Pedagogy of the Oppressed : Table of Contents | Foreword | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4


These pages, which introduce Pedagogy of the Oppressed, result from my observations during six years of political exile, observations which have enriched those previously afforded by my educational activities in Brazil.

I have encountered, both in training courses which analyze the role of conscientização critical consciousness 1 and in actual experimentation with a truly liberating education, the "fear of freedom" discussed in the first chapter of this book. Not infrequently, training course participants call attention to "the danger of conscientização critical consciousness" in a way that reveals their own fear of freedom. Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid!

In one of these discussions, the group was debating whether the conscientização critical consciousness of men and women to a specific situation of injustice might not lead them to "destructive fanaticism" or to a "sensation of total collapse of their world." In the midst of the argument, a person who previously had been a factory worker for many years spoke out: "Perhaps I am the only one here of working-class origin. I can't say that I've understood everything you've said just now, but I can say one thing—when I began this course I was naive, and when I found out how naive I was, I started to get critical. But this discovery hasn't made me a fanatic, and I don't feel any collapse either."

Doubt regarding the possible effects of conscientização critical consciousness implies a premise which the doubter does not always make explicit: It is better for the victims of injustice not to recognize themselves as such. In fact, however, conscientização critical consciousness does not lead people to "destructive fanaticism." On the contrary, by making it possible for people to enter the historical process as responsible Subjects,2 conscientização critical consciousness enrolls them in the search for self-affirmation and thus avoids fanaticism.

The awakening of critical consciousness leads the way to the expression of social discontents precisely because these discontents are real components of an oppressive situation.3

Fear of freedom, of which its possessor is not necessarily aware, makes him see ghosts. Such an individual is actually taking refuge in an attempt to achieve security, which he or she prefers to the risks of liberty. As Hegel testifies:

It is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; . . . the individual who has not staked his or her life may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.4

Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, however, tending rather to camouflage it—sometimes unconsciously—by presenting themselves as defenders of freedom. They give their doubts and misgivings an air of profound sobriety, as befitting custodians of freedom. But they confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo; so that if conscientização critical consciousness threatens to place that status quo in question, it thereby seems to constitute a threat to freedom itself.

Thought and study alone did not produce Pedagogy of the Oppressed; it is rooted in concrete situations and describes the reactions of laborers (peasant or urban) and of middle-class persons whom I have observed directly or indirectly during the course of my educative work. Continued observation will afford me an opportunity to modify or to corroborate in later studies the points proposed in this introductory work.

This volume will probably arouse negative reactions in a number of readers. Some will regard my position vis-a-vis the problem of human liberation as purely idealistic, or may even consider discussion of ontological vocation, love, dialogue, hope, humility, and sympathy as so much reactionary "blah." Others will not (or will not wish to) accept my denunciation of a state of oppression that gratifies the oppressors. Accordingly, this admittedly tentative work is for radicals. I am certain that Christians and Marxists, though they may disagree with me in part or in whole, will continue reading to the end. But the reader who dogmatically assumes closed, "irrational" positions will reject the dialogue I hope this book will open.

Sectarianism, fed by fanaticism, is always castrating. Radicalization, nourished by a critical spirit, is always creative. Sectarianism mythicizes and thereby alienates; radicalization criticizes and thereby liberates. Radicalization involves increased commitment to the position one has chosen, and thus ever greater engagement in the effort to transform concrete, objective reality. Conversely, sectarianism, because it is mythicizing and irrational, turns reality into a false (and therefore unchangeable) "reality."

Sectarianism in any quarter is an obstacle to the emancipation of mankind. The rightist version thereof does not always, unfortunately, call forth its natural counterpart: radicalization of the revolutionary. Not infrequently, revolutionaries themselves become reactionary by falling into sectarianism in the process of responding to the sectarianism of the Right. This possibility, however, should not lead the radical to become a docile pawn of the elites. Engaged in the process of liberation, he or she cannot remain passive in the face of the oppressors violence.

On the other hand, the radical is never a subjectivist. For this individual the subjective aspect exists only in relation to the objective aspect (the concrete reality, which is the object of analysis). Subjectivity and objectivity thus join in a dialectical unity producing knowledge in solidarity with action, and vice versa.

