Pedagogy of Hope, Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire – Book Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © Slobodan Dimitrov

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, first published in 1992, was written “in rage and love”, passionate in its denunciation of social wrongs and in its assertion of the power of education to release the truth.  The book works at both inspirational and practical levels, Freire believing that hope must be secured in practice, in action.  In his own life, Freire embodied this integration of love and need for securing social change.  His thinking and commitment to the best in humanity informed his engagement in the world.  Pedagogy of Hope illuminates Freire’s earlier publications including Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) which with sales of over one million copies has had extraordinary impact throughout the world in its analysis of socially and personally transformative education. 

Freire, a Brazilian, was born in poverty in 1921.  He became a teacher and explains in Pedagogy of Hope, with its detailed explanatory notes written by Ana Maria Araújo Freire, his wife, the autobiographical circumstances which determined the development of his major work.  He explains how through his meetings, his dialogues “with fishers, with peasants and urban labourers” he became convinced of the reciprocal nature of the learning process and its capacity for enabling a reimagining of the world.  According to Freire, the educator must become immersed in the language and perspectives of the educand, even their “mystical universe”, remaining completely open to opportunities for learning from them.  Learning is an exchange, a participatory relationship.  Acute mutual awareness of each other’s world view permits true exchange and forms the basis for real learning.

Freire’s life was intimately bound up with the volatile politics of Latin America.  He was imprisoned following the 1964 military coup in Brazil and then spent 15 years in exile.  He writes perceptively of the epistemological impact of this distancing on his reflections, noting how cultural and physical separation permitted re-viewing of the social/political environment.  His writing remains unembittered and manifestly hopeful.  There is much wry humour underscoring the text, for example when writing of the “indispensable virtue” of restraint he comments on the “verbal incontinence that few … of the Left had escaped”.  Measured language for Freire, originally a literacy teacher, was of enormous significance in developing “conscientization”, the critical consciousness which promotes the ability to intervene, to exercise freedom.

A reading of Pedagogy of Hope further explains many of the terms and principles familiar from Freire’s earlier works.  Concepts such as “critical thinking”, “informal education”, “untested feasibility”, “existential weariness”, “oneness in difference” and so on are illuminated by recognisable examples from Freire’s wide experience of travels and meetings throughout the world.  The semi-autobiographical tone of the book encompasses discussions with Spanish guest workers in Switzerland, purification rituals in Fiji and a visit to the Segundo Montes refugee settlement in El Salvador amongst many other events.  Freire refers to his meetings and travels as strands of a fabric out of which he formulated and revisited his responses to oppression.

The book will be of particular value to those interested in late twentieth century Latin American politics.  An index would have been particularly useful in an otherwise well-bound and printed text from the publisher’s Revelations series.  Freire writes warmly of and provides miniature sketches of a galaxy of writers, politicians and academics throughout the world, concerned with social justice in that era.  These include Ivan Illich, Joseph Fitzpatrick, Maurice Bishop, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo and Jean Ziegler.

Much of Freire’s insights are of course highly relevant to today.  The adoption by the oppressed of oppressive characteristics can be witnessed in the demonization of those entitled to financial support from the state, for example.  The sway held by dominant classes in determining a world view which inhibits perceptions of inequality can perhaps be most easily evidenced in states where school curricula are centrally controlled, or even non-existent.  University economics students and others have campaigned for inclusion of course material on the weaknesses of free market systems.  Less easy to detect is the more subtle hegemony by dominant ideology which results in myths such as “we are all in it together”.

Freire emphasises the importance of an education in which a middle way between authoritarian and libertarian approaches is held.  Educators and educands should learn from each other, so that new knowledge, new readings of the world arise from immersion in the perspectives of those being educated.  A holistic view of the process is prevalent in Freire’s thinking.  For example he sees no separation in universities between their instructive role with regards to old knowledge and their research role with reference to new knowledge.  He affirms the rigour required of educational settings, which should neither infantilise nor over-intellectualise the content of the learning.  A holistic view implies critical examination of presentation methods as well as of content and Freire would solicit feedback both to and from both educator and educand.

Praxis, the intertwining dialectic between theory and action, the very dynamic of learning is evident in Freire’s writing.  He distinguishes this type of education “however pleasant, even joyful” from entertainment and affirms the role of the student as well as the educator in adopting self-discipline and intellectual rigour.  The educator must avoid elitism by challenging student perceptions, first beginning from the “knowledge of common sense” and then transcending it to develop a more authentic realisation of the world.  New readings of the world promote further analyses, further actions, in an iterative process which refines one’s condition from “being” to “being-more-so”.  These resonances and interchanges between the modes of action, reading, writing, thinking and speaking are explored by Freire and explicitly evidenced in his book.

Freire’s optimism, his hopes and dreams remained throughout his life despite the conflicts of class, race and gender which he observed and indeed experienced.  He showed concern for all humanity by exploring the paradox that liberation of the oppressed will also free their oppressors, as a utopian vision is in essence social in nature and closed to those who would deny the radical differences between human beings.  Within a context of exile, neoliberal falsehoods, assassinations, coups, repressions and violence, Freire maintained his inspirational work until his death in 1997. A number of organisations such as the Freire Institute , the Paulo Freire Institute , Partners Training for Transformation and others throughout the world are now committed to propagating, applying and refining Freire’s work.

Through engagement with adult literacy programmes, Freire manifested concern for language and its capacity to both to determine and to enrich one’s world view.  He notes the responsibility of the reader to be a true “agent of learning” who approaches the task with discipline and attention, rather than simply “strolling through the words”.  For the writer he points out that scientific rigour does not preclude “beauty of form”.  He notes that government has a pedagogical aspect and affirms the “utter seriousness” of education in its task of avoiding the “subjection of reality”.  The book is of great interest and highly recommended to those who in this way and in Freire’s words would “make the world less ugly and less unjust by learning to read and write”.

Pedagogy of Hope, Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

[Bloomsbury, London, paperback, pp.226, RRP £12.99, ISBN 978-1-4725-3340-1]

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