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“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire


The “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” presents concepts that guide the oppressed away from oppression. This essay presents the main concepts outlined in Freire’s book. It explains the teacher student relationship championed by Freire. In addition, it expands on the main principles of freedom, unity, and cooperation that guide the ideal relationship.

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To begin with, Freire’s contributions stand out as a guide to anyone who is looking for an alternative way of addressing the plight of the oppressed, without necessarily serving as an oppressor and without having to be the oppressed as a way of learning. His ideology is not unique in itself. It appears as an amalgamation of principles of truth, freedom and love encompassed in logic, rationale, and behavior of humans towards themselves and towards one another.

The main message of Freire

Chiefly, Freire brings a wealth of information that has the ability to transform the teacher’s relationship with the students. Instead of a one-way relationship, where one is a master and the other is a servant, Freire proposes a situation where education does not become a barrier between oppressors and the oppressed. Instead, it serves as a unifying factor that tackles ignorance, cultural difference, and personal biases against oneself or other participants in a person’s reality (Freire, 2005 p. 99). The two features forming the basis of the book are the teacher student relationship and dialogical action.

Teacher student relationship

Still on the concept of education, the biggest message that appears subtly in the identification of the methods used by the oppressor is ‘self’ as a separate entity from the defined object that is a servant, leader, or master. Everyone is an individual before anything else and should be able to relate to other people as individuals (Freire, 2005, pp. 99-100). Others should not see a person as a problem. The problem inflicts the person and remains separate from the person. Tackling the problem does not mean tackling the person. It refers to the help that the person receives so that he or she is able to tackle the problem.

Dialogical actions as processes and results at the same time

Here, an attempt to present the problem as only a characteristic of the person who needs help and not a factor that touches on the helper is a dead move. Freire is categorical in his message throughout the book that dialogue is a step, an end, and a process, all in one. Dialogue should be present in all actions taken by anyone, as part of the principles that guide those actions and as an action.

Freire calls this dialogical action, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach” (Freire, 2005, p. 80). Anything else that fails to follow the outlined principles of dialogue, even when its intentions are good, will fail. Freire even mentions cases of revolutionary leaders who have the right intentions of liberating their people, yet they are unable to detach themselves, their roles, the problem, and the people so that they can see everything as an independent entity (Freire, 2005, p. 136).

Consequently, a new reality does not form; instead, the old reality transforms into a similar reality, but with different players. Leaders who lead a revolution become the new oppressors directly or indirectly because they use the same means of divide and rule, manipulation, and cultural invasion, which are all oppressive in nature. Freire writes that, “they talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change” (Freire, 2005, p. 60).

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Identifying the teacher’s role and obligations in personal examples

In my teaching experience, I recognize the role of the teacher and the student as different and supportive of each other. The teacher must unite with the students, while the students must accept this unity and cooperate with the teacher. Above all, everything happens concurrently and there is no point of acting on one part before embarking on another part of the relationship.

The reality is ever changing as the teacher learns about the student and his or her environment, both external and internal, while the student must accept that he or she too is superior beyond the issues at hand. Therefore, the student has the ability to inform the teacher, educate the teacher, and direct the teacher. Recognition of these powers and their implications by both parties is what Freire calls for when he speaks of unity and cooperation (Freire, 2005, p. 120).

As an example, a personal experience that supports Freire’s ideas happened when I acted as a temporary high school teacher. The first part is usually to open up as a teacher and tell the students what they can expect to learn in the day’s lesson. The students tune into a receptive mode to get what you as the teacher tells them. My personal experience has been that students do not ask questions at first, but they are ready to write down what the teacher says without questioning.

This is an example of an oppressive environment that Freire talks about, where I have to decide what my students should read and what they should learn as part of the lesson. The same happens in schools when teachers are selecting the various topics of the curriculum that they will assign students.

Elsewhere, I have an experience with neighbors in an association meeting. While the conception of neighborhood meetings is to deliberate on what is good for everyone, I see that many people just attend so that they can vote a leader or to make complaints. In some meetings, no one stands up and asks the chosen leaders why they are concentrating on a certain agenda. People sit back and expect the leader to tell them what the neighborhood needs and the role they should play to realize the predefined dreams.

