Pedagogy Of The Oppressed

by Paulo Freire, Myra Bergman Ramos (Translator), Donaldo Macedo (Introduction)

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024
Pedagogy Of The Oppressed
Pedagogy Of The Oppressed

What are the big ideas? 1. The importance of treating the oppressed as subjects in their own liberation: This book emphasizes the need for the oppressed to be treat

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What are the big ideas?

  1. The importance of treating the oppressed as subjects in their own liberation: This book emphasizes the need for the oppressed to be treated as active participants in their own education and liberation process, rather than passive objects. This is achieved through dialogue, reflection, and autonomy-building, which helps create a more transformative and sustainable form of change.
  2. Banking vs. problem-posing education: The book introduces the concept of banking education (teacher-centered) versus problem-posing education (student-centered), highlighting the importance of students engaging in critical thinking and questioning their societal contexts, rather than simply memorizing information. This approach empowers individuals to become agents of change and fosters a more humanistic and liberating educational experience.
  3. The reciprocal relationship between consciousness and reality: The book explores the idea that consciousness shapes reality and vice versa, emphasizing the significance of witnessing (action and reflection) in the liberation process. This perspective challenges the notion that education or consciousness-raising can be achieved without engaging with the real world and its historical and cultural contexts.
  4. The need for authentic thematic investigations: The book proposes a unique methodology for thematic investigations, which involves active engagement from diverse participants, critical analysis of societal structures, and continuous reflection and dialogue. This approach fosters a more collaborative and inclusive educational process that can yield deeper insights and promote transformative change.
  5. Che Guevara's thoughts on consciousness and reality: The book highlights the significance of Che Guevara's ideas on consciousness and reality, emphasizing the importance of recognizing oppressive structures and engaging in authentic witness to bring about meaningful change. This perspective challenges traditional views on passive resistance or acceptance of societal norms and encourages individuals to actively participate in their own liberation process.


Introduction to the Anniversary Edition by Donaldo Macedo


  • The call for "plain prose" in academic writing can be a mechanism to dismiss complex theoretical ideas that challenge dominant ideologies.
  • Paulo Freire's work, particularly Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has been misunderstood and depoliticized by some educators who focus only on teaching conflict without understanding its historical and ideological roots.
  • Freire's pedagogy is grounded in a philosophical anthropology that challenges dominant assumptions about human nature and education as neutral or value-free.
  • The misinterpretation of Freire's work can lead to a reduction of his revolutionary aim to a teaching method rather than a philosophy or social theory.
  • Freire's commitment to fighting social injustices and imagining a more humane world is an ongoing inspiration for those who believe in education as a transformative force.

Foreword by Richard Shaull


  • Paulo Freire's work has had a profound impact on education and national development in Latin America, particularly in teaching illiterate adults.
  • His methodology is important for us in the United States as well, as it addresses the struggle of various marginalized groups to become active subjects in society.
  • Born into poverty in Brazil, Freire experienced firsthand the "culture of silence" of the dispossessed and realized that education was a major instrument for maintaining this culture.
  • He developed a unique educational philosophy through engagement with diverse philosophical perspectives and his own experiences.
  • Freire's methodology was widely used in literacy campaigns and led to his imprisonment during a military coup.
  • His work has been published extensively, and his latest book, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," is being published in English for the first time.
  • Freire believes that every person is capable of critical thinking and looking at the world dialogically, leading to self-awareness and social transformation.
  • The word holds new power when people are able to name their reality and discover themselves.
  • Illiterate peasants who participate in this educational process gain a new sense of dignity and hope, leading them to transform their own lives and potentially challenge societal structures.
  • Freire's method belongs to a different world than our own, but there are parallels in the struggle against submergence in a "culture of silence" and the importance of education as a means of liberation.
  • Education can either facilitate conformity to the present system or be "the practice of freedom." Freire's thought will contribute significantly to those seeking to experiment with new educational methodologies.


“People educate each other through the mediation of the world.”

“Our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system to the degree that this happens, we are also becoming submerged in a new "Culture of Silence".”

