Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 2000 Issue »

    Editor's Review - Pedagogy of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Heart, and Teachers as Cultural Workers by Paulo Freire

    Marta Soler-Gallart
    Pedagogy of the Heart
    by Paulo Freire.
    New York: Continuum, 1997. 141 pp. $11.95.

    Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare to Teach
    by Paulo Freire.
    Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998. 100 pp. $22.00.

    Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage
    by Paulo Freire.
    Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. 144 pp. $19.95.

    Paulo Freire, who died in 1997, is internationally renowned as a contemporary educator. His books have been translated into many languages and published in a number of countries, including Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Spain. The publication in English of three of his latest works offers new ways of understanding the dialogic pedagogy that has made Freirean theories and practices so prominent in the field of education.

    Pedagogy of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Heart, and Teachers as Cultural Workers speak to people who are involved in the field of education and believe in education’s transformative power: educators, researchers, experienced and novice teachers, administrators and policymakers, students, families, and community members. In these books Freire suggests that if education’s purpose is to provide the appropriate technical training to adjust to changing social dynamics and requirements, then the field of education will always be a marginal appendix subordinated to other social arenas. Through a life of work with high social concern, Freire showed how to develop educational theories that are valued beyond the field of education. In fact, few pedagogues have influenced noneducational fields as dramatically as has Paulo Freire. Unlike theories that associate schools with a place for technical training that end up promoting social reproduction, Freire’s ideas were able to transcend this thinking because his educational proposal includes possibilities for social change. A transformative proposal, as Freire states in Pedagogy of the Heart, requires “technical, scientific, and professional development as much as it does dreams and utopia” (p. 43).

    Paulo Freire’s growing worldwide influence is due to various factors. Probably the most important is the recent turn of social and human sciences toward more dialogic perspectives as a result of current sociopolitical transformations. A dialogic or communicative perspective is one based on dialogue among people, which enables us to coordinate our actions on the basis of agreement and shared understanding of all voices. Dialogue is a procedural principle that implies that one assumes an ethical posture as a social actor in the world with others. Taking this dialogic framework, social, human, and educational sciences are progressively rejecting both the figure of “the expert” who possesses the knowledge and holds the authority and the relativistic position of “anything goes” that does not seek the egalitarian inclusion of all. Freire pioneered the dialogic approach in the field of education in the 1960s, with a clear vision of a theory and practice that has become prevalent today.

    Contemporary social sciences assert the need to research the changes that are taking place in different spheres of social life from a communicative orientation (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 1995; Giddens, 1994; Habermas, 1984). In the information age, with increased pluralism, flexibility, risk, and uncertainty in society, positions taken by traditional authorities are now challenged by diverse voices that demand to be taken into account at the decisionmaking level. For example, people who live together in the same home are increasingly discussing and negotiating their relations, rather than accepting traditional roles (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 1995). Today, it is no longer clear “whether one should get married or live together, whether one should raise a child inside or outside the family, . . . or whether one should do any of those things before, after or while concentrating on one’s career” (p. 15). Similarly, decisions such as what school to attend, what to do over the weekend, or simply what TV channel to watch are often negotiated between parents and their children. These kinds of questions require people to come to agreements in their relationships and friendships through dialogue. The same increases in communication and demands for voice are taking place in education and should be explained and promoted by dialogic pedagogies such as Freire’s.

    Today, at a moment when society is creating spaces for dialogue and social theory has taken the dialogic proposal of Jürgen Habermas and his Theory of Communicative Action (1984) as a main reference, it is surprising to revisit Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), which proposed a “theory of dialogic action” twelve years before Habermas did so. A critical vision and strong commitment to the people enabled Freire to develop progressive ideas that have since become key educational questions, such as dialogic proposals to live within and learn from pluralism. Now, in Pedagogy of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Heart, and Teachers as Cultural Workers, Freire advances again what he believes will be the main concerns of those who will be working in education in the twenty-first century.

    Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage
    provides an excellent source of ideas for practitioners, researchers, and intellectuals who want to contribute to the analysis and improvement of present and future education. This book, filled with Freire’s own passion and determination, shows the importance of working with rigor and commitment for transformation. The last paragraph of this book reveals the secret audience that probably brought Freire to develop such work — those educators, researchers, and intellectuals who, in the name of science and professionalism, forget about the real people they study and theorize:

    I am convinced however that rigor, serious intellectual discipline, and the exercise of epistemological curiosity do not necessarily make me unloved, arrogant, or full of myself. Put in another way, when I speak of scientific rigor, I am not doing so because I am necessarily arrogant, though sometimes arrogance may be mistaken for competence, even though competence can hardly be considered the cause of arrogance. Yet I do not deny that certain arrogant people may be very competent. I simply lament the fact that they lack that humility that, in addition to enhancing their knowledge, would ennoble them as people. (p. 129)

    This awareness of human nobility, combined with scientific rigor and humility, has allowed Freire to understand and theorize about the challenges of our times. Thus, his human and epistemological positions have opened more possibilities and had greater real impact on improving education and the life of oppressed peoples than those of intellectuals who either hide themselves under anti-theoretical populism or, at the opposite pole, close themselves within their scientific status.

