Paulo Freire was on the forefront of the critical pedagogy movement; he argued that education can never merely be a neutral process. Education can either be used to adopt generations into the current logic system or instead, education can be used a tool to allow people to think critically about reality. This allows people to conform or transform their world respectively. Many academics have debated over the last several years whether the theories of Paulo Freire are still as relevant now regarding education in the 21st century as they were in the 20th. Some academics argue that his opinions are no longer relevant in a ‘western’ setting, yet some debate that his theories are more relevant than ever as education could be deemed an inflated ‘banking’ system more than ever.
Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was a Brazilian educator and deemed by some to be the most important educator of the second half of the twentieth century (Carnoy 2004). Freire was the leading voice in the critical pedagogy theory and thus wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, believed to be the founding text of the critical pedagogy movement. Freire was born to a relatively wealthy middle-class family in Brazil who then suffered during the great depression resulting in Freire experiencing the life of the poor. Freire did not do well in school, nor did many of the more impoverished children who came to be his close companions; this was due to their hunger and social situation as Freire stated ” “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education”(Stevens, no date). Many believe these early scenarios are what led Freire on his lifelong conquest to aid the poorest in society. After his family had their fortune back, Freire enrolled into law school and also studied phenology and language psychology.
For the next few years Freire worked as a lecturer and attained many high ranking positions at various universities; he was imprisoned as a traitor during the 1964 military coup as he was believed to be a traitor. After being released, he worked in Chile and published Education as the Practice of Freedom which was his first book. He was then offered a visiting professorship at Harvard. The next year Pedagogy of the Oppressed was released, although it took some years to be translated due to political feuds. After working in The USA and Switzerland, he eventually moved with his wife to Sao Paulo where he died in 1997 due to heart failure.
Paulo Freire contributed in many ways to a number of schools, namely in education, psychology, philosophy, law and liberation. Much of his work focused in five key areas; these were: dialogue, praxis, conscientization, lived experience education, and his theory of class suicide. Freire recognized the need to reform education from the traditional monologue of traditional education; this is where he came up with the contrasting dialogue of schooling.(Vella,2004). Traditional monologue education focuses on presenting learners with information, they do not have to engage with the information but are instead ‘fed’ what the instructor wants them to know.(Global learning partners,2006). The method of monologue education was directly opposed by dialogue education which is a form of constructivism which can lead to transformative learning.(Vella,2004) Praxis was an area in which Freire was also focused, an area in which few other educators have delved. Praxis can be linked back to Aristotle and later, several young Hegelian authors in defining Marxism. Praxis is often thought of as when skills, theories and ideas are put into practice, linked with certain values in mind. He defined praxis as: “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” (Freire,1970) He wrote in detail about Praxis in Pedagogy of The Oppressed and explained how dialogue and praxis are entwined to make transformative change.
The concept of conscientisation was first developed by Freire and has its roots in post-Marxist theory. Conscientisation can be achieved by having a critical consciousness and engaging a form of metacognition. Many modern academics have built upon Freire’s’ theory of concinzisation such as Joe Kincheloe. Joe Kincheloe expanded upon the term and linked it with his work in post formalism. In this context, Kincheloe constructs a critical theory of cognition that explores questions of meaning, and a focus on the socio-political construction of the self.(Thomas and Kincheloe,2006).
Lived experience education for Freire meant opening up opportunities for educators both formal and informal to open up to new practices. In particular, this is done through the use of language as Freire believed that creating new names and ways of acting to be particularly powerful. Class suicide is another concept in which Freire focused. Class suicide means for both teachers and learners to rise above until they are thinking in a conscious way. As Paul Taylor noted “the educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the profound significance of Easter. (Paul Taylor,1993).
Education in the 21st century is not the same as education in the 20th, as technology has changed . It could be deemed as a time where education has been taken over by the ‘mega rich’, where the political relevance of education has been lost to the language of measurement and quantification.(Giroux,2010).
As the ‘mega rich’ have been sieging educational institutions with both neoliberal and conservative forces Friere’s words ring truer than ever: “The fatalist is discouraging ideology which drives the liberal discourse is stalking the world. In the name of postmodernism, it seeks to persuade us that we can do nothing to change the social situation which, once seen as historical and cultural, is now becoming ‘almost the natural state.” (Friere,1970). What is clear is that the majority of Freire’s ideals are stuck in the past, they are viewed with a sense of nostalgia, even by academics who grew up in his era of struggle. They now think differently and have accepted the current totalitarian hegemony as ‘normal’.