“There's no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.”

“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.”



  • Fear of freedom is a common reaction to critical consciousness, but it does not lead to destructive fanaticism or collapse.
  • Conscientização, or critical consciousness, enrolls people in the search for self-affirmation and avoids fanaticism.
  • The fear of freedom makes individuals see ghosts and take refuge in maintaining the status quo.
  • Radicalization is creative and liberating, while sectarianism mythicizes and alienates.
  • Sectarianism in any form is an obstacle to human emancipation.
  • The radical enters reality fully to transform it, confronts challenges, listens, sees the world unveiled, and fights alongside the oppressed.
  • The pedagogy of the oppressed is a task for radicals, not sectarians.
  • Trust in people and faith in humanity are important.
  • Gratitude to supporters and recognition of the responsibility for affirmations made in the work.


“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic.”

“The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a 'circle of certainty' within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

Chapter 1: The Problem of Humanization and Dehumanization


  • The oppressed must be treated as subjects, not objects, in the process of their liberation.
  • Authentic praxis requires reflection and action, both by the oppressors and the oppressed.
  • The use of propaganda, communiqués, monologues, and instructions is a form of manipulation that undermines the autonomy of the oppressed.
  • Dialogue between the oppressors and the oppressed is crucial for building trust and understanding, and for ensuring that the liberation process is truly transformative.
  • The revolutionary leadership must recognize the dependence of the oppressed as a weak point and work to transform it into independence through pedagogical action.
  • The oppressed cannot be liberated by others; they must engage in the struggle for their own liberation.
  • The use of dehumanizing methods, such as propaganda or manipulation, in the process of liberation is counterproductive and perpetuates the oppressive relationship between the oppressors and the oppressed.
  • Humanizing pedagogy involves a permanent relationship of dialogue and co-intentionality between the revolutionary leadership and the oppressed, with both parties serving as Subjects in the process of unveiling reality and re-creating knowledge.


“Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed”

“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.”

“Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands--whether of individuals or entire peoples--need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

“But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity.”

“Even revolution, which transforms a concrete situation of oppression by establishing the process of liberation, must confront this phenomenon. Many of the oppressed who directly or indirectly participate in revolution intend - conditioned by the myths of the old order - to make it their private revolution. The shadow of their former oppressor is still cast over them.”

“The oppressed, having internalised the image of the oppressor and adopted his guideline are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility.”

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.”

“The oppressor shows solidarity with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labour — when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love.”

“One cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity.”

“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption (Freire, 1970, p. 54).”

“It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the 'rejects of life.' It is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who denied that humanity (thus negating their own as well). Force is used not by those who have become weak under the preponderance of the strong, but by the strong who have emasculated them.”

“the former oppressors do not feel liberated. On the contrary, they genuinely consider themselves to be oppressed. Conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied nor travelled, much less listened to Beethoven. Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of the rights of the community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights – although they had no respect for the millions who suffered and died of hunger, pain, sorrow, and despair. For the oppressors, 'human beings' refers only to themselves; other people are 'things'.”

“The oppressed, as objects, as "things", have no purposes except those their oppressors prescribe for them.”

“The fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other... Theirs is a fundamental role, and has been throughout the history of this struggle. It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and move to the side of the exploited, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people's ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the people's cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.”

“The man or woman who proclaims devotion to the cause of liberation yet is unable to enter into communion with the people, whom he or she continues to regard as totally ignorant, is grievously self-deceived. The convert who approaches the people but feels alarm at each step they take, each doubt they express, and each suggestion they offer, and attempts to impose his "status," remains nostalgic towards his origins.”

“Libertarian action must recognize this dependence as a weak point and must attempt through reflection and action to transform it into independence. However, not even the best-intentioned leadership can bestow independence as a gift. The liberation of the oppressed is a liberation of women and men, not things. Accordingly, while no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others. Liberation, a human phenomenon, cannot be achieved by semihumans. Any attempt to treat people as semihumans only dehumanizes them.”

