Pedagogy of the Oppressed

By Paulo Freire

This book explains the process of liberating education with the final goal being that those who are oppressed develop a critical consciousness of their circumstances and come together to deconstruct systems of oppression so that all people, oppressed and oppressors alike, can experience true freedom and liberation. Freire asserts that liberation cannot happen within the confines, systems, and institutions of an oppressive society. Even when those who have previously been oppressed come to power within an oppressive society, the same oppressive structures remain to maintain marginalization of others. Such a system hurts all involved because both oppressors and oppressed are confined to their roles either by dehumanizing others, or being dehumanized by others. Instead, Freire proposes a combination of action and reflection, known as praxis, to identify problems and then take action to solve them. Each step forward is simultaneously active and reflective, for one necessarily involves the other for it to lead to true liberation rather than a recreation of oppression. Although Freire developed this pedagogy as a means of providing education to those living in extreme poverty or other circumstances of oppression, the result of putting this process into action has created profound, threatening change for everyone who participates in it.

“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire suggests the possibility of a world without oppression. Throughout his writing, Freire repeatedly discusses unavoidable dichotomies in which the presence of one thing invokes the presence of the other, as with the oppressors and oppressed. The existence of one (i.e., oppressed) means the opposite also exists (i.e., oppressors). By returning to this point over and over, Freire emphasizes the importance of critical consciousness. Recognizing reality as it is creates the foundation for the developing critical consciousness through praxis. It also removes the possibility of making excuses for oppressors or oppressed. Both exist in relation to each other, and both must be aware of that relationship. Freire also spends a significant time deconstructing false dichotomies, particularly that of action and reflection. Although reality consists of multiple, separate factors, everything acts together to create the circumstances either for oppression or liberation. The oppressors and oppressed exist in separate social categories, but changing the broader context from one of oppression to that of liberation requires integrating reflection and action into praxis to create change among other factors, social institutions, and oppressive systems. Each piece requires recognition of its own, and also integration as part of a whole.

Although this book is incredibly dense, it is absolutely phenomenal! Well worth the time and effort necessary to digest the ideas and make sense of them, though I haven’t quite yet figured out how to put them into practice. Though this book occasionally seems dated (it was, after all, published in 1968) and I occasionally disagreed with some of the dichotomies he presented, this book explained certain aspects of oppression and liberation that I have long been frustrated in my attempts to find adequate words. Well reasoned, very thoroughly explained, and amazingly incisive, this book is a must-read.

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