciousness as a five-part process beginning with people moving from a ‘semi-transitive state’, where they are pre-occupied with survival, to a ‘transitivity of consciousness’.  This openness to reflecting on themselves, their role and responsibilities enables people to dialogue with others and with the world.  Initially people find themselves in a state of ‘naïve transitivity’, characterized by an over-simplification of problems, but hopefully graduate to a state of ‘critical transitivity’ with a more in-depth analysis of problems and an increase in agency.  However, this progression is not automatic and failure to move along this continuum results in a ‘fanaticized consciousness’, a reactionary state wrought by sectarianism.  ‘Critical consciousness’, or conscientização, is the awakening of critical awareness resulting from educational efforts and favourable historical conditions. 

            Freire illustrates the importance of context at length with a historical analysis of Brazil where a democratic model was imposed, not cultivated from within.  Yet during times of historical transition, people’s capacity to develop a critical consciousness and affect change is heightened.  From a transformative learning perspective, this is the case world-wide today as we negotiate a paradigm shift from a modernist to a post-modern world view.  The role of the educator in enabling people to critically analyse the world and see themselves as able to transform it is pivotal. 

            According to Freire, in order for people to develop a critical consciousness they must first see themselves as cultural actors.  Initially, Freire undertook this democratization of culture in ‘culture circles’ where people discussed various context relevant situations seeking clarification and action steaming from their analysis.  While facilitated by a coordinator, these dialogues are a mutual learning process.  Through these culture circles, people gain an anthropological understanding of culture and come to see themselves as Subjects, not Objects, within the process of culture formation.  Freire’s literacy method evolved out of these culture circles presenting literacy as an important tool to affect social change.            

            In the last section of the essay, the basic components of Freire’s literacy methods are presented with particular reference to his experience teaching in Brazil prior to the 1964 military coup.  While the elaboration of the dialogical method is further elaborated in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970), the process leading to cultural emancipation is emphasised in ‘Education as a Practice of Freedom’ including an appendix with the visual representations of existential situations used in cultural circles to help participants to see themselves as creators of culture.  In Freire’s words: “one must make it possible for them to achieve critical consciousness so that they can teach themselves to read and to write” (56).  However, in a footnote Freire mentions that his methods were considered subversive given that he related literacy to conscientização and approached education as liberation, not domestication.  Freire’s ‘militant democracy’ lead to his exile after the 1964 military coup. 

Extension or Communication

            In his 1968 essay, Extension or Communication, Freire captures the idea, which to date is central in the lingua-franca of anti-colonial discourse that while “all development is modernization, not all modernization is development.” The piece of writing challenges the role of the ‘extension’ worker and explores alternative, liberatory methods which allow for a shift from the static, unengaged, banking approach that ‘extension’ traditionally implies and applies within an educational context.

            Following an in depth exploration of the term ‘extension’ from a linguistic, critical philosophical and social perspective, he concludes that the practice of extension as a tool for education, in agrarian reform, is paradoxical and does not allow space to engage in conscientização. Particularly, as the role of the extension worker is reduced to the mere act of extending his/her knowledge, it results in a static relationship between the extension worker and the peasant and further perpetuates the notion that the learner is an Object as opposed to an engaged Subject, capable of critically viewing the world and making decisions.

            Throughout the essay, as in his other works, Freire makes the plea to recognize education as a gnoseological condition, meaning to recognize the origin, nature, and validity of knowledge. Specifically, viewing education as one which encompasses characteristics such as love for dialogue, critical, participatory, and has capacity to unite the educator and students as Subjects in the process of knowing, opening them “…for enumerable and indispensable roads leading to their affirmation as beings of praxis (156)”. He argues that when these criteria’s are not met, education diminishes into verbalism and is no longer inviting to transcend to a level of critical engagement; education, thus, becomes inconsequential.

            Drawing attention to the competing views of doxa (opinions and unsubstantiated views), also referred to as ‘magic’ and logos (knowledge based on evidence and rational decisions), also referred to as ‘true knowledge’, he argues that despite authenticity in different phases and levels of knowledge, none must be negated as valuable to the world-views of those who embrace that particular knowledge. Furthermore, it is the role of the extension worker to assist in overcoming the magic perception of reality, while at the same time achieving technical training.

