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Paulo Freire Education as dialogue

Paulo Freire was resident professor of education at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and visiting professor at USA Harvard’s Center for Studies in Education and Development. In the 1960s he created a new Educational Method of Dialogue among the poor farmers of northern Brazil. They were trapped, he said, in a ‘culture of silence’ - submerged in an economic & social situation where critical awareness and response were practically impossible. Freire’s educational revolution profoundly affected not only those farmers, but the lives of millions of people in all the Americas. An English translation of his works in 1972 extended that influence to Britain and so to the book, Learning Relations. Looking back from the 1980s, Freire summed up his method in the following terms: ‘Through dialogue, reflecting together on what we know and don’t know, we can act critically to transform reality.’

‘Reality’,Freire insists, ‘is really a process, undergoing constant transformation.’ Human knowledge, therefore, is always incomplete.

Teaching, in this view cannot be a matter of ‘Banking’. Whether working with children or adults, the teacher should never be: a ‘well-intentioned bank clerk’ storing nuggets of finished information in the pupil’s mind. Instead, the work of both teacher and taught is a search for an ever clearer expression of truth. ‘Searching,’ Freire says,’is indispensable to the act of knowing.’

Education is dynamically developed when parents and professionals carry out this search in partnership.

‘Knowledge emerges,’ according to Freire, ‘through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry people pursue.’ Such interaction also has a positive effect on those taking part. Through dialogue. Freire believes, People achieve significance as people.

Freirian dialogue is centred on ‘generative themes’ and ‘codes’.

Introducing a ‘Generative Theme’ A generative theme is an issue which spontaneously generates a reaction in the whole person, mind and heart.

Distress and anxiety are as likely to arise in such dialogue as enthusiasm and joy. Since good does not automatically come out of bad, the dialogue has to be carefully structured to channel attention towards a positve goal.

The process begins with listening to what people say, to what makes them withdraw into silence and to what releases that trust which allows them to communicate again. As Freire puts it:

‘It becomes the duty of the educator to search for appropriate paths for the learner to unravel.’


Presenting information is not the main task in such dialogue. The learners, not the subject matter, are the focus. Information only has impact, Freire maintains, when a question has already been raised, at least implicitly. In areas such as schooling - or religion - where people only have experience as recipients, not as providers, many questions are submerged and surface merely as muffled reactions. The 1st task is to identify the main concepts in those responses starting to emerge. Once the themes have been identified, the group leader’s task is to find ‘codes’ which will epitomize the themes and so re-present them for focused dialogue.

Using a ‘Code’ eg Paper People

A Freirian code is an arrangement of the theme in some evocative form - recording, picture, activity or role-playing. This detached form of presentation frees the participants to speak their hidden and often unconsidered thoughts, instead of automatically regurgitating some learned or expected response. Parents need to work through hidden fears and feelings which block successful involvement in their children’s education. Positive feelings have to be strengthened in two areas; pride in their role as educators of their own children, and interest in widening their own knowledge base and personal scope.

The parents are, therefore, the central participants in this learning dialogue; talking and discerning with their own children, with each other and with professionals. Explanatory notes from ‘Learning Relations’

( from Chapter 10) 1 Freire, Pedogogy of the Oppressed, 1972. Freire uses the idea of ‘code’ in two ways. First he suggests that the surface reality we all see, as we watch people going about their daily lives, is hiding a deeper and richer reality. What we see is like a code to be carefully and co-operatively deciphered, if we are to understand anything about people (p. 83). He next proposes that if people (whether parents or practitioners) are oppressed or burdened by their own reality they will not take seriously the possibility of changing it, without help. It is not sufficient for the helper to have deciphered the problem and then propose appropriate action. The people themselves must become involved in this process of analysis - and come to their own conclusions. The helper’s task is to find ways of stimulating interest in examining the unconsidered reality. This is best done, Freire says, by presenting it in some novel way which will turn each small section into a ‘code’ to be unravelled (p. 85).

2

(from Chapter 12) 1 Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, ch. 3. This whole chapter repays careful study for those interested in the puzzle of adults who seem unresponsive to clearly useful ideas about their situation. Freire writes of the amount of work that has to be done even before people discover that they are ‘in a situation’. Then he says: ‘Only as this situation ceases to present itself as a dense, enveloping reality or a tormenting blind alley, and people can come to perceive it as an objective problematic situation - only then can commitment exist.’ (p 81).


Paulo Freire's ideas on education