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Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, 1968 (first translated into English in 1970 by Myra Ramos)

Translated from La Iniciativa de Comunicación: click here for the Spanish version.


The justification for a pedagogy of the oppressed.
The dichotomy of oppressors and oppressed - and how to move beyond it.
The concrete reality of oppression and the oppressed.
Nobody liberates anybody else, and nobody liberates themselves all alone. People liberate themselves in fellowship with each other.

Freire puts forth a pedagogy in which the individual learns to cultivate his own growth through situations from his daily life that provide useful learning experiences. This is not a pedagogy for the oppressed; it is rather a pedagogy of the oppressed. The subject should build his reality from the circumstances that give rise to the daily events of his life. The texts that the individual creates permit him to reflect upon and analyse the world in which he lives - not in an effort to adapt himself to this world, but rather as part of an effort to reform it and to make it conform to his historical demands.

The method of learning of Paulo Freire requires that students do more than simply reproduce the words that already exist. It requires that they create their own words, words that allow them to become aware of reality in order to fight for their own emancipation. Without this, some people acquire a kind of naive consciousness in which they are aware of their situation but don't make any effort to change it; they take a conformist stance and consider their situation something normal, even to the point of supporting it themselves. Other individuals construct their own reality and liberate themselves from oppression, only to go to the opposite extreme and become the antithesis of what they were fighting against.

The person who thinks and reflects goes about creating himself from the inside out. He creates his consciousness of struggle by transforming reality and liberating himself from the oppression that has been inserted by traditional pedagogy. In the same way, when he acquires a new way of thinking, his understanding of the social status that he holds changes him. It's not necessarily a materialistic understanding, but a cognitive one, whose importance is revealed in the liberation from oppression which is found in the interior of the consciousness of the individual who possesses it. Freire endeavors that the individual, through systematic study, also learn to fight for the end of oppression and for constructive criticism of the status quo.

Freire's proposed method implies two distinct and sequential moments: the first involves becoming conscious of the reality that the individual lives as an oppressed being subject to the decisions that the oppressors impose; the second refers to the initiative of the oppressed to fight and emancipate themselves from the oppressors. Freire does not believe that the lived situation consists only of a simple awareness of reality. Instead, he believes that the individual has a historical need to fight against the status that dwells within him. The efforts of the oppressed become focused and concrete through the type of learning that school really should give them, instead of encouraging them to adapt to their reality, as the oppressors themselves do.

In the relationships they establish, the oppressed appear to be the instigators of violence, even when the conditions and events that they have experienced up to that point incite them to try to modify their status. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the oppressors, such fights are canonised as unnecessary violence or utopian dreams, and not as the ideas of a revolutionary who is known for the ideological commitment that he establishes with his peers, rather than for the battles he carries out. Although the reality of the oppressed is not the will of God, although He is not responsible for the oppressive situation, in a society without conscience such situations are presented as normal. These circumstances occasionally provoke a mistaken horizontal violence between the oppressed themselves in their efforts to achieve emancipation.

Furthermore, the oppressors accuse those who oppose them of being disobliging, irresponsible, depraved and responsible for their own situation, despite the fact that even if these adjectives do sometimes apply, they are really a response to being oppressed and are ultimately the result of the exploitation to which these people have been subjected. The situation gets even worse when the oppressed accept this reality and adapt to it without questioning or even attempting to change it. This generates in the oppressed an emotional dependence that seems irrevocable. It is necessary, therefore, that these individuals get to know themselves in order to begin the fight for their inexorable emancipation.


The “bank” concept of education as an instrument of oppression. Its assumptions. Its critiques.
The problematising concept of education and freedom. Its assumptions.
The “bank” concept of education and the dichotomy of educator/educated.
The problematising concept and the overcoming of the educator/educated dichotomy. Nobody educates anybody else. Nobody educates himself. People educate each other through their interactions of the world.
Man as an incomplete being, conscious of his incompleteness, and his eternal quest to BE MORE.

Currently in education, there is excessive use of lecturing and memorisation, with little analysis of the importance of what is being memorised. For example, 1945 marks the end of the Second World War, but we do not know how that affected our lives or how it continues to affect the daily relationships we establish. We have simply memorised and retained the date. Freire describes this situation as one in which the students are seen as containers into which knowledge can be deposited. The teacher is the depositor and the knowledge is that which is deposited on a daily basis. This bank concept of education attempts to transform the minds of individuals so that they will adapt better to actual situations and be dominated by them with greater ease. The more passive people are, the more they will adapt, the more their creativity will diminish and their naiveté increase, which creates the conditions necessary for the oppressors to emerge as generous benefactors.

