Pedagogy of the Oppressed Notes

On a few occasions over the last few years Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paula Freire has been recommended to me as an important book to read. I finally got round to buying it and have dragged myself through it over the last couple of weeks. I say “dragged” not because the book was awful or said anything I didn’t agree with, but because it was practically unintelligible. Paulo Freire wrote the book almost 40 years ago and it is considered an enormously significant book in work to educate oppressed people. The issue with the language is, I think, a combination of it being:

a) Translated from Portuguese (Freire was from Brazil)

b) Written nearly 40 years ago

c) Based on Marxist political theory (which I have never read before)

Benjamin Ellis suggested it would be useful to provide my notes on the book, and so here they are! You may find the Wikipedia entry useful and also this is a useful clarification of some of the terms in the book. If you would like to read the book for free (approach with great trepidation!) you can do so here.

Okay, so here are my notes:

The first stage of a pedagogy of the oppressed is the revealing of oppression & reflective action taken to transform the world. The second stage is permanent liberation which requires steps to be taken to remove all myths about the system (e.g. poor people are lazy, women are emotionally weaker, men are naturally violent etc.) The goal of anti-oppressive practice is to enable both the oppressed and the oppressor to become fully human.

The steps we must take in addressing oppression are:

1. Critically recognise causes of oppression/dehumanisation

a) Gain realisation of the oppressed’s dependence on the oppressor

b) Understand that fatalism is conditioned, not inherent in oppressed people.

c) The oppressors are the subjects, the oppressed are the objects

2. The oppressed must overcome their fear of freedom and the risks

3. We must recognise the oppressed are hosts of the oppressor consciousness, which they internalise through the oppressor’s tactics.

4. Understand that oppression is not a closed state; hope & transformation is possible

5. A moment of perception & volition is needed

6. Oppression will increase once recognition of the oppression occurs

7. It’s important to differentiate between systematic education & educational projects

8. Remove ambiguity and inspire confidence in the oppressed’s own ability

9. The oppressed must begin to see the oppressor’s vulnerability, in order to abolish feelings of the oppressor’s omnipotence

10. The process must be intellectual, while including action, activism & reflection

11. The oppressed must accept responsibility for bringing about change (not because they are to blame for the oppression, but because change will never come from the oppressor). “It’s essential for the oppressed to realize when they accept the struggle for humanisation they accept total responsibility for it.”

12. Move from a belief that the situation is limited and unchangeable (a limit situation) to a the situation as an opportunity for action and change (a limit act)

13. Through the oppressed realising their object status and discovering their ability to act, the oppressed become “subjects in expectancy”

14. The next step is for the oppressed to become “beings for themselves” instead of being objects used by the oppressors.

15. It must be understood that oppressors use the following mechanisms:

a) Conquest

“Cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards, and the goals of the invaders…the more the oppressed mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the oppressor becomes.” For the oppressed to reject the myths of the oppressor becomes “an act of self-violence.”

b) Divide & conquer

c) Manipulation

d) Cultural invasion

16. Revolutionary leaders cannot use the above methods. Instead they must use these mechanisms:

a) Cooperation: Seeing themselves “co-authors of liberating action”

b) Unity for liberation

c) Organisation

d) Cultural synthesis: “In cultural syn¬thesis, the actors become integrated with the people, who are co-authors of the action that both [parties] perform upon the world.”

16. The oppressed stop conforming to the oppressive system and in so doing they begin to objectify reality, as subjects/actors in the world.

17. Revolutionary leaders achieve unity with the oppressed by enabling the oppressed to recognise and identify with the “why” and “how” of the oppressors. This process is called de-ideologising.

18. This cannot be done by releasing the oppressed from one false/mythological reality to be bound to yet another system that is not co-created with them. Dialogical action with the oppressed makes it possible for the oppressed, by perceiving their current conformation to an unjust system allows them to begin transforming it.

19. The “consciousness of being an oppressed class must be preceded (or at least accompanied) by achieving consciousness of being oppressed individuals.”

20. Those who are witnesses and revolutionary leaders must have:

a) Consistency between their words & actions

b) Boldness urging all to confront the current unjust system, knowing it is a permanent risk

c) Radicalisation (as opposed to sectarianism)

d) Courage to love

e) Faith in the people (the oppressed)

21. “It is quite true that without leadership, discipline, determination, and objec¬tives—without tasks to fulfil and accounts to be rendered—an organisation cannot survive… This fact, however, can never justify treating the people as things to be used. The people are already depersonalized by oppres¬sion – if the revolutionary leaders manipulate them, instead of work-ing towards their [transformation], the very objective of organization (that is, liberation) is thereby negated.”

23. ” The dialogical theory of action opposes both authoritarianism and license, and thereby affirms authority and freedom. There is no freedom without authority, but there is also no authority without freedom”

24. “Revolutionary leaders must avoid organizing themselves apart from the people.”

25. “Revolutionary leaders commit many errors and miscalculations by not taking into account something so real as the people’s view of the world: a view which explicitly and implicitly contains their concerns, their doubts, their hopes, their way of seeing the leaders, their perceptions of themselves and of the oppressors, their religious beliefs (almost always syncretic), their fatalism, their rebellious reactions.”

The correct method of addressing oppression lies in dialogue. Dialogue includes:

1. Co-intentional education

2. Teacher/student

3. Problem posing education vs banking education

4. Demythologising

5. Love, humility & faith in people

6. Hope

7. Critical thinking

8. Awareness of the oppressed’s situation

9. The people’s thematic universe (their full experience of the world)

10. Critical consciousness of the oppressed, also known as “conscientisation”

11. Using the abstract to make visible the concrete

12. Using relevant cultural tools e.g. newspaper articles, blogs, adverts, music videos, social media interactions, TV programmes, films etc.

