Nutshell Biographies Center for Learning Through Community Service 

Who is Paulo Freire -- and how are his ideas relevant to community 
service learning?

	Freire (usually pronounced by English speakers to rhyme with 
"prairie") was a Brazilian educator whose method of adult literacy 
training so frightened the ruling military government in 
1964 that he was jailed and later "invited to leave" his country.  The 
"critical pedagogy" that got Freire into so much trouble is this: 
Facilitators were to go into oppressed communities and live with the 
people for a period of several months so as to find "generative 
themes" -- daily life situations of the poorest of the poor that could 
act as powerful discussion-starters in literacy classes.  These themes 
were then expressed as single words which could be easily read and 
from whose syllables other words could be constructed.  Favela 
("slum" in Portuguese) is such a word.  Classes in slum communities 
would begin with a dialogue between students and facilititor about 
why favelas exist, why residents find it so difficult to escape from 
them, who profits from them, and so on.  Only after this analysis 
would students begin to read, write, and construct new words from 
the phonemic units "fa," "ve," and "la."  Freire called this process 
"reading the world before reading the word."  
	Freire believed that as a teacher, he must do more than give 
information or help students develop a skill. "How can I teach 
peasants in Brazil without helping them understand the reasons why 
thirty-three million of them are dying of hunger?" asks Freire.  
"I think teaching peasants how to read the word hunger and to look it 
up in the dictionary is not sufficient.  They also need to know the 
reasons behind their experience of hunger.  . . What I would have to 
tell these thirty three million peasants is that to die from hunger is 
not a predetermined destiny.  I would have to share with them that 
to die from hunger is a social anomaly.  It is not a biological issue.  It 
is a crime that is practiced by the capitalist economy of Brazil against 
thirty-three million peasants.  I need to also share with them that 
the Brazilian economy is not an autonomous entity.  It is a social 
production, a social production that is amoral and diabolical and 
should be considered a crime against humanity." (1) 
	Freire believed that the forces that oppress the poor in Third 
World countries are much the same as those that cause the shocking 
level of hunger, disease, violence, school failure, unemployment, and 
hopelessness among the poor in the United States (see for example, 
Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools  
New York: Crown, 1991).  Thus, Freire would say that any time we 
are teaching, mentoring, tutoring, or working with residents of an 
impoverished community we are -- consciously or not -- engaged in 
a political act. If we help students succeed at mind-numbing, fill-in-
the-blank activities, or present ourselves as "knowers" who try to fill 
their empty heads with facts (a practice he called "banking education") 
we help replicate a system of power and domination where those 
who can spit back or "withdraw the deposits of information" have 
only learned to repeat uncritically what the authorities want them to 
	Freire would also say that if we make the assumption that 
people can overcome their difficulties by simply changing their 
personal habits and attitudes, getting good grades, and working hard 
all their lives we are deflecting their attention (and ours) from the 
oppressive social, cultural and economic systems that keep great 
numbers of people poor. But if, on the other hand, we encourage 
people -- even children -- to critically question why their families 
are finding it so difficult to get ahead, or why they are living in a 
toxic environment, or getting shot in the schoolyard, or being 
portrayed by the media as undignified and irresponsible, we are 
encouraging them to actively change society for the better, and thus, 
in Freire's terms, "become more fully human."
		With the return to civilian rule in the 1980s, Freire was welcomed 
back into his country and in 1989 became Secretary of Education in 
Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest municipalities.  Until his death in
1997 he continued to dialogue with students and progressive educators
all over the world about critical literacy and education for empowerment.  

Freire authored or co-authored fourteen books. Among them are:
Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum, 1986 [1970] 
The pedagogy of hope. Continuum, 1994 
Learning to question: A pedagogy of liberation.  Continuum, 1987
Literacy, reading the word and the world. (Paulo Freire and Donaldo 
Macedo) Bergin & Garvey, 1987
We make the road by walking: Conversations on education and social 
change. (Paulo Freire and Myles Horton), Temple University 
Press, 1990 
For a thoughtful critique of Freire's ideas see: 
Jay, Gregory  and Gerald Graff "A critique of critical pedagogy," in 
Higher education under fire,  Michael Berube and Gary 
Nelson (eds.), New York: Routledge, 1995. 

For examples of Freirian pedagogy in action see: 
Squires, Nancy and Robin Inlander,  A Freirian-inspired video 
curriculum for at-risk high school students. English Journal 
79:49-56  Feb. 1990.
Statzner, Elsa L. "And Marvin raised his hand: Practices that 
encourage children's classroom participation." Anthropology and 
Education Quarterly  25:285-97, Sept. 1994; 
Rudd, Rima E. and John Commings. Learner developed materials: An 
empowering project. Health Education Quarterly 21:313-27  
Fall, 1994; 
Gibson, Alan. Freirian vs. enterprise education: The difference is in 
the business;Convergence (Toronto) 27 no 1:46-57, 1994.; 

(1) Freire, P. and Macedo, D.P. A Dialogue: Culture, Language, and Race.  
Harvard Educational Review  Vol. 65  No. 3  Fall, 1995.