Gisella Vismara


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This essay analyzes some aspects of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy and his most important and notorious book, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In order to deepen Freire’s approach, it is helpful to recognize that the book also received criticism after its publication. These objections focused on the ideas of “conscientization”, Marxist and abstruse jargon, the cultural, educational, and political manipulation of students, the directiveness of his pedagogy as well as on class analysis. By exploring some counterarguments to these objections, this paper investigates the flaws and inconsistencies of these criticisms.

Keywords: conscientization, critical pedagogy, Marxism, oppressed, directiveness.

Il saggio analizza alcuni aspetti della pedagogia di Paulo Freire e del suo libro più importante e famoso, la Pedagogia degli oppressi. L’articolo menziona alcune critiche riguardanti le sue teorie dimostrandone la debolezza e l’inconsistenza. Le contro-argomentazioni indagheranno il criticismo relativo all’idea di “coscientizzazione”, il complesso e marxista linguaggio di Freire, la presunta manipolazione culturale, politica ed educativa degli studenti, la direttività della sua pedagogia, così come l’analisi di classe.

Parole chiave: coscientizzazione, pedagogia critica, Marxismo, oppresso, direttività.

G. Vismara, “Criticisms” of the pedagogy of the oppressed, in “Educazione Aperta” (www.educazioneaperta.it), n. 10 / 2021.


Introduction

Paulo Freire’s most famous work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (PO) (1970) is one of the most influential and notorious books globally. However, over the years, critics have also condemned the ideas Freire presented in PO, as well as his literacy method and general thinking. Their main criticisms focus on five subjects: first, the vagueness of Freire’s “conscientization” (coscientização) (Gajardo 1972; Austin 1995); second, his use of Marxist and abstruse jargon; third, his argument about the cultural, educational, and political manipulation of learners (Jay and Graff 1995; Graff 1992); fourth, the directiveness of his pedagogy (Coben 1998; Mejía 2004; Bartlett 2005; Biesta 2007; Job and Sriraman 2015); and, fifth, on his concept of class analysis.

Using an interpretative methodology, this essay examines the flaws of these five criticisms in turn through the counter arguments of Chambers (2019), Giroux (1997), Macedo (1995; 2002; 2005), Shor (1987; 1997), and Freire’s original texts (1987; 1993; 1995; 1996; 1997; 2002; 2005; 2014).

Conscientization

At the beginning of the 1960s, Freire promoted emancipating literacy programs for adults through critical and dialogical education in Brazil. His approach was based on three main actions: coding, decoding, and thematization. Frere’s plans used seventeen “generative words” (“universal vocabulary”) and “generative themes” belonging to local communities.  His goal was the radical transformation of society through the complex process of “conscientization”. In Brazil and Chile between 1959 and 1964, Freire worked on conceptualizing his first idea of conscientization (coscientização). He tested his approach in cultural circles and explained his experiences of putting it into action in the book Education for Critical Consciousness.[1] He described the process of conscientization as the capacity to grasp reality and its relations of causality. Quoting Àlvaro Vieira Pinto[2], Freire claimed that “Critical consciousness represents things and facts as they exist empirically, in their casual and circumstantial correlations […]”. In this way, “Critical consciousness is integrated to reality”. In contrast, “naïve consciousness”, Freire argued, “considers itself superior to the facts, in control of facts, and thus free to understand them as it pleases.”[3]

For Freire, the critical perception of reality implied acting in the world and challenging the present. The significant question concerning this is how one can develop the capacity to think critically and improve critical understanding. He proposed three strategies to accomplish this in educational contexts, specifically:

1. the dialogical approach (“problem-posing”) and criticism as methods;

2. the reinvention of the contents of the educational programs;

3. and the techniques of ‘breakdown’ (“a splitting of a theme in their fundamental nuclei”) and ‘codification’ (“the representation of a theme in the form of an existential situation[4]).

The acquisition of a critical level of consciousness is not automatic; therefore, for Freire, it was essential to organize educational programs concerning political and social issues to help people develop critical skills. The goal of his approach was to transform the condition of the oppressed, moving them from a level of irrationality towards a position of criticism. For Freire, this passage was crucial for the process of humanization.

In connection with the topic of conscientization[5], Robert Austin’s[6] critique underlines the haziness of the mechanical process of Freire’s conscientization of the Chilean period (1964-1969)[7]. In Austin’s eyes, authoritarian regimes, such as Pinochet’s, took advantage of the openness of Freire’s methodology.