    Freire remained in dialogue with a broad range of people, including those labeled “illiterate” or “ignorant.” It was thus possible for him to read the new contributions of social and educational sciences with an understanding of the problems and feelings of the majority of people in the world — the poor, who make up the majority of learners. Consequently, the failures of our educational systems to reach that majority that are not White, upper or middle class can be partly overcome by broadening our understanding of education and learning. In fact, Freire writes,

    It has not yet dawned on us that education is something that women and men discovered experimentally, in the course of history. If it were clear to us that our capacity to teach arose from our capacity to learn, we would easily have understood the importance of informal experiences in the street, in the square, in the work place, in the classroom, in the playground, among the school staff of both teachers and administrative personnel. (p. 47)

    Such concern for common people never led Freire to populism. Instead, he always insisted on the importance of doing rigorous and scientific work in order to move from naïveté to a critical position in the world. Along these lines, he states, “It’s precisely because ingenuous curiosity does not automatically become critical that one of the essential tasks of progressive educational praxis is the promotion of a curiosity that is critical, bold, and adventurous” (p. 38).

    In addition, Freire did not oppose theory and practice, educators’ and learners’ knowledge, or researchers’ and informants’ interpretations. Instead he defended and promoted a dialogue among them. In Pedagogy of Freedom, he argues that such dialogical effort actually makes both theory and practice a serious and rigorous work, and allows enrichment and growth in both. Therefore, he asserts,

    It is my conviction that the difference and the distance between ingenuity and critical thinking, between knowledge resulting from pure experience and that resulting from rigorous methodological procedure, do not constitute a rupture but a sort of further stage in the knowing process. (p. 37)

    In this way, Pedagogy of Freedom expands Freire’s proposal of dialogic learning found in his previous work from the teaching-learning process to a communicative way of making educational theory. Therefore, Freire’s latest work coincides with the newest developments in the social sciences over the last decades, such as the ideas of Jürgen Habermas (1984), who also proposes that social sciences become dialogic. Habermas contends that “when we describe behavior in terms of communicative action, our own ontological presuppositions are no longer more complex than those we ascribe to the actors themselves” (p. 118). Consequently, within a framework of dialogue, researchers’ interpretations cannot be detached from the people they investigate because the people live and know their own reality. In this way, Freire asserts that educators need “not only to respect the kinds of knowledge that exist especially among the popular classes — knowledge socially constructed in communitarian praxis — but also to discuss with students the logic of these kinds of knowledge” (p. 36). From a dialogic perspective, educators and researchers do not get information from informants to then interpret it by themselves (through either quantitative or qualitative methods). Moreover, they also do not act in the opposite way, as they do not stop being educators or researchers to become only participants in the action. Instead, from the communicative perspective that both Freire and Habermas advocate, knowledge and theory are constructed through dialogue. In such a construction, educators and researchers interact with the people in their natural environments, and decide together the validity of their statements based on a common understanding.

    At the threshold of the twenty-first century, we face the need to learn a new and more communicative way of constructing educational theory. With Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire contributes a unique guide to such a mission, as he contends that a serious work that holds methodological rigor implies having the capacity to be critical, to include the other, and to reflect on everyday practice and people’s main concerns. Following Freire’s guidelines requires having the courage to develop educational theory in relation to the current social reality, thus defending the critical role of education for overcoming social and cultural inequalities. For this reason, Freire emphasizes that the teaching profession requires the unity of both a technical dimension and a firm defense of dialogical ethics. This ethical posture leads professionals to improve their work with the whole educational community on the basis of the education people want and need for their children. Ultimately, this will contribute to further democracy and social justice in our field.

