What Freire Didn’t See: A Critique of a Critique on Education & Consciousness


Paulo Freire asserts in the second chapter of A Pedogogy of the Oppressed, that “those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety­­.” (7) Well, I want freedom. I want liberation. So I’ll just sit back and let Freire tell me how to achieve both.  Freire objectifies his audience by presenting his theory about education as a concrete choice; he states what is right and what is wrong. In simple terms, he says the banking concept of education is the problem, and problem-posing education is the solution.  Freire is the teacher and Freire is the subject. His readers are his students and also are his objects.

Objectifying myself as Freire’s audience, I am motivated to “think critically” about his claims. Freire makes some legitimate points about the dangers inherent in education as a bureaucracy, but he oversimplifies education as an institutional process.  He views the education process as oppressive, as a mathematical formula with no variables, students as depositories and teachers as depositors. Freire is not only the culprit in his own adversarial conceptualizations; I daresay that he is an unbeknownst victim too.    In order to accurately assess Freire’s theory of education as a form of oppression, it is important to understand his religious and educational background. Freire was a liberation theologist. Defined by liberationtheology.org, liberation theology is a correlation of “efforts to think clearly about the meaning of religious faith in the context of oppression, war, poverty, inequality and environmental destruction, and the effort to live a compassionate, courageous and life-sustaining response to those conditions.”  Unlike many radical religious beliefs, which justify the need to adhere to tradition, liberation theology focuses on change. That being said, one cannot ignore that liberation theology is correlated with religion, particularly Christianity, with the attendant rules of conduct.

Liberation theology promotes the necessity to change the ever impermanent world, today. It emphasizes “the transformation of everyday life through a new awakening of compassion, courage, truthfulness and justice,” (1) and the Golden Rule as recited by Jesus in the New Testament in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”(2)

Significantly, Freire calls the banking concept a producer of necrophilia. “Oppression – overwhelming control – is necrophilic; it is nourished by the love of death, not life.” (7) Here we are presented with our first palpable contradiction. Is religion not necrophilic? It is. Religion is nourished by the love of death. Perhaps a bold assertion, but a personal conviction nonetheless, I believe all religions define rules of conduct for life on earth to ensure some sort of life after death. Paulo Freire, and his deep devotion to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a necrophiliac. Fundamentalists, particularly Christian fundamentalists, promote generosity, and follow the Golden Rule, not just because they genuinely care about others, but also because they recognize the inevitability of death, and they seek salvation after death.

Although liberation theologists are committed to enhancing the quality of today, they still follow the Bible. (1) In Romans 10:9, the Bible states “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (8) The Bible (as do the Quran and Torah) justifies humanity’s existence by salvation to be received after death. Religion’s core is providing us with a moral compass that we can follow today – for a better tomorrow. Tomorrow, when we’re dead and gone. This is necrophilia. Freire is a victim of his own contradiction.

Not only are some of his justifications apparent facades, I believe Freire to be a victim of the banking concept he so staunchly criticizes. Educators are not only the oppressors; authority, according to Freire, is the oppressor. Freire was raised as a Roman Catholic under the influence of a devoutly religious mother. (3) His mother then, was his oppressor. I argue that this mythological faith that was indoctrinated in him as child was “banked” in him. He studied the Bible from a very young age, and later turned to advocate its actuality in correlation with the sociopolitical beliefs on consciousness and existence that he would acquire later in his life.

Freire states that hollow humans, who accept the banking concept, follow charismatic political leaders and come to feel that they’re making a difference, when really they’re “just another brick in the wall,” as the English rock band Pink Floyd might label them. In a quote from his book, Freire says, “populist manifestations perhaps best exemplify this type of behavior, who, by identifying with charismatic leaders, come to feel that they themselves are active and effective…” In this instance, the “charismatic leader” with which the Freire identifies and came to actively endorse is Christianity.

Regarding education and its effectiveness, Freire has several good points. For example, one practice of the “Banking Concept” is that “the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it.” As far back as I remember, every class I’ve taken has had a syllabus. And I have never been consulted about the content. However, in my personal experience, the relationship between the teacher and the student is not so one-sided as Freire perceives. Freire underestimates the acumen of the student and the chemistry between student and teacher. It’s almost as if Freire, like a leader, places himself on a higher pedestal than both the teacher AND the student. It’s an obvious hypocrisy. 

