Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Spanish edition, 1968
AuthorPaulo Freire
Original titlePedagogia do Oprimido
TranslatorMyra Ramos
Publication date
LC ClassLB880 .F73
Paulo Freire, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Portuguese: Pedagogia do Oprimido) is a book by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, written in Portuguese between 1967 and 1968, but published first in Spanish in 1968. An English translation was published in 1970, with the Portuguese original being published in 1972 in Portugal, and then again in Brazil in 1974. The book is considered one of the foundational texts of critical pedagogy, and proposes a pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student, and society.

Dedicated to the oppressed and based on his own experience helping Brazilian adults to read and write, Freire includes a detailed Marxist class analysis in his exploration of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. In the book, Freire calls traditional pedagogy the "banking model of education" because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggy bank. He argues that pedagogy should instead treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge.[1]

As of 2000, the book had sold over 750,000 copies worldwide.[1]: 9  It is the third most cited book in the social sciences.[2]

Background and publication

Due to the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, where a military dictatorship was put in place with the support of the United States, Paulo Freire was exiled from his home country, an exile that lasted 16 years.[3][4] After a brief stay in Bolivia, he moved to Chile in November 1964 and stayed until April 1969 when he accepted a temporary position at Harvard University. His four-and-a-half year stay in Chile impacted him intellectually, pedagogically, and ideologically, and contributed significantly to the theory and analysis he presents in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.[4] In Freire's own words:

When I wrote [Pedagogy of the Oppressed] I was already completely convinced of the problem of social classes. In addition, I wrote this book on the basis of my extensive experience with peasants in Chile; being absolutely convinced of the process of ideological hegemony and what that meant. When I would hear the peasants speaking, I experienced the whole problem of the mechanism of domination (which I analyze in the first chapter of the book)...Certainly, in my earliest writings I did not make this explicit, because I did not perceive it yet as such...[Pedagogy of the Oppressed] is also completely situated in a historical reality.[5]

Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed between 1967 and 1968, while living in the United States. Originally written in his native Portuguese, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published in Spanish in 1968.[6]: 126 This was followed by an English version, in a translation by Myra Bergman Ramos, in 1970.[7] The Portuguese original was released in Portugal in 1972 and in Brazil in 1974.[citation needed] Though Ramos' translation has received some degree of criticism, Freire approved of it and was involved in consultation during the translating process.[6]: 127 


The work was strongly influenced by Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon.[8]: 30 [9] As one critic, John D. Holst, describes it:

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire expresses a maturing Marxist-influenced analysis of the political nature of education that clearly places literacy and critical education within the context of the struggle of the oppressed to go beyond capitalist modernization and toward a revolutionary transformation.[4]


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Pedagogy of the Oppressed is divided into four chapters and a preface.[1]: vii–viii  The frontmatter includes an epigraph which reads "To the oppressed, and to those who suffer with them and fight at their side".[1]: v 

In the preface, Freire provides a background to his work, and outlines potential opposition to his ideas. He explains that his thinking originated in his experience as a teacher, both in Brazil and during his time in political exile. During this time, he noticed that his students had an unconscious fear of freedom, or rather: a fear of changing the way the world is.[1]: 35  Freire then outlines the likely criticisms he believes his book will face.[1]: 37  Freire's intended audience are radicals—people who see the world as changing and fluid—and he admits that his argument will most likely be missing necessary elements to construct pedagogies in given material realities.[1]: 37–39  Basing his method of finding freedom on the poor and middle class's experience with education, Freire states that his ideas are rooted in reality—not purely theoretical.[1]: 37 

In the first chapter, Freire outlines why he believes an emancipatory pedagogy is necessary. Describing humankind's central problem as that of affirming one's identity as human, Freire states that everyone strives for this, but oppression prevents many people from realizing this state of affirmation. This is termed dehumanization.[1]: 43  Dehumanization, when individuals become objectified, occurs due to injustice, exploitation, and oppression. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is Freire's attempt to help the oppressed fight back to regain their lost humanity and achieve full humanization.[1]: 44  Freire outlines steps with which the oppressed can regain their humanity, starting with acquiring knowledge about the concept of humanization itself.

It is easy for the oppressed to fight their oppressors only to become the polar opposites of what they currently are. In other words, this just makes them the oppressors and starts the cycle all over again. To be fully human again, they must identify the oppressors. They must identify them and work together to seek liberation. The next step in liberation is to understand what the goal of the oppressors is. Oppressors are purely materialistic.[1]: 58  They see humans as objects and by suppressing individuals, they are able to own these humans. While they may not be consciously putting down the oppressed, they value ownership over humanity, essentially dehumanizing themselves. This is important to realize as the goal of the oppressed is to not only gain power. It is to allow all individuals to become fully human so that no oppression can exist.

