Paulo Freire believed that education is never neutral and that political policies and imbalances in power and control are inextricably linked with education.
For Freire even revolution cannot incite changes in our educational and political structures. He says this because he thinks that the myths from previous structures will carry over and people will continue to think in the same ways. According to Freire the key to destabilising the power hierarchies and structures that perpetuate oppression, lie in the relationship between theory and practice (praxis). In Freire’s words praxis is “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it. Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation.”
Freire rejects the ‘banking concept’ of education in favour of a problem-posing approach. It is the combination of raising consciousness through dialogue in problem-posing education that allows the process of praxis to occur empowering individuals to transform society.
Freire felt in order to transform society we need to remove the dominating model of education and move to a liberating education. For Freire a dominating model of education involved learners being passive receivers of information (banking concept). In contrast a liberating education involves both teacher and student learning and teaching each other (problem-posing). The banking concept is where education becomes an act of depositing in which students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Freire thinks the banking concept begins with a false understanding of men and woman as objects and this is dehumanising. He thinks that the more teachers deposit, the more learners adapt to the world rather than transforming it. Furthermore, this contributes to suffering because autonomy has been shut down. He proposes a problem-posing education instead. In problem- posing education we see a return of his reference to praxis where teachers are both the teacher and the learner simultaneously. The teacher and learner teach each other mediated by the world in a constant reforming of reflections. Problem-posing is the catalyst and conduit for raising consciousness, Freire elegantly says “consciousness as consciousness of consciousness”. Through dialogue learners are posed with problems relating to themselves and the world and they will increasingly feel challenged and want to respond to that challenge. Through this process what was once hidden to them starts to emerge, more and more of their world will reveal itself as consciousness is raised.
A thought that emerges here is how differences in ethnicity, gender, and class structure one is born into may act as a barrier to authentic dialogue. Everything we do, say, the way we look, smell and act tells the story of the class we belong to. But I believe that the very act of being aware of this point gives us access to change and engage in authentic dialogue.
Freire’s ideas are not problem free of course, but his voice reminds us to never keep far from our minds the influence that political structures can have over education processes, oppression and autonomy of the people within them. Through education we can give students the tools they need to act on and influence the society in which they live.
Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope : reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. (Barr. R. R & Ara·jo Freire. AM, trans). New York: Continuum.