For his or her part, the sectarian of whatever persuasion, blinded by irrationality, does not (or cannot) perceive the dynamic of reality—or else misinterprets it. Should this person think dialectically, it is with a "domesticated dialectic." The rightist sectarian (whom I have previously termed a born sectarian5) wants to slow down the historical process, to "domesticate" time and thus to domesticate men and women. The leftist-turned-sectarian goes totally astray when he or she attempts to interpret reality and history dialectically, and falls into essentially fatalistic positions.

The rightist sectarian differs from his or her leftist counterpart in that the former attempts to domesticate the present so that (he or she hopes) the future will reproduce this domesticated present, while the latter considers the future pre-established—a kind of inevitable fate, fortune, or destiny. For the rightist sectarian, "today," linked to the past, is something given and immutable; for the leftist sectarian, "tomorrow" is decreed beforehand, is inexorably preordained. This rightist and this leftist are both reactionary because, starting from their respectively false views of history, both develop forms of action that negate freedom. The fact that one person imagines a "well-behaved" present and the other a predetermined future does not mean that they therefore fold their arms and become spectators (the former expecting that the present will continue, the latter waiting for the already "known" future to come to pass). On the contrary, closing themselves into "circles of certainty" from which they cannot escape, these individuals "make" their own truth. It is not the truth of men and women who struggle to build the future, running the risks involved in this very construction. Nor is it the truth of men and women who fight side by side and learn together how to build this future—which is not something given to be received by people, but is rather something to be created by them. Both types of sectarian, treating history in an equally proprietary fashion, end up without the people—which is another way of being against them.

Whereas the rightist sectarian, closing himself in "his" truth, does no more than fulfill a natural role, the leftist who becomes sectarian and rigid negates his or her very nature. Each, however, as he revolves about "his" truth, feels threatened if that truth is questioned. Thus, each considers anything that is not "his" truth a lie. As the journalist Marcio Moreira Alves once told me, "They both suffer from an absence of doubt."

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a "circle of certainty" within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them.6 This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.

The pedagogy of the oppressed, the introductory outlines of which are presented in the following pages, is a task for radicals; it cannot be carried out by sectarians.

I will be satisfied if among the readers of this work there are those sufficiently critical to correct mistakes and misunderstandings, to deepen affirmations and to point out aspects I have not perceived. It is possible that some may question my right to discuss revolutionary cultural action, a subject of which I have no concrete experience. The fact that I have not personally participated in revolutionary action, however, does not negate the possibility of my reflecting on this theme. Furthermore, in my experience as an educator with the people, using a dialogical and problem-posing education, I have accumulated a comparative wealth of material that challenged me to run the risk of making the affirmations contained in this work.

From these pages I hope at least the following will endure: my trust in the people, and my faith in men and women, and in the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love.

Here I would like to express my gratitude to Elza, my wife and "first reader," for the understanding and encouragement she has shown my work, which belongs to her as well. I would also like to extend my thanks to a group of friends for their comments on my manuscript. At the risk of omitting some names, I must mention Joao da Veiga Coutinho, Richard Shaull, Jim Lamb, Myra and Jovelino Ramos, Paulo de Tarso, Almino Affonso, Plinio Sampaio, Ernani Maria Fiori, Marcela Gajardo, Jose Luis Fiori, and Joao Zacarioti. The responsibility for the affirmations made herein is, of course, mine alone.



  1. 1. The term consctentizagdo refers to learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality. See chapter 3.—Translator s note.

  2. 2. The term Subjects denotes those who know and act, in contrast to objects, which are known and acted upon.—Translator's note.

  3. 3. Francisco Weffort, in the preface to Paulo Freire, Educagdo como Prdtica da Liberdade (Rio de Janeiro, 1967).

  4. 4. Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (New York, 1967), p. 233.

  5. 5. In Educação como Prática da LiberdadeEducation as the Practice of Liberty.

  6. 6. "As long as theoretic knowledge remains the privilege of a handful of 'academicians' in the Party, the latter will face the danger of going astray." Rosa Luxembourg, Reform or Revolution, cited in C. Wright Mills, The Marxists (New York, 1963).

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