When the individual does not fight for his interests and for cultural and social emancipation, it seems that he has lost his love of life. Such is the necrophilia of the situation that has prevailed, reproduced by the type of education that is imparted in the schools. The pedagogy that Freire proposes is the opposite of that described above. It suggests that the individual acquire a love of life through a cultivation of his being - by being with the world and not of it - a state that is achieved through liberation. For this to occur we need an education that ceases to be alienating and mechanistic.

Education that liberates the individual has to be a conscious act in which the content is understood and analysed, overcoming the dichotomy that exists between teacher and student; it must leave to one side this unidirectional relationship and allow bidirectionality to contribute to the whole education of both parties, since they both have elements to bring to the learning. If this reciprocal, axiological meaning is lost, the learning becomes a unilateral act of memorisation. The role of the educator lies in problematising the world that surrounds the oppressed and creating the appropriate conditions so that the learning moves beyond “doxa” to arrive at the level of “logos.” This type of learning helps people to create new expectations and reach a truly reflective state in which they discover their own reality. It incites new challenges that move the students toward a self construction of the world in which they have real and direct participation in the activities they undertake. All of this requires that we problematise the individual himself, without mediating his learning through artificial experiences.


Dialogicity: the essence of education as freedom in practice.
Dialogicity and dialogue.
The dialogue begins in the search for the programmatic content.
The relationship between man and the world, “generative topics,” and the programmatic content of education.
The study of generative topics and its methodology.
The consciousness-raising significance of the study of generative topics.
The stages of such a study.

Man is not allowed to understand and transform the reality that encircles him when education is simply a method used to adapt him to this reality. The idea of Freire is that the individual learn to do just that- to understand and transform reality. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary that dialogicity be established between teacher and student, since man does not create himself in silence, but through words, actions and reflection. The use of dialogue, therefore, is the key element in learning. The dialogue established between the two subjects helps to increase reciprocal kindness, something that is an act of bravery, not cowardice. We are not talking about a naïve act, but about the kind of dialogue that kindness between people creates.

Some people believe themselves to be leaders and go to the masses to establish a dialogue with them. But it is their own interests and not the interests of the community that are pursued. They encourage people to adapt to a new way a life without attending to their historical demands. They fall into the naïve thinking that one should adapt to existing conditions, rather than construct the new and appropriate conditions required by critical thought - the kind of thought that builds spaces and opportunities for liberation and the overturning of oppression through conscious action.

It is important to establish dialogue with a community. Since this implies the use of a language similar to that with which the individual is familiar, it is necessary to integrate oneself into the life of the individual - to study his language, practice and thought. Later, through the use of problematising education, these elements will come together to create knowledge, since it is not necessary to refer to other far away spaces to find opportunities and topics for study. Topics for learning can be found in the reality that surrounds the individual, it's just that they are hidden by the “limiting situations” that the oppressors create. These limits can disappear through the education that a problematising teacher, who moves from the particular to the general, encourages.

When we want to investigate a generative topic, we should go to the place where the individuals whom we want to liberate are located and study their thinking, so that we don't decontextualise their work. We want the teaching to be part of their reality, so that it is not a mechanistic act. The liberation of man and the overcoming of oppression are not achieved by the consumption of the existing ideas that teem and circulate between people. Instead, the individual needs to construct his own ideas and above all transforms them through praxis and horizontal communication.

Studying the generative topic implies two distinct steps, both of which involve the individual himself: the first is to go to the place where the events take place in order to become familiar with the thinking of the oppressed and the second is to apply this thinking to the systematic learning process by emphasising group interaction between the participants so that each person both acquires consciousness of his reality and truly expresses it. But the process does not end here. It involves a search on the part of the individual for his highest level of possible consciousness.


Antidialogicity and dialogicity as opposed theoretical frameworks for cultural action: the first serves oppression and the second, liberation. The antidialogical theory of action and its characteristics:

  • conquest
  • division
  • manipulation
  • cultural invasion

The dialogical theory of action and its characteristics:

  • collaboration
  • union
  • organisation
  • cultural synthesis

The oppressor uses antidialogicity in a variety of ways to maintain the status quo. He conquers the oppressed with an invariably unilateral dialogue, converting the communication process into an act of necrophilia. Some oppressors even use other ideological instruments to achieve their conquest -like that of “bread and circus” - so that their conquest will be total.

