Paulo Freire Biography

Paulo Reglus Neves Freire, a renowned professor and philosopher, dedicated his life to empowering adult illiterates and advocating for critical pedagogy. He firmly believed that students possess the ability to think critically and should not be passive recipients of knowledge. Freire’s upbringing in poverty and hunger during the Great Depression fueled his passion for helping the less fortunate. Overcoming his own adversities, he became an educator and developed innovative educational theories. Through his teachings, he successfully taught numerous impoverished individuals to read and write in a remarkably short span of 45 days. Freire’s influential book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed,’ remains a cornerstone of the critical pedagogy movement.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Paulo Reglus Neves Freire
  • Died At Age: 75
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Elza Freire
  • Born Country: Brazil
  • Quotes By Paulo Freire
  • Educators
  • Died on: May 2, 1997
  • Place of death: São Paulo, State of São Paulo, Brazil
  • More Facts
  • Education: Federal University of Pernambuco

Childhood & Early Life

He was born into a middle-class family in Recife, Brazil in 1921. He was still a young boy when the Great Depression of 1929 engulfed the world economy and he was pushed into a life of poverty and hunger. His family moved to a less expensive city of Jaboatao dos Guararapes in 1931 and his father died in 1933 leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. The young boy was exposed to a harsh life marked by poverty and constant hunger. These factors greatly diminished his learning ability and he ended up four grades behind. His childhood experiences instilled in him empathy for the poor and less fortunate, and he was deeply motivated to do something to make their lives better.

Education & Career

Gradually his family’s fortunes improved and he was able to pursue higher education at reputable institutions. He joined Law School at the University of Recife in 1943. He also studied philosophy, and the psychology of language.

He started working as a teacher of Portuguese upon his graduation. In spite of being admitted to the legal bar he never practiced law. He was appointed the Director of the Department of Education and Culture of the Social Service in the state of Pernambuco in 1946. While here he worked with illiterate poor and developed his own non-orthodox form of liberation theology. He became the director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University in 1961 and became involved in an educational project aimed at dealing with mass illiteracy in 1962. Through the adoption of his theories 300 sugarcane workers were taught to read and write within 45 days. This initial success of his theories prompted the Brazilian government to extend the movement to several states. During 1963-64 the government drew up a plan to establish 2000 cultural circles to reach 2, 000,000 illiterates. The supposed plan could not be realized as a military coup in 1964 brought the existing regime to an end and Freire was imprisoned for 70 days following the coup. He first went to Bolivia on a brief exile and then moved to Chile where he started working for the Christian Democratic Agrarian Reform Movement and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Major Works

He published his first book ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’ in 1967 and followed it with his seminal work, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ in 1968, originally in Portuguese. This book became very popular and was soon translated into other languages like English and Spanish. He was offered a visiting professorship at Harvard University in 1969. He was appointed the special educational advisor to the Department of Education, World Congress of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland in 1970. During this time he advised former Portuguese colonies in Africa on educational reforms.

Awards & Achievements

The King Balduin prize for International Development was bestowed upon him in Belgium in 1980. He was awarded the UNESCO 1986 prize for Education for Peace. He was presented with the Andres Bello Inter-American Prize for Education by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1992.

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, a teacher, in 1944. The couple had five children and was happily married till Elza’s death in 1986. He was very broken after the death of his wife and by chance reconnected with a former pupil of his, Maria Araujo. The two eventually fell in love and married. He died of heart failure in 1997 at the age of 75.

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