Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited 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)


Gilberto Freyre addresses women rural teachers in Northeast Brazil

On May 15 of 1956, Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987), one of the most prominent Brazilian social scientists of the 20th century, addressed a group of women rural teachers in the state of Pernambuco, Northeast Brazil, at the end of a professional development course. In one part of his speech, Freyre reminded those teachers (most of them raised and educated in urban areas) that behind the apparent superstitions of rural people there is a vast reservoir of traditional knowledge and wisdom that should be recognized, respected and valued:

Pois não nos esqueçamos de que em aparentes superstições da gente rural podem estar refugiados conhecimentos de valor para o cientista, o técnico, o homem culto, sôbre plantas, animais, valores regionais. Si há superstições evidentes que devem ser habilmente combatidas em gente rústica e habilmente substituídas por conhecimentos científicos, outras crenças rústicas devem ser consideradas expressões de sabedoria popular ou folclórica, às vezes valiosas como sugestões para o próprio cientista que siga o conselho de Camões: o de não desdenhar-se a sabedoria dos velhos. E os velhos rurais guardando, como guardam, muita superstição despresível, guardam também muita sabedoria aproveitável. Os velhos, as mulheres, os analfabetos rurais, todos guardam conhecimentos folclóricos sôbre aspectos regionais, de natureza e de vida, que, quando gerais, antigos e persistentes, nunca devem ser sistemàticamente despresados mas cuidadosamente examinados por agrônomos, zootécnicos, veterinários, médicos, professôres rurais, farmacêuticos, sacerdotes que cheguem a um meio rural, com a sua ciência em flor adquirida em academias ou escolas apenas urbanas.

In the next part of the speech, Freyre asked teachers and other urban professionals (doctors, veterinaries, pharmacists, agronomists, lawyers, etc.) who are working in rural areas to stop behaving like exiles filled with a nostalgic feeling for the cities, and encouraged them to begin to integrate as much as possible in the lives of rural communities. Then Freyre asks them to develop a deep sense of identification, sympathy and respect for rural people, their problems, their anguish, their art, their culture and their knowledge.

In another part of the talk, Freyre pointed out that teachers should not just technicians who are mainly concerned with their promotion to urban schools. In his view, which was similar to the approach espoused by John Dewey’s and many others, teachers must be leaders of social reconstruction, animators of local values, possibilities, and aspirations. They must also be, add Freyre, mediators between rural and urban values.

All these ideas and principles provided a fertile soil for the innovative pedagogical work that would be undertaken a few years later in the same region of Brazil by another Brazilian intellectual called Paulo Freire.  From those initial experiences, Paulo Freire began to develop and constantly refine a set of educational theories and practices that would inspire educators and non-educators alike from all over the world.

At the core of those theories and practices we can find some of the key principles raised by Gilberto Freyre in his speech to the teacher. Among them are that education should be based on dialogue, that educators should build bridges between systematized knowledge and popular culture, and that educators should challenge people’s ideas when they are wrong (superstitions in the language of Gilberto Freyre, naïve consciousness in the language of Paulo Freire) but at the same time should have a profound respect for people’s knowledge, wisdom and worldviews, accepting that it is possible that sometimes they (the educators) are wrong and the learners are correct. 


Freyre, Gilberto. Palavras às professoras rurais do Nordeste. Recife, 15 maio 1956.

Prepared by DS

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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