Paulo Freire

Philosophy, Pedagogy, and Practice

by Peter Roberts (Author)
©2022 Textbook XVI, 140 Pages
Series: Complicated Conversation, Volume 54


This book provides a fresh perspective on the work of the influential educationist, Paulo Freire. The author emphasizes both the coherence and the dynamism in Freire’s thought, with some consistent core concepts, but also a strong commitment to ongoing reflection and development. The book includes a detailed overview of Freire’s biography, major publications, and key ideas, but also adds a distinctive voice to existing conversations in the new comparisons it makes with other writers and thinkers, its Freirean analysis of policy developments and pedagogical relationships at the tertiary level, and its consideration of ethical and educational questions in the light of lessons from literature. The Freirean virtues of openness, humility, tolerance, trust, and rigor are found to be highly relevant to today’s world. The hope is that this book will provide a number of avenues for further inquiry in the future, while also addressing educational questions and themes of interest to a wide range of scholars and practitioners in the present.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Paulo Freire: Continuing the Conversation
  • Chapter One: Philosophy, Pedagogy, and Practice: The Work of Paulo Freire
  • Chapter Two: Learning to Live with Doubt: Kierkegaard, Freire, and Critical Pedagogy
  • Chapter Three: Impure Neoliberalism: A Freirean Critique of Dominant Trends in Higher Education
  • Chapter Four: Thesis Supervision: A Freirean Approach
  • Chapter Five: Knowledge, Culture, and Education: Freire and Dilemmas of Difference
  • Chapter Six: Education, Ethics, and Leadership: Camus, Freire, and Covid-19
  • Chapter Seven: Conscientization, Compassion, and Madness: Freire, Barreto, and the Limits of Education
  • References
  • Credits
  • Series Index

←vi | vii→


Paulo Freire: Continuing the Conversation

When an important intellectual figure dies, there is often a period of renewed interest in his or her work. Obituaries are written and legacies are assessed. Sometimes special issues of journals will be organized to acknowledge the contribution that has been made. In most cases, this additional attention begins to abate after a few months or years. Paulo Freire has defied this logic. Freire passed away in May 1997, and while there were certainly many tributes paid to him in the concluding years of the 20th century, there has, against the usual trend, been no diminution of interest in the two decades that have followed in the 21st century. Freire’s ideas have continued to be discussed, debated, and applied by theorists and practitioners in a multiplicity of different fields. Numerous books, articles, chapters, and theses have been devoted to Freirean themes over the last twenty years. The posthumous publication of work by Freire that had hitherto been unpublished or enjoyed only limited circulation has certainly played a part in generating new interest. Books such as Pedagogy of Indignation (Freire, 2004) and Daring to Dream (Freire, 2007) are particularly notable in this respect. Some of the material published, or currently being prepared, has also been driven by key dates such as the 50th anniversary of Freire’s landmark text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the centenary of his birth. But these initiatives have only added to what was already a steady stream of new scholarly work. The perspectives adopted by those who have contributed to this scholarly conversation have varied widely, but regardless of the positions taken by ←vii | viii→the many commentators, it has been clear that Freire’s ideas are worthy of continuing reflection and engagement.

How has the world changed since May 1997? It is difficult to know where to begin in answering this question, but some pivotal moments and developments that readily spring to mind include the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of China as a dominant world power, the global financial crisis, a growing awareness of the alarming consequences of climate change, the emergence of new forms of political populism with the election of leaders such as President Trump (in the United States) and President Bolsanaro (in Brazil), the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements, the powerful role now being played by tech giants and social media in shaping patterns of thought and behavior, and the dramatic impact of the 2020/2021 Covid-19 pandemic on countries across the world. Paulo Freire would have had something worthwhile to say about many of these developments, and his ethical, political, and educational ideas offer helpful starting points in allowing others to comment on such changes. There are also important continuities in economic and social policy from the time of Freire’s death to the present day. The persistent influence of neoliberal ideas in shaping policy agendas is one obvious example. In the later part of his life, Freire was highly critical of the ethics of the market, and he would have found little from the last quarter of a century to alleviate his concerns. Educational trends already in evidence in Freire’s lifetime have also continued to leave a mark. Freire highlighted the dangers of technocratic thinking in education, and this has by no means disappeared. There is still, in many educational contexts, an obsession with methods and a focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ of teaching and learning. Examples of banking education are likewise not difficult to find. Indeed, in some parts of the world they have become more prominent as governments push aggressively for higher rankings in international tests of educational performance. An ethos of competition, within and between countries, continues to prevail, against the emphasis on cooperation, dialogue, and unity in Freire’s theory and practice.

This book is being published in a series devoted to complicated conversations, and Freire’s work lends itself well to consideration in this light. 1 Indeed, Freire has often served as a focal point for the interplay of different voices in educational studies. From the 1970s to the 1990s, he faced questions from conservatives, liberals, Marxists, feminists, and postmodernists, among others. Educationists with a primary focus on questions of ethnicity, colonialism, and culture also had much to say about Freire. Freire was subject to critique by some who felt he should ←viii | ix→have said more about the unfolding ecological crisis. His philosophical eclecticism opened him up to seemingly contradictory claims, with some suggesting, for example, that he was too heavily influenced by Marx, others claiming that he was not Marxist enough. More detailed discussion of debates over Freire’s work, and his responses to the questions asked of him, will follow in subsequent chapters. Over the last two decades, theory has continued to move on, and some bodies of scholarship have become more prominent in educational studies than they were at the time of Freire’s death. Posthumanist approaches to educational analysis provide one such example, and those who undertake work in this area would see some of the assumptions underpinning Freire’s ontology, epistemology, and ethic as problematic. New developments in artificial intelligence also offer fresh challenges to the ways in which we conceptualize teaching and learning and understand ourselves as human beings. ‘Big data’ analytics are reshaping the way many politicians and policy makers define and address educational problems. These changes provide not a reason to discard Freirean ideas but rather opportunities to revisit them, with new questions to ask, new comparisons to be drawn, and new lines of inquiry to pursue. As Freire himself stressed, we must continually reinvent his work, taking into account the particulars of our contexts, our time, our problems and commitments.