    While social sciences are witnessing the revival of the idea of deliberative democracy (Elster, 1998), as well as the possibility of transforming social positions through dialogue (Giddens, 1994), we now have a book that discusses how to develop such dialogic democracy in education. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire defends a universal human ethic that extends not only to schools but also to teachers’ training: “The education of the teacher should be so ethically grounded that any gap between professional and ethical formation is to be deplored” (p. 24). Freire believes that one of teachers’ responsibilities is to be well prepared, which is also the responsibility of schools of education. Training should go beyond technical preparation; it needs scientific formation, ethical rectitude, respect for others, coherence, and capacity to live with and learn from what is different. Therefore, a second responsibility is embracing a universal human ethic, which implies not being afraid to condemn exclusion, manipulation, and misery, or to denounce the fragmentation of human solidarity. He continues,

    The ethic of which I speak is that which feels itself betrayed and neglected by the hypocritical perversion of an elitist purity, an ethic affronted by racial, sexual, and class discrimination. For the sake of this ethic, which is inseparable from educative practice, we should struggle, whether our work is with children, youth, or adults. (p. 24)

    Finally, Freire asserts that a universal ethics proposal opposes “an immobilizing ideology of fatalism, with its flighty postmodern pragmatism, which insist that we can do nothing to change the march of social-historical and cultural reality because that is how the world is anyway” (p. 26). Freire contends that because we have an ethical responsibility for our actions in the world, it is then in our hands to remain passive or to do something in this world. Therefore, educators need to open possibilities so that all people can exercise their basic human right of developing their culture while getting the best education.

    Freire’s struggle against fatalist positions is particularly present in Pedagogy of the Heart, which he wrote with a rebellious passion against fatalism. He contends that

    the affirmation that “Things are the way they are because they cannot be otherwise” is hatefully fatalistic since it decrees that happiness only belongs to those in power. . . . A total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation. (p. 36)

    In a dramatic way, Freire himself experienced the dangers of that fatalism and neo-liberalism in Brazil. In Pedagogy of the Heart, he narrates his personal and intellectual trajectory, providing examples and reflections to help us invent ways of resisting the spread of fatalism in our own schools and lives. Therefore, this book draws lines of possibility for educators to develop transformative theories and practices.

    In 1980, after fifteen years in exile, the Brazilian educator returned to his country with a firm commitment to the social and democratic transformations arising there. He enthusiastically participated with many other people and many different venues, such as working as the Secretary of Education in São Paulo from 1989 to 1992. In Pedagogy of the Heart, Freire relates these experiences, but he also describes how, after years of struggle, he sadly realizes that some intellectuals, who once defended a transformative option, fell into fatalism.

    By writing Pedagogy of the Heart, Freire suggests ways of avoiding fatalism and developing new transformative perspectives. For example, he proposes concrete educational measures for democratic administration, such as promoting a school council organized through committees and deliberative procedures, or taking the Department of Education’s proposals and actions to discussion in popular rallies (pp. 62–63). In fact, Freire took these proposals to practice in Brazil as part of a broader goal of transforming public schools to be more democratic and popular and less authoritarian and elitist. His rejection of neo-liberalism is not naïve, however. In this book, he provides a rigorous analysis of current inequalities, but beyond that, he does not conform with intellectual or political positions that allow the continuation of a situation in which thirty-three million Brazilians died of starvation. Thus, he says, “I recognize reality. I recognize the obstacles, but I refuse to resign in silence or to be reduced to a soft, ashamed, skeptical echo of the dominant discourse” (p. 58).

    The search for transformation into a better world that many of us dream about is precisely what brought Freire to reject any intellectual fashion that does not clearly favor transformative actions oriented toward dialogue, equality, and democracy. He thus rejected pretended neutrality as well as arguments of opposition that do not provide alternatives. In this way, in Pedagogy of the Heart, he contends that “one of the most important tasks for progressive intellectuals is to demystify postmodern discourses with respect to the inexorability of this situation. I vehemently reject such immobilization of history” (p. 36).

    Freire argues that rather than limiting ourselves to denouncing the mendacity of former or potential transformations, progressive educators should research and generate possibilities for a better education and a better world. As he says in Pedagogy of the Heart, “The question lies in determining how to turn difficulties into possibility” (p. 64).

    Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach is a book that speaks directly to teachers, addressing issues that concern those who step into classrooms every day. One of the main concerns Freire discusses in this volume was captured in the original title in Portuguese, Profesora Sim, Tia Nao [Teacher Yes, Auntie No], which reflects the popular paternalistic understanding of the teaching profession. This issue is particularly important in various Latin American countries where, as in other places, teachers face deplorable job conditions. The devaluation of the teaching profession in these situations identifies teachers with caring aunts, mothers, or babysitters. With this book, Freire warns the field of education how dangerous the implications of such associations are, as well as how a pedagogy that only addresses issues of care can devalue and undermine the teacher’s role and profession:

    The dominant ideology in Brazil, by equating teaching with mothering, makes it impossible for teachers to dare to go on strike to remedy the unjust conditions under which they work and through which their students are being denied their rights as citizens to the best possible education. (p. 5)

    In Teachers as Cultural Workers, the headings of the ten letters Freire addresses to teachers reveal the kinds of problems that this book discusses: 1) Reading the World, Reading the Word; 2) Don’t Let the Fear of What Is Difficult Paralyze You; 3) I Came into the Teacher Training Program Because I Had No Other Options; 4) On the Indispensable Qualities of Progressive Teachers for Their Better Performance; 5) The First Day of School; 6) On the Relationship between the Educator and the Learners; 7) From Talking to Learners to Talking to Them and with Them, from Listening to Learners to Being Heard by Them; 8) Cultural Identity and Education; 9) Concrete Context/Theoretical Context; and 10) Once More the Question of Discipline.