            Central to the essay is the idea that the approach taken by extension workers results in ‘cultural invasion’ as a sole solution to liberation. He elucidates this conclusion through three phases; first, there lies an assumption that knowledge is being deposited into an empty consciousness, also known as banking education. Second, there is a lack of faith in people (peasants in this case), in which there is an “underestimation of their power of reflection, of their ability to take on the true role of seekers of knowledge…hence the tendency to transform them into objects of the ‘knowledge’ imposed on them” (118). The lack of faith in people results in the third phase, which is the assertion that ignorance is absolute. This assumption spirals back into the first phase of the banking model of education and denies any sense of agency and free will that liberatory education seeks to achieve. The varying dimensions of cultural invasion fall under the umbrella of hegemony, resulting in the domestication and manipulation of the recipients.

            Reminding the reader that extension does not imply education, Freire highlights that education is communication and dialogue and it is the role of the educator to move the dialogue forward through problem-posing and most importantly critical dialogue. Reciprocity in communication creates space for engaged Subjects where knowledge is propagated and the dialectic relations with reality enable continuous liberation and challenge to oppressive situations. There is an explicit expression that liberation is a collective engagement as conscientização takes place in social structures, and thus education can never be neutral.

            Rooted in a humanistic framework, Freire ties the depth of the reflections expressed in the essay in the idea that “…human beings can make and remake things, that they can transform the world…they can transcend the situation in which their state of being is almost a state of non-being, and go on to a state of being, in search of becoming more fully human” (144-5).

Education as a Practice of Freedom – A Critique

            Although Freire’s approach was developed in the context of teaching literacy in Brazil, its theoretical underpinnings were and still are of great relevance today.  That people, particularly the marginalized, are able to challenge the vision of reality imposed by those in power through the process of conscientização brought the idea of social change into the realm of the possible. However, this task is not achieved without challenging the binaries of differing theoretical and practical paradigms.

            In both essays, the notion that the people should ‘attempt to overcome the magic perception of reality’ is contentious and begs to be examined from an anti-colonial lens. Freire argues that magic, which in the context of Extension or Communication refers to the consciousness of peasants whom the extension worker is educating, is unsubstantiated opinions and views. Arguably, in order to contribute to the process of conscientização, it is the role of outside actors to acknowledge differing world-views that, although may appear to be ‘magic’, may in fact be situated in a paradigm that an outsider, due to his/her lack of exposure, cannot acknowledge as valid.

            Furthermore, defining criteria for in/valid knowledge from the lens of the extension worker, as one who has supposedly achieved a level of conscientização is contentious as attached are colonial connotations which negate the lived-experiences of individuals in favour of a more modern paradigm. This line of though denies the struggle for freedom from colonialism. It also further contradicts Freire’s belief that education should be a liberating praxis where both the lived realties and theories (valid or not) should be embraced and unfold in a dialogical, communication, gnoseological setting.

            In Education as a Practice of Freedom Freire writes that being able to read the world critically enables people to distinguish between education and propaganda.  “Excluded from the sphere of decisions being made by fewer and fewer people, man is maneuvered by the mass media to the point where he believes nothing he has not heard on the radio, seen on television, or read in the newspaper.” (34).  In the North, it seems that we have yet to emerged from a ‘naïve transitional consciousness’ where the market economy and the media provide quasi-magical explanations for the state of the world leaving little room for people to develop a sense of agency. 

            From a transformative learning perspective, developing our critical consciousness is crucial if we are going to successfully shift from a modernist to an ecological paradigm.  However, it is important to note that there isn’t a causal relationship between critical consciousness and people taking action towards social change.  Context is important in facilitating social change, the main determining factors being a supportive environment, a social reality susceptible of change, and a sense of community (Schugurensky, 2002).  Freire refers to the importance of context but maintains a fairly linear model.  The cycle of reflection and action is developed in his later work.  Nonetheless, Freire’s writing is empowering in that it reminds us that we are all capable of transforming the world. 


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

 _______ (1973). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum International Publishing.

 Schugurensky, Daniel (2002). Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics: The Pedagogical Dimension of Participatory Democracy and Social Action. In E. O’Sullivan, A. Morrell, & M. A. O’Connor (Eds.), Expanding the Boundaries of Transformative Learning: Essays of Theory and Praxis (pp.59-76). New York: Palgrave.

To cite this review:

Levine, Stephanie and Maryam Nanavi (2004). Review of Education for Critical Consciousness, by Paulo Freire (1973), In D. Schugurensky (ed), Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books. Available at Internet URL: <> (Accessed date).

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