Freire states that once the oppressed understand their own oppression and discovers their oppressors, the next step is dialogue, or discussion with others to reach the goal of humanization. Freire also highlights other events on this journey that the oppressed must undertake. There are many situations that the oppressed must keep wary about. For example, they must be aware of the oppressors trying to help the oppressed. These people are deemed falsely generous, and in order to help the oppressed, one must first fully become the oppressed, mentally and environmentally. Only the oppressed can allow humanity to become fully human with no instances of objectification.

In chapter 2, Freire outlines his theories of education. The first discussed is the banking model of education. He believes the fundamental nature of education is to be narrative. There is one individual reciting facts and ideas (the teacher) and others who just listen and memorize everything (the students). There is no connection with their real life, resulting in a very passive learning style. This form of education is termed the banking model of education. The banking model is very closely linked with oppression. It is built on the fact that the teacher knows all, and there exist inferiors who must just accept what they are told. They are not allowed to question the world or their teachers. This lack of freedom highlights the comparisons between the banking model of education and oppression. Freire urges the dismissal of the banking model of education and the adoption of the problem-posing model. This model encourages a discussion between teacher and student. It blurs the line between the two as everyone learns alongside each other, creating equality and the lack of oppression. There are many ways the banking model of education aligns with oppression. Essentially, it dehumanizes the student. If they are raised to learn to be blank slates molded by the teacher, they will never be able to question the world if they need to. This form of education encourages them to just accept what is thrust upon them and accept that as correct. It makes the first step of humanization very difficult. If they are trained to be passive listeners, they will never be able to come to the realization that there even exist oppressors.

Chapter 3 is used to expand on Freire's idea of dialogue. He first explains the importance of words, and that they must reflect both action and reflection. Dialogue is an understanding between different people and it is an act of love, humility, and faith. It provides others with the complete independence to experience the world and name it how they see it. Freire explains that educators shape how students see the world and history. They must use language with the point of view of the students in mind. They must allow "thematic investigation": the discovery of different relevant problems (limit situations) and ideas for different periods of time. This ability is the difference between animals and humans. Animals are stuck in the present unlike humans who understand history and use it to shape the present. Freire explains that the oppressed usually are not able to see the problems of their own time, and oppressors feed on this ignorance. Freire also presses the importance of educators not becoming oppressors and not objectifying their students. Educators and students must work as a team to find the problems of history and the present.

Freire lays out the process of how the oppressed can truly liberate themselves in chapter 4. He explains the methods used by oppressors to suppress humanity and the actions the oppressed can take in order to liberate humanity. The tools the oppressors use are termed "anti-dialogical actions" and the ways the oppressed can overcome them are "dialogical actions". The four anti-dialogical actions include conquest, manipulation, divide and rule, and cultural invasion. The four dialogical actions, on the other hand, are unity, compassion, organization, and cultural synthesis.[1]


Upon its release, Pedagogy of the Oppressed had an immediate impact on the field of educational studies in the United States. In 1971 it was already described as "a small classic of pedagogical theory", and awarded a "high status" in academic circles.[10]: 378  In some countries under military dictatorships the book was both burned and banned, and Freire was forbidden to travel to several countries in Latin America and Africa after his ideas were taken up by radical revolutionary groups.[6]: 127 

Shortly after its release, Edgar Z. Friedenberg wrote that the book's weaknesses were its "pedantic style, the consistent underestimate of the opposition and the very peculiar avoidance of Freire's own extensive experience as a source of illustrative material". Friedenberg said that a positive aspect of the book was Freire's recognition that formal education in the Brazilian setting is "counter-revolutionary and oppressive".[10]: 379 

In his 1989 book Life in Schools, Peter McLaren emphasized that the teacher's politics are foundational to the pedagogy articulated in Freire's book.[11] Building on McLaren, others said that the fourth chapter is the lynchpin holding the project together, and that the emphasis on the first two chapters severs Freire's method from his ideology and his politics from his pedagogy. The reasons for its neglect stem from the chapter's explicit concern with the revolutionary party and leadership, which Derek R. Ford argued flows from the Leninist conception of the party.[12] Tyson Lewis similarly said that "Freire himself clearly saw his pedagogy as a tool to be used within revolutionary organization to mediate the various relationships between the oppressed and the leaders of resistance."[13]

Freire was criticized by feminists for his use of sexist language in Pedagogy of the Oppressed,[6]: 127–128 [14] and it was revised for the 1995 edition to avoid sexism.[14] Freire's later writings reflect the impact of this criticism, and use more inclusive language.[6]: 128 

Freire's work was one inspiration for Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.[15]

In his introduction to the 30th anniversary edition of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Donaldo Macedo, a former colleague of Freire and University of Massachusetts Boston professor, called the book a revolutionary text, and said that people in totalitarian states risk punishment for reading it.[1]: 16  During the apartheid period in South Africa, the book was banned. Clandestine copies of the book were distributed underground as part of the "ideological weaponry" of various revolutionary groups like the Black Consciousness Movement.[16]

