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, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Freire, Paulo & A. Faundez (1989). Learning to Question: A pedagogy of Liberation. New York: Continuum.

Review by Blanca Quiroz (UCLA)

This book is a dialogue between Paulo Freire and Antonio Faundez on learning how to question: an approach similar to using praxis as the method for social change. Paulo and Antonio dialogue is in the context of recounting their experience as intellectuals in exile, while serving as educational advisers in the World Council of Churches (where Antonio succeeded Paulo's position). They reflect on three major themes in the dialogue: culture, cultural differences and tolerance, all in the context of social change. The book is organized in 16 headings of dialogue. Thirteen of those headings are about their experiences and philosophical views of society and education. Antonio seems to have been influenced by Paulo's work and they have also had similar life experiences (e.g., exile and their position in the World Council of Churches). Perhaps that is why their philosophical views and the way in which they reflect on their own experiences are very similar. The two headings previous to last are somewhat different in that Antonio offers some critiques of Paulo's work at Guinea-Bissau and the follow up of literacy programs initiated by Paulo. They, encounter some differences in the way they allocate the causes of the problems that Antonio brought up. However, in the last heading such differences get apparently resolved and they end up with a nice rapport of each other's contributions.

Intellectuals in exile. Antonio describes the type of work that he did in Chile previous to his exile. He was doing a philosophical study of the life experience of workers from the Lota-e Schwager (coal mining) and used a participatory research method to study it. This point brings them both to the agreement that it is not enough to study society, but we must seek to solve the problems of society (parallel to the idea of working for a eutopian society). Paulo shares some of his experiences on different countries and they report similarity on the influence that those experiences have had on their work, specially in making them aware of the role of culture in people's life.

They also agree that becoming aware of the different cultural values has helped them to become aware of their own culture. Paulo quotes his friend Alvaro Viera Pinto to offer an analogy of their experiences as exiles: " living in exile is to live borrowed lives." (p. 10) Paulo explains the conflict that this condition has on their perspective of society, when living borrowed lives, he said, "struggling to break with the negativity caused by the break with the past and to seize the opportunities of the new environment." (p.11) .

Paulo goes on to explain his own reasons for taking the position in the World Council of Churches. Paulo describes some of the practical and philosophical issues that influenced him to take this position. He perceived this experience as an opportunity, he says,"for our environment to become yet richer, mentally, physically and emotionally, I think we need to discover a different environment. ... to understand the other in order to understand ourselves,..."

Paulo reports that everyday life in exile taught him three important concepts --culture, cultural differences and tolerance-- the latter he perceives as a form of survival.

Everyday life in exile. Paulo defines culture as the ways of everyday life. From comparing his own perceptions of everyday cultural practice to those of Europeans is that he arrived to the conclusion that dominant ideology represent the European culture, not only in Europe but in Latin America as well. He briefly discuss the forms of resistance to the dominant ideology that some cultural practices of the masses take. He describes this type of resistance as a form of strength in issues of social change. rather than as deficit cultures.

Ideology in action, consists of describing the role of popular culture in transforming society. They both agreed that our understanding and validating of these culture as a form of strength should be the starting point in the pedagogy of the oppressed.

Fallacy of neutrality in education. They question the idea of "true knowledge" and identify that idea as a strategy of domination which points to the importance of Paulo's idea of working with the people and not for the people . Furthermore, they suggest that true knowledge resides in the pedagogy of asking questions.

The pedagogy of asking questions. They described their definition as, questioning as a form of knowledge. In other words, questioning not necessarily for prescribed answers but questioning as a method of conciencitazation. As described by Paulo and Antonio; "Thinking about questions that may not always or immediately arrive to an answer are the roots of change." ( p, 37) They also define questioning as a form to take a risk, "to make mistakes is the element of creativity, and when this element is lost knowledge becomes bureaucratizing and anti-democratic as in the case of standardized education," Paulo said in p. 39 . However, both Paulo and Antonio warn us of the importance of making the connection between words and action. Antonio explains the relation between question, question and action, and action and answer, (which is similar to Paulo's idea of praxis). Thus concluding that the pedagogy of how to question should be the method for social change.

Towards a marriage of understanding and sensitivity. They point to a distinction between the knowledge of the intellectuals (understanding scientifically ) and the knowledge of the masses (common sense coming from cultural experience). Paulo suggests that cultural expressions of popular resistance, or "ploys" used by the oppressed, constitute the culturally different knowledge that as educators we must understand in order to work with the people. He proposes that political educationalist should experience a marriage between understanding and feeling the culture of the oppressed. Antonio agrees with this dichotomy and suggests that change can not come from neither elitism not basism, thus, we must have the whole knowledge (abstract) and commonsense (knowledge in the context of reality).