Austin notes that Pinochet’s dictatorship adopted this approach to literacy by only changing a few “generative words”. Quoting Marcela Gajardo, Austin supports the thesis that the revolutionary factor of Freire’s work in Chile is overestimated. For Gajardo, the movement of the masses was already aware of the importance of literacy for the class struggle before Freire’s intervention. For some aspects, Gajardo’s questionable affirmation seems to diminish the value of Freire’s cultural plans. Through this claim, Gajardo refers to the exaggerated “mythologization” of Freire’s literacy by some scholars; in addition, Gajardo seems to accuse Freire of some naivety about the power of education detached from political implications. 

On the one hand, it is partially true that the first conception of “conscientization” was “vague and naïve[8], but,on the other hand,as numerous scholars affirm, Freire’s presence was pivotal to Chilean  campesinos and the development of their radical awareness. Austin himself has to admit “[…] formidable advances were made which were significantly driven by Freire’s energetic team. […] The durability and pragmatic responsiveness of Freire’s Christian-Marxism was essential to the maintenance of a generally progressive direction in what was an increasingly complex national project”[9].

Gajardo’s statement that Freire leaves a few questions unresolved may appear pertinent, but her claim is overly critical in connection with the process of “conscientization” of the Chilean period. In many passages of his Chilean writings, Freire outlines the relationships between awareness and reality as well as actions and theory. However, Freire himself admits the weakness of some parts of Education for Critical Consciousness and his first theorization of conscientization. Specifically, he refers to the obscurity of the links between conscientization, education, and politics. Gajardo’s main thorny critique concerns the relation between class struggle and education, “[…] [Freirean] practices and those in which the popular movement and its base organizations were involved”[10].Gajardo highlights Freire’s vagueness concerning some categories and their relations, such as the transformation of social-political context and critical pedagogy, the role of conscientization in connection with class-consciousness and parties, and the contribution of popular education to the political organization of masses’ projects.

Freire confronts these issues in PO at the end of the Chilean period. However, in the Introduction to Sobre la Acción Cultural[11], Gajardo herself underlines that the incompleteness of Freire’s earlier work[12] becomes one of the most engaging challenges concerning the ideas of conscientization and transformation. In Gajardo’s eyes, despite some ingenuity, Freire’s “first conscientization” had opened a fruitful discussion on oppression. Gajardo’s suggestion that Freire offers the overcoming of oppressive consciousness through the Chilean plans of Agrarian Reform implies the coexistence of praxis and theory. According to her, Freire definitively overcomes the weaknesses of his first theory through the dialectical theorization of PO. In other words, Freire introduces a horizontal approach to education in which Agrarian Reform becomes a dialectical model of unity between cultural action and work. In 1972[13], Freire himself highlighted the importance of dismantling the conscientization by every subjectivism and psychologism to connect social reality to critical consciousness. As Gajardo argues, the Freirean dialogical and dialectical relations among Subjects permit “[…] la constitución del verdadero mundo humano”[14].

Marxist and abstruse jargon

Promoting the dialectical approach to knowledge, Freire affirms the necessity to teach by practicing the close relationship between language, thought, and world. Teaching is an “intervention” into the world to unmask the oppressors, fight each form of the dominant ideology, and overcome oppression. For this reason, neutral language and education cannot exist. Comprehension of the world is the first step to understand the word and “rewrite” it into a new horizon of justice and equal opportunities. Freire wishes to think about the possibility of creating a new democratic and socialist society outside both sectarianism and fatalism.

Nevertheless, as Freire asserts, the subjects (students-teacher) of learning are socially constructed and influenced by hegemonic culture and, in some countries, like Africa and Latin America, also by colonial heritage. Following Freire, “Educators and political leaders must recognize that language is inevitably one of the major preoccupations of a society which, liberating itself from colonialism and refusing to be drawn into neo-colonialism, searches for its own recreation. In the struggle to re-create society, the reconquest by the people of their own world becomes a fundamental factor’”[15].

In the contemporary era, the task of critical pedagogy is to comprehend both the dynamics of the capitalistic educational system and colonial legacy. Freire correctly supports the idea that ethical capitalism does not exist. In his eyes, it is necessary to conduct an anti-capitalistic struggle against every form of exploitation of minorities. Because he refuses the concepts of “neutrality” of education and words, he was accused of using ideological and abstruse terminologies.

