Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian philosopher, social activist, and author who influenced and inspired educators worldwide. Under the auspices of adult education, he dedicated his life to social reform to help dispossessed people find a voice. Few people have had the global impact that Freire has had on the field of adult and continuing education.
Freire began his career as a literacy instructor with the belief that the undereducated population of Brazil should be empowered to take responsibility not only for their own lives, but for the sake of the country. His literacy model engaged educators, as facilitators, who were involved with adults in the local community to establish a common vocabulary that was constructed from topics directly relevant to the adults invested in the project; thus, he involved the participants in identifying their views of their world to address vital issues in their lives, especially those related to social oppression.
His efforts to help his countrymen began a movement that started with those on the margins of society, but which expanded to include middle class learners from most continents in the world. For his actions, he was jailed and exiled by the Brazilian government of the 1980s; however, later he was appointed to prominent government positions, including the Minister of Education of Sao Paulo. In the process, Freire popularized terms such as praxis, critical pedagogy, dialogue, and conscientization. These methods and ideas continue to endure today and are espoused by several dozen Paulo Freire institutes on at least six continents.
Freire was the writer of an extensive number of publications based on his philosophy that the methods of adult learning were critical to helping adults improve their conditions of life. His most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was first published in 1968 and since then has been published in various languages; by the time of the 30th anniversary edition over three quarters of a million copies were sold. His original writings were published in Portuguese, and his advocates have continued to translate his works into other languages so more learners throughout the world can benefit from his methods and philosophy. His 25 books have been translated into a mixture of 35 different languages, with additional translations occurring on a continuous basis.
As a result of his activities to help educationally marginalized people, Freire has been honored with a variety of awards. His recognitions include 28 honorary university degrees, appreciations from newly independent countries of Africa and Asia, several awards from UNESCO, and accolades from the World Council of Churches.
Freire’s insistence on designing learning to be implemented within the social context of daily life unlocked vistas of thought and potential for popular and informal education that was innovative and groundbreaking at the time; today his methods and philosophy are extensively used throughout the world. He believed that education of adults was the foundation for changes based on transformation of perceptions. His legacy is so rich that it continues to impact the world of adult education in innumerable ways. Paulo’s own words best sum up his essence: “Paulo Freire lived, loved, and tried to know.” Few people can touch the world and individual lives the way Paulo Freire has.
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