The oppressors also seek to prevent people form uniting through dialogue. In their implicit discourse they warn that it can be dangerous to the “social peace” to speak to the oppressed about the concepts of union and organisation, amongst others. One of their principal activities is to weaken the oppressed through alienation, with the idea that this will cause internal divisions, and that in this way things will remain stable. Compared to those who opposed them, the oppressors seem to be the only ones that can create the harmony necessary for life. But this is really an effort to divide. If any individual decides to begin a fight for liberation, he is stigmatised, included on the “black list”, all in an effort to avoid the historically inevitable realisation of freedom.

Another characteristic of antidialogicity is the way it uses ideology to manipulate people to conform to the goals it proposes. Sometimes the manipulation happens by getting people to side with something that works to the disadvantage to the oppressed. Similarly, antidialogicity imposes a bourgeois model of life - a model that encounters among the masses fertile ground for a hidden manipulation of discourse. Organisation as an antidote to this manipulation is rare.

Some leaders of the left do go to the masses to expound upon their ideas. Nevertheless, the majority of the time their fight is centered upon their own achievement of power. When they have achieved this objective, they forget about the masses who supported them. Other individuals called leaders flirt with both parties. Their behavior toward the popular classes is ambiguous and shady, since they see this group as only a bargaining chip between the oligarchy and themselves. The liberation that the oppressed desire is never really achieved.

A further characteristic of antidialogicity is a cultural invasion, of which the oppressed are the object. They are just this, objects, while the oppressors are the actors and authors of the process. It's a subliminal tactic that is used to dominate and that leads to the inauthenticity of individuals. The greater the level of mimicry on the part of the oppressed, the greater the tranquility of the oppressors. What happens among the masses is a loss of values, a transformation in their form of speaking and, inexorably, support for the oppressor.

When there is a cultural invasion, the relationship between parent and child changes to the benefit of the oppressors, who assume that they should educate the community, when in reality the community should educate itself. What is even more cruel is that when an oppressed individual attempts to liberate himself and fights to convince his fellows to do the same, he is negatively classified. For the oppressors, it seems impossible to listen to the unrest of the community. It is as if they see them as incapable of thought. This characteristic implies a single, inflexible view of reality.

In contrast to all that has been explained above, stands collaboration as a form of community emancipation. This process does not happen through the presence of a messianic leader, but instead through the union created when a leader and the masses communicate and interact with each other to achieve their mutual goal of liberating themselves and discovering the world, instead of adapting to it. It happens when they offer each other mutual trust, so that a revolutionary praxis can be reached. Such a situation requires humility and constant dialogue on the part of all the participants.

In addition to collaboration, union is also necessary if we are to achieve a common effort toward liberation. This implies a form of cultural action that teaches adherence to the revolutionary cause without falling into ideological hyperbole. Instead, the cause is described as it really is, as a human activity, not some exaggerated event.

Dialogical action also requires organisation if it is to avoid ideological control from the top. Organisation is a necessary element of revolutionary action; it implies coherence between action and practice, boldness, radicalising without sectarianism, and the courage to love. All these aspects should be present without falling into naiveté. Obviously, in order for revolutionary action to be accomplished, discipline, order, precise objectives, clear tasks to be completed, and accountability to one's compatriots must all be present. We are in no way speaking about an anarchistic activity. Rather, we are speaking about the awakening necessary to free oneself from the oppression that one encounters.

The final characteristic of dialogical action is the cultural synthesis that occurs along with the investigation of generative topics. This synthesis attempts to overcome the antagonistic activities begun by the oppressors and goes deeper than mere induction. It addresses the strength of one's own culture as a creative act and vindicates the oppressed by providing a different vision of the world than the one which has been imposed without question or examination.


Paulo Freire wants the individual to form himself rather than be formed. To this end, he proposes that educational topics or opportunities be taken from the daily experiences the individual constantly encounters and that we avoid the current educational pitfall of resorting to artificial experiences. He proposes that one problematise his own life in order to realise that he both requires and can achieve a different status.

Freire recognises that the practices he suggests can encounter “limiting situations” that block them, and that these situations are the product of resistance on the part of the oppressing classes to any change in the status they so closely protect. He describes some of the different methods, including ideologies, that the oppressors use to maintain their own status and the status quo, and if possible to oppress people even further, since these are a “law of life” that we can not evade.

pedagogy_of_the_oppressed.txt · Last modified: 2019/11/08 10:39 (external edit)