Almost all teachers know the work of Paulo Freire, the pedagogue of hope. His ideas went far beyond the field of education and became the basis for countless democratic movements around the world. For Freire, education was a matter of life, not of study.
His first name was Paulo Reglus Neves Freire. He was born in Recife, in the state of Pernambuco, one of the poorest areas of Brazil, on September 19, 1921. His father was a military police officer and his mother a devoted housewife who raised her children according to strictly Catholic principles.
The family was middle-class, but at times had economic difficulties. In school age, Paulo Freire was not a model student. He then began to study law, but had to interrupt his studies several times for lack of money, nevertheless he managed to graduate in 1944.
An uphill career
In 1944, he married Elza María Oliveira, an elementary school teacher who had a great influence on his life. For a year, Freire taught Portuguese in several secondary schools, where he began to encourage students, parents and the community to critically evaluate the educational model.
Later, in 1959, he studied literature and graduated in philosophy and history of education. He soon began to make a name for himself in the world of education. In 1963, he participated in the National Literacy Campaign and taught 300 rural workers to read and write in just a month and a half. Many began to see him as a political agitator.
In 1964, a military coup broke out in Brazil. Paulo Freire was seen as a subversive educator, and was arrested on two occasions. This led him to seek political asylum from the Bolivian embassy. Then he took refuge in Chile, where he collaborated with Eduardo Frei’s government on educational matters.
Paulo Freire at Harvard
In 1968, Paulo Freire published his first book , Education as a Practice of Freedom . His fame grew and he was invited to teach at Harvard University. In the United States he succeeded in greatly developing his pedagogical theses. His work Pedagogy of the oppressed made him famous worldwide.
Paulo Freire advocated an education that did not only serve to acquire knowledge. According to him, comprehensive education included the development of criteria and tools that would allow individuals and peoples to work for their own liberation from the conditions of exploitation in which many lived.
The two great means of achieving this were criticism and dialogue. He also advocated truly democratic education, showing that neither science nor education itself was truly neutral. He also developed a very effective literacy system.
The legacy of Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire returned to Brazil in 1980 and became one of the founders of the Workers’ Party (PT). He began working at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and the University of São Paulo. Here he continued to promote his ideas on critical pedagogy.
He was convinced that learning was not transmitted, but built, which is why pupil participation is essential. In his opinion, the world did not need people who repeated ideas, but creators, builders of new possibilities.
From his point of view, education had to foster creativity and pave the way for individual and collective freedom. Knowledge is not born in a vacuum, but in the midst of specific conditions, so it is never neutral.
A pedagogue who has left his mark
In 1986, Paulo Freire’s wife died suddenly. He had had five children with her and had great adventures around the world. Some time later, Freire married Ana María, a girl who had been a student of his.
In 1989, he was appointed Secretary of Education of São Paulo, the most populous state in all of Brazil, which in turn is one of the most populated countries in the world. This role allowed him to transform many of his ideas into state policies, greatly improving the conditions of teachers.
Paulo Freire’s works have been translated into 18 languages. About 20 universities around the world have awarded him an honorary degree . He died on May 2, 1997 in São Paulo at the age of 75. His life and work have inspired thousands of teachers around the world.