Pedagogy of the oppressed (study guide)

Mar 1, 2022

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a bedrock for progressive and revolutionary educators worldwide. Published in 1968 and translated into English two years later, the text is so popular that it’s even taught in mainstream schools of education. Although Freire primarily wrote the book as a reflection on his experience teaching poor peasants to read and write, he generalizes the concepts developed in the book—including his critique of banking education and his practice of dialogical pedagogy—to revolutionary struggle more generally.

This study and discussion guide serves to help readers make their way through the text and evaluate, apply, and extend Freire’s various ideas. We recommend reading this Liberation School article on Pedagogy of the Oppressed before or alongside the book.

Chapter 1

  1. What is the “fear of freedom?” What does it look like? How have you encountered this in practice?
  2. Is there a difference between the concepts of “oppression,” “objectification,” and “commodification?” If so, what are they?
  3. Freire writes that, “trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change.” How is this so? How do you and your organization practice trust in the people?
  4. How does the concept of trust in the people relate to the concept of revolutionary optimism?
  5. What does it mean to enter into communion with the people? How does this impact our style of work?
  6. How can we fight self-deprecation, a characteristic of internalized oppressor mentality, within ourselves, others, and the movement?
  7. How does Freire deploy the word “necrophilic?” What necrophilic habits do we hold as people stamped with the birthmark of capitalism?
  8. Freire warns against taking advantage of the emotional dependence of the oppressed. What does this mean and how is it overcome?
  9. What is the socialist concept of human completion, according to Freire?
  10. What is Freire’s view on revolutionary violence?
  11. What is Freire’s diagnosis of the causes of horizontal violence in capitalist society?

Chapter 2

  1. What is the essence of the student-teacher contradiction?
  2. How is the student-teacher contradiction resolved in practice? Is this resolved in curricular decisions (i.e., decisions over what to teach) or pedagogical decisions (i.e., decisions over how to teach)? Is there a difference?
  3. Freire implies that authentic thinking is only accomplished in communication. Does communication imply activity? Are there cases when thinking is not done in communication?
  4. Is reading a text a form of communication? Why or why not?
  5. What are examples of necrophilic political orientations or movements?
  6. What are some characteristics of mechanistic philosophy or mechanical thinking?
  7. What modern trends can be classified as mechanistic?
  8. How is mechanism related to necrophilia, in Fromm and Freire’s sense of the term?
  9. Freire’s emphasis on dialogical education is not merely the promotion of a socialist school system. He sees dialogical education as essential for the survival and growth of the socialist project. Why?

Chapter 3

  1. What is praxis?
  2. What are concrete examples of verbalism and activism?
  3. What does it mean to say that dialogue has a class character?
  4. Why does Freire say that faith in the people is an a priori requirement for dialogue, meaning that it’s a requirement we should accept before engaging in dialogue?
  5. According to Freire, the phrase “winning the people over” is not an acceptable formulation of revolutionary praxis. Why does he say this? Do you agree with him?
  6. How does this relate to the necessity to popularize a program for the socialist transformation of society?
  7. Do slogans and propaganda always encourage passivity? Why or why not?
  8. Why do basic, concrete contradictions form the basis for political education? (Note: Freire calls this “problem posing” education)
  9. What is a limit-situation? Can you give an example of one? How can we use this concept in our own organizing and education?
  10. How does Freire define an epoch? How does this relate to “modes of production?”
  11. What is the significance of Freire’s point regarding the ascent from the abstract to the concrete? What does this mean?
  12. What is a totality? How is it abstract? How is it concrete?
  13. Why is an apprehension of the totality so important for authentic knowledge?
  14. What is a generative theme?
  15. What are some examples of thought that “apprehends only its epiphenomena?”
  16. Why does the theme of fatalism imply a lack of a task?
  17. How can the investigation process outlined by Freire inform our political style of work? What role does social investigation play in revolutionary socialist praxis?

Chapter 4

  1. What makes a revolution different from a military coup?
  2. Where does the legitimacy and the hegemony of the working class come from?
  3. What does it mean to “think with the people?” Why is this so important for revolutionary leadership?
  4. What’s the difference between revolutionary knowledge” and “empirical knowledge?”
  5. Why does revolutionary education need to take place before the revolution? In what ways does this happen? How is this educational process consolidated after the seizure of power?
  6. How does the ruling class “mythicize” the world?
  7. Occasionally we will come across a localist, “focalized” bias in the movement that contends that local municipal or neighborhood organizing is the most important form of political practice. How and why does Freire reject this position?
  8. Why does the ruling class rely on dividing the working class? How is this division accomplished in practice?
  9. How do we fight against this division?
  10. How did “Fidel Castro and his comrades” represent “dialogical leadership?”
  11. Overall, what would you say the relationship is between revolutionary organizations and the people for Freire? What role does education play in this relationship?