Donaldo Macedo notices that some liberal and progressive theorists criticize Freire’s “Marxist jargon”[16], especially for terms such as ‘oppression’, ‘subordination’, and ‘praxis’. They contest these terms in the name of an assumed standard language. Furthermore, they claim a presumed clarity and cleansing of linguistic expressions. Following Macedo, this academic criticism promotes pedagogical “neutrality” and fosters the language of oppression. The accusation of the “intelligibility” of Freire’s language also supports the promotion of a neutral education and, therefore, the ideology of dominion. Macedo correctly points out that this “language of clarity” fosters the distortion of reality. Furthermore, it promotes the idea that“there is an a priori agreed-upon style of writing that is monolithic, available to all, and ‘free of jargon’”[17]. These academics of “linguistic purity”, including Gerald Graff, are responsible and part of the ideology of oppression and dominance.

As the essay will analyze later, Graff proposes to reform capitalism to overcome the Sixties’ radicalism conservatively and, therefore, maintain the status quo. He accuses the language of some critical pedagogues, like Freire and Giroux, as existing “on a high plateau of abstraction”[18];this claim shows his ideological aversion to radicalism and pedagogy of liberation and resistance. He writes, “Such abstract writing keeps us safely insulated from that part of us that might otherwise express such inconvenient thoughts—which is probably the point”[19].Actually, his linguistic theory promotes disengagement with emancipating and transformative education. 

Cultural, educational, and political manipulation

Freire intertwines the matter of education and reading-writing with power and critical knowledge of the world, and not only with the learning of technical skills. Freire fosters a progressive ideology for which educators must connect political knowledge to literacy training and link reading of the world to reading words. Liberating teachers have the task “to unveil the ideology enveloped in the very expectations of the students”[20].

As Freire affirms, “there is no neutral education. All education is directive”[21]. The problem of ‘directive education’ becomes a false and deceiving issue, especially if this is considered in connection with the nature of education. All kinds of teaching have to relate to ‘ideologies’; the missed recognition of this assumption by educators or theorists risks diminishing the empowerment of the oppressed. 

Concerning Freire’s literacy, Henry Giroux write, “radical theory of literacy needs to incorporate a notion of ideology critique that includes a view of human agency in which the production of meaning takes place in the dialogue and interaction that mutually constitute the dialectical relationship between human subjectivities and the objective world”[22].

The topic of ideologies is also linked to comprehending differences (gender, language, class, and ethnicity) and their ties with power. Dealing with the problem of oppression and discrimination, Freire writes, “[…] in dialectical thought, world and action are intimately interdependent”[23]. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the contradictions without a historical comprehension of the concrete context and its discriminatory ideologies. In other words, it is possible to change reality and develop a sense of hope only through the dialectical comprehension of history and the relationship between ‘consciousness’ and the world.

The meaning of education is always related to the teachers’ political positioning and their globalizing actions (ethical, political, and cultural). As Freire clarifies, “I must intervene in teaching the peasants that their hunger is socially constructed and work with them to help identify those responsible for this social construction, which is, in my view, a crime against humanity”[24]. The educator has to show the mechanisms of oppression as well as identify who the oppressors are.

Gregory Jay and Gerard Graff accuse Freire of imposing his general and abstract category of the oppressed and using it manipulatively. They claim that Freire directs the student towards an uncritical reading of reality.

Jay and Graff[25] criticize the existence of an alleged contradiction and controversial reading of the world in Freire’s theory. In their eyes, Freire theorizes the oppressed and oppressors as “a priori” categories. For them, the PO eschews defining the oppressed and oppressors in dialogical and dialectical terms. According to Jay and Graff, Freire describes a “universal” oppressed as the protagonist of universal capitalist oppression. However, they base their thesis on a mystified, limited, and partial reading of Freire’s works. The inconsistency of their criticism appears evident through a complete analysis of Freire’s corpus. In particular, the Pedagogy of Hope deconstructs their arguments and details the explanation of the mechanisms of oppression and the pivotal role of critical education in this process of identification and demystification. 

Freire’s grounded argumentation that human beings are always historically, socially, and culturally situated is uncontroversial. This assumption is helpful to him to underline the importance of the dialectic between “knowledge of reality and transformation of reality”[26].

As Freire argues, identifying the oppressed groups and their exploitation is simple, and it appears quite curious that the critics have difficulty recognizing oppression. For Graff, it is worthless and manipulative to define and identify the oppressed and oppressors. Graff overlooks the existence of material and ideological conditions to avoid identifying the oppressor. On the contrary, Freire’s definition of oppression belongs to a “politics of representation”[27]and a social project. Macedo’s argument rightly emphasizes that Freire’s theory sketches an “ongoing struggle to promote and expand democratic social relations”[28]as well as an authentic critical pedagogy. Graff’s unhistorical positioning risks running into an erroneous and relativistic attitude. He criticizes and refuses to name the oppressor and, therefore, conceals the possibility of considering the material-historical experiences in education. In other words, Graff avoids defining the conflict between “oppressed-oppressor”.

