Independence and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy

Brazil celebrated the 200th anniversary of the nation’s independence on 7 September 2022. A few months before this day in 1822, Prince Pedro had ruled over Brazil as the regent of his father, King John VI of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. But then the kingdom requested for him to follow his father’s return to Portugal, to which he responded by declaring Brazil as an independent empire, making him the first Emperor of Brazil.

Declaring independence, of course, does not mean an immediate shift to liberation. Almost every former European colony had to fight for the recognition of their independence. And after recognition was gained, there came the work to build a society which had lived years under the oppressive colonial rule.

In relation to this, one might think of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator whose works became foundational in the field of social sciences. It’s only fitting to reflect back on his works when we talk about breaking free of the oppressor’s rule.

Freire was born in Recife, Brazil a century after its independence on 19 September 1921. Although he studied law and philosophy at the University of Recife in 1943, he chose the path of teaching. He began working for the Department of Education in Pernambuco in 1946. And later, Freire became a key figure in Brazil’s literacy effort during the administration of João Goulart. With a small team of fellow educators, Freire developed a method of teaching literacy that focused on transforming Brazilians; from thinking of themselves merely as a part of the passive masses, to becoming politically-conscious people. This method was proven successful in increasing Brazil’s literacy rate, affecting their recognition of the world around them and their willingness to participate in the country’s politics.

Kirkendall’s Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy then mentions that at the height of the Cold War in the 1960’s, the Freire method was accused of “being employed to communize Brazil”, and that the materials “did not transmit democratic ideas or preserve the institutions and traditions” of Brazil. The coup d’état of 1964 eventually put an end to this literacy program, and Freire, after his imprisonment by the junta, chose to go into exile.

It was in his exile Paulo Freire penned what would become his most famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed; a method of teaching and learning that aims to liberate, “…that must be forged with, not for the oppressed”. Here, Freire convinces us that only when the oppressed knows that the reality of oppression is not their destiny, will they be able to start their struggle for liberation. But he was aware that pedagogy in itself can be an instrument of oppression, so it is impossible for the attempt to transform–the process of becoming liberated–to be in the hands of the oppressor.

“…while no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others” (Freire, 2000, 66).

According to him, independence is a moment where the reality of oppression has already been transformed, when the pedagogy ceases to belong to the oppressed–nor to the oppressor–and becomes the people’s.

In the turn of the 19th century, history witnessed the first stage of decolonization; wherein nations across Latin America, Asia, and Africa rose and declared themselves as their own countries, separated and independent from colonies. This was the first sign of the oppressed, which were nations forced to produce and work for the colonies, attempting to liberate themselves. Brazil being one of the earliest nations to do it. 

But as nations continue to develop after their independence, they still must face this “fear of freedom” along with forms of neo-colonialism that creates new forms of dependence. Even Emperor Pedro I of Brazil had no vision of a democratic government in mind when he declared independence (Langland et al., 2019, 168), and Brazil maintained its monarchical form up until 1889. We also found out how Freire was imprisoned by the 1964 junta due to possibilities that his literacy effort might bring. And how many formerly colonized countries whose governance to this day still attempt to exercise authoritarian control? 

“But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors” (Freire, 2000, 45).

For these countries, the form of authority they had ever recorded in their mind was perhaps the European imperialists, and Europeans had ruled with violence, so violence is what these countries recognize. Freire, in a paper way before the Pedagogy, had consistently written as well that:

“Brazil’s great challenge was not just the elimination of illiteracy; it was the eradication of ‘democratic inexperience’ and the creation of education for democracy” (Freire, 1959 as cited in Kirkendall, 2010, 22).

And it seems that the challenge is not over, and that it is not only Brazil’s, but a global one. Looking back to Freire and to our world now, the strive toward liberation remains ongoing, and may seem to be a constant one. Although humanization appears to alternate with dehumanization, Freire, again, convinces us that the fact that there is ongoing fight against injustice is evidence that humanity only pursues the former.

 

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.). The Continuum International Publishing Group. 

Kirkendall, A. J. (2010). Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy. University of North Carolina Press.

Langland, V., Schwarcz, L. M., & Green, J. N. (Eds.). (2019). The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press.