It is true that a teacher dichotomizes a subject from the rest of the living world and “narrates” about that topic to students. However, Freire overlooks students as variables; he blatantly assumes that the students unquestioningly accept the teachers’ narrations. People take a little bit of everything they are exposed to, and formulate an ideological position on existence and consciousness based on their own experiences. Freire was born into a middle-class Brazilian family and later became familiar with poverty and oppression during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. (4) He was held back four times and is quoted as stating “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge” (5) These experiences assisted in molding his sociopolitical ideologies.

Can we really reject the Banking Concept in its entirety? I was taught that 4 times 4 equals 16, but it was not a rote process. I was taught a series of ways to solve the problem.  As a student, I didn’t blindly accept the answer like Freire so arrogantly assumes I would. And I am not alone. We’re taught in a way that is applied, although in a dichotomic way, to the world in which we live. Sure, the concepts of math are inherently manmade, and I completely have the choice to reject them. But everything I know as education is manmade. My language is manmade. We really know nothing at all, and demythologizing it only means rejecting the “progression” Freire is espousing. Everyone needs a fact-base of beliefs to critically assess or evaluate anything else.

A final criticism that I have of Paulo Freire is his over-emphasis of the importance of humankind. He, as does the Bible, treats humans as though they are the center of the universe. It is a very narrow-minded and one-dimensional view of existence and consciousness. Freire accentuates the “Jasperian ‘split’ – consciousness as consciousness of consciousness.” As conscious beings, I agree it is important to understand where we exist in terms of awareness. However, part of awareness is to understand that we are quite possibly not alone in our conceptual thought process, both in terms of the universe and in terms of the world we are with. If we are with this world, we are not the center of it. This was another contradiction that is evident in Freire’s claims.

Freire is explicitly caught articulating this opinion of “humans and being” in the pedagogy.  “Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming – as unfinished, uncompleted beings and with a likewise unfinished reality. Indeed, in contrast to other animals who are unfinished, people know themselves to be unfinished, they are aware of their incompletion.” (6) Now, I am not disclaiming Freire’s assertion here: my only inquiry, as his student, is how do you know? As my teacher, and Freire as my oppressor, Freire assumes that I would just submissively accept this statement. However, this is where Freire fails to see how the banking concept isn’t so dangerous as he assumes. As his subject, I take this claim and use it to figure that according to National Geographic Magazine, “brainy fellow creatures show that humans are not alone in their ability to invent, plan, or contemplate.” (7)

Freire makes some valid points. The dialogue that he promotes in school classrooms will, no doubt, engage students and enhance learning. Similarly, the concept of critical thinking is an absolute necessity. However, I still maintain that Freire seems to have applied little self-examination to his pedagogy. Perhaps all people critically think to their capacity, and perhaps that thought inherently aligns itself with “authority” at certain intervals. But the world is impalpable; it’s not so black and white that education must be defined exclusively by either the banking concept or problem-posing theory. I state my claim that anyone truly committed to liberation may accept the banking concept. Liberation is a decision and liberation is a mindset. Freedom is being, and follow what you may, believe what you must, think as you wish, freedom of existence is a choice.
























Works Cited


1. “Liberation Theologies.” Liberation Theologies. Ed. Dennis Rivers. Google, 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://liberationtheology.org/&gt;.


2. “The Golden Rule in the New Testament Bible.” Golden Rule in the Bible. Jesus Saves Ministry, 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.


3. “A Community Connecting Practice & Thought Leadership.” Paulo Freire. Eastern University Working Papers, 9 Aug. 2007. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.


4. “Paulo Freire.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.


5. What Is Critical Pedogogy? Digital image. Powershow.com. N.p., 18 July 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.



6. Morell, Virginia. “Animal Minds.” National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic, 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.


7. Bartholomae, David, and Tony Petrosky. “The Banking Concept.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011. 318-28. Print.


8. “Getting Into Heaven.” What Does the Bible Say About Getting Into Heaven? Crossway Bibles, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.


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