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Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of the foundational texts in the field of critical pedagogy, which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.


A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.

In one sense, Freire's philosophy of history supplies grounds for hope, especially for oppressed peoples. "[D]ehumanization," he counsels, "although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order." On the other hand, this perspective may lead to despondency and anguish when oppression seems to have the upper hand. What if man's historical vocation were not liberation, but enslavement? A terrible thought. "[T]o admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation," writes Freire, "would lead either to cynicism or total despair." In that case, "the struggle for humanization...would be meaningless." Freire thus places a great burden on his readers as agents of history. The task is one of painful struggle. The results are uncertain.

The first stage of education thus begins with an awakening awareness that oppression is in fact man-made, unjust, and transformable. It ends with the success of the revolution. The second stage might be described as the "post-revolution," except that Freire takes a rather dynamic view of revolution according to which "there is no absolute 'before' or 'after,' with the taking of power as the dividing line." However that may be, once power has been taken, the goal of education ceases to be liberation from oppression, since the oppressor-oppressed contradiction will have then been transcended. The goal, rather, is communal struggle against persistent ideas that limit human freedom.

Because the oppressors will be bent on maintaining their status, they can never take part in the changes that must occur; only the oppressed can bring about change. The situation of oppression is "a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they oppress," but it is only "the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity." "Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed," he adds, "will be sufficiently strong to free both" the oppressed and their oppressors.

Freire wrote his book at a particular time with a particular set of oppressed people in mind. He knew what oppression was because he witnessed it firsthand. Freire himself suffered from poverty and hunger during the Great Depression and was imprisoned for 70 days in Brazil after the 1964 coup. But Freire's book is not read today by people who suffer from the same kinds of oppression that Brazilian agricultural laborers suffered during the mid-20th century. Rather, it is read by American college students and their teachers who, if they suffer from oppression at all, suffer from something less physical and more subtle than what Freire had in mind.