“It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”

“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.”

Chapter 2: The Narrative Character of Education


  • Banking education and problem-posing education are two fundamentally different approaches to education.
  • Banking education is based on a model of the teacher as the one who knows and imparts knowledge to students, who are passive recipients. It emphasizes memorization and rote learning, and stifles critical thinking and creativity.
  • Problem-posing education, on the other hand, is based on a model of the teacher as a facilitator of learning and the students as active participants in the educational process. It emphasizes questioning, dialogue, and reflection, and encourages critical thinking and creativity.
  • Banking education reinforces the perception of reality as fixed and unchangeable, while problem-posing education challenges this perception and enables people to see their situation as historical and susceptible of transformation.
  • Problem-posing education is a humanist and liberating praxis that empowers teachers and students to become subjects of the educational process and enables them to overcome authoritarianism and alienating intellectualism. It also encourages solidarity and fellowship, rather than antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed.
  • Revolutionary leaders must employ problem-posing education from the outset if they are to truly serve the interests of the people and promote their emancipation.


“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.”

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry beings pursue with the world and with others.”

“Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.”

“The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is better “fit” for the world. Translated into practice, this concept is well suited to the purposes of the oppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors have created, and how little they question it.”

“Liberation is a praxis : the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.”

“But one does not liberate someone by alienating them. Authentic liberation--the process of humanization--is not another deposit to be made in a person. Liberation is a praxis: action and reflection upon the world in order to transform it. Those truly committed to the cause of liberation can accept neither the mechanistic concept of consciousness as an empty vessel to be filled, nor the use of banking [pedagogical] methods of domination (propaganda, slogans--deposits) in the name of liberation.”

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.”

“The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity;”

“No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from beings so. Attempting to be more human, individually, leads to having more, egotistical, a form of dehumanization.”

“Liberation—not a gift, not a self-achievement, but a mutual process.”

Chapter 3: The Essence of Dialogue and the True Word


  • The banking concept of education is based on the belief that knowledge is deposited in students, while problem-posing education starts from the understanding that students already possess valuable perspectives and questions.
  • Problem-posing education emphasizes active engagement with concepts and encourages critical analysis and questioning of both texts and societal contexts.
  • Thematic investigations involve breaking down larger themes into their fundamental nuclei, which in turn can yield further partial elements.
  • Codifications are representations of existential situations containing some of its constituent parts, while decoding involves the critical analysis of those codified situations.
  • Thematic investigations require the involvement of ten percent or more participants from a given area or subarea, who work alongside specialists in decoding and rectifying interpretations.
  • Codifications can also be oral, consisting of a few words followed by their decoding process.
  • Thematic analysis should include volunteers who contributed to the investigation and some participants from the thematic investigation circles. Their presence helps ensure that interpretations made by specialists are rectified or ratified.
  • Thematic investigations must continue until the final phase of programming content for liberating cultural action, which involves organizing educational campaigns based on the analyzed themes.
  • Authentic humanists, such as Mao-Tse-Tung and Freyer, emphasize understanding the needs and wishes of the masses, rather than imposing their own desires upon them.
  • Meaningful thematics are those which contain the possibility of unfolding into again as many themes, which in turn call for new tasks to be fulfilled.


“There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.”

“An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah.” It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.”

“Word is not the privilege of some few persons but the right of everyone”

“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause--the cause of liberation.”

“If I do not love the world, if I do not love life, if I do not love people, I cannot enter into dialogue.”

“How can I enter into dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?...How can I enter into dialogue if I am closed to - and even offended by - the contribution of others? At the point of encounter there are neither yet ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.”

“To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie.”

“As long as I fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight with hope, then I can wait.”

“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.”

“I can not think for others or without others,nor can others think for me. Even if the people's thinking is superstitious or naive,it is only as they rethink their assumptions in action that they can change. Producing and acting upon their own ideas—not consuming those of others.”

