This book was written in 1968 by a Brazilian educator and activist, based on his experiences of teaching illiterate people in Brazil to read and write. It is one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy. In a foreword to the book, Richard Shaull describes Freire’s writings as ‘the response of a creative mind and sensitive conscience to the extraordinary misery and suffering of the oppressed around him’ (1972: 9-10).
The philosophy of education Freire developed is described as ‘authentically his own’ (Shaull 1972: 10). I found this idea of developing a unique perspective on education quite inspiring, as it allows one’s values and personality to influence the way one develops pedagogical practice.
The learner’s path to literacy can enable a ‘new awareness of selfhood’ (Shaull 1972: 9) which enables the learner to becomes critical of their social surroundings. ‘Men educate each other through the mediation of the world’ (Freire as cited in Shaull 1972: 12) – this view of teaching means that peer-to-peer learning can be just as valuable as teacher-led learning. Education allows man to ‘say his own word, to name the world’ (Freire as cited in Shaull 1972: 12). Education might therefore be a means of resisting the way ‘advanced technological society is rapidly making objects out of most of us’ (Shaull 1972: 13); it’s therefore a question of how we recover some of our subjecthood as well as start to chip away at the structure which attempt to mould us into submission and conformity.
It was interesting to see Shaull write that ‘there is no such thing as a neutral educational process’ (13). The idea of politics came up quite a lot in our T+L seminars. I work within a paradigm which is quite open about its politics: Cultural Studies has been Marxist since its inception, and remains political in a myriad ways. However, that’s not to say that as educators we shouldn’t still examine the position from which we are speaking. It’s about trying to present a range of critical positions – whilst recognising the weaknesses of each – without losing the progressive potential of education. Stuart Hall once said that ‘there is something at stake’ in Cultural Studies, and I think this idea could be applied to education, more generally, and is certainly a notion that underpins Pedagogy of the Oppressed.