Graff’s invitation to teaching the conflictactuallybecomes a pedagogical depoliticized practice, concealing the concern to show the true dominant thought. His accusation that Freire manipulates students’ criticism appears inconsistent. According to Graff, the critical educator “[…] is not only authoritatively right about the issues, but is also justified in assuming the inauthenticity of the student’s opinions”[29].His reactionary positioning supposes that critical teachers, like Freire, proselytize and brainwash their students. This claim avoids the social engagement in education as well as the practice of transformative pedagogy. Furthermore, Graff’s idea of “teaching the conflict” is questionable. On the contrary, Freire’s critical approach has anthropological, philosophical, and social roots.

Freire claims that human beings are cultural and creative and can learn, create, and decide. These statements are decisive to grasp his rebuttal to liberal intellectual criticism.

As he states, “The education of human beings should never be restricted to a true intellectual training that limits itself to merely exposing students to what Graff calls a pedagogy of conflict – as if all existed on an equal basis – without creating conditions that will enable students to understand the nature of the ideologies, that created the conflicts in the first place”[30].

In substance, the focus of Graff is technique instead of students’ creativity and the contents of what they learn. In discussion with Graff, Ira Shor notices that the pedagogy ‘learners-centered’ is the crucial point of Freire’s approach, rather than a classroom problem or an individual teacher-class question.

Graff’s preoccupation concerning possible disorientation of students, across the curriculum, through the practice of a fragmented critical pedagogy, appears problematic. Following Freire and Shor, it is fundamental to start with questions about learning organization in a classroom. It is crucial, for example, before teaching begins, to debate with students the question of how to structure lessons. The critical teacher should begin to investigate and understand the level of consciousness of learners before engaging with whatever academic debate or matter. This engagement is one of the most relevant critical pedagogical approaches, which Graff contests; he also raises doubts about postponing “the academic intellectualization” of students[31].

Some liberal scholars also criticized Freire’s approach in regards to how educators could manipulate people by imposing their cultural and political viewpoints during their teaching.

Freire contests educational methods that mask the nature and causes (cultural, social, and economic) of oppression. The practice of critical education implies that, without imposition, educators must state their political beliefs. As he asks, “why should the educator hide his or her opinion, including his or her political position?”[32].

The crucial mission of popular education is to critically engage the oppressed while at the same time maintaining an ethically grounded position.

Freire’s strategies reject the authoritarian and manipulative approach; indeed, open dialogue, discussion, and critical analysis are the basis of his theory. Moreover, Freire recommends that educators should start their teaching from the specific context of the exploited. Freire’s suggestion seeks to “pose to the people as problems their position in the historical process”[33]; his proposal discloses alternatives as well as opportunities beyond the condition of “immersive”[34] oppression. The aim is to open a dialogue on the improvement of their life.

Indeed, Freire, as a revolutionary educator, asserts “[…] the right to think and dream about a world that is less oppressive and more human toward the oppressed, just as the poet has the right to write and to dream about a utopian world”[35]. As previously stated, the accusation of manipulation seems weak and inconsistent.

“Directiveness” vs. “problem-posing”

The discussion on manipulation is intertwined with Freire’s pedagogy’s thorny matter of “directiveness”, apparently in contradiction with his “problem-posing”. Freire’s claim that there is no education without “directivenessis straightforward[36]. According to his theory, every educational program has an outcome, a goal, and, therefore, a “directiveness”. Pedagogy that eludes this problem is mystifying, hypocritical, and perilous for students. On the one hand, in Freire’s eyes, educators must accept the responsibility to declare what they think. In this way, teachers help students to develop the “right thinking”[37] and the authentic values (antiracism, inclusiveness, and hopefulness). On the other hand, they “should never allow their [his or her] active and curious presence to transform learners’ presences into shadows of the educator’s presence”[38].

However, some intellectuals argue that Freire’s dialogical practice is incompatible with directive education (incompatibilists)[39]. For them, every teacher’s decision influences students and prevents them from thinking freely. The reciprocity of the pedagogical relationship contradicts each solution, problem, or suggestion of the educator. Drew W. Chambers reports that incompatibilists accuse Freire’s approach of supporting “totalizing closure, paternalistic elitism, and the indignity of speaking for others”[40]. They interpret Freire’s approach as paternalistic and inconsistent.

Other scholars[41], like Schugurensky, Webb, and Mayo, support the coherence and cohesion of Freire’s “directiveness” (compatibilits), and yet others[42], like Torres and Jackson, reject the idea of its “directiveness” (no-directivists).

