By Maria Inês Marcondes, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro
Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of the major books of the 20th century according to the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies (AAACS). To better understand Pedagogy of the Oppressed, whose first edition in Spanish language was in 1968, and in English in 1970, it is important as well to read Pedagogy of Hope (1992), the book in which Freire made a reflective narrative about his own life.
In this essay, I would like to ask a set of connected questions: How did Paulo Freire become an international author? How did his work come to influence the international context of curriculum studies, initially with the publication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in English fifty years ago?
Through his life story, in Pedagogy of Hope, Freire documents several incidents of his courses and teaching, and explains aspects of the production and publication of his outstanding work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Also, through his personal narrative, Freire constructs his identity as a man from Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil, Latin America, and later, as a “man of the world”. His preoccupation with social issues from the beginning of his life, and his studies firmly grounded on the theoretical basis of phenomenology and Marxism, placed Freire at the cutting-edge of postcolonial thought and made him a frontier postcolonial intellectual.
Initially, Freire had no intention of leaving Brazil and of projecting himself on the international scene. His departure was a consequence of the political situation, due to the military coup d’ état of 1964. However, Freire was able to transform the exile experience into an occasion for personal and intellectual growth. Taking advantage of the opportunities that appeared in his teaching, he became the author, educator and personality that is now internationally known, with great influence in the area of curricular studies and critical pedagogy.
The international experience of exile, that was imposed on Freire, brought a new dimension to his work. His stay in Chile, having made contact with unions and workers, redefined his research, which was published in a book edition in English as Education and the Practice of Freedom. Freire also amplified his reflections and conclusions to finish the original text of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Chile. Despite feeling in a “loan context” in exile (as Álvaro Vieira Pinto notes), Freire began to realize that in these countries there were many cultural and social problems in common with Brazil, and he was open to extend his perspective of life and work to these new experiences. This open way of relating to these new “loan contexts” enabled Freire to build bridges between his work and the social and political work developed in other countries, and to translate his experience based on a specific local reality of the Northeast into diverse contexts, but having many points in common.
Exile opened up new opportunities for Paulo Freire. His experience in Chile in adult literacy from 1964 to 1969 represented a very fruitful period of his life. This experience was as important as the previous period in Brazil, for it was during his exile in Chile that he became an important figure in Latin American Education. In Chile, Freire worked at the Institute for Training and Research in Agrarian Reform (ICIRA) and at that time he decided to write and discuss the texts on the topics that would be addressed in the training meetings. In addition to writing, he had the habit of discussing these topics with friends with whom he worked at ICIRA. Freire explained that his stay at ICIRA made it possible, through his interaction with the technical teams, to have an important experience with a large number of peasant communities throughout the country, as well as to live the historical-political atmosphere of the time. This led him to deepen hypotheses, clarify his positions, and thus reshape his work.
Freire spent a year or more talking about the book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, with friends and arguing about courses he gave. During this period of discussion, he received the first invitation to visit the United States in 1967. He was invited to visit New York by Father Joseph Fitzpatrick and Monsignor Robert Fox from Fordham University. This visit was proposed by the important pedagogue Ivan Illich, who knew the two and thought it would be important for them to contact Freire. Freire found this visit extremely important, since he could observe the work that these priests did with the Puerto Rican immigrants and with African-Americans, who were discriminated groups. He saw that there was much similarity between his work in Brazil and the work that the priests did in New York. When he returned to Chile, Freire continued what he called the gestation phase of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He began to write ideas in cards to develop more elaborate reflections later on. After a while, the “idea cards” ended up becoming tokens for other ideas, other themes. From this artisanal work, in July of 1967, Freire wrote the first three chapters of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Having finished typing the text with three chapters he sent them to his great friend who was also in Chile, Ernani Maria Fiori, to write the preface. On the same day that Fiori handed back his own text with his preface, Freire decided to let the text “rest” for another two months. After this period he decided to write an additional fourth chapter.
Even though the book could not be edited in Brazil, Freire sent the typewritten text to Fernando Gasparian, director of the publishing house, Peace and Land. At that time, in 1969, when the situation in Chile was becoming uncomfortable, Freire received an offer to teach at Harvard University and to work at the World Council of Churches.
Freire became an international author mainly from the publication of several documents: (1) His lectures at Harvard were published in two articles in the Harvard Educational Review in the May and August 1970 issues. (2) These two articles became a monograph published by the Center for the Study of Development and Social Change, in a book titled Cultural Action for Freedom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, September 1970; (3) Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published in English in 1970 by Herder and Herder in New York and only later in Portuguese, in Brazil, due to censorship.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, his main work, had its roots in Paulo Freire’s life experiences. The themes addressed in the work included the distinction between banking and liberating education, and the dialogic method.
His experience with the World Council of Churches made it possible for him to come into contact with other countries and different realities. In his travels, Freire encountered many international intellectuals, among them several critical educators in the field of curriculum studies.
From these professional experiences and international contexts, Paulo Freire broadened his theoretical reflections on the problems of education and the perspective of oppression and was invited to publish in English. From there, his influence expanded from his contexts of professional activity, being read by authors who had a critical perspective, especially in the area of the curriculum and especially in the United States. The publication in English of his works, linked to the relevance and originality of the form and content of his reflections, contributed to his becoming one of the most influential international authors.