‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ by Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the oppressed book cover

Reading Response By Pashew Majeed:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” (Freire, 2000, p.34). Freire begins his chapter four by quoting from Lenin, remarking: “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” (2000, p.125), and here I can begin by saying that the ‘Pedagogy of The Oppressed’ is a revolutionary book in its entirety. A revolution of praxis, of practice and theory altogether, of reflection and action, for one alone can never complete the full dimension of a liberating revolution.

In his approach of emancipatory education, he develops the idea that education can be an act of liberation and freedom; which he suggests the present education system is not, and rather it is an act of domination and repression. In the above quote he says that the present logic, the present way of living and life, is the one that represses, oppresses and dominates, and inwardly this practice is repeated so that there would be no hope for the oppressed get liberated and be free, unless they try to awaken their consciousness and be critical of the situation they are in. This action is a process called education as it should be, because education is and should be the practice of freedom not the practice of repression, of liberation not oppression, and of transformation not of marginalization and domination. For Freire this is an approach called Problem-posing Education while the former, its antonym, is Banking Education.

Banking education is a system for dominating and adapting people to the situation they are in. Knowledge is something the learner is totally unaware of; he/she has never thought of it or tried to know, and this not knowing puts him/her in a state of complete obedience to the one who knows and who is supposed to teach him/her. The content is a reality that can’t be changed, touched, spoken of and ultimately never transformed. The method is one of depositing, where the learner is seen as a container taking the content inside without digesting, and this is done through an educator who is seen as the oppressor. Freire goes to say, “the teacher teaches and the students are taught, the teacher knows everything and students know nothing, the teacher thinks and the students are thought of, the teacher talks and the students listen” (2000, p.73) and this is the picture or the mirror that the reflection of the whole society can be seen through.

The depiction of oppression and the situation of the oppressed is clearly maintained. In this situation the oppressed, if not the students themselves but just like them, are unconscious and uncritical and it is in the oppressor’s interest for them to stay this way. Though it is ok for the oppressed to be conscious but not moved from where they are, because the liberation does not commence unless the situation of the oppressed is changed.

Freire sees this as an attempt by the oppressor to dehumanize the oppressed, and this continues until the oppressed is awakened and conscious. But this doesn’t go so smooth or easily as sometimes the role of oppressor and oppressed gets changed and bccomes more complex. This is the contradiction of the ‘oppressor oppressed’. The fear of freedom within the oppressed impels him/her to take the role of the oppressor, because he/she listens, obeys and believes of what and how he/she gets prescribed. This prescription is an element of the relationship between the two. Freire states: “Every prescription represents the imposition of some individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor” (p.47).

Now, to take this veil away is to remove the fear, the fear of freedom and to change the image that the oppressor acts under. Realizing the root causes of the fear is crucial, and then to create a new situation through transforming actions; as stated earlier, the situation of the oppressed should change for him/her to be liberated, to be humanized.

Humanization is a process, in which a yearning for freedom and justice, a struggle to recover humanity and affirmation is processed by the oppressed themselves after they have realized their situation. For Freire, both the oppressed and the oppressed are dehumanized, the one that humanity has been stolen from and the one that has stolen it, and both need to act against the oppression they are going through. Freire states that, in such a change, we can’t say that one person liberates himself, or another, but that people in communion liberate each other (p.128).

Alternatively, Freire puts forward a different education system which he calls Problem-Posing education. This is education as a practice of freedom – humanizing, and liberating – in which the focus is to transform the structure of oppression and the society so as to re-humanize both the oppressed and their oppressors. In this system the teacher (oppressor) is no longer the one who teaches solely, but the one who him/herself is taught through dialogue with the students.  “Problem-posing education, responding to the essence of consciousness…rejects communiques and embodies communication… consists of act of cognition, not transferal of information” (Freire, 2000, p. 79). Students are posed with problems related to the world and this makes them challenged and obliged to respond to the challenges (81).

This is a system through which humans are to reach their fullness, because human beings are not complete beings under oppression, and being oppressed has taken the elements of a full human being away from them. Freire assumes that, in a community of academic freedom, human beings can attain their true nature.

Dialogue is seen a means of maintaining the problem-posing system. The oppressor, or the educator, is no longer talking to the students or for the students, but rather with the students. Here the changes are happening among both the oppressed and the oppressor; their humanity is to be restored but it can only be restored by the oppressed since the oppressor is unconscious and even unwilling to restore it.

Through dialogue, new terms emerge for the ‘teacher-student’ and ‘student-teacher’. The students, while being taught, also teach. “They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.” Here “arguments based on ‘authority’ are no longer valid [and] authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it…No one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught” We teach each other, mediated by the world (Friere, 200, p.80).


Freire, Paulo. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York : Continuum.

Pashew Majeed is a MAed student as a Fulbright scholar at University of Cincinnati. His blog: http://pashewmajeed.blogspot.com/

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