    Freire published this book in Brazil one year after he left the position of Secretary of Education. In the letters we can see an experienced professional educator whose transformative proposals and dreams do not take him away from the everyday reality of the classrooms. Often, his dialogical proposal and his rejection of a “banking” model of education — one in which students become passive recipients of knowledge — have been misunderstood. Many have interpreted it to mean that teachers should stop being teachers and become facilitators so as not to impose their ideas on students. Unfortunately, Freire’s work has often been misrepresented as one that defended transformative aspects of education by reducing its professional dimension. However, the real message of Freire’s theoretical and practical work is very different from these misinterpretations, as clearly portrayed in Teachers as Cultural Workers. On the one hand, Freire does not provide a picture of a nonteacher; instead, he portrays a dialogic teacher who dares to teach, along with some cues of how to develop such a role. For instance, some key teacher attributes are humility, common sense, courage, tolerance, decisiveness, a tension between patience and impatience, joy of living, scientific competence, political clarity, and ethical integrity. On the other hand, he defends the teaching profession and the dignifying conditions in which our profession should be exercised. Along these lines, Freire asserts that the project of democracy must never be understood as an individual struggle; teachers must stick together as they challenge the system, exercise their right to fight for a permanent teacher preparation, and dignify schools as places where one is able to teach rather than simply nurture.

    Freire’s contributions also have an international perspective. In Europe and in the United States, we must overcome the paternalistic view of the teaching profession. Frequently, adaptation to diversity ends up reducing schools in low-income areas to limited perspectives of a pedagogy of care that, in the name of giving love to minority students, do not challenge them but rather transform teaching into parental coddling. Freire states, however, that “it is not possible to be a teacher without loving one’s students, even realizing that love is not enough, [but] it is not possible to be a teacher without loving teaching” (p. 15). Minority students from poor school districts have the same capacity to learn as the students of elite schools; they only need to know so, and to have the opportunity to demonstrate it by being offered the same quality of education. In some places, teachers’ paternalism has contributed to the reproduction and promotion of social inequalities, a fact that some scholars have associated with social Darwinism: instruction for the elite and care for the lower class.

    Freire dedicated his life and work to a struggle for social and educational equality that rejects such forms of paternalism. He died in the process of continuing his intense creative and professional work, leaving great and fruitful memories. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Pedagogy of the Heart, and Teachers as Cultural Workers, the work of his last years, we find a unique foundation for the transformative educational theories and practices that we will develop in the new century. But, moreover, we also find a testimony of the possibility to imagine and create educational proposals that promote a better world.

    Marta Soler-Gallart
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    Spring 2000 Issue


    Tribal Sovereigns
    Reframing Research in American Indian Education
    K. Tsianina Lomawaima
    Symposium: "Habits of Thought and Work"
    The Disciplines and Qualitative Research
    Reba N. Page, George Spindler, Lorie Hammond, Shirley Brice Heath, Mary Haywood Metz, Annie G. Rogers, and Magdalene Lampert

    Book Notes

    Imagining to Learn
    By Jeffrey D. Wilhelm and Brian Edmiston

    New Perspectives on the Holocaust
    Edited by Rochelle L. Millen, with Timothy A. Bennett, Jack D. Mann, Joseph E. O’Connor, and Robert P. Welker

    Natives and Academics Researching and Writing about American Indians
    Edited by Devon A. Mihesuah

    The Struggle of Latino/Latina University Students
    By Felix M. Padilla

    Inside a Head Start Center
    By Deborah Ceglowski

    Students as Researchers
    Edited by Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe

    Arts and Learning
    By Merryl Goldberg

    A Passion for Teaching
    Edited by Sarah Levine

    The House of Joshua
    By Mindy Thompson Fullilove

    Charter Schools
    By Seymour B. Sarason

    Many Faces of Mexico
    By Octavio Ruiz, Amy Sanders, and Meredith Sommers

    Debatable Diversity
    By Raymond V. Padilla and Miguel Montiel

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.