Paulo Freire: Biography, Quotes & Theories

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn more about Paulo Freire, an outspoken social activist who believed that the way to help people liberate themselves from their oppressors is through literacy.

Literacy and Politics

Imagine being arrested for teaching people to read. Paulo Freire was a Brazilian professor who made strides liberating the working class of Brazil through programs that promoted literacy. Freire's outspoken beliefs are political in nature, making him a target for controlling government leaders in the 1960s. Let's find out more about Friere and his theories.

Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire


Paulo Freire was born in Brazil in 1921. At 26 years of age, he began working with illiterate adults in Northeast Brazil. During the 1960s, Freire was a Professor of History at the University of Recife, where he became involved in a movement to combat illiteracy. Under Freire's leadership, coordinators were trained to establish centers in each of the Brazilian states with the expectation of affecting two million illiterate people.

Following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, Freire was imprisoned under the accusation of subversion. He was exiled to Chile, where he continued to teach his methods. After spending a year as a guest professor at Harvard University, Freire became a consultant at the Office of Education at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Freire returned to Brazil in 1979 and was eventually appointed as Secretary of Education in São Paulo. Throughout his career, Freire wrote or co-wrote more than 20 books.

Quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed

One of Freire's most notable publications is Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In this book, the author explores the relationship between illiteracy and oppression. Friere rejects the philosophy that learners are passive participants in the learning process in much the same way that he proposes that people have the choice on whether or not they agree to remain oppressed. Here are some key quotes from this publication:

  • ''Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects that must be saved from a burning building.''
  • ''...welfare programs as instruments of manipulation ultimately serve the end of conquest. They act as an anesthetic, distracting the oppressed from the true causes of their problems and from the concrete solutions of these problems.''
  • ''Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people--they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.''

Freire's message is that people have choices. When we refuse to make a choice, that is also a choice.

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