Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books

This website, dedicated to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), consists of a collection of reviews of his books and links to other pages on Freire. The books are listed in chronological order. When the book has been translated into English, the first date refers to the original publication. 

The website was created by Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Horton, Myles and Paulo Freire (1990). We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Review by Megan Haggerty

The book, We Make the Road by Walking, is an exceptionally enlightening and light dialogue on popular education and social change. Written as a talking book, it explores the issues of the role of the community and educator in social change, and the role of hope, dreams and visions in creating a future. It continually comes back to the value of starting with one’s knowledge and reflecting on one’s experience to create new knowledge and action. As the reader, I see both how the authors think and how their experiences have shaped their views. It is an important book to read, not only as an historical account on two streams of popular education, but as a provocative piece that forces readers to examine how they look at the world and help create social change.


The book is written as a dialogue between two famous popular educators, Paulo Freire from Brazil, and Miles Horton from the United States, about their current thoughts and perspectives on their life’s work in popular education. The participants and the reader are given an opportunity to meld the two perspectives together – thereby doing what both men believe should be the basis of social change, that is creating new ideas and a shared vision through a dialectical process, based on past experiences. As Freire says, it is “about the ways I find myself in his thought” (3). They come from two contexts, radically different, but end up with predominantly similar, supportive conclusions. I am left asking how two men coming from radically different contexts arrive at such similar viewpoints.


In its style as a talking book, not a theoretical debate, it is made significantly more accessible to the average person, especially compared to Freire’s previous works which have been criticized as difficult to grasp. It also manifests the interrelation of books and thoughts in their lives, creating a unity between theory (books) and practice (action) (21). This stylistic choice is more in line with the men’s professed beliefs of starting from where the people are, and “tying books and reading with life” (31). However, given that a large proportion of the people that the men worked with were originally illiterate, one wonders if Horton and Freire would have come to similar thoughts if they themselves had been illiterate. The importance that they give books in the formation of their thoughts slightly weakens their argument that the illiterate, given only their experiences and not an academic framework, may experience a similar process of conscientisation.


The title, We Make the Road by Walking, very clearly points to the underpinning idea of their philosophies: that one must start with one’s experiences, and that knowledge and change “grows out of what you do” (7). It is only fitting that they start the book with autobiographical accounts of how their thoughts were formed from their experiences as individuals in relation to their communities. They constantly come back to the idea of respect for “organic knowledge” or “people’s knowledge” (98), thereby acknowledging the validity and importance of the experience of all people, regardless of their low social status or education. They respect and trust that these communities have the capability to change their lives through the reflection on their own experiences and action on that reflection. However, the book does not explore how that trust was created.


The role of the educator in this book is a complex one. They see their role as supporting the communities and acting as a catalyst. “You have to know something: they know something. You have to respect their knowledge, which they don’t respect, and help them to respect their knowledge” (55). You have to “keep out of the act, get them to act” (43). The role of the expert, then, is only to give the information when asked, and to let the people decide the use of that information. However, the educator can also “provoke the discovering of need for knowing and never to impose the knowledge whose need was not yet perceived” (66). Along with this is the ability of the educator to create a space for this dialogue, and the possibility to see change. As Horton says, it is much like planting seeds, (99) where one does not yet see the fruits of one’s labours. There appears to be a continuous tension between the educator wanting to get involved in the people’s learning, but not to impose their ideas nor manipulate the people’s thoughts. It points back to the much needed trust that the educator must have that people will eventually pose the questions that need to be asked.


It is commendable the way that Horton and Freire deal with the issue of respect and trust for the culture, while acknowledging the importance of context. They discuss the importance of understanding the soul of the culture (131). Freire says that as an outsider, if the vision of the educator does not match that of the community (he gives the example of Latin American men not cooking), it’s “not unethical to put the possibility of change on the table” (132). However, it would be unethical to impose this idea on the people. They thereby reiterate the importance of having values, while making sure that they do not recreate a colonial experience, as happened historically with the imposition of western values on communities.


One of the strengths of this book is the positive message of hope that it gives. Both Horton and Freire believe that positive change, although difficult, is possible. They talk about the importance of dreams and vision guiding action in the present, using the analogy of ever higher mountains to climb (56). They also suggest that we do not start social change from scratch, rather we find pockets of hope that already exist. “Finding the pockets is not an intellectual process. It’s a process of being involved” (94). At the end, I am left with a feeling of empowerment and ability to change my world, and ideas on how to start acting.


These themes of hope, respect, experience, vision, trust, context and action, as touched upon above, are interwoven throughout the book. The ideas are not separated into exclusive sections, thereby showing their interrelation, just as thoughts and experiences are interrelated in life. This book has become one that I will say influenced the formation of my thoughts and actions when, many years down the road, I too write my talking book.

To cite this review:

Haggerty, Megan (2004). Review of We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, by Myles Hortan and Paulo Freire (1990), In D. Schugurensky (ed), Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books. Available at Internet URL: <http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/freire/mh.html> (Access date).

 

 

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