In particular, this is a case where the structure allows for dialogical action, but as I have experienced, people come with their own oppressive tendencies. They feel and behave like the oppressed, such that even telling them to contribute becomes a problem. I can identify this trait as one of the characteristics that Freire explains in the pedagogy of the oppressed. He says that the oppressed usually turn out to the oppressor as a mentor because they do not know any other way out of their situation. They are unlearned. My neighborhood representatives fail to learn their audience and, therefore, act as oppressors by not insisting on the participation of the members.

Consequently, anyone taking up the role of the teacher needs to understand the role of freedom, both on his or her side and on the side of the students or the recipients of the lessons. A teacher should be on the lookout for the methods and ideologies of the oppressor that seek to hide freedom. The methods can present a set of options that allow the recipient to choose and then claim that those sets of options constitute freedom. As long as the individual, whether it is the teacher or the student, does not accept or recognize the humanness of the other person and their ability to think and educate, then freedom does not exist in the relationship that prevails.

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Resultantly, teachers must face the unknown willingly and with love. It is the only way that they can understand the problem that they seek to solve and see the problem that they may pose with their chosen method of solving other people’s problem. Freire may have addressed the oppressed in the literal sense of the peasants or the people in the ghettos and the lowly valued employees; however, his teachings and his appeal go to everyone who seeks to understand why reality appears the way it does and the options for changing it.

Despite the good intentions of Freire, his message suffers from an excessive philosophical approach. This makes it a context-sensitive message whose meaning can disappear or fall into the wrong interpretation by people who are not yet conversant with their reality as oppressors or the oppressed. Teachers need to give the matter all the attention it deserves; otherwise, what commences, as a well-intentioned dialogical action will then manifest fully as the exact opposite.

Just as the book says, many leaders of revolutions have turned out as new masters and oppressors not because they intended to become the new elite, but because there was no other reference point for their education. They learned from their oppressors and conceived that as the only reality. Their struggle was, therefore, a struggle of the self to become superior to other people (Freire, 2005 p 135-136).

Shortcomings of Freire on delivering the way forward

To begin with, the same narration of facts and their acceptance as truth turns the student into a master who forces narration and acceptance of new students (Freire, 2005, p. 72). Freire was clear up to this point and he moved on in the later parts of the book to show how the cycle breaks down when freedom and love come aboard. In an ideal situation, any oppressed person studying the book should be able to move beyond the oppression by liberating himself or herself.

This would happen through the recognition of the self as different from the act of oppression. The unfortunate thing, as per Freire’s text, is that this pedagogy of the oppressed comes in the form of the education that the book castigates. Looking at the situation in a nonjudgmental way, then one asks how the student of the pedagogy of oppression becomes a teacher of the self and eventually a creator of a truthful reality.

At the same time, there are no passages given for the reader to get an account of the oppressed becoming the new thought leaders and influencers, who end up being the drivers of revolution. It is the emancipated ones or the non-oppressed who observed the oppression and then seek to help the oppressed, taking on the role of teacher for the others (Freire, 2005, p. 60).

The verdict that the reader may get out of the book is that the oppressed can learn about their oppression and detach themselves from it. They can also learn about true revolution and know how to carry it out. Their ability vanishes at that point. They have to wait for true messiahs who also understand these concepts to liberate them from oppressors by creating systems that foster cooperation and unity and hinder opportunities for manipulation and cultural invasion.

From a different perspective of a teacher, it means that the education impacted on students will not be fully effective as intended, at least in the short-term application sense. To the society, increased recognition of the pedagogy should lead to overall changes, away from the culture of oppression. The teacher can only do his or her part and hope for the best. On the other hand, the students can only hope for an opportunity, whose appearance depends on luck, to exercise their learning.

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In summary, Freire does a good job of educating the oppressed. However, he falls short in recommending the appropriate action. The book only gives a vague way forward, based on the underlying principles of dialogical actions. A teacher must take on the additional role of being a guide for students on what they are learning and how they should use that to influence what they learn next.

To do that, the teacher has to equip students with the freedom of also guiding the teacher on what they have learned so far, what they know, and what the teacher ought to know. Once again, the main message of the text comes out as a foundation for building on unity, cooperation, and freedom. Those who take teaching roles, therefore, need to take each process and action as a result in itself and not fall for the idea that things will change in the future. Freire insists that reality is always changing as it influences the observer, while the observer influences the reality.


Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.

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