Of 20th century educational philosophers and theorists, the first half belongs to American John Dewey and the second to the Brazilian Paulo Freire. His initial work focused on the development of an educational practice whereby the marginalized poor learned to read and write in order for them to vote in presidential elections. Rejecting traditional text-based reading methods and creating small groups or “cultural circles” the lived experiences of the poor became the “text.” In this manner, literacy and knowledge become an act of creation rather than something thrown at the students. In 1962, he embarked on a campaign to teach literacy to poor workers in Brazil, enabling them to vote and thus participate not only in the policies that affected their lives but also to challenge the oppressive conditions in which they found themselves. Through a participatory process characterized by small group dialogical “cultural circles” that linked literacy with the political, formerly illiterate adults learned to read and write quickly. For example, 300 sugarcane workers were taught to read and write in just 45 days. Subsequently, the Brazilian government began a national program for 2,000,000 illiterates. However, under the military coup of 1964, the program was cancelled and Paulo, after being accused as an international subversive and a “traitor to both Christ and the Brazilian people” (Gadotti, 1994, p. 34-35) was imprisoned for 70 days. Upon release, he left the country for a 15-year exile only to return in 1980. His internationally acclaimed book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated into at least 18 languages, has sold over 750,000 copies worldwide. Additionally, he authored two dozen books either individually or, as he often said, “in dialogue” with others. He conducted seminars, workshops, and lectured internationally in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. His legacy includes numerous worldwide Paulo Freire Institutes/Centers in Austria, Canada, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and the USA (UCLA and Chapman). He holds 16 international honorary doctorate degrees (Chapman in 1998), as well as the Belgium King Baudouin Award ($190,000) for his adult literacy work.
Tom Wilson
Director of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project
Chapman University, College of Educational Studies

Gadotti, M. (1994). Reading Paulo Freire: His life and work. (J. Milton, Trans.). Albany: State University of New York.
 
Paulo Freire photograph used by permission of Slobodan Dimitrov

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