In 2006, Pedagogy of the Oppressed came under criticism over its use by the Mexican American Studies Department Program at Tucson High School. In 2010, the Arizona State Legislature passed House Bill 2281, enabling the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction to restrict state funding to public schools with ethnic studies programs, effectively banning the programs. Tom Horne, who was Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time, criticized the programs for "teaching students that they are oppressed".[17] The book was among seven titles officially confiscated from Mexican American studies classrooms, sometimes in front of students, by the Tucson Unified School District after the passing of HB 2281.[18]

In a 2009 article for the conservative City Journal, Sol Stern wrote that Pedagogy of the Oppressed ignores the traditional touchstones of Western education (e.g. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, or Maria Montessori) and contains virtually none of the information typically found in traditional teacher education (e.g., no discussion of curriculum, testing, or age-appropriate learning). On the contrary, Freire rejects traditional education as "official knowledge" that intends to oppress.[19] Stern also wrote in 2006 that heirs to Freire's ideas have taken them to mean that since all education is political: "leftist math teachers who care about the oppressed have a right, indeed a duty, to use a pedagogy that, in Freire's words, 'does not conceal—in fact, which proclaims—its own political character'".[20]

A 2019 article in British internet magazine Spiked said that "In 2016, the Open Syllabus Project catalogued the 100 most requested titles on its service by English-speaking universities: the only Brazilian on its list was Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed."[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Freire, Paulo (September 2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780826412768. OCLC 43929806.
  2. ^ Elliott D. Green (2016-05-12). "What are the most-cited publications in the social sciences (according to Google Scholar)?". LSE Research Online. London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  3. ^ Skidmore, Thomas E. (1989). The politics of military rule in Brazil, 1964-85. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503898-3. OCLC 995879700.
  4. ^ a b c Holst, John (2008-09-09). "Paulo Freire in Chile, 1964–1969: Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Its Sociopolitical Economic Context". Harvard Educational Review. 76 (2): 243–270. doi:10.17763/haer.76.2.bm6532lgln2744t3. ISSN 0017-8055.
  5. ^ Freire, Paulo (1978). Entrevistas con Paulo Freire [Interviews with Paulo Freire]. Ediciones Gernika. p. 55.
  6. ^ a b c d e Kirylo, James D. (2012-01-01). "Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Publication Process of Paulo Freire's Seminal Work". Social Studies Research and Practice. 7 (3): 122–129. doi:10.1108/SSRP-03-2012-B0009. ISSN 1933-5415. S2CID 147859003.
  7. ^ Eduardo, Gabriela (2017). "Pedagogia do Oprimido: Do Manuscrito Ao Texto Escrito". Revista Brasileira de Alfabetização (6).
  8. ^ Lake, Robert; Kress, Tricia (2013). "Freire and Marx in Dialogue". Paulo Freire's Intellectual Roots: Toward Historicity in Praxis. USA: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781441113801.
  9. ^ Tricontinental (2020-04-21). "Frantz Fanon and the question of praxis". New Frame. Eliseeva, Anastasya (Illustrator). Retrieved 2022-12-13.
  10. ^ a b Friedenberg, Edgar Z. (1971). "Review of Pedagogy of the Oppressed". Comparative Education Review. 15 (3): 378–380. doi:10.1086/445547. ISSN 0010-4086. JSTOR 1187138.
  11. ^ McLaren, Peter (1989). "Paulo Freire". Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education (1 ed.). New York: Longman. pp. 194–197. ISBN 0582286832. OCLC 17412363.
  12. ^ Ford, Derek R. (2016-11-30). "Joining the Party: Critical Education and the Question of Organization". Critical Education. 7 (15). doi:10.14288/ce.v7i15.186151. ISSN 1920-4175.
  13. ^ Lewis, Tyson E. (January 2012). "Mapping the Constellation of Educational Marxism(s)". Educational Philosophy and Theory. 44 (sup1): 98–114. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00563.x. ISSN 0013-1857. S2CID 144595936.
  14. ^ a b Coben, Diana (April 1998). Radical Heroes: Gramsci, Freire and the Politics of Adult Education. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 94. ISBN 0815318987. OCLC 38270815. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  15. ^ Augusto Boal (1993). Theater of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group. ISBN 0-930452-49-6, p 120
  16. ^ Archie Dick (2010) "Librarians and Readers in the South African Anti-Apartheid Struggle", public lecture given in Tampere Main Library, August 19, 2010.
  17. ^ Lundholm, Nicholas (2011). "Cutting Class: Why Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban Won't Ban Ethnic Studies" (PDF). Arizona Law Review. 53: 1041–1088.
  18. ^ Rodriguez, Roberto Cintli (18 January 2012). "Arizona's 'banned' Mexican American books". The Guardian.
  19. ^ Stern, Sol (2009). "Pedagogy of the Oppressor". City Journal. 19 (2).
  20. ^ Stern, Sol (2006). "The Ed Schools' Latest—and Worst—Humbug". City Journal. 16 (3).
  21. ^ Tsavkko Garcia, Raphael (6 May 2019). "The culture war over Brazil's leading intellectual". Retrieved 8 September 2020.

Further reading