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Paulo Freire

Excerpts from Mentoring the Mentor: A Critical Dialogue with Paulo Freire

Mentoring the Mentor is a collection of articles written on Freirian theory, recreating Freirian dialogue in a printed format. In it, sixteen scholars take part in an exchange with Paulo Freire. Selected articles from this dialogue are summarized here, including a response from Freire.

Donaldo Macedo|Peter C. Murrell, Jr.|Gloria Ladson-Billings|James W. Fraser|William T. Stokes| Asgedet Stefanos|Tim Sieber|Ron Scapp|Freire's Response


Donaldo Macedo
   An Anti-Method Pedagogy: A Freirian Perspective

In a conversation that Donaldo Macedo had with Paulo Freire, Freire shared his concern that educators were importing methodology rather than recreating, reinventing his ideas. "This fetish for method works insidiously against adhering to Freire's own pronouncement against the importation and exportation of methodology"(Macedo, 1997, p.3).

An example he gives is the importation of Freire's dialogical model. Freire's model of dialogics must be rooted within social praxis, reflection and political action working together to break down oppression and the structures and mechanisms of oppression. When the model is imported as a method, without the connection to social praxis, dialogue becomes a "form of group therapy"(p.4), where participants can vent feelings and frustrations and the educator can feel that they have empowered the educand. Freire has stated that dialogue without action equal verbalism, or blah.

Another problem with this form of dialogue is that educators take the stand that they are empowering students. Empowerment does not come from the educator to the educand. This is a paternalistic view which perpetuates the oppression which Freire calls this "colonizing"--the educator/oppressor assumes to know what the educand/oppressed needs and provides it for him or her. But what is actually being provided is a benevolent form of oppression.

What Macedo proposes to circumvent importation/exportation of methodology is an anti-method pedagogy. "The anti-method pedagogy forces us to view dialogue as a form of social praxis so that the sharing of experiences is informed by reflection and political action"(p.8).


Peter C. Murrell, Jr.
   Digging Again the Family Wells: A Freirian Literacy Framework as Emancipatory Pedagogy for African American Children

Murrell asks "Can schooling for African-American children ever be more than institutional indoctrination into a social system and American culture that reproduces, reinforces and fortifies the devaluation of African-American people?"(Murrell, 1997, p.23)

He believes that current educational approaches are not able to handle the task of "imbuing the cultivation of consciousness and identity development among black children..."(p.26) He sees Freirian pedagogy as a way to realize the "critical democratic subversion" needed to establish cultural praxis that "acknowledges the particular dimensions of domination emanating from cultural hegemony and racism as it relates to the development of African-American people"(p.27).

Murrell turns to the Freirian theoretical framework to suggest a framework for emancipatory education for black children.

  • Freirian theory-schooling as a societal process in which social groups both accept and reject mediations of power and interpretations of culture.
    • Emancipatory education-"Structure and agency are brought together so that we always have access to seeing two practices of self-determination and self-agency by African-Americans shape and are shaped by the dominant and dominating 'culture of school', that reflects the core values of American society...(which) enables us to move beyond a conception of African-American schooling as having only two polarities--assimilation or resistance."
  • Freirian theory-resistance to oppression as an educational principle.
    • Emancipatory education-This is important because it enables us to understand resistance and opposition in terms broader than limiting categories of overt political action...
  • Freirian theory-reading culture as text to understand the ways that culture functions in the interests of the dominant culture and to assume agency for the reinvention of culture.
    • Emancipatory education-This would mean that a black emancipatory pedagogy would incorporate the cultural texts of the social contexts of schooling in the curriculumso that a "new common culture of radical democracy can be formed.
  • Freirian theory-critical consciousness through critical reflection and action.
    • Emancipatory education-This provides two aspects of emancipation "(1) individual emancipation resulting in a subjectivity where the learner is the subject rather than the object in the education enterprise, (2) collective emancipation resulting in African-American children having the tools of critical dialogue, though and action through which to transform themselves and their relationship to larger society."
  • Freirian theory-knowledge is socially constructed through the dialectal tension of praxis.
    • Emancipatory education-It is the process by which the subjective and the objective come together, posed in dialectical relationship that makes possible resolutions to the oppressor-oppressed contradiction (p.28-32).

Murrell's discussion of Freirian framework for emanicipatory action concludes with a description of what Murrell call "critical Africanist epistemology of schooling."

The kind of critical Africanist epistemology of schooled that is called for is one "that engenders a project of academic progress, development, and political agency for children and adults. One that operates from a development perspective and gives particular attention to moral judgment and civic action. Because the representation of race, gender, social class, and role in the social contexts of schooling deeply affect how children and adults think and act, a critical epistemology of schooling must make explicit what those representations are and how they may need to be pedagogically reconstructed in the school culture. It is an epistemology of schooling that pays careful attention to the social world of children while at the same time valuing deep critique and plain talk."(p.54-55)


Gloria Ladson-Billings
   I Know Why This Doesn't Feel Empowering: A Critical Race Analysis of Critical Pedagogy

In her article, Ladson-Billings discusses why critical theory does not meet the needs of those oppressed due to race. "..scholars of color in a variety of fields have begun to challenge the 'universal' applicability of critical theory to their specific social, political, educational and economic concerns"(Ladson-Billings, 1997, p.131). They considered critical theory "mute in relation to race" in that critical theory studies are race neutral or colorblind.

The relationship of critical race theory to education lies in its recognition that contemporary education effects the lives of African-American students through the influence of a racist society. "Thus, a critical race perspective always foregrounds race as an explanatory tool for the persistence of inequality"(p.132).

Ladson-Billings suggests that one way educators can address the need to bring race to the foreground is by making race "problematic and open to critique"(p.134).

She concludes her article by challenging critical theorists to consider the following questions:

  • How might we enter into meaningful dialogue around the issue of race?
  • In what ways might our understandings of critical theory and pedagogy be informed by our understandings of race?
  • What are the potentials for struggling together around issues of race that ultimately will empower us to teach and learn in ways that are empowering, not alienating?
  • What can we learn from those teachers who already have made race problematic and who work in ways that support students' greater understanding of the role race plays in society?(p. 137)


Donaldo Macedo|Peter C. Murrell, Jr.|Gloria Ladson-Billings|James W. Fraser|William T. Stokes| Asgedet Stefanos|Tim Sieber|Ron Scapp|Freire's Response


Paulo Freire
Oppressor/Oppressed Educational Banking Dialogic Action Pedagogy of Hope Others on Freire Links  
Updated: 11/29/99
Laurie Williams