Chambers’[43] thesis that the dialogical approach and “directiveness” can coexist in a balanced way seems the more plausible position. Freire promotes the pedagogy of dialogue in combination with critical-emancipatory “directiveness”. His theory does not aim to conceal the ‘directiveness’ of education but rather to theorize its inevitability. Moreover, he contends that ‘directiveness’ can encounter and stunt the creativity, autonomy, and critical skills of learners. As he argues, “the moment the educator’s ‘directivity’ interferes with the creative, formulative, investigative capacity of the educand, and then the necessary directivity is transformed into manipulation, into authoritarianism”[44].In other words, there are tensions between liberating pedagogy and the directive method. Freire solves this issue by recognizing “directiveness” and teaching in a non-authoritarian way. According to Chambers and Freire, “the aim is not to circumvent directiveness, but rather to accept that directiveness is education’s ‘nature’ and that it is a teacher’s onus to cultivate a directiveness that does not interfere ‘with the creative, formulative, investigative capacity of the educand’”[45].

Freire is conscious that 1. any educational actionis not perfect, and 2. it is necessary to balance manipulation and spontaneity(i.e., laissez-faire or non-directiveness)[46].

Freire suggests that teachers can implement critical education responsibly and consistently through a dialectical relation between pedagogical practice and democratic choice. Teachers should demonstrate their competence and authority, and, in an asymmetrical relation with students, they must introduce limitations and duties of study.

However, critical educators should avoid the despotic position of command. Their directive role should help students ponder on the objects of knowledge seriously and profoundly.

Freire writes, “The teacher presents the material to the students for her/his consideration, and reconsiders her/his earlier considerations, as the students express their own”[47]. For Freire, education is the moral formation of learners; the educator has an ethical, political, and humanizing role. Critical education attempts to create the conditions for students to build a utopian and democratic society of peace, justice, and freedom. Freire’s dream is always to enhance educands’ consciousness and experiences; “students may become utopian dreamers themselves, even as their utopias differ in form from that of their teacher’s”[48].Freire also considers utopia as a collective work, which can be helpful to stimulate the imagination of the classroom. However, utopia should not become a normative obligation imposed by educators.

Freire’s theses require a scrupulous investigation of the problematic use and misinterpretations of his approach at school and in academic programs. This analysis has to scrutinize both the field of teachers’ training and the complexity of the practice of the Freirean approach. One of the most crucial problems of teachers is the use of problem-posing in their classrooms and its combination with calendars of school, course books, tests, and ministerial requests. According to Chambers, “being a Freirean teacher does not mean abandoning directive or expository methods—the lecture does not have to be banished from the critical classroom. The challenge is not how to eliminate directiveness in the classroom, but to consider how directiveness can lend itself to praxis and liberation”[49].

With the above statement in mind, critics’ claims about the contradiction between “directiveness and “problem-posing and accusations about Freire’s paternalism, elitism, and closure are quite unfounded.

Class analysis

Another misleading and questionable reading of PO is Freire’s class analysis. Influenced by the theory of Karl Marx, Freire’s early work assigns a key role to class analysis in the fight against colonialism and capitalism’s different forms of oppression.

On the one hand, some leftists and Marxists accused Freire of inadequately conceptualizing what he meant by class struggle. In particular, they accused him of defining the category of “oppressed” vaguely. As Freire says, “many in the 1970s […] said: ‘I desiderate the Marxist presence in your analyses or your ignorance of the fact that ‘the class struggle is the driving force of history’. But I think […] that we can get something out of what you are doing and saying by “rewriting” you in a Marxist vein”[50]. Freire defines these criticismsas more formal and mechanistic than dialectical. In comparison, his concept of class struggle is defined differently and independently from the traditional cliché. Freire writes, “many of those who demanded of me in the 1970s that I constantly explicate the concept, today [they] require the very opposite: that I retract the two dozen times I employed it, because ‘there are no longer any social classes, nor therefore any class conflict’”[51].

On the other hand, Freire ignored different forms of oppression. In other words, he was only focused on class analysis. In Pedagogy of Hope, Freire reports that some members of the Black community also contested his class analysis because it seemed to exclude racial problems. According to Freire, the investigation of racism and class analysis must coexist in an emancipating approach. He states, “[…] one cannot reduce the analysis of racism to social class, one cannot understand racism fully without a class analysis, for to do one at the expense of the other is to fall prey into a sectarianist position, which is as despicable as the racism that we need to reject”[52].

Freire never avoids investigating the problem of racism through his critical approach. In Pedagogy of the Heart, he clarifies that oppression is a complicated matter: “If I am certain that the only kind of prejudice that can be fully explained by class analysis is the prejudice of class, I also know that the class factor is hidden within both sexual and racial discrimination. We cannot reduce all prejudice to a classist explanation, but we may not overlook in understanding the different kinds of discrimination”[53].

