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Paulo Freire (1921-1997)


He was born on September 19, 1921 in Recife, a port city of northeastern Brazil. He has said of his parents that it was they who taught him at an early age to prize dialogue and to respect the choices of others-key elements in his understanding of adult education. His parents were middle class but suffered financial reverses so severe during the Great Depression that Freire learned what it is to go hungry. It was in childhood that he determined to dedicate his life to the struggle against hunger.
After his family situation improved a bit, he was able to enter the University of Recife where he enrolled in the Faculty of Law and also studied philosophy and the psychology of language while working part-time as an instructor of Portuguese in a secondary school. During this same period he was reading the works of Marx and also Catholic intellectuals-Maritain, Bernanos, and Mounier-all of whom strongly influenced his educational philosophy.
In 1944, Freire married Elza Maia Costa Oliveira of Recife, a grade school teacher who eventually bore three daughters and two sons. Numerous reform movements flourished simultaneously as socialists, communists, students, labor leaders, populists, and Christian militants all sought their own socio-political goals. It was in the midst of this ferment and heightened expectations that Freire became the first director of the University of Recife's Cultural Extension Service which brought literacy programs to thousands of peasants in the northeast.
Toward the end of the 1960's, Freire's work brought him into contact with a new culture that changed his thought significantly. At the invitation of Harvard University he left Latin America to come to the United States where he taught as Visiting Professor at Harvard's Center for Studies in Education and Development and was also Fellow at the Center for the Study of Development and Social Change.
It is during this period that Freire wrote his more famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Education is to be the path to permanent liberation and admits of two stages. The first stage is that by which people become aware (conscientized) of their oppression and through praxis transform that state. The second stage builds upon the first and is a permanent process of liberating cultural action.
After leaving Harvard in the early 1970's, Freire served as consultant and eventually as Assistant Secretary of Education for the World Council of Churches in Switzerland and traveled all over the world lecturing and devoting his efforts to assisting educational programs of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, such as Tanzania and Guinea Bissau. He also served as chair of the executive committee of the Institute for Cultural Action (IDAC) which is headquartered in Geneva.
In 1979, Paulo was invited by the Brazilian government to return from exile where he assumed a faculty position at the University of Sao Paulo. In 1988 he was also appointed Minister of Education for the City of Sao Paulo-a position which made him responsible for guiding school reform within two-thirds of the nation's schools.
He died in Rio de Janeiro on May 2, 1997, at the age of 75. He leaves behind a legacy of commitment, love, and hope for oppressed peoples throughout the world.

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