Chapter 4: Theories of Cultural Action from Antidialogical and Dialogical Matrices


  • The relationship between consciousness and reality is reciprocal: consciousness shapes reality and reality in turn shapes consciousness.
  • Authentic witness, which does not bear immediate fruit, cannot be judged an absolute failure.
  • Historical-cultural structures consist of the dialectical relations between permanence and change.
  • Lenin criticized the Russian Social Democratic Party for emphasizing economic demands as a means of revolutionary struggle, which he called "economic spontaneity."
  • Authentic consciousness of one's oppressed status requires recognition of reality as an oppressive reality.
  • Witness, in the sense of action and reflection, is crucial for liberation.
  • The people are active in true organization, while in manipulated organizations they are guided objects.
  • It is essential for the oppressors to keep the lower classes isolated from each other and from students to maintain control.
  • Young people increasingly reject authoritarianism and seek self-affirmation, which can be a positive sign of the historical climate characterizing our epoch as an anthropological one.
  • The invaders make increasing use of social sciences, technology, and physical sciences to improve their action in attempting to guide the evolution of future along lines favoring their interests.
  • The thoughts of Che Guevara on this subject are significant.
  • Man's defenses against his own death are challenged with the "death of God" in current thought.
  • Many peasants sell themselves or family members into slavery to escape starvation.
  • Authentic witness, which does not bear immediate fruit, cannot be erased.
  • The relationship between consciousness and reality is crucial for understanding the historical-cultural structure.


“Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle.”

“To simply think about the people, as the dominators do, without any self-giving in that thought, to fail to think with the people, is a sure way to cease being revolutionary leaders. ”

“From the first, the act of conquest, which reduces persons to the status of things, is necrophilia”

“It is necessary for the oppressors to approach the people in order, via subjugation, to keep them passive. This approximation, however, does not involve being with the people, or require true communication. It is accomplished by the oppressors' depositing myths indispensable to the preservation of the status quo: for example, the myth that the oppressive order is a "free society"; the myth that all persons are free to work where they wish, that if they don't like their boss they can leave him and look for another job; the myth that this order respects human rights and is therefore worthy of esteem; the myth that anyone who is industrious can become an entrepreneur--worse yet, the myth that the street vendor is as much an entrepreneur as the owner of a large factory; the myth of the universal right of education, when of all the Brazilian children who enter primary schools only a tiny fraction ever reach the university; the myth of the equality of all individuals, when the question: "Do you know who you're talking to?" is still current among us; the myth of the heroism of the oppressor classes as defenders of "Western Christian civilization" against "materialist barbarism"; the myth of the charity and generosity of the elites, when what they really do as a class is to foster selective "good deeds" (subsequently elaborated into the myth of "disinterested aid," which on the international level was severely criticized by Pope John XXIII); the myth that the dominant elites, "recognizing their duties," promote the advancement of the people, so that the people, in a gesture of gratitude, should accept the words of the elites and be conformed to them; the myth of private property as fundamental to personal human development (so long as oppressors are the only true human beings); the myth of the industriousness of the oppressors and the laziness and dishonesty of the oppressed as well as the myth of the natural inferiority of the latter and the superiority of the former.”

“The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.”

“In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a “quick return to power,” forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible “dialogue” with the dominant elites. It ends by being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls in an elitist game, which it calls “realism.”

Manipulation, like the conquest whose objectives it serves, attempts to anesthetize the people so they will not think. For if the people join to their presence in the historical process critical thinking about that process, the threat of their emergence materializes in revolution…One of the methods of manipulation is to inoculate individuals with the bourgeois appetite for personal success. This manipulation is sometimes carried out directly by the elites and sometimes indirectly, through populist leaders.”

“One of the methods of manipulation is to inoculate individuals with the bourgeois appetite for personal success. This manipulation is sometimes carried out directly by the elites and sometimes indirectly, through populist leaders. As Weffert points out, these leaders serve as intermediaries between the oligarchical elites and the people. The emergence of populism as a style of political action thus coincides causally with the emergence of the oppressed.”

“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people--they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”


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