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Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Educator Paulo Freire first outlined his widely influential theory of education in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). A theory of education by which “men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Over a lifetime of work with revolutionary organizers and educators, Paulo Freire created an approach to emancipatory education and a lens through which to understand systems of oppression in order to transform them. He flipped mainstream pedagogy on its head by insisting that true knowledge and expertise already exist within people. They need no “deposits” of information (what Freire calls “banking education”), nor do they need leftist propaganda to convince them of their problems. What is required to transform the world is dialogue, critical questioning, love for humanity, and praxis — the synthesis of critical reflection and action.

Contrasting the Two Education Pedagogies

Banking education: education as the practice of domination

  • Goal is to adapt people to their oppressive conditions.
  • Teacher attempts to control thinking and action of the students, who are treated as passive objects.
  • Assumes that people are merely in the world, not connected to it or each other.
  • Removes students from their context; teaches reality as unchangeable.
  • Treats oppressed people as marginal to a healthy society and in need of incorporation into it.
  • Fundamental to maintaining systems of oppression.

Problem-posing education: education as a practice of freedom

  • Goal is to transform structural oppression.
  • Both educator and educand (Freire’s word for “student,” designed to convey an equitable and reciprocal relationship) teach and learn from each other.
  • Assumes the world is an unfolding historical process; everything and everyone is interrelated.
  • Begins with the educands’ history, present, and unwritten future.
  • Seeks to transform society to rehumanize both the oppressed and their oppressors.
  • Fundamental to the revolutionary process.
Practices Influenced by Freire


Freire explains that what most people think of as dialogue is really just debate, a zero-sum game in which people compete to deposit ideas into one another or name the world on behalf of others as an end in itself. In dialogue, on the other hand, both parties work together to name their world by exploring their lived experiences to identify common patterns and generate action.

Participatory Action Research

Participatory action research is a community-led process in which people determine solutions to their problems by gathering data from their peers, analyzing it, and then taking informed action. It’s a model of community organizing that builds the capacity and expertise of those on the front lines.

Anti-Oppression Practice

As long as there has been oppression, people have been working to end it. In recent decades, in the US, the Highlander Center and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond are two of the organizations that have taken the lead in working to undo racism and build collective liberation. This work deepens each year with new collectives emerging and new practices evolving.

  • Power and privilege can play out in our group dynamics in destructive ways. For the good of all, we must challenge words and actions that marginalize, exclude, or dehumanize others.
  • We can only identify the ways that power and privilege play out when we are conscious and committed to understanding how white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism, and other embedded systems of oppression affect us all.
  • Until we are clearly committed to anti-oppression practice, all forms of oppression will continue to divide and weaken our movements.
  • Developing anti-oppression practices is life-long work. No single workshop is sufficient for unlearning our socialization within a culture built on multiple forms of oppression.
  • Dialogue, discussion, and reflection are some of the tools through which we overcome oppressive attitudes, behaviors, and situations in our groups. Anti-oppression work requires active listening, non-defensiveness, and respectful communication.
Personal Practices
  • Challenge yourself to be courageously honest and open, and willing to take risks and make yourself vulnerable in order to address racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressive dynamics head-on.
  • When you witness, experience, or commit an abuse of power or oppression, address it as proactively as the situation permits, either one-on-one or with a few allies, keeping in mind that the goal is to encourage positive change.
  • Challenge the behavior, not the person. Be sensitive and promote open dialogue.
  • When someone offers criticism in an oppressive framework, treat it as a gift rather than an attack. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Be willing to lose a friend, but try not to “throw away” people who mess up. Help them take responsibility for making reparations for their behavior, and be willing to extend forgiveness in return.
  • Take on the grunt work that often falls on women, especially women of color. This includes the work of cooking, cleaning, set up, clean up, phone calls, e-mail, taking notes, doing support work, sending mailings.
  • Understand that you will feel discomfort as you face your part in oppression, and realize that this is a necessary part of the process. We must support each other and be gentle with each other in this process.
  • Don’t feel guilty, feel responsible. Being part of the problem doesn’t mean you can’t be an active part of the solution.
  • Contribute time and energy to building healthy relationships, both personal and political.
Organizational Practices
  • Commit time to facilitated discussions on discrimination and oppression.
  • Set anti-oppression goals and continually evaluate whether or not you are meeting them.
  • Create opportunities for people to develop anti-oppression skills and practices.
  • Promote egalitarian group development by prioritizing skill shares and an equitable division of roles, responsibilities, and recognition.
  • Respect different styles of leadership and communication.
  • Don’t push historically marginalized people to do things because of their oppressed group (tokenism); base it on their work, experience, and skills.
  • Make a collective commitment to hold everyone accountable for their behavior so that the organization can be a safe and nurturing place for all.
Additional Resources

Citation: Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Beautiful Trouble by Beautiful Trouble. Retrieved June 23, 2023 from

Citation: Anti-oppression. Beautiful Trouble by Beautiful Trouble. Retrieved June 23, 2023 from

These resources, which have been modified from their original forms, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.