Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. Translated by Myra B. Ramos. New York: Continuum, 2000. 189 ppg.
Having studied the works of Paulo Freire for a few years in my doctoral studies, I always wanted to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed at one point. I finally made time and am not disappointed. Freire made his point quite clearly and I can see where his pedagogical ideas arise from. It helps that I understand the context of Freire’s work because otherwise this book is very likely to be seen as a Marxist educational tract. The language is that of revolution, but not of the violent sort. Instead, Freire took pains to stress that the revolution was that of the mind alone through pedagogy. He referred to this as a dialogical revolution, not a violent one.
Understanding the history of this book and Paulo Freire is required in order to properly interpret the contents. Freire was an educator in Brazil in the 1960s who worked with illiterate peasants. He developed a way to teach the peasants how to read in a phenomenally short time. The problem with that was Freire also taught them to question their place in the world. The military dictatorship running Brazil could not allow its subjects to question its authority. No totalitarian state can allow that. It lets the peasants begin to reject the rule by the elites.
As a result, Freire was imprisoned. Later, he was exiled whereupon he set out to transform the lower classes through education. Brazil’s mistake was the world’s benefit though. Freire would work on his theories and write many books. This book was the first of several and it had a major impact on the world of education. Today, Freire is seen as the Godfather of Critical Pedagogy. His work influences educational theorists. Action research methods are often found to draw many of their ideas from Freire. For all of these people, it begins with the reading of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
What is somewhat controversial today is how Freire wrote about the Cuban Revolution in this book. Bear in mind he wrote it in 1973 and this was before a lot of the information about the failures of Castro’s regime had become widely known. His point of view was without a doubt biased as he wrote from the perspective of someone who would have supported Castro had he been in Cuba in the 1950s. Most of what Freire quotes from the revolution deals with the way Castro’s revolutionaries merged with the peasants of Cuba until both were the same. That was instrumental in the success of the Revolution. So Freire points this out and the process by which it occurred.
While some are willing to label Freire a Marxist for this view, the point must be made that historically speaking, this was exactly how successful revolutions were able to survive and grow in a hostile climate. It was through a dialogue that the relationship between the two groups grew. Had Castro used coercion to force support from the peasants his revolution would have failed. That he would install a repressive regime lacking many of the freedoms he promised to the peasants is noted by Freire. Indeed, Freire points out that this is not a true revolution when this occurs as the oppressor has simply been replaced by another oppressor.
This is a pretty important point to note. There is no way the book could have been used as the pedagogical guide that it is if Freire had advocated violent insurrection and totalitarian government. Keep in mind that he wrote this book for people living in Latin America, not the United States. This is also where people have incorrect perspectives. It is also why the book was well received by people in Latin America, most of whom were living under repressive totalitarian governments. Freire was speaking directly to them, the people for whom education was denied. He saw education as one of the pivotal means of creating the ability for the people to revolt against the oppressors.
The language used in the book is clearly Marxist in nature, but it is simplistic in identifying who the players are in the system of oppression. Again, he was speaking to people who had low levels of education. He kept it simple so they could understand and apply the concepts to their own lives. Remember, Freire found a way to teach adult peasants how to read in a month. He understood who he was teaching on a level beyond most people. Reading Pedagogy from that perspective really is the best possible way to begin interpreting it. The book itself is a education cornerstone. Freire followed it up with more books, but this one is the base he would build his philosophy of Critical Pedagogy upon. It is clearly worth five stars as one of the seminal educational texts of all time.