Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire - Critical Pedagogy

Paulo Freire – Critical Pedagogy

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator and philosopher. He was an influential figure in theorizing about critical pedagogy. His influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, lays out the fundamental principles of critical pedagogy. Some of the concepts he develops in his work include:

  • Oppressors–oppressed distinction
  • Banking model of education
  • Culture of silence

Oppressors–oppressed distinction

Oppressors–oppressed distinction refers to the distinction Freire makes in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed between two models of education.  Freire contends that education may follow one of two possible models:

  1. Education may function as a way to integrate generations into the logic of the present system and may work to lead these generations to conform to this logic.
  2. Education may function as a liberating and transformative tool that leads generations to think critically about reality and contribute to the transformation of their world.

These models represent the positions of the oppressor and the oppressed in an unjust society. He argues that education should aim at providing the oppressed with the tools to improve their condition and, consequently, regain their humanity. This can only occur if:

  • the oppressed individual plays a role in their liberation.
  • the oppressors understand that they have to rethink their way of life and examine their own role in the oppression.

Freire affirms that:

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption (Freire, 1970, p. 54).

He also states that :

education makes sense because women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing — of knowing that they know and knowing that they don’t (Freire, 2004, p. 15)

The banking concept of education

Paulo Freire criticizes what he calls  the banking concept of education which treats students as empty (bank) accounts waiting to be filled by the teacher. Friere argues that the learner is not a tabula rasa, a mind not yet affected by experiences and impressions, as it is stated in the philosophy of John Locke, but rather learners must be considered as active learners.  To set the goal of education as a mere transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student fails to see one fundamental dimension of education which is the learners’ ability to participate in their own learning and in the transformation of society. This participation is refered to by Freire as committed involvement and not only a pseudo-participation.

Culture of silence

According to Freire the dominant system (the oppressors system) tries to instill the model that fits the goals of  the oppressors, and encourages a culture of silence. The aim of education must be to achieve a form of liberation where by the oppressed are prompted to develop the critical awareness necessary to break the pattern of oppression, the culture of silence.


Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum.

Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder: Colorado, Paradigm.

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