According to Freire, Macedo emphasizes the error of postmodernism, which dismisses the importance of Freire’s class analysis to support a classless contemporary society[54]. Giroux also underlines that Freirenever accepts the“poststructuralist tendency to translate diverse forms of class, race, and gender-based oppression to the discursive space of subject positions’”[55]. In other words, Freire never underestimates the importance of class, while he considers other essential factors in his complex investigation of oppression.

Freire never abandons the theoretical category of class and uses the “comprehensive social analysis”[56] to deepen understanding of the multiple forms and conditions of oppression. In Macedo’s eyes, Freire’s later works also demonstrate the importance of scrutinizing oppression through a “convergent theoretical framework where the object of oppression is cut across by such factors as race, class, gender, culture, language, and ethnicity. Thus, he [would] reject[s] any theoretical analysis that would collapse the multiplicity of factors into a monolithic entity, including class”[57].

In The Pedagogy of Hope, Freire restates his position and claims the importance of “unity in diversity”. He maintains that it is necessary to recognize the division between classes. However, he underlines the importance of the peculiarities of each “minority” through the element of “cultural pluralism”[58] as an essential, historical, and pedagogical tool. To sum up, Frere’s late work rightly analyzes the “unitary of experience of oppression” as well as thematizes “[…] the multiplicity of modes of oppression […] with respect to all oppressed peoples”[59].

Conclusion

The analysis of some misleading criticisms towards Freire’s theory and praxis shows their flaws. This paper has illustrated counter arguments and Freire’s original writings to prove his coherence and capacity to rethink his own theorization. The development of the idea of conscientization demonstrates his consistency. Through this rethinking, conscientization becomes more concrete and clear: it is insufficient to identify the oppression to eliminate it. The reading of society by Freire’s dialectical model of ‘oppressed-oppressor’ permits us to analyze the reasons for oppression and the mechanisms of introjection of the oppressor. The mention of concrete and outstanding results of Freire’s literacy shows the correctness of the combination between praxis and theory.

Freire’s critical language and “directiveness belong to emancipating and liberating projects. His idea of teaching and learning as political ‘acts’ is helpful to support a transformation of reality. The tool of dialogue refuses neutral education and prevents every kind of manipulation of students.

The thematization and inclusion of other identities in his later works demonstrate his anti-dogmatism. His project of humanization supports the practice of a ‘radical democracy’ also in dialogue with social movements.  Freire’s idea of “unity in diversity” promotes a model of socialist and anti-capitalist “revolution” and communality against each kind of oppression. Freire’s Marxist approach and language promote a close linkage between production forces, knowledge, and education. Contemporary educators should reconsider his dialectical analysis and Freire’s correct insistence on the persistence of class society. The multiplicity of theoretical references and his cultural and multidisciplinary polyphonyare the reasons for the success of his approach. The openness and fluidity of Freire’s dialectical methodology permit contemporary critical pedagogy to enrich his ideas about decolonial theory and today’s educational problems. As Cathryn Teasley and Alana Butler correctly observe, “Freire’s early critical engagement with anti-colonial cultural perspectives […] served to introduce decolonial influences into the field of education studies and to lay the foundations that guide critical pedagogy/education away from absorbing the legacies of coloniality”[60].

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Vieira Pinto À., Consciência e Realidade National, ISEB, Rio de Janeiro,  1961.

The author

Gisella Vismara is an art educator. She earned her BA in Art, Music, and Entertainment (DAMS) and specialization in Art teaching at the University of Bologna. She has taught “Didactics for the Museum” at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera (Milano) and “Art education” at middle school. She collaborates with Lucio Saffaro Foundation (Bologna). She is the author of didactic publications such as Educare allo sguardo voll. 1, 2, 3Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (2010-15), Test di storia dell’arte, Gabriele D’Anna (2005), Lucio Saffaro. Pittore di sogni e di poesie, Artebambini (2013), Un’opera per capire and L’opera mito, Atlas (2020). She has written books and articles for different publishers concerning school, art education, museum didactics, cinema, art criticism, and literature. She has curated the art education column for “Exibart” online. She is currently attending a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies at Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna with a dissertation on Paulo Freire and visual arts teaching.


[1]  P. Freire, Education as a Practice for Freedom (1965), or in the following translation: P. Freire, Education for critical consciousness (1973), Continuum, NY, 2005.

[2]   C.f. À. Vieira Pinto, Consciência e Realidade National, (1961), ISEB, Rio de Janeiro.

