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 (1978). Pedagogy In Process: The Letters to Guinea Bissau. New York: The Seabury Press.

Review by Veronica Ramirez (UCLA)

On April 25, 1974, the military dictatorship that had ruled Portugal was overthrown, resulting in independence movements in Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde islands. The struggle for independence was under the leadership of Amilcar Cabral and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde islands (PAIGC).

In May of 1975, Paulo Freire and his team from the Department of Education of the World Council of Churches and the Institute for Cultural Action (IDAC) were invited by the government, through the Commission on Education, to make a first visit so that their collaborations in the field of literacy education of adults may be discussed.

In Pedagogy in Process- The Letters to Guinea Bissau, Paulo Freire publishes the letters sent to the new education authorities in Guinea Bissau during the mid 1970's, and reflects on them. The book is structured in three parts: the introduction (p1-68), the 17 letters (p71-154), and the postscript (p55-78). The introduction explained both how Freire came to be involved in the adult education program in Guinea Bissau, and his participation in the program from May 1975 to October 1976. The 17 letters that are included in this book were written by Freire in Geneva and sent to Mario Cabral, the Commissioner of State for Education and Culture, and his team in Guinea Bissau. These letters addressed problems and offered suggestions for the development of adult literacy education. The postscript, written by Freire in May 1977, includes updates on the adult education program in Guinea Bissau.

The main assumption made by Freire prior to participating in the literacy education program in Guinea Bissau was that he was going to be participating in the reconstruction of the country. In letters #1 and #2, Freire recognized that the roots of Guinea Bissau were still there, and that they were only going to reconstruct what had already existed. In order to help in the reconstruction of the country, he needed to learn about the national reality.

He talks about giving "authentic help", which means that "all who are involved help each other mutually, growing together in the coming effort to understand the reality which they seek to transform" (p8). He did not want to be the specialist that would come in and "fix" the problem, but rather a collaborator that would work together with the adult education team in Guinea Bissau to come up with some solutions. This idea is expressed in letter #2: "We will have nothing to teach if we do not learn from and with you" (p73).

He rejects any preconceived or prefabricated solution because "experiments cannot be transplanted; they must be reinvented" (p9) He says that in order for teachers to be able to teach, they must first learn how to continue learning. Freire argued that true learning takes place only when there is authentic dialogue between the teacher and the learner. He says that although the people of Guinea Bissau were illiterate, they were highly politically literate. By this Freire meant that they were conscious of the colonizer's oppression, and fought against the oppression in an independence movement. Freire mentions throughout the book that education must be seen as a political act.

Likewise, Freire rejects the idea that the professor is a sophisticated specialist who is the producer and seller of "packaged knowledge" and the learner, much like a client, is the purchaser of this knowledge who then "consumes" it. He states that it is essential that educators learning and learners educating make a conscious effort to refuse bureaucratization, as it will eliminate creativity. Freire's approach to adult education is best described in this quote: "We have never understood literacy education of adults as a thing in itself, as simply learning the mechanics of reading and writing, but, rather, as a political act, directly related to production, to health, to the regular system of instruction, to the overall plan for society still to be realized" (p13).

The reformation of the inherited colonial education was going to be a challenge. The main objective of the colonial educational system was the "de-Africanization" of the people. According to Freire, the colonial educational system was " discriminatory, mediocre, and based on verbalism" (p13). It was a school for the minority, as only few were given access to it. This exclusion created a sense of inferiority and inadequacy among the people. Everything that was taught in the schools came from the colonizers- their history, their culture, their language, their geography. "Culture belonged only to the colonizers" (p14). During the independence movement the people began to reclaim their culture, and thus were undergoing "the decolonizing of mentality", or what Amilcar Cabral called the, "re-Africanization of mentality" (14). In order to facilitate this transformation, teachers needed to be trained in new ways.

New teachers needed to be trained and old teachers had to be retrained. In order for this to be successful, teachers must be able to relinquish the old colonial ideology and embrace the new, revolutionary ideology. Therefore, they must be willing and able to "commit class suicide" (p15). In addition to teachers, the middle class must also be able to commit class suicide so that they will be able to "rise again as revolutionary workers, completely committed to the deepest aspirations of the people to which they belong" (p16). To fail to commit class suicide would be to betray the revolution. The goal is radical transformation and not simply reform. In order to carry out a radical transformation, a truly revolutionary leader is needed.

The type of leader that is needed to carry out this radical transformation is one who has true solidarity with the people. Freire described the leadership that was needed as the following: "Neither a leadership which followed the masses so far behind that they got lost is the dust stirred up by the people, nor leaders so far in front that they left the people enshrouded in their dust, but leaders always with the people, teaching and learning mutually in the liberation struggle" (p18). On this issue, he compared Amilcar Cabral with Che Guevaraand Fidel Castro. Cabral recognized that it was imperative that the educational system be changed as it played a major role in creating the new society.

The plan was to transform the old educational system by introducing some fundamental reforms. They would no longer study the culture of the colonizers, but would be reintroduced to their own culture. They would no longer study the geography of Portugal, but that of Guinea Bissau. They would study their own history, including the independence movement, and not the history of the kings of Portugal. They would no longer read texts that were impregnated with the colonizers' ideology.

