Paulo Freire: Radical Learner

In his masterpiece, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire, describes the dialogical approach to learning that he developed while working mostly with the illiterate poor workers of Brazil.  Freire rejects traditional forms of teaching, which he calls banking education, and instead proposes problem posing learning where teacher and learner work together as partners. Problem posing learning is dialogical, designed to free the students through reflection, not fill them with facts. Freire puts it this way:

Problem-posing education affirms [people] as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, incomplete beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality… The unfinished character of [people] and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity.

Freire developed and applied his radical methods while working as the director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University. In 1962 he taught 300 sugar cane workers how to read in only 42 days. His success won him acclaim, and Freire accepted a visiting professorship at Harvard. During his visit to the United States, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published.

Freire’s work soon was recognized as applicable to much more than literacy–Freire’s problem posing learning, his emphasis on dialogue, and many of his other ideas were explored, and continue to be explored in educational philosophy, methods, and literacy courses.  There is a good chance that if you consider yourself a radical learner, you have read and embraced Freire’s work at some time.

One of Freire’s central ideas is that dialogue is the natural mode of communication for learning because dialogue recognizes the learner as an equal partner.  Dialogue enables learning with, rather than teaching to, so to speak.  Dialogue begins with respect because we enter into a dialogue expecting to learn from those we teach.

In Pedagogy of Oppressed, Freire proposes five ideas he thinks are essential for dialogue:(1) humility, (2) hope, (3) faith, (4) love, (5) critical thinking. The description of the concepts covers only a few pages in the book, but I believe they are some of the most important and profound of Freire’s ideas, and they have implications far beyond being necessary conditions for dialogue. I believe they are essential for learning in its broadest sense.  Over the next five posts I’ll discuss each idea, using it as a jump-off point to explore its implications for learning more broadly.

If you wish, and if they ideas prompt you to think differently about learning, l hope you will join into the dialogue and share your own thoughts here as well.  What do humility, hope, faith, love, and critical thinking have to do with radical learners?  I’ll offer my own answer to that question in the next five posts.

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  • Brandon

    Well said Jim. This book has been on my “to read” list for awhile – maybe I should put it right at the top. Frank Smith was no doubt inspired by Friere, and holds many of the same ideas.

  • Marilee Amodt

    Thank you for this post! “Dialogue recognizes the learner as an equal partner”-that is powerful and meaningful to me as a high school teacher in an urban setting. We focus on inquiry- but many teachers do not have the patience to give students thinking time or conversation time. Today I worked with students in a tutorial group. The students listened to each other, discussed solutions, re-worked the problem and the “aha” bulbs went on! It was a great day of learning!

  • Edison Freire

    Excellent overview of Freire’s masterpiece. I would like to ask you to please spell Paulo’s name correctly. It is E before I.

    Edison

  • Jim Knight

    @Edison Thanks!

  • Fr. Thomas P.J

    Thank you for the post. It is highly enlightening. It prompted me to read the book. The book makes you to work for the creation of a better world.
    Fr.Thoma p.j