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Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire was an educator and theorist whose work is important to the field of education studies. Born in 1921, Freire grew up in the northeast of Brazil, where he often came in contact with the poverty that plagued Latin America during the Great Depression. After studying law, he began his career teaching Portuguese in secondary schools. In 1944 he married Elza Oliveira, a primary school teacher who encouraged him to develop his theories on education, and the two had five children together. Freire spent much of the 1950s and 60s implementing literacy programs for poor people in Brazil, often with the support of the Brazilian government, and this work directly informs Freire’s writings. These programs often experimented with their methods, and they saw success in raising Brazil’s literacy rates. In 1964, Brazil’s president was ousted in a coup d’état and replaced by a military government, which found Freire’s programs too subversive. Friere was imprisoned for more than two months as a traitor and exiled soon after. After a short stay in Bolivia, he worked in Chile for five years, where he published Education as the Practice of Freedom (1967) and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). Both books were well received in the academic community, and Freire spent much of the late 1960s and 1970s as a Harvard lecturer and a consultant for the United Nations. After more than a decade in exile, Freire returned to Brazil in 1980 and joined the Worker’s Party. He continued his educational practice late in life, and was eventually appointed Secretary of Education in Sao Paolo. He died in 1997.
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Historical Context of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

During the Cold War, Latin America experienced great political upheaval, as the competing interests of the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union fractured the globe. Military coups occurred in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and other South American countries in the 1960s and 1970s, sometimes backed by the United States, and the new authoritarian governments in these countries were often explicitly opposed to communist ideas. Brazil’s coup, in particular, impacted Freire’s perspective in his writings: military leaders ousted left-leaning president João Goulart in 1964 and began to purge the government of programs and people deemed too radical (including Freire and his literacy efforts). It’s within this context that Freire writes Pedagogy of the Oppressed: exiled from his native country as it experienced an anti-communist regime change, Freire’s ground-up approach to education critiques the rise of authoritarianism and right-wing policies in Latin America at that time. In contrast, Freire lived in Chile while writing the book, which had begun to implement land and education reform under president Eduardo Frei Montlava. By 1973, five years after the publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chile was struck by its own US-backed coup.

Other Books Related to Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Freire’s work, which is concerned with political and economic inequality, is in the Marxist philosophical tradition. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he quotes several essays and letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, whose work promotes a materialist view of history and critiques the structure of Western capitalism. In some places, like his discussion of dialectics, Freire invokes Marx and Engel’s influences, like Georg Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Mind (1807)—a wide-spanning theoretical text about human consciousness and knowledge. Freire also draws from the writings of leftist thinkers and revolutionaries who followed them, like Vladimir Lenin’s political pamphlet “What Is To Be Done?” (1902), Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), and The Diary of Che Guevara (1968). Fanon and Guevara, who respectively worked in Africa and Latin America, are particularly important because both explicitly sought to challenge European and American colonialism. Although Pedagogy of the Oppressed is his most famous book, Freire wrote several other texts expanding on his educational approach, including Education as the Practice of Freedom (1967), Education for Critical Consciousness (1973), and The Politics of Education (1985).
Key Facts about Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  • Full Title: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Pedagogia do Oprimido)
  • When Written: 1967-68
  • Where Written: Santiago, Chile
  • When Published: 1968 (Portuguese), 1970 (English)
  • Literary Period: Postcolonial Latin American literature
  • Genre: Education Philosophy
  • Setting: Cold War Brazil and Chile
  • Climax: Freire boils down human existence to a process of dialogue, through which people turn thoughts and words into action: “To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it.”
  • Antagonist: Oppressive societies and the oppressors within those societies.
  • Point of View: Third-person, though Freire occasionally uses the first-person.

Extra Credit for Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Bad Timing. When Freire was exiled by Brazil’s military coup in 1964, he was first granted asylum in Bolivia. But he wouldn’t stay for long: less than a month after Freire arrived, Bolivia was also struck by a military coup.

Delayed Reception. Although Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published in Portuguese in 1968, it did not appear on bookshelves in Brazil until 1974, when a new Brazilian president began to relax the government’s stance toward political opponents. In fact, it was published in both English and Spanish first, receiving wide acclaim outside of Freire’s homeland.