In letter #3, Freire first mentions the culture circles, and his idea of how to go about training the teachers to "run" them. He proposed training 15 people as teachers and upon their completion, instituting 15 culture circles with 20 learners in each. It would be explained to the learners from the beginning that they would not be coming to the circles to receive letters passively, but rather to help the teachers become teachers. He explains that generative words should be chosen based on their political and sociological richness as well as phonetic structure. These generative words would then be coded, and the codification may be visual, audio, tactile or audio-visual (letter #7).

Another fundamental reform was the idea of "the school in the country". The idea behind the school in the country was to integrate productive labor with normal school activities, creating a unity between the two. According to Freire, "In a certain moment it becomes true that one no longer studies in order to work nor does one work in order to study; one studies in the process of working" . This would result in "a true unity between theory and practice" (p21). The Maxim Gorki center at Co, created in November 1975, was an example of a school in the countryside linking education with production. This center was an old Portuguese military installation that was restored by the people into a training center for teachers. The teachers/students grew wheat, corn, potatoes, fruit, vegetables and became self-sufficient. The center had a clinic that focused on preventative medicine and there were monthly seminars held to address health issuesproblems. The director, permanent teaching staff and the teachers who studied there all participated equally in the schools governance. Freire believed that this center had the potential to become the first new university. Likewise, in letter #15 Freire suggested the idea of creating a school in the agricultural zone linking education with production, not only for adults but for whole community (including children).

In Guinea Bissau there were two organizations involved in the field of adult education: the Armed Forces of the People (FARP) and the Commission on Education. Both understood literacy education as a political act and therefore promoted a critical approach to reading and writing. This perspective was shared by Freire, who emphasized that literacy education is not passive, but active: "The act of reading and writing involves a critical comprehension of reality" (p24). The FARP project was divided up into 3 phases. The first focused on bringing literacy to the military in the Bissau zone (the liberated zone), the second provided literacy education for all of the military in the country and the third phase extended literacy to the whole civilian population. At the time Freire wrote this book, the first two phases were well under way and the third was getting started.

In letter #17, Freire suggested that there is a difference between educating militants (the military) and civilians. Militants equate literacy with national reconstruction. Because they fought for independence, they have a clear understanding of what is meant by reconstruction. Civilians, on the other hand, do not have a clear understanding of what is meant by reconstruction and therefore see literacy as a solution to their individual problems. For Freire, these differences should be taken into account when working with civilians.

Freire and his team visited some of the culture circles in action. They wanted to see how the culture circles were being carried out, both where they were successful and where they were not: "We were eager to know whether the learners had been able to appropriate for themselves their own 'word', developing an ability to express themselves as conscious participants in a political act, or whether they were simply learning to read and write" (p27). He concluded that there was some genuine learning taking place, and that the main problem seemed to be the impatience of some of the teacher in letting the students come up with their own words.

In order for education to achieve its prime objective (to contribute effectively to national reconstruction) literacy education projects should be located "in areas where certain changes in the social relations of production are either already taking place or are about to be initiated". In letter #11 Freire argued that the reason for this is that the risk of regressive illiteracy is too great. The second priority is to launch programs "within the various administrative organs of the state --hospitals, postal services, public works agencies-- where literacy education might enable employees to engage in other new tasks demanded by national reconstruction" (p30). Freire believed that a strong relationship between literacy, health and agriculture was imperative in the reconstruction of that nation.

In this book Freire continually stressed the importance of perceiving education as a political act. Adult literacy education should provide the tools for a critical analysis of reality, and promote processes in which the learners should also be educators. He warned against the bureaucratization of education and the creation of a "packaged" knowledge to be "consumed". He continually referred to the link between education and production and the need for people to be able to read the reality around them. How and what is learned must be consistent with the plan for a new society. In addition to raising these concerns, he mentions that his letters are only suggestions to be considered and are not solutions being offered.

It is evident throughout the book that Freire believed the new society should be a socialist one. He asserted in several letters that the new government must be careful of the influence and corruption of capitalism. He seemed to suggest that once you have achieved "true consciousness" you would be able to see the "right" path (socialism) and "wrong" path (capitalism). This idea of the "right" and "wrong" paths seems to contradict the principal of having everyone reach their own conscientizacao, as there seems to be a right and a wrong conscientizacao. The implication of a "right" and "wrong" conscientizacao contradicts this idea of conscientizacao expressed by Freire in previous works. For example, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire describes conscientizacao as the awakening of critical consciousness. Through the critical understanding and interpretation of the world conscientizacao is achieved by an individual. Each person, by achieving conscientizacao, has a critical perspective of the world that is unique to them. Although I do not doubt that Freire truly wanted to facilitate the creation of a critical consciousness, many would argue that this contradiction may question the legitimacy of the concept of conscientizacao.

The book Pedagogy In Process- Letters to Guinea Bissau is a valuable contribution to Freire's other works, as the reader is able to see Freire actively participating in the reconstruction of a country, and I believe that it is for this reason that Freire expresses more clearly his political views. The book is valuable in giving the reader more insights into Freire's theories on education, evident both in the introduction and in the letters, although both sections tend to be repetitive at times. A more thorough understanding of the adult literacy program in Guinea Bissau would have been achieved with the inclusion of the letters to Freire from the education team in Guinea Bissau.


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