For Freire, education and oppression are connected, since education can be used either as a tool for oppression or as a method of liberation from oppression. Freire distinguishes between a pedagogy (a way of practicing education) that serves oppressors, and one that helps oppressed people understand and change their society. He outlines the problems with oppressive education, describes the promises of liberating education, and shows how educational tools can have political applications that help a society attain and maintain freedom. Freire’s goal with his book is to invent and describe an educational practice that can liberate oppressed people and change society.
Before speaking about his specific educational model, Freire talks more abstractly about a “pedagogy of the oppressed,” arguing that a “pedagogy of the oppressed” should push oppressed people to understand oppression. He says that oppressed people should be directly involved in the development of this pedagogy so that they have the freedom to learn about things that are relevant to their lives. This act of reflection should then push oppressed people to fight for their liberation, because it should show them that oppression can be changed. In light of this, Freire argues that “the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressors,” who would never actually help oppressed people become free.
However, Freire points out that only people with political power can implement a model of education on a large scale. Therefore, oppressed people should begin to implement the pedagogy of the oppressed on a smaller scale while they organize to fight for freedom. Freire calls these smaller uses of his pedagogy “educational projects,” and he conducted many of them in his native country of Brazil before publishing Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1968.
Freire gives names to the two competing models of education described above: he calls the traditional pedagogy of modern education (education that reinforces oppression) the “banking model,” and calls the liberating pedagogy he proposes the “problem-posing model.”
The “banking model” relies on a hierarchy in the classroom: the teacher is more knowledgeable than the students, and therefore has all the authority. In this model, the teacher “deposits” facts into the minds of the students, who have to memorize and recall those facts. Freire argues that the banking model recreates the oppressive social structure that many people live in: it makes one group of people superior to another, and lets the superior group determine what is good or correct.
The “problem-posing” model, on the other hand, creates a more equal relationship between the educator and their students: in a “problem-posing” classroom, everyone fills the role of teacher and student at the same time. These “teacher-students” and “student-teachers” decide together what topics are important to talk about, and the educator then presents these topics as “problems” for the whole class to solve. This model does not treat educators as more “correct” or “knowledgeable” than their students; instead, it assumes that everyone has something to contribute to the class. It’s much closer to Freire’s vision of a society without oppression, in which everyone’s voice has equal value.
Freire also shows that his pedagogy has applications in politics, as well as in education, since political leaders can use educational methods to bolster their political work. In the fight to change an oppressive system, political leaders have their own methods of challenging the oppressors’ power—and Freire argues that these methods have much in common with his pedagogy. For example, political leaders use “organization” to bring people together in a structured group, and Freire calls this method “highly educational.” When political leaders organize oppressed people to fight for freedom, they all learn how to create a social structure that allows everyone to be free.
Education Quotes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Thought and study alone did not produce Pedagogy of the Oppressed; it is rooted in concrete situations and describes the reactions of laborers (peasant or urban) and of middle-class persons whom I have observed directly or indirectly during the course of my educative work.
For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them”; for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated.
Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others…In this view, the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente); he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty “mind” passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside.
Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world.
Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why?
To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.
One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.
The starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people. Utilizing certain basic contradictions, we must pose this existential, concrete, present situation to the people as a problem which challenges them and requires a response…
[Themes] imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to be carried out and fulfilled. Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent, disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites.
...Organization requires authority, so it cannot be authoritarian; it requires freedom, so it cannot be licentious. Organization is, rather, a highly educational process in which leaders and people together experience true authority and freedom, which they then seek to establish in society by transforming the society which mediates them.