13. Both the facilitators and those receiving the information are “actors in intercommunication”

14. A recognition of the oppressor’s need to “absolutise ignorance” in the oppressed

15. Empirical knowledge transformed into knowledge of the causes

16. Making the oppressed aware of the methods of “oppressive cultural action” enacted by oppressors.

17. Understanding that “salvation can be achieved only with others”

18. Understanding that “when the oppressed are almost completely submerged in reality, it is unnecessary to manipulate them.”

19. Understanding that in true organization, the oppressed are active in the organising process of challenging oppression and the objectives of the organization are not imposed, but jointly agreed.

20. “The dialogical theory of action opposes both authoritarianism and license, and thereby affirms authority and freedom.” “Authentic authority is not affirmed as such by a mere transfer of power, but through delegation or in sympathetic adherence. If authority is merely transferred from one group to another, or is imposed upon the majority, it degenerates into authoritarianism.”

21. A social structure is not defined by solely the fact that it remains the same, or by the fact that it changes, It is in the relationship between permanence and change.

22. It is necessary to trust in the oppressed & their ability to reason.

Understanding the oppressor/oppressed relationship

1. The oppressors perpetuate and perpetrate their power and control though reducing & alienating the oppressed and by convincing the oppressed that any flaws in the system are a lie.

2. When an oppressor’s right to oppress is taken away they will feel oppressed.

3. The oppressed may admire & aspire to become like the oppressor

4. The oppressed internalise self-deprecation and end up believing themselves incapable of knowledge.

5. The boss lives within the peasant, betraying the boss means the oppressed betraying themselves.

6. The oppressed must enter the struggle for liberation as people not as things.

7. “An oppressor class cannot think with the people & neither can they let the people think for themselves.”

8. “In Brazilian political terminology, “massification” is the process of reducing the people to a manageable, unthinking agglomeration.”

Problem-Posing Education includes:

1. Recognising that “the student is not empty, the teacher is not full”.

2. “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction…so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.”

3. “The teacher’s thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students thinking.”

4. “Affirming men and women as beings in the process of becoming.”

5. Oppressive education: “the means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.”

6. “Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression.”

7. “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people.”

8. “At the point of encounter there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.”

9. “The dehumanisation resulting from an unjust order is not a cause for despair but for hope, leading to the incessant pursuit of the humanity denied by injustice.”

10. “The revolutionary’s role is to liberate, and be liber¬ated, with the people – not to win them over.”

11. “In order to communicate effectively, educator and politician must understand the structural conditions in which the thought and language of the people are framed [as diaologue].”

12. “Come to perceive [that breaking free from oppression is] the frontier between “being” and “being more hu¬man”, rather than the frontier between “being” and “nothingness”.

13. “Even if the people’s thinking is superstitious or naive, it is only as they rethink their assumptions in action that they can change.”

14. “Humankind emerges from their submersion and acquire the ability to intervene in reality as it is unveiled.”

15. “Leaders who deny reflective praxis to the oppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis.”

16. The leaders must always mistrust the ambiguity of oppressed people and mis¬trust the oppressor that has become “housed” in the oppressed. But they must totally trust and believe in the potential of the people. They cannot treat the oppressed as mere objects; they must believe that the people are capable of participating in the pursuit of liberation


I thought it may be useful for me to define some of the words/terms I had to look up…

Praxis is a complex activity by which individuals create culture and society, and become critically conscious human beings. Praxis comprises a cycle of action-reflection-action which is central to liberatory education. Characteristics of praxis include self-determination (as opposed to coercion), intentionality (as opposed to reaction), creativity (as opposed to homogeneity), and rationality (as opposed to chance).” (Source)

Dialogical Method:The dialogical approach to learning is characterized by co-operation and acceptance of interchangeability and mutuality in the roles of teacher and learner, demanding an atmosphere of mutual acceptance and trust. In this method, all teach and all learn. This contrasts with an anti-dialogical approach which emphasizes the teacher’s side of the learning relationship and frequently results in one-way communiques perpetuating domination and oppression. Without dialogue, there is no communication, and without communication, there can be no liberatory education. (Source)

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.

Marxism: Marxism is a worldview and method of societal analysis based on attention to class-relations and societal conflict, on a materialist interpretation of historical development, and on a dialectical view of social transformation.

Conscientização: Conscientization is an ongoing process by which a learner moves toward critical consciousness). This process is the heart of liberatory education. It differs from “consciousness raising” in that the latter frequently involves “banking” education–the transmission of pre-selected knowledge. Conscientization means breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness–in particular, awareness of oppression, being an “object” in a world where only “subjects” have power. The process of conscientization involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming a “subject” with other oppressed subjects–that is, becoming part of the process of changing the world. (Source)

Axiological: Of or relating to the study of values.

Anthropocentric: Regarding humankind as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals.

Existential: Relating to existence.

Solipsistic: The philosophical theory that the self is all that you know to exist.

Subjectivism The doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.

Psychologism: A tendency to interpret events or arguments in subjective terms, or to exaggerate the relevance of psychological factors.

Contradistinction: Distinction made by contrasting the different qualities of two things.

Concomitant: A phenomenon that naturally accompanies or follows something.

Ideational: Being of the nature of a notion or concept.

Obviate: Remove (a need or difficulty).

Milieu: A person’s social environment.

Contemporaneous: Existing at or occurring in the same period of time.

Epiphenomena: A secondary effect or by-product, in particular.

Etymology: The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.