[3]  P. Freire, Education for critical consciousness, cit., p. 39.

[4]  Footnote 5, in P. Freire, Education for critical consciousness, cit., p. 50.

[5]  As Freire explains in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “The term conscientização refers to learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality. […]” In Chile, Freire reconsiders the concept of ‘conscientization’ in order to overcome the “level of mere subjective perception of a situation”. P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (1970), Continuum, NY- London, 2005, p. 35.

[6]  Cf. R. Austin, Freire, Frei and literacy texts in Chile, 1964–1970,in“Critical Studies in Education”, 36:1, 1995, pp. 43-54. DOI: 10.1080/17508487.1995.9558570 (accessed 23 June 2020).

[7]  In late November 1964, after the Brazilian coup, Freire was hosted as an exile by the Christian Democratic government of Chile, where he remained until mid-April 1969. His book Extensión o Comunicación (1968)describes the literacy strategies and education processes in the Chilean agrarian contexts. The book underlines the importance of communication between teachers (agronomists) and students (e.g., literacy training about techniques of teaching). Freire applied the same methodology that he had used in Brazil (coding, decoding, problem-posing). Through the culture circles, he organized discussions with peasants and agronomists to improve their conditions of life and promote literacy programs and “cultural democratization”.

[8]  R. Austin, Freire, Frei and literacy texts in Chile, 1964–1970, cit., p. 48.

[9]9  Ivi, p. 52.

[10]  M. Gajardo, La Concientización en América Latina: Una Revisión Crítica, CREFAL, Michoacán, 1991, pp. 43-44; see also the English partial translation by R. Austin, Freire, Frei and literacy texts in Chile, 1964–1970, cit.,p. 49.

[11]  Cf. M. Gajardo, Introducción, in P. Freire, Sobre la Acción Cultural, ICIRA, Santiago de Chile, 1972.

[12]  I assume that that Gajardo refers to P. Freire, Education as a Practice for Freedom (1965).

[13]  P. Freire, Prefazione all’edizione italiana, in L’educazione come pratica della libertà, (1969), Mondadori, Milano, 1973, p. 44; Cf. P. Freire, Education for critical consciousness, cit.

[14]  “ […] the constitution of the true human world” [trans. by the author], M. Gajardo, Introducción, in P. Freire, Sobre la Acción Cultural, cit., p.16.

[15]  D. Macedo, P. Freire, Reading the World & the World (1987), cit., p. 104.

[16]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, in “Harvard Educational Review”, [S.I.], v. 65, n.3, 1995, p. 389.

[17]  D. Macedo, Introduction, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cit., p. 20.

[18]  G. Graff, Clueless in academe: how schooling obscures the life of the mind, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003, p. 132.

[19]  Ibidem.

[20]  I. Shor, P. Freire, A Pedagogy for Liberation, Greenwood/ Bergin and Garvey, Westport CT, 1987, pp. 67-74; Cf. N. Buffington, C. Moneyhun, G. Graff, I. Shor, A Conversation with Gerald Graff and Ira Shor, in “JAC”, vol. 17, n. 1, 1997, p. 21.

[21]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, cit., p. 394.

[22]  H. A. Giroux, Introduction Literacy and the Pedagogy of Political Empowerment in D. Macedo, P. Freire, Reading the World & the World (1987), Taylor & Francis e-Library Great Britain, 2005, p.4.

[23]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cit., p. 53.

[24]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, cit., p. 379.

[25]  Cf. G. Jay, G. Graff, A Critique of Critical Pedagogy, in “Highereducation under fire: Politics, economics, and the crisis of the humanities”, (ed. M. Bérubé, G. Nelson), Routledge, New York, 1995; G. Graff, Academic writing and the uses of bad publicity, in “South Atlantic Quarterly”, 91(19), 1992, pp. 5-17.

[26]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1994), Bloomsbury, London-NY, 2014, p. 93.

[27]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, cit., p. 387.

[28]  Ibidem.

[29]  N. Buffington, C. Moneyhun, G. Graff, I. Shor, A Conversation with Gerald Graff and Ira Shor, cit., p. 2.

[30]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, cit., p. 389.

[31]  N. Buffington, C. Moneyhun, G. Graff, I. Shor, A Conversation with Gerald Graff and Ira Shor, cit., p. 9.

[32]  Ivi, p. 388.

[33]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cit., p. 149.

[34]  P. Freire argues that “[…] the oppressed […] have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed”, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, cit., p. 47.

[35]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, A dialogue: culture, language, and race, cit., p. 390.

[36]  Cf. P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, cit.

