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Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

To the oppressed,
and to those who suffer with them
and fight at their side

PDF Download: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Critical Consciousness
Paulo Freire uses the term “critical consciousness” in his analysis of the current model of education in action at this time in nearly all modem countries. Identified by him as the “banking concept of education”, Freire exposes the educational system as one in which the teacher is the depositor and the students are simply depositories; the teacher issues standard communique’s (instead of actual communication) which students passively receive, memorize, and repeat; knowledge becomes a gift bestowed by those who are certified and therefore deemed knowledgeable upon those who are considered ignorant; teachers and administrators of the system develop the instructional program content and students are forced to adapt to it; and the more students work at storing the deposits, the more they accept and excel in the passive role impressed upon them and thus are completely denied the opportunity to develop any ability of critical
consciousness (Friere 257). Many, is not all, students are very familiar with this type of “education”, as we
have all experienced it at one point or another.

This is, in fact, the standard, way of teaching that any of us have ever been exposed to. I personally, until recently in my academic career, have only experienced this type of education. Without much difficulty, I can recall numerous teachers who taught through this method, as recently as this semester. In one particular class I took this semester, the instructor perfectly demonstrated this concept with his unfaltering routine. Every class period he stood at the podium with his book and notes open, waiting for the class to begin. As the clock signalled the beginning of class, he began talking, without regard to anything else going on in the classroom. He lectured from his book and notes until the very last minute of the assigned class time and then shut his, folded his notes, put both items into his black handbag, and walked out of class. Not once in the entire 50 minutes of lecture did he ever stop to ask the students questions or allow time for vice versa. Not once the entire semester did we ever do group work of any kind, class work, or even homework. Every third Friday there was an exam on the chapters that had been covered thus far and then a new series of chapters began. And not surprisingly, this is what the entire class expected from him. We have been trained to receive (from lectures), memorize (on our own time), and repeat (during the examination periods) from the foundation of our academic education.


Freire continues his analysis to conclude that the educational system mirrors the oppressive society as a whole; students are oppressed by being completely denied the opportunity to think for themselves, and therefore grow and progress through the levels of the model of critical consciousness, which will in itself be discussed shortly. As students are trained from the very onset of the educational experience to simply
receive, memorize, and repeat, as anyone reading this very paper is all too familiar with, they are not actually being educated. They are instead being groomed, to graduate through this educational system and thus take their appropriate position as the “educated” oppressed in society, all the while never actually knowing that by attempting to accumulate higher education and conforming to the educational system along the way, they are actually only further entrenching themselves as the oppressed in our
current societal model.

This is demonstrated a countless number of times in everyday life. Even I have been caught up in the “American Dream” I, like many others before me and many to come, go to college to get a degree solely in order to get a better job and thus receive a higher income. So we graduate, get an entry level job, and progressively move through the employment chain, receiving more responsibility and pay with each promotion and subsequently upgrading our standard of living along the way. The first major purchase tends to be a car, then a home, then a boat or a second home or a Harley Davidson or whatever the particular toy of choice is for that individual. Then when all this has been achieved, along with the family and other factors, we have finally achieved the “great American dream”. But some dream it actually is. To be able to afford this kind of lifestyle, one must take on an incredible amount of debt. This is not freedom. What kind of freedom is it to be under that kind of (economic) pressure and obligation to others solely to achieve what has been pushed upon you as “The Dream”. How pathetic, in my humble opinion. The undertaking of debt only further completes the cycle that Freire introduced. By accumulating higher education, and obviously conforming to the system along the way in order to excel, in the end they only further entrench themselves as the oppressed, through economic obligations in this particular example. And it is through this educational system, Freire is saying, that those in power are continuing the process of oppression, and that the oppressors purposefully and intentionally perpetuate this educational system in order to control the consciousness of the oppressed.

It is at this point that Freire introduces the concept of critical consciousness. Critical can commonly be defined as having the characteristic of being crucial or decisive, or in relation to a state of emergency or crisis. While all of theses are indeed true, it is also of importance relevance that critical can also be qualified a indispensable or essential. It is in this light that we will apply the concept of critical to the idea of critical conscious. Consciousness is obviously the state or condition of being conscious. But is also much, much more. Consciousness also includes a sense of one’s personal or collective identity, including the attitudes, beliefs, and sensitivities held by or considered characteristic of an individual or group. When these two terms are combined, we are left with an idea of a quality that is essential to one’s personal and collective identity. Or you may chose to identify it as a level of consciousness that is characterized by a state of in-depth understanding about the world and the resulting freedom from oppression. It may also be more easily characterized as the ability to first perceive social, political, and economic oppression and then to take action against the oppressive elements of the society. Either of these explanations aim to get at the heart of the same matter, although one may be more easily absorbed than another by any individual. Subsequently, as may already be evident to the active reader at this point, it is through this element of critical consciousness that individuals seek to change their situation as the oppressed, or to change the entire societal system as a whole.






  1. Interesting article, but I wouldn’t put the blame on teachers, because they often don’t know what they are talking about themselves. They parrot what they’ve been taught, and thus can’t answer questions, have a critical mind or adjust their methods to students. Put it simple, they have knowledge but no intelligence.

    However I find the situation Mr Freire describes pretty alarming… I’m in College in Europe, know many overbooked teachers who give lectures in front of 300 students and yet have time to speak to students. In curricula where there is only a small amount of students, this is even better: we know each others, laugh with each others, Hell, everybody feels like it’s a big family ;-))

    Peace to all

    • Everyone is perfectly aware they are not “homies”, but we just appreciate the fact they haven’t been turned into androids yet, which is why we learn fast and well IMO.

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