Paulo Freire


Paulo Freire


Brazilian Educator (1921 - 1997)


Freire was born in Recife, Brazil on September 19th, 1921. During this time, Brazil was in the process of industrial transformation and was experimenting with policies that seriously catalyzed the production of its primary export, coffee. During Freire’s youth, these signs of urban-based industrialization were beyond reach, as he was raised in a middle 1 class family in one of the poorest regions of Brazil. Due to the impoverished nature of this region, Freire was unable to attain a traditional education in his early youth. Instead, Freire explains, his parents taught him how to read by having him practice writing letters and drawing pictures in the dirt of their backyard. This anecdote hints to the fact that the experimental teaching and pedagogical methods he would develop later in his life, were partially instilled in him from a young age.

As a young adult, Freire had the opportunity to study both law, at Recife’s school of law, and philosophy, specifically linguistics. He had fully intended to start a career in law, but after hearing the case of his first client, he realized that the profession was not for him, and began to pursue a career in education instead. He went on to become a secondary school Portugese teacher. 2 3 Later in life, Freire’s successes in teaching enabled him to become an assistant for the government institution known as the Serviço Social da Indústria, in the division of public relations, education and culture. Throughout this career, Freire became a highly influential philosopher, notably authoring Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book which challenged the dominant structures and methods of education in Brazil.

Given his intellectual interests and his hands-on experience with the Brazilian education system, Freire contributed to his community and to global pedagogic theory by fighting traditional educational paradigms in two ways. Firstly, Friere questioned the very way that knowledge is produced and amassed. This led him to challenge the normative relationship between student and teacher in the classroom. Secondly, he sought to challenge contemporary educational paradigms with respect to the learners community. Freire deemed it necessary that students develop critical thinking skills that enabled them to be active members of their community, instead of simply receptacles of unquestioned knowledge.

On this first point, what Freire did for how people view knowledge was provocative in the context of philosophical history. Freire was interested in the very question of what knowledge is. This, in philosophical jargon, is called “epistemology.” For years, knowledge had been viewed as independent of individual realities of any one person. What this means is that knowledge exists regardless of one's opinions, feelings, experiences, and is also separate from how individuals use it. Freire disagreed with this, and posited instead that there is no such thing as a separation between objectivity and subjectivity in knowledge production and acquisition. This is to say that education, as a facilitator of passing on so-called facts, should not be seen as the be-all-end-all of learning. Instead, education should be a forum for students to add their own subjective experiences to expand on and use the knowledge acquired in unique ways. (Frankenstein 1983, 317)

On the second point, Freire sought to break down what he called the “banking model” of education. The banking model of education is quite simply the traditional power dynamic in a classroom, where the teacher is assumed to possess all of the knowledge and the students are simply present to receive this knowledge. Therefore, the teacher must deposit their knowledge onto the students. Freire found this to be an ineffective way of teaching, as it removes the legitimacy of the students’ way of thinking. Freire advocated for a more democratic dynamic in the classroom, where the teacher's fallibility is recognized and the students are able to question the legitimacy of claims that are presented as unquestionable knowledge. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). The idea of schools and educators focusing on teaching critical thinking skills was not entirely novel to Freire. Freire’s theory and practice was an extension of John Dewey’s. Freire worked however, to find ways 5 to implement this kind of learning in the classroom more effectively.

Finally, with respect to his ideas surrounding the learners’ community, Freire conducted one of his most influential projects. He conducted a literacy campaign in Brazil in order to combat the staggering level of illiteracy in his community, mainly for adult learners.(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). There are two main reasons why this act was of great importance. Firstly, literacy was a requirement to vote in Brazil during that time. Therefore, by helping adults to become literate, Freire was ultimately unlocking the most essential right in any democratic system of governance for them. Furthermore, and most relevant to public service, Freire sought to teach individuals in such a way where their literacy ultimately gave them freedom of thought in their own cultural context. He did this by employing his theories of knowledge production and democratic classroom dynamics, but also by focusing on subject matter that was relevant to life in Brazil (a technique which he called “conscientization”). By making individuals aware of the political issues and other concerns within the country, Freire helped to emancipate his students from dominant state or media narratives, and enabled them to view the world critically, for themselves.

Following his literacy campaign, during a coup d’etat by a conservative leader in 1964, Freire was removed from his government position, and arrested in Recife. After his teaching materials were confiscated, he was accused of being a communist, and was exiled from Brazil. He continued his educational work in Chile, the United States, and Switzerland. It was during this time he published Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He later returned to Brazil permanently after exiles were granted amnesty and continued teaching at Catholic University of Sao Paulo. (Biola University, n.d.)


Clare, Roberta. “Paulo Freire.” Biola University, n.d.. 

Díaz, K. (n.d.). Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Font, Mauricio A. "Coffee Planters, Politics, and Development in Brazil." Latin American Research Review 22, no. 3 (1987): 69-90. Accessed June 12, 2021. 

Frankenstein, Marilyn. "CRITICAL MATHEMATICS EDUCATION: AN APPLICATION OF PAULO FREIRE'S EPISTEMOLOGY." The Journal of Education 165, no. 4 (1983): 315-39. Accessed June 8, 2021. 

Leat, David, and Tony McAleavy. "Critical Thinking in the Humanities." Teaching Geography 23, no. 3 (1998): 112-14. Accessed June 9, 2021. 

Roberts, P. (2017, March 29). Paulo Freire. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. -9780190264093-e-10#acrefore-9780190264093-e-10-div1-3.

Further Reading:

Betz, Joseph. "John Dewey and Paulo Freire." Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 28, no. 1 (1992): 107-26. Accessed June 14, 2021.

Bizzell, Patricia. "Classroom Authority and Critical Pedagogy." American Literary History 3, no. 4 (1991): 847-63. Accessed June 14, 2021. 

Clare, Roberta. “Paulo Freire.” Biola University, n.d.. 

Freire, Paulo, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio, and Maria Do Carmo Mendonça. "A Conversation with Paulo Freire." For the Learning of Mathematics 17, no. 3 (1997): 7-10. Accessed June 14, 2021.

Mendieta, Eduardo, "Philosophy of Liberation", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


Gabriel Moran.

Birth Date

September 19, 1921


Recife, State of Pernambuco, Brazil

Death Date

May 2, 1997






Gabriel Moran., Paulo Freire

Cite As

Gabriel Moran. , “Paulo Freire,” Virtual Museum of Public Service, accessed July 22, 2024,