[37] P. Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom, Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield, Washington DC, 1996, p. 59.

[38]  D. Macedo, P. Freire, Reading the World & the World (1987), cit., p. 97.

[39]  See A. Mej´ıa, The Problem of Knowledge Imposition: Paulo Freire and Critical Systems Thinking, “Systems Research and Behavioral Science”, 21.1, 2004, pp. 63–82; L. Bartlett, Dialogue, Knowledge, and Teacher-Student Relations: Freirean Pedagogy in Theory and Practice, in “Comparative Educational Review, 49.3, 2005, pp. 344–364; J. Job, B. Sriraman, The Concept of Teacher–Student/Student–Teacher, in “Higher Education Trends. Interchange”, 46.3, 2015, pp. 215–223; D. Coben, Radical Heroes: Gramsci, Freire, and the Politics of Adult Education, Garland Publishing, New York, 1998; G. Biesta, Don’t Be Fooled by Ignorant Schoolmasters: On the Role of the Teacher in Emancipatory Education, in “Policy Futures in Education, 15.1, 2017, pp. 52–73.

[40]  D. W. Chambers, Is Freire Incoherent? Reconciling Directiveness and Dialogue in Freirean Pedagogy, cit., p. 36.

[41]  See D. Schugurensky, Paulo Freire, (ed. R. Bailey), Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 2014; D. Webb, Critical Pedagogy, Utopia and Political (Dis)engagement, in “Power and Education”, 5.3, 2013, pp. 280–290; D. Webb, Pedagogies of Hope, in “Studies in Philosophy and Education”, 33, 2013, pp. 397–414; D. Webb, Process, Orientation, and System: The Pedagogical Operation of Utopia in the Work of Paulo Freire, in “Educational Theory”, 62.5, 2012, pp. 593–608; P. Mayo, Liberating Praxis, (ed. H. Giroux), CT: Praeger Publishers, Westport, 2004; P. Mayo, Echoes from Freire for a Critically Engaged Pedagogy, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2012.

[42]  C. A. Torres, First Freire, (ed. J. Banks), Teachers College Press, New York, 2014; S. Jackson, Freire Re-viewed, in “Educational Theory”, 57.2, 2007, pp. 199–213.

[43]  Cf. D. W. Chambers, Is Freire Incoherent? Reconciling Directiveness and Dialogue in Freirean Pedagogy, in “Journal of Philosophy of Education”,vol. 53, n. 1, 2019, pp. 21-47.

[44]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, cit., p. 68.

[45]  D. W. Chambers, Is Freire Incoherent? Reconciling Directiveness and Dialogue in Freirean Pedagogy, cit., p. 27; Cf. P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, cit., p. 68.

[46]  Cf. Ivi, p. 40.

[47]  D. Coben, Paulo Freire’s Legacy for Adults Learning Mathematics, in D. Coben, John O’Donoghue (Eds.), Proceedings of the Adults Learning Mathematics, University of London, Goldsmiths College, London, 1998, p. 75.

[48]  Ibidem.

[49]  Ivi, p. 41.

[50]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, cit., p. 169.

[51]  Ivi, p. 80.

[52]  D. Macedo, Introduction, in Pedagogy of the oppressed, cit., p. 15; Cf. P. Freire, D. Macedo, Ideology Matters, Rowman & Littlefield, Boulder CO, 2002.

[53]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, Continuum, New York, 1997, p. 86.

[54]  Freire writes, “There is yet another mistake or risk that of believing in reactionary postmodernity, according to which the death of ideology has led to the disappearance of social classes, dreams, and utopias as well, making public administration purely a technical matter, detached from politics and ideology.” P. Freire, First Letter, in Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Dare Teach, Westview Press, New York, 2009, p. 25.

[55]  D. Macedo, Introduction, in Pedagogy of the oppressed, cit., p. 14; Cf. H. A. Giroux, Radical Pedagogy and Educated hope: theory, culture, and schooling: a critical reader, Westview Press, Colorado, 1997.

[56]  P. Freire, D. Macedo, “A dialogue: culture, language, and race”, cit., p. 401.

[57]  D. Macedo, Introduction, in Pedagogy of the oppressed, cit., p. 14.

[58]  P. Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, cit., p. 146.

[59]  P. Freire, Foreword, in P. McLaren, P. Leonard, Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter, (ed. P. McLaren, P. Leonard), Routledge, NY, 1993, p. x.

[60]  C. Teasley, A. Butler, Intersecting Critical Pedagogies to Counter Coloniality, in “The SAGE Handbook of Critical Pedagogies”, Ltd, May 11, 2020, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526486455.n26, (accessed on September 15, 2020), p. 11.