GLL – On Freire’ Education for critical consciousness

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 3 – Part 1: What is Transformative Adult Education?

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Freire, P. (1973) Extracts from the essay entitled Education as the Practice of Freedom in Education for Critical Consciousness, New York: Continuum Publishing Company.


Consciousness, critical consciousness, conscientization, conscientizaçã, oppression, radicalization, sectarianism, assistencialism, fanaticism, Brazil, pedagogy of transformation, social change, education;


Freire presents the case of education as a means to achieve critical consciousness, which in turn would support the emergence from a state of oppression into a full-fledged democracy.

The excerpt is complex and deals with epistemological, ontological, economic, and social dimensions. Freire begins with ontologically defining men as separate from reality, which he sees as “objective”. He also juxtaposes men to animals, recognizing how the former are conscious being who can be critical of reality. He then proceeds to outline the epistemology of his thought by asserting that learning is the result of reflection (whereas animals learn by reflex). Men, therefore, are equipped with the capacity to critically reflect on their experience, to achieve a state of conscientizaçã that will allow them to conquer oppression and discrimination.

Freire also outlines his idea of time. To him, time is linear – past, present and future – and the perception of such progression is what makes men different from animals. This ability allows men to “enter into the domain which is theirs exclusively – that of History and of Culture.” (p.2)

Still using the analogy men vs. animals, Freire distinguishes between integration and adaptation. He sees adaptation as a form of dehumanizing passive acquiescence to the status quo, whereas integration is a form of active participation that can eventually transform reality. Accordingly, adapted people are mere objects, whereas integrated people are subjects in participative processes of personal and social transformation.

He advocates for a level of awareness that he calls critical consciousness, which will empower people to transcend their status of “oppressed” and become integrated into a new kind of democratic society. Freire recognizes the uncertainty that develops in times of transition from an epoch of oppression to one ensuing from people’s participation and critical consciousness. During such transition, people’s level of social consciousness would hopefully move through stages, from a semi-intransitive level, through naïve transitivity, to critically transitive consciousness. Politically, this latter, higher form of conscientizaçã “is characteristic of authentically democratic regimes and corresponds to highly permeable, interrogative, restless and dialogical forms of life -in contrast to silence and inaction, in contrast to the rigid, militarily authoritarian state.” (p.10) He also recognizes the danger of fanaticism, which would prevent people from developing a full-fledged critical consciousness.

“Naive transitive consciousness can evolve toward critical transitivity, characteristic of a legitimately democratic mentality, or it can be deflected toward the debased, clearly dehumanized, fanaticized consciousness characteristic of massification.” (p.11)

He sees education as instrumental to achieving political and social change through the process of conscientizaçã.

“The special contribution of the educator to the birth of the new society would have to be a critical education which could help to form critical attitudes, for the naive consciousness with which the people had emerged into the historical process left them an easy prey to irrationality. Only an education facilitating the passage from naive to critical transitivity, increasing men’s ability to perceive the challenges of their time, could prepare the people to resist the emotional power of the transition.” (p. 12)

“The education our situation demanded would enable men to discuss courageously the problems of their context -and to intervene in that context; it would warn men of the dangers of the time and offer them the confidence and the strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering their sense of self through submission to the decisions of others. By predisposing men to reevaluate constantly, to analyze “findings,” to adopt scientific methods and processes, and to perceive themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality, that education could help men to assume an increasingly critical attitude toward the world and so to transform it.” (p.13)

Freire uses the case of Brazil as a scenario for his argument, concluding that, in order to achieve the changes he supports, Brazil would need to re-appropriate itself of its history and autochthonous culture, rejecting the imported Eurocentric worldview that has contributed to so many problems. This final remarks reminds me of the “emic and etic” perspective used in anthropology and cross-cultural counseling.


1) Contradiction between his ontological and epistemological approaches.

I notice a discrepancy in Freire’s initial thoughts. His ontological introduction reminds me of the original view of Behaviorism and Gestalt. Behaviorists believe that reality exists externally and needs to be learned. His epistemological view, however, resonates more with constructivism, which denies the assumption that people are empty boxes, a tabula rasa, that are eager to be filled by instructors with fixed samples of an externally existing world. (in his book “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire called it Banking Education.) Constructivism affirms that reality in not extrinsic to learners, who instead use motivation to actively and collaboratively construct their knowledge and meaning from their personal experience. Therefore learning is seen as the product of self-organization and to this end teachers’ role is that of mediators and facilitators.

2) Approach based on an either/or exclusion.

His ideas seem to develop within a dichotomous world, where themes and factors are juxtaposed to one another. This is the case with his view of reactionaries vs. progressives; men vs. animals; state-supported oppression vs. people’s needs; old epoch vs. new epoch; integration vs. adaptation. However, he also recognizes areas that transcend a dichotomous approach. For example he talks about a transition time between past and future.

In general, his world is fairly polarized, with Eurocentric, imported approaches facing off against what he sees as the natural character of autochthonous cultures. I believe that such views are strongly influenced by the contextual conditions in Brazil that he is trying to analyze.

3) His view seems at times to follows the same patters he strongly criticizes.

For example, he sees people at the mercy of “social forces” and relevant “myths”, (p.3) as if his was the only approach top make a correct sense of reality. This is also evident when he suggests that people should overcome adjustment “to become integrated with the spirit of the time.  I wonder who defines such spirit.

4) An overemphasis on rational thinking.

In a citation, the paper says that men will have to make “more and more use of intellectual, and less and less of emotional and instinctive functions.” I disagree with this. As I believe that today’s worldviews suffers from an overload for Western-style thinking based on a Cartesian world view. Transcending it would offer an opportunity for a paradigmal change.


