Authority Through Freedom. On Freire’s Radicalisation of the Authority-Freedom Problem in Education

Jones Irwin


Paulo Freire’s approach to the question of ‘authority and freedom’ in education and teaching (as well as in the political sphere), takes its cue from his early and radical approach to literacy education in Brazil in the 1960s. However, the radical democratic thrust of this educational vision meets very significant political resistance in Brazil and Freire spends 30 years in exile. This essay explores how this Freirean approach needs to be contextualised in the specifically Brazilian context. However, it also explores his original contribution to the wider problematic of authority and freedom in the Philosophy of Education. In Freire, there is a simultaneous critique of traditionalism and progressivism (not dissimilar to Dewey’s in Experience and Education) and this allows Freire to reconceptualise the relation between authority and freedom in education. We explore how Freire’s 1968 text Pedagogy of the Oppressed articulates this understanding very clearly and from a very strong conceptual-philosophical perspective. In the latter part of the essay, we look at how Freire’s later work, in for example Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, represents a return to a more experiential analysis of the question of authority and freedom in education. Nonetheless, while recognising the need for a philosophy of education to develop «in a manner in keeping with the times», there is also a very strong continuity between the early and later work in this understanding. In brief, in both his earlier and later work, Freire develops an understanding of an «authority through freedom», a co-dependent relationship between these two variables in pedagogy, as also in political life.


Authority; Freedom; Literacy; Freire; Dewey; Radicalisation; Sectarianism; Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Pedagogy of Hope; Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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