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 think. 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  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.