Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian educationalist, was born on 19 September 1921, at 21 Encanamento Rd, in the Casa Amarela neighbourhood of Recife, to Pernambuco Military Police Captain Joaquim Temístocles Freire and Edeltrudes Neves Freire.
He began to read, guided by his mother, in the yard of the house where he was born “in the shade of the mango trees and having the ground for a blackboard and twigs for chalk.”
At the age of ten he moved to the city of Jaboatão (today Jaboatão dos Guararapes), approximately 18 km from Recife, where he finished his primary education.
He began his secondary schooling at Colégio 14 de Julho, finishing it at Colégio Oswaldo Cruz, both in Recife.
He entered the Recife Faculty of Law in 1943, and the following year married the primary school teacher Elza Maria Costa de Oliveira, who would have great influence on his life and with whom he had five children: Maria Madalena, Maria Cristina, Maria de Fátima, Joaquim and Lutgardes.
According to Paulo Freire, his linguistic studies and his meeting Elza lead him to education.
He began his teaching career at Colégio Oswaldo Cruz as a Portuguese teacher, replacing Moacir Albuquerque, who was considered to be one of the best teachers of the discipline at the time.
From 1947 to 1954 he was the Education and Cultural sector director at Sesi, and from 1954 to 1957, the superintendent of the organ.
Sesi represented much more than a job in his life: it was the decisive opportunity to define his professional history as and educator and education philosopher. It was there he had contact with adult/worker education and could see that both education and, especially, literacy were fundamental for Brazil.
In the 1950s he founded in Recife, alongside other educators, the Instituto Capibaribe, a private institution known even today for its high level of ethical and moral teaching directed towards a democratic consciousness.
This decade was very important for solidifying the thoughts of Paulo Freire. He looked for a way to make illiterates engage themselves in the process of gaining literacy through awareness. Researchers conducted a survey of the basic words used by the population to begin the process of learning to read and write using the local vocabulary. From this was created a method which became known throughout the world as the “Paulo Freire Method”.
At the end of 1959, he obtained the title of Doctor in Philosophy and History of Education, defending the thesis Educação e atualidade brasileira (Education and Brazil Today).
In 1960 he was named effective professor of Philosophy and Education History for the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Letters at the University of Recife (nowadays the Federal University of Pernambuco) and, in 1961, associate professor of History and Educational Philosophy at the Recife School of Fine Arts.
Besides the academic and institutional fields, he was also engaged in popular education movements. He was one of the founders of Recife’s Movimento de Cultura Popular (Popular Culture Movement – MCP).
With the Military Coup in 1964, the new government considered the “Paulo Freire Method” dangerous and prohibited it. Paulo Freire was arrested and accused of subversion, remaining detained for 70 days in various places in the cities of Recife and Olinda.
He was forced into exile, initially going to Bolivia and from there to Santiago, Chile and then later to Geneva.
In Chile, where he stayed for almost five years, he returned to his pedagogical practice and wrote his first commercially published book, Education as a Practice of Freedom, as well as his most famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
In 1966, he gave conferences and participated in seminars in Cuernavaca, Mexico and in 1967 made his first visit to the United States at the invitation of American universities.
He was grateful to Chile, the country which sheltered him and his family, but fearing earthquakes, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was a consulter and university lecturer with freedom to develop overseas experiences.
He took his ideas and methods to Asia, Oceania, America and above all to Portuguese-speaking Africa. From Geneva, he was world-renowned in the history and education of the 20th century.
In 1979 he obtained his first Brazilian passport. After almost 16 years in exile he returned to Brazil and Recife in 1980.
He decided, for the first time, to affiliate himself with a political party, choosing the Partido do Trabalhadores (Labour Party) – PT, of which he was one of the founders.
He moved to São Paulo, where he found better working conditions and freedom of action. He was a professor at the University of Campinas – Unicamp – from 1980 until 1990.
In October 1986 he lost his first wife and on 27 March 1988, he married for the second time to a childhood friend, Ana Maria Araújo Freire, in Recife.
He occupied the position of Secretary of Education for the City of São Paulo from January 1989 to May 1991.
At seventy years of age, in 1991, he received many honours from various parts of the world. In Recife, his city, the State Council for Education and the Pernambuco Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports jointly held a large event called 70 anos de Paulo Freire no Mundo (70 Years of Paulo Freire in the World).
During the 1990s, at the invitation of the Pernambuco State Secretary of Education, Paulo Freire made several visits to Recife and the municipality of Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Pernambuco, giving speeches to teachers and working on literacy programmes.
His final visit happened in February 1997, this time invited by Sesi, when in a speech he recalled his ten years working at the organ.
He is the author of various books, among which the following can be highlighted: A propósito de uma administração (1961); Education as a Practice of Freedom (1967); Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970); Letters to Cristina (1974); Educação e mudança (1979); The Importance of the Act of Reading (1982); Pedagogy of the City (1991); Pedagogy of Hope (1992); Politics and Education (1993); À sombra desta mangueira (Under the Shade of this Mango Tree) (1995); Pedagogy of Freedom (1997); Pedagogy of Indignation (2000); Educação e atualidade brasileira (2001).
He received numerous honours and titles from cities and institutes all over the world.
His last class was given at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica – PUC, in São Paulo on 22 April 1997.
Paulo Freire died of a heart attack on 2 May 1997, at 75 years of age in São Paulo.
Recife, 23 August 2004.
Updated on 4 September 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
FREIRE, Ana Maria Araújo. A voz da esposa: a trajetória de Paulo Freire. In: GADOTTI, Moacir et al. Paulo Freire, uma biobibliografia. São Paulo: Cortez; Instituto Paulo Freire; Brasília, DF: UNESCO, 1996. p. 27-67.
PERNAMBUCO imortal: personagens: Brasil 500 anos, as mudanças do século XX, n.15. Recife: Jornal do Commercio, 2002.
ROSAS, Paulo. Papéis avulsos sobre Paulo Freire, 1. Recife: Centro Paulo Freire - Estudos e Pesquisas; UFPE. Ed. Universitária, 2003.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Paulo Freire. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar_en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.