Born on September 19, 1921 to middle class parents in Recife, Brazil, Paulo Freire became familiar with poverty and hunger during the 1929 Great Depression. These experiences would shape his concerns for the poor and would help to construct his particular educational viewpoint.
Freire enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Recife in 1943. He also studied philosophy, more specifically phenomenology, and the psychology of language. Although admitted to the legal bar, he never actually practiced law but instead worked as a teacher in secondary schools teaching Portuguese. In 1944, he married Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, a fellow teacher. The two worked together for the rest of their lives and had five children.
In 1946, Freire was appointed Director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the State of Pernambuco, the Brazilian state of which Recife is the capital. Working primarily among the illiterate poor, Freire began to embrace a non-orthodox form of what could be considered liberation theology. In Brazil at that time, literacy was a requirement for voting in presidential elections.
In 1961, he was appointed director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University, and in 1962 he had the first opportunity for significant application of his theories, when 300 sugarcane workers were taught to read and write in just 45 days. In response to this experiment, the Brazilian government approved the creation of thousands of cultural circles across the country.
In 1964, a military coup put an end to that effort, Freire was imprisoned as a traitor for 70 days. After a brief exile in Bolivia, Freire worked in Chile for five years for the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 1967, Freire published his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom. He followed this with his most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in Portuguese in 1968.
On the strength of reception of his work, Freire was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard University in 1969. The next year, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in both Spanish and English, vastly expanding its reach. Because of the political feud between Freire, a Christian socialist and the successive authoritarian military dictatorships it wasn’t published in his own country of Brazil until 1974, when General Ernesto Geisel took control of Brazil and began his process of cultural liberalisation.
After a year in Cambridge, USA, Freire moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work as a special education adviser to the World Council of Churches. During this time Freire acted as an advisor on education reform in former Portuguese colonies in Africa, particularly Guinea Bissau and Mozambique.
In 1979, he was able to return to Brazil, and moved back in 1980. Freire joined the Workers’ Party (PT) in the city of São Paulo, and acted as a supervisor for its adult literacy project from 1980 to 1986. When the PT prevailed in the municipal elections in 1988, Freire was appointed Secretary of Education for São Paulo.
2. Theoretical contributions
Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education that came not only from the more classical approaches stemming from Plato, but also from modern Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. In fact, in many ways his Pedagogy of the Oppressed may be best read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon‘s The Wretched of the Earth, which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (not simply an extension of the culture of the colonizer).
Freire is best-known for his attack on what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. The basic critique was not new — Rousseau‘s conception of the child as an active learner was already a step away from tabula rasa (which is basically the same as the “banking concept”), and thinkers like John Dewey and Alfred North Whitehead were strongly critical of the transmission of mere “facts” as the goal of education. Freire’s work, however, updated the concept and placed it in context with current theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what is now called critical pedagogy.
More challenging is Freire’s strong aversion to the teacher-student dichotomy. This dichotomy is admitted in Rousseau and constrained in Dewey, but Freire comes close to insisting that it should be completely abolished. This is hard to imagine in absolute terms, since there must be some enactment of the teacher-student relationship in the parent-child relationship, but what Freire suggests is that a deep reciprocity be inserted into our notions of teacher and student. Freire wants us to think in terms of teacher-student and student-teacher – that is, a teacher who learns and a learner who teaches – as the basic roles of classroom participation.
This is one of the few attempts anywhere to implement something like democracy as an educational method and not merely a goal of democratic education. Even Dewey, for whom democracy was a touchstone, did not integrate democratic practices fully into his methods, though this was in part a function of Dewey’s attitudes toward individuality. In its strongest early form this kind of classroom has been criticized on the grounds that it can mask rather than overcome the teacher’s authority.
Freire’s work has also been subject to criticism. Rich Gibson has critiqued his work as a cul-de-sac, a combination of old-style socialism (wherever Freire was not) and liberal reformism (wherever Freire was). Paul V. Taylor, in his “Texts of Paulo Freire,” comes close to calling Freire a plagiarist, while Gibson notes Freire borrows heavily from Hegel‘s “Phenomenology.” Gibson’s dissertation which examines Freire’s theory, practice, and history in a Marxist context is the sharpest critique of Freire to date.
3. Global impact of Freire’s work
Freire’s major exponents in North America are Peter McLaren, Donaldo Macedo, Joe L. Kincheloe, Ira Shor, and Henry Giroux. One of McLaren’s classic texts, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, expounds upon Freire’s impact in the field of critical education. In Mexico, La Fundacion McLaren has developed an ongoing conversation with Freire’s work at http://www.fundacionmclaren.org/
In 1991, the Paulo Freire Institute was established in São Paulo to extend and elaborate upon his theories of popular education. The Institute now has projects in many countries and is currently headquartered at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies where it actively maintains the Freire archives. The director is Dr. Carlos Torres, a UCLA professor and author of Freirean books including La praxis educativa de Paulo Freire (1978).
The Paulo and Nita Freire Project for International Critical Pedagogy has been founded at McGill University. Here Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg have worked to create a dialogical forum for critical scholars around the world to promote research and re-create a Freirean pedagogy in a multinational domain.
Upon his death, Freire was at work on a book of Ecopedagogy, a platform of work carried on by many of the Freire Institutes and Freirean Associations around the world today. It has been influential in helping to develop planetary education projects such as the Earth Charter as well as countless international grassroots campaigns per the spirit of Freirean popular education generally.
Adolphe Ferrière, Theoretician of the International New Education
He was born in 1879 in Geneva in a Protestant family of a French origin. He could not put up with the college regime and swore never to be a teacher. However, being the eldest don of a large family of brothers and sisters and cousins, he acted as an educator since an early age. At the age of 14, he founded The Alps Club for Children, and at the age of 17, he headed a literary society for youth. After biological studies, he read of the Abbotsholm School helped him to discover his vocation. Between 190 and 1902, he taught in the school of Dr Lietz in Ilsenburg and Hanbinda. Then, he contributed to the foundation of the first Swiss New School in 1902. If it were not for a strong deafness, he would have founded himself a similar school.
Ferrière, organize of the International New School:
At the age of 20, in 1899, He took the initiative to found the international bureau of new schools. In 1926, this bureau had to unite with the international bureau of education. In 1921, he provoked the creation of the International League of New Education which since the holds a congress every 2 or 3 years.
It was certainly not ferrière who created the international movement of the New School because the pedagogical revolution of the 20th Century is a world wide movement. However, the great contribution of ferrière was to help in the creation of institutions capable of coordinating efforts, to diffuse discoveries in the pedagogical field, to avoid conflicts and to rally good wills on a world wide scale. A major part of his written work consisted of making people know about European pedagogues and their achievements.
However, he does not really contribute to the international organizations of the reform movement. He also defined the characteristics of the Active School in such a way as to establish a systematic basis for the future reform, as to give it a coherent aspect and as to determine the programmes that will be adequate to this structural reform.
The ideal (standard of perfection) of the new School:
The ideal of the active school is spontaneous personal and productive activity. In fact, thanks to experimental psychology, it has become possible to realize that the child grows like a plant according to laws which are his own, and that he possesses only what he can assimilate thanks to a personal process of digestion.