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What Would Paulo Freire Do If He Was A School Superintendent?


We don’t have to imagine the answer to that question because Freire, the famous popular educator, was indeed the Superintendent of schools in Sao Paulo, Brazil during 1989-91, and Bob Peterson has just written an article about that experience in the most recent issue of ReThinking Schools. The article is titled Big City Superintendents: Dictatorship or Democracy? Lessons from Paulo Freire .

Here’s a quote from the article:

The heart of the Freire administration’s plan to transform the schools was the movement to reorient the curriculum. This was a change that was only partially successful, uneven from school to school. But it still stands in sharp contrast to the top-down, scripted curricular reforms that are being forced on many of the large urban districts in this country.

At the core of Freire’s approach was changing the nature of teaching and learning in the classrooms. The curriculum had to be based on the realities of the students’ lives, be meaningful to their aspirations, bridge disciplinary divides, incorporate assessments that accurately reflected student learning, and be constantly reflected upon by educators during paid collaborative planning times during the work day. Teachers were being expected not to “deliver” curriculum, but to create it in collaboration with each other, their students, and the community. According to Freire, his goal was

. . . to gradually elevate the level of knowledge of the teachers, promote collective work as the privileged form of teacher formation, and afford the material conditions for all this to occur. In this manner the pedagogic innovations are appropriated, the curricular alterations fruitful, because the principal agents [of these changes], the teachers, are considered not objects of training, but elements that produce and re-elaborate knowledge.

Now, I know that you can’t just take a strategy from one country and plop it into another. And, in fact, there have been challenges in applying Freire’s methods in the United States (I’ve used it quite successfully in my ESL classes, though, and have found the best teaching strategies on how to do that come from U.S. Peace Corps ESL/EFL Training Manuals)

Given that, however, it seems to me that it would still be worth superintendents, particularly ones from urban districts, taking a serious look at Freire’s perspective.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry,

    Great stuff and I need more reflection like this in my own life…

    As it applies to ELT – I think Freire should be our patron saint. Really and truly.

    With language – learning and the curriculum of necessity has to be so closely infused and linked to the learner’s world and apriori knowledge. Language acquisition needs this “glue”. We should all as teachers, build our curriculum and instruction with the help of students:

    through needs analysis and surveys (empowering students to be responsible and owners of learning)
    through the culture and life of the student (stories/beliefs and culturally specific content)
    through the active participation and creation of students (what I call SCC – student created content)

    Freire’s pedagogy really suits ELT to a tee. English teachers would benefit from reading about his life and thought. Good to know you and others are putting some of those ideas into practice.


  2. You should check out Life in Schools by Pete Mclaren. It’s critical pedagogy as applied to inner-city Toronto. A great read, but he takes Freire’s pedagogy into the political arena, which I don’t quite like. The book is written in sections, but I think they’re out of order, myself.

    Anyhoo, I love Freire’s work. I’m on a Google Group bearing his name, but there is little activity. I believe that schools should serve communities, but instead they serve curricula. Thus we get schools that aren’t aligned with the communities they serve. Have you ever noticed how schools look more and more like fortresses instead of community centers?

  3. I hear what you are saying Aaron. I’ve read some of McLaren’s writing over the years along with Giroux. I’ll have to read Life of Schools – particular since I spent several years teaching in that battlefield – inner city Toronto St. Jamestown.

    It was frustrating – just the walls put up to bring in the elderly, the outer community into my classroom. Fortress is an appropriate word compounded by overworked, undervalued teachers.



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