For younger academics, he is simply a bibliographical reference in an exercise, devoid of characterization or anything deeper. (Hurtado, 2007). Freire’s works and ideals without a doubt helped shape the 20th century. Many intellectuals in the past and even now claimed to have ‘read’ Friere; they can quote, mark and regurgitate countless examples for any given situation. Freire requires commitment; he must be read, reread, and read again, this then allows people to form their own Freire in the way they see him.
The commitment that it takes to ‘read’ Friere is something which is all too sadly commonly lacking in our neoliberal age. The reason that students who have studied Freire are so dangerous to ‘the powers that be’ is that it grants them the ability to negotiate the relationship between theory and practice. Not only why they are learning what they are but also why. Why are they learning in this specific way and in what way is it benefitting themselves and others? Students who are educated liberally and radically can critically analyze both themselves and their society. One method of implanting liberal education could be done through what Freire named culture circles. This is a teaching methodology in which the focus is based on group discussions and participation as opposed to a syllabus which can be both alienating and daunting to any student.
Some academics now argue that many of Freire’s contributions were relevant in the past, they worked but are no longer useable in a modern society. In many ways, we need to be using strict and structured language in the 21st century. Ideas that can be grounded in their contexts. This can tie in well with Freire and his perceptions of the oppressed. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he deems that a side must be chosen, either with them or against them. This is perhaps outdated particular in development when actors should be looked at in a holistic fashion.
Regarding holistic thought, much of Freire’s work has been criticized by academics by being sexist, particularly by feminist scholars. This was because when he would write the word he, writing it as an inclusive term for all of humanity. Much of his writing was based on the oppressed, but much of his work portrayed the downtrodden as only males, mostly in the form of male peasant farmers. (Weiler, 1996)As concepts of gender and expressive sexuality have changed entering the 21st century, Freire could be deemed outdated.
Education and in many ways, development was shaped in a number of ways by Freire. Although education and development have changed a lot, many things have not and do remain the same. In this sense, Freire is still very relevant and perhaps more important than ever. The ideal of a democratic society has not changed in the last couple of thousand years and very little since Freire’s first writings. A democratic society is one in which people are allowed the rights to freedom of speech and expression and have a hand in crafting their nation.
As Abrahan Lincoln said during the Gettysburg Address “”Democracy is for the people, By the people, Of the people.”(Abraham Lincoln,1863). Freire believed that is a true democracy that equal opportunity does not exist. He wrote “No one can learn tolerance in a climate of irresponsibility, which does not produce democracy. The act of tolerating requires a climate in which limits may be established, in which there are principles to be respected. That is why tolerance is not coexistence with the intolerable. Under an authoritarian regime, in which authority is abused, or a permissive one, in which freedom is not limited, one can hardly learn tolerance. Tolerance requires respect,, discipline, and ethics.(Freire, 2001).Ethics was central to Freire when it came to development and education. Education is not merely a tool to learn knowledge, knowledge itself is a social construct after all; but ratherto learn ethical values which are particularly important in the development field.(Hurtardo, 2007) Ethical knowledge is more important than ever in the 21st century. We have become in many ways been educated a neoliberal and hegemonic sense of ethics, which is further than ever from humanist values. As we have firmly settled in the ‘culture of normality’, it is harder to create changes in development, As so much of development now is reigned by distant and alienating terminology, facts and figures. Through education, progress can be adapted to fit the 21st.
As many academics have pointed out, much of Freire’s methods and particularly his terminology may be outdated. Many have had problems with his views on the oppressed and his definition of democracy. Radical education and humanist values are essential to changing how development is seen in the 21st century. Only through educational frameworks set out by Friere and others like him can this be achieved. Even development has seen the impact of the neoliberal ‘powers that be’. The first steps towards change are to acknowledge the dominant factors and examine them critically. They must be considered, and how they impact lives in social, political, and even personal contexts, this will then lead to changes in education and therefore development. In this sense, Freire cannot be said to be outdated but more relevant than ever.