Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire

In the mid-1990s, I was asked to teach a graduate course entitled Critical Thinking for a new Masters Degree program Israel College. It was quite a new experience for me, since my students  were Israeli citizens, but about 85% of the class was Jewish, while 15% of the class was Israeli Arab.

Being cognizant of the age-old conflicts in the Middle East region, I wondered how I could teach a graduate-level class with the logical built-in discord that the critical thinking syllabus required, without becoming embroiled in conflict. I was pleasantly surprised, and the program was a huge success.

Retrospectively, I owe much to Brazilian educator/philosopher, Paulo Freire, for my successful venture.

Freire, who died in 1997, was one of the most influential educational thinkers of the twentieth-century. He was born in Recife, Brazil, in 1921, and after a brief career as a lawyer, he taught Portuguese throughout most of the 1940s. By the 1960s, however, he became active in adult education.

Freire quickly gained international recognition, but following a military coup d'etat in Brazil, he was jailed and ultimately forced into a fifteen-year exile. He returned to Brazil in 1979.

Freire's most well known work is Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In this work, he argued for system of education that emphasizes learning as an act of culture and freedom. He saw education as a political process, and developed a system workable for the masses of uneducated citizens of several South American nations. His work in Chile was particularly successful.

I do not subscribe to all Freire’s theories, but I do credit him for his brilliance, his work toward the education of the poor, and for helping me discover common ground upon which several classes of Israeli citizens of mixed cultural backgrounds were able to share positive intellectual experiences for two semesters about fifteen years ago.

I always learn from my students, but my experience among bright students capable of enlightening debate over concepts like ignorance and the culture of silence ranks up there with my most memorable academic recollections.  I owe much to that special group of people I was able to serve so many years ago.


  1. It always feels the best when we look back and recall what we are thankful for everyday ...the things we carry with us....small and big....define who we are....and what keeps us moving....Great post, JJ! Glad to have you back in the blogging world!

  2. There are those classes that stand out, the ones that teach us more than we teach them. I feel lucky to have had several classes like that over my teaching career. Thanks for reminding me of them.

    And congratulations on your new publication! (I just read your last post, too.) Glad you got all the problems solved. And glad to see you back in blogworld.

  3. Karen S: Yes, I think back often. I do feel very lucky that I am still "growing."

    Galen: Well said. I often feel like I learn more from my students than they learn from me. I am a student at heart. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Polite, intelligent, passionate yet considerate debate of ideas is an art form that I feel we all need to be able to return to. Glad everything worked out well back then, JJ. Wish we could have that kind of debate over here in the states between frenzied followers of both political parties.

  5. Phoenix: Exactly. That is what I was thinking when I wrote the post. I do remember a time when we were able to debate for the benefit of the nation. It is also why I am independent. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Sounds like an amazing experience. I'm sure those students were as lucky to have you as you were to have them. What an intimidating situation, but you turned into something great. Hmm, yes, I agree w/ you and Phoenix - might be nice to see some "enlightening" debate in these parts that isn't so concerned w/ merely picking a team.

  7. What an amazing class that must have been! What do you mean by "the culture of silence?" It sounds like something I would like to read about. Know any good books? :)

  8. Nicki: It was amazing. In fact, I have developed some close friendships from the experience. I guess it's just up to people.

    Miriam: Freire explains what he means by it in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He is speaking of the millions of formally uneducated people who can be made to recognize their own worth. They remain silent in their society, but actually know much more than give themselves credit for. They need self-pride. The book is very interesting.

  9. Hi JJ, Just popping over to say Hi and thanks for your nice comments.

    I like to think the more one is educated, the more logical their thinking process becomes. ~Ames

  10. Sounds like it, I'll look for me at the library. :)

  11. This whole posts (and comments)was fascinating. Thanks.

  12. Well JJ ... it takes a good teacher to spark such enlightening debates and you are one of these such teachers. You teach through each and every blog post & you've stimulated my mind on many occasion. These students were so fortunate to have had you as their teacher because it may have been a very different experience for them if it had have been someone else. My list of reads is growing all the time.. adding this to my list!

  13. Ames: I agree.

    Miriam: It's a good one.

    Elle: Thank you.

    Kath: Thank you. The book is interesting.

  14. Unless the conservative political faction in America today gets its priorities straight, education will always be placed on the back burner here. So sad!!!

  15. Judie: How so? As an independent, educated person, I can smell a snow job as well as anyone. I smell a lot of stuff in Washington, and it does not appear to be emanating from one side of the aisle.

  16. Judie: If you mean money, you're right. However, I look at it differently. The GOP won't spend it, and the Dems spend it recklessly. The public loses either way.


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