This book has been prepared in the spirit of reinvention fostered by Freire. Freire argued that we should be open to the new while also not rejecting the old simply because it is old.2 To this point we might add that what is sometimes promoted as ‘new’ often has more in common with the ‘old’ than is widely recognized or acknowledged. This is especially true of policies and practices in education. The so-called ‘innovative learning environments’ of the 21st century, for example, replicate many of the key features of open-plan classrooms in the 1970s. New labels may help in ‘selling’ policy reforms but from a Freirean perspective, it is important to place all educational developments in their appropriate historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. Freire’s emphasis on the transformative potential of education did not mean that he was ‘against’ tradition. In his personal life, Freire expressed a deep love for many Brazilian traditions and customs. His passion for Brazilian food was well known. In his written work, too, there is nothing to suggest that tradition, in itself, is problematic. Freire simply did not want to place tradition in a privileged position, closing it off from potential critique. The same principle, he would be quick to point out, should apply to currently fashionable modes of thought and life. Reinvention does not mean rejecting the past and starting from ←ix | x→scratch in constructing something new; it implies respect for the insights offered by those who have gone before us but also a willingness to keep asking questions, keep inquiring, and keep moving with the times.

Freire’s approach to education was forged in contexts characterized by deep social divisions. His theory of oppression and liberation emerged from his experience in working with impoverished rural and urban communities, and the often brutal realities of daily Brazilian life left a permanent mark on him. As will be explained in the chapters that follow, Freire saw liberation as a difficult and often painful process of struggle. The idea of liberation from conditions of oppression is central to his work. At the same time, and from the beginning, Freire made it plain that struggles for liberation must not ride roughshod over our regard for individual human beings. Liberation is not just concerned with the transformation of oppressive social structures; it also entails the development of key virtues such as openness, humility, tolerance, commitment, and willingness to listen and learn. Freire expressed his solidarity with those who were oppressed and did not pretend to be ‘neutral’ in his educational endeavors. But in recognizing that his pedagogical efforts, like all others, were political, he also demonstrated a strong sense of fairness, rigor, and balance in addressing social and educational problems. Freire had an underlying faith in the ability of human beings to transform the world – through critical, dialogical reflection and action – and he placed considerable trust in those with whom he worked. Trust does not, in Freirean terms, provide a license to do as one pleases; it carries with it a concomitant sense of care and responsibility. Underpinning all other virtues for Freire was the notion of love: love for one’s subject area, for teaching and learning, and for one’s fellow human beings. Freire’s emphasis on the importance of these qualities is often forgotten, or pushed to one side. A pedagogy of the oppressed is not merely a revolutionary ‘movement’; it is also an amalgamation of myriad smaller revolutionary ‘moments’. Freire could see the value of collective action in bringing about change, but he also did not neglect the need for individual development.

The virtues to which Freire refers in his books are worth keeping in mind when considering the art of scholarly engagement. In the last decade of his life, Freire reflected at times on the contrasts between groups on the Right and Left in their political strategies and battles. He observed that those on the Right could, despite their differences, often forge a pragmatic unity with an eye on bigger goals; those on the Left, however, would sometimes become mired in a debilitating form of theoretical infighting, enabling those who already exercised considerable power to more deeply cement their dominant position. He could see that differences, instead of being regarded as a source of strength, could become an impediment to social change. Freire was a staunch advocate of robust debate but he also demonstrated ←x | xi→that for this ideal to be upheld, virtues such as humility, respect, and tolerance must be to the fore. With the possibility of hiding behind a veil of anonymity in online forums, many of the limits that might hitherto have been applied to public discourse have been removed. Given the new forms of freedom afforded by the Internet, some have unleashed their fury, with openly expressed hatred and vitriolic attacks on others. Racism and misogyny are not uncommon. Times of crisis, including the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, have brought out both the best and the worst in human beings. Academic discussion seldom plummets to the depths seen on social media but occasional examples of a mean-spiritedness that Freire would have found saddening can sometimes be found. This may be exhibited in more subtle ways than the raw, crude, unpunctuated expressions of anger, prejudice, and ignorance sometimes seen in online exchanges, but an underlying attitude of nastiness, with an intention to undermine, will still be there. Such cases often tell us more about the individual making the criticism than the person being criticized, but they are troubling nonetheless.


XVI, 140
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Dialogue Peter Roberts Liberation Pedagogy Philosophy Practice Policy Higher Education Ethics Politics Literature Paulo Freire Oppression
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XVI, 140 pp.

Biographical notes

Peter Roberts (Author)

Peter Roberts is Professor of Education and Director of the Educational Theory, Policy and Practice Research Hub at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. His primary areas of scholarship are philosophy of education and educational policy studies.


Title: Paulo Freire
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158 pages