Reply to Helga’ s Post – – access and social justice


FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


Reply to Helga’ s Post – – access and social justice  (link to forum)

Hi Helga,

What a wonderful thread! I really enjoy reading all the interesting posts. I checked out Claudia’s e-portfolio profile and realized that she has quite a bit of experience in this area, which definitely adds to my interest in reading all these posts. I added my comments below.

HELGA WROTE: Seems that in a lot of countries there is a meritocracy, where those with higher qualifications are recognised (even if its only for an interview). This idea is not pervasive in Australia where those who are highly educated are regarded with some suspicion and distrust –  the idea is that those qualified people are trying to pull rank or be “better” than their mates. This particularly applies to recent arrivals, where there is still an apprehension that they have come to “take our jobs”

As an immigrant, I became very familiar with this Australian trait and learned to know it as “the tall poppy syndrome.” (basically and crudely, those who stand out get pushed back down into alignment with all the others). I found that particular issue one of the most striking differences between the U.S. and OZ. Based on individualistic premises, in the U.S. personal self-reliance and initiative are highly encouraged. As for the “they-come-to-take our-jobs” attitude, I just posted another message about Italians being chased away by fearful British workers in these days. Would the historic link between Australian and the U.K. serve as an explanation of such similar attitudes? Although we also know that the same could happen in a lot of other places.

HELGA WROTE: One way of dealing with this is to require that they undergo local training. I have come across many highly qualified doctors whose qualifications and experience are simply not recognised here and who are not in a position to undertake extensive retraining. What a waste of human capital!

Yes, I agree. I remember bringing this up in our first course. It also reminds me of my personal experience upon my arrival in Sydney. I thought I was being looked with suspicion because I had an American education rather than the required Australian credentials.

HELGA WROTE: As far as qualifications in the service industries go, the government here, with the agreement of industry,  has made some kind of qualification mandatory  in many previously quite menial jobs. Therefore, to work as a waiter/waitress, one now needs a Certificate in Hospitality (or be prepared to get one). To work in childcare, one needs a Childcare Certificate or Diploma, and these requirements are now spreading to Aged Care, Disability etc. Even to work in retail as a shop assistant, employers are looking at some kind of certification.

This reminds me a lot of the system in place in German-speaking countries, and to some extent – based on what I read – also in Scandinavia, where the VET system is highly structured. For those who grow up with such system, things will eventually fall into place. Credentials are built over the years, through formal education and a mechanism of workplace training. But for those who are new to the country, no matter what their credentials are, they would be feeling like aliens in a system that does not have much room for variation and foreign alternatives.  This is definitely true for Germany, though I am not sure if the same also applies to the Nordic countries. Such certifications have also found acceptance into Australian immigration laws. Up to the late 1990’s “skilled migrants” was accepted based on their potentials; now they have to go through an evaluation process of their education and professional credentials.

HELGA WROTE: Having written that, I realise that we seem to be heading towards some kind of “norm” (or mediocrity) –  no one too qualified and no one totally unqualified. That means that those outside those parameters will have the most difficulty finding work.

Helga, I agree with you. If one goes the motions, adjust to requirements and the system, s/he’ll be o.k. For those instead who – in spite of high qualification and valuable experience – do not match in-country requirements, life can be very difficult. This is definitely an area where nation states do not want to give up control, no matter how much they otherwise support policies of globalization of both the market and education.

Reply to Nermin’s Post – – access and social justice


FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


Reply to Nermin’s Post – – access and social justice  (link to forum)

NERMIN WROTE: While Brown in Formation in the Twenty-First Century makes the point that “it is those countries that can succeed in upgrading the quality of their workforce who will become the ‘magnet’ economies for high skilled work”. When breaking that down and comparing it to my reality, I see that the biggest role belongs to the country rather than the individual. The reason is that the well financed minority that do have access to a proper knowledge foundation through international learning institutions are aware of their ability to form a strong human capital, one that can advance the country’s knowledge productivity and improve its economic stand. However, that potential workforce is paralyzed if the country refuses to invest in the education of the rest of its people, or provide the necessary environment that facilitates that goal’s achievement.

Hi Nermin,

Thank you for your really good post.

I noticed a discrepancy in some of the readings that is due to dated statistics. Between the time when the articles were written and today a few things have happened that make us now wonder about the validity of certain statements. One of them is the one you cited, concerning the magnet effect of certain countries. It seems to me that the rules of the game have changed dramatically. Yesterday I read in the news that a group of highly skilled Italian engineers were almost chased out of town in England for “having taken away jobs from locals.” Aside from the absurdity of the situation, since freedom of movement and choice of employment inside the E.U. are by now an established reality and acquired rights, the news reveals how the “magnet” model has ceased to work.

Then you gave an example about “your country.” I am not sure what country you are referring to, but I assume it’s relevant to your point to know that information. Could you please clarify? (Claudia also responded with a reference to “my country.” I would extend the same question to her as well (-: ) I believe the issue you raised in the second part of your post relates to equity, social justice and also to access to education. I read your post as if you were saying (tell me if I misunderstood) that your country’s government gives a selected elite of promising individuals the opportunity to establish a strong “human capital” that they will later use to help benefit the country. Then there is the “rest of its people” that should have access – but apparently doesn’t – to what sounds like “regular education.” To me this sounds like an approach that rests on a government’s selection and that does not seem to address the issue of access and self-realization for the general population.

I would be interested to know what criteria are used in your country to select the pool of individuals who will then be given the chance to pursue further education.

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