Paulo Freire and Generative Themes for Education

The Power of Advertising project begins with students completing a worksheet, responding to questions that are designed to help them identify and investigate issues that are of vital interest in their lives. This is classic Freirean "dialogical teaching." Paulo Freire contrasts the "banking method" of education in which pre-existing knowledge is deposited in students’ heads with "dialogical teaching" in which students learn by naming crucial aspects of their reality and then investigating this reality in dialogue with each other and their teacher.

Community artists and educators from around the world have been inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Read it. It’s not wordy, but it’s dense--like poetry. As a young teacher and artist in the inner city, I sometimes felt confused about my role in the community. Over the years I have turned to Paulo Freire’s writings many times to ground myself in realistic and idealistic paradigms for creating a climate of creativity, investigation, and respect.

This quote by the progressive educator, Ira Shore, from "What is the ‘Dialogical Method’ of Teaching?" (a transcript of a conversation with Paulo Freire) reminds us that though it is easy to point to the media and advertising as creating passive, unengaged students, it is also the style of education that shapes students’ sense of agency and possibility:

Student silence is created by the arts of domination. Students are not silent by nature. They have a great deal to say, but not in the script of the traditional classroom. Reinventing the visual and verbal aspects of the classroom are two ways of addressing the destructive arts of passive education. Discovering the key student theme and then orchestrating it as a motif, variations on a theme to explore its character, is also an artistic use of the dialogue.

This quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed sums up the heart of Freire’s message to artists and educators:

Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men [and women] transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Men [and women] are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

As an art educator, I also read this as "To exist humanly is to IMAGE the world." As artists in dialogue with our students, we create opportunities for them to make images that depict their realities. In doing so, we create knowledge and possibility.

To find out more about Paulo Freire check out this site of The Encyclopedia of Informal Education for a description of Freire’s major contributions to educational thought, a critique of his work, and a bibliography.

This site hosted by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto contains many interesting and informative reviews of Freire’s books. Join the conversation about Freirean pedagogy.

Olivia Gude, 2001