The role of intellectuals. This section is related to the vision of the future and the idea that this vision must be created with the people not for the people in a historic-social reality with possibilities for change. Both, Paulo and Antonio agreed that it is in the role of the intellectuals where change could potentially become authoritarianism or democratic and where historic and cultural differences must shape the creation of a new vision of change each time. They also agreed that this vision must also be born from the union of theory and practice.

The question of Power. Paulo and Antonio pose the idea that social change is not simply a matter of gaining power. They suggest that state does not equal power (e.g. intellectuals have power also). Thus, they suggest that power must be rediscovered and therefore the struggle to achieve it should be rediscovered, as well. Paulo proposes that power in a democratic system must be rediscovered on participation by all, he said, "gaining power first in our everyday lives, in schools, in jobs, in all the most basic aspects of life in the masses." (p. 64) He connects this idea of power to his reflection on the power of resistance to the dominant culture. Antonio adds, "power must begin with actually acting on the power which particular entities party, vanguard, trade union or intellectual have in relation to those upon whom they exert power and not only exert it as they appropriate it, since they exert it to the extend that they appropriate it." Thus, he argues that for political parties that appropriate power which belongs to the masses we must question the issue of participation when redefining power.

Rediscovery of the other. Based on his own learning about his own culture by experiencing different cultures Paulo concludes, "understanding the secret of what is different is to understand our own secret." (p. 72) He recognizes strength in viewing the other as an enriching element to achieve unity. He believes that this concept in the context of social change will enable the transformation of knowledge so that education could break the cycle of reproducing the ideology of the dominant classes .

Reinventing education. Antoinio points to the view of education as a process of transformation. Paulo agreeing with him adds his idea of what kind of transformation may we aim to. He suggests moving from a banking education process to a democratic process and from an education that promotes the knowledge of the dominant culture to one that includes the knowledge of the popular culture.

Toward a national popular culture. In this section they suggest that we must break the perception of relationship between high educational standards and authoritarianism. "What is consider National is the culture of the dominant classes, thus to change from the capitalist to a socialist mode of production and the rediscovery of power should also be directed toward the rediscovery of language away from the language of the rulers to the creation of a Nationalist Populist Culture," Paulo suggests in p. 82.

Redirecting production. Both Paulo and Antonio explain why social change must also include change in production, in order to break away from constructed consumerism, to redefine our needs, and promote the use of our own resources.

We need to start where the people are. In redirecting production they suggest that we must start with the needs of the masses, address those needs with common sense. Antonio and Paulo present examples where needs and beliefs did not represent those of the masses or solutions did not take the realities of the masses in consideration and point out to their disastrous consequences.

Comparing experiences. This seems to be a section of critique where Antonio expresses his critique of Paulo's work in Guinea-Bissau, for having use the colonizers' language (Portuguese) in a literacy campaign rather than the indigenous languages.

The language Issue. Paulo explains that in that historical reasoning (defined by Antonio as political and ideological) he, as an educational adviser, had recommended against this measure. He explains of a letter he wrote warning the new government against this measure (the letter is included in the book). He also makes explicit his favoritism for a form of multiple bilingualism because of the advantages of validating the people's knowledge through language and the practical advantages of also knowing the language of the dominant classes. Antonio also brings up the gap between Paulo's vision and the reality of the literacy and post-literacy results. Paulo responds by explaining that change is in progress and that this results do not invalidate his methods, since other factors account also for the continuation or discontinuation of his literacy campaign. They conclude with the agreement that the book Letters to Guinea-Bissau must be read critically since some aspects of Paulo's role in that campaign are not explicit in the book.

Reinventing pedagogy-comparing notes. This section is the conclusion of the book and they basically end with a personal rapport on their roles as political educators. They also compliment each others work in the World Council of Churches by naming some of their books that have been successful and Paulo's literacy program and popular teachers' training in Nicaragua as an example of success. They conclude with the idea that pedagogy must be reinvented and not duplicated.

There is some overlap of this book and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in a complementary way. This book exemplifies some of Paulo's concepts, for example, questioning and action as a method of change seems very similar to praxis, working with the people and not for the people appears as an important element of change in this book also. Some of the new (for me) elements in this book are: one, the distinction between the knowledge of the intellectuals ( scientific understanding) and the knowledge of the masses (common sense), two, is the redefinition of power and the struggle to obtain it, three, the role of culture in the relation between the oppressed and the oppressor. Although in most issues Paulo and Antonio are in agreement, in the last sections they seem to have encountered some disagreement. I found it ironic that their interaction was tensioned by Antonio's questioning, since this is a book about questioning as a method of learning It was also ironic that after they had presented an argument for tolerance and respecting differences, being in agreement seemed to be extremely important in their dialogue. Overall the book was very pleasant to read and it gave me a new perspective on Freire's life experience (in exile) and the influence that that personal experience had on his work.


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