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The Freirean Legacy: Educating for Social Justice

reviewed by Garrett Albert Duncan - 2003

coverTitle: The Freirean Legacy: Educating for Social Justice
Author(s): Judith Slater, Stephen Fain, and Cesar Rossatto (Eds)
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 0820456713, Pages: 226, Year: 2002
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The Freirean Legacy:  Educating for Social Justice joins other recent publications that pay tribute to and that examine the life and work of Paulo Freire following his death in 1997 (e.g., Darder, 2002; Darder, Torres, & Baltodano, 2002; Freire & Macedo, 2001; McLaren, 1999).  The chapters that comprise this book originated in papers presented at a 2000 conference on labor, education, and emancipation held at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.  From the dialogues around these presentations arose the three themes that inform the organization of this edited volume:  The Personal, The Theoretical, and The Practical. 

In the book’s preface, Michael Apple foreshadows what readers will encounter in the rest of The Freirean Legacy when he observes that understanding “Paulo Freire is not simple and the implications of his work are extensive” (p. x).  These points are readily affirmed in the book’s first section as those who knew and engaged Freire firsthand reflect upon particular aspects of their experiences with him.  In Chapter 1, Ana Maria Araújo Freire examines the centrality of the “untested feasibility” in her late husband’s writings.  A concept that Freire introduced in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996) and revisited in Pedagogy of Hope (1995), the untested feasibility refers to a category that embraces a belief in the possible dream and in the realization of a social vision once individuals who envision this dream decide to act to bring it into being. 

“Paulo was an untested feasibility himself” (p. 13), writes Ana Freire, lending theoretical and moral support to her previous call to educators, researchers, and other cultural workers to resist the fear of “remaking or re-creating Paulo on our own” (p. 8).  Her call is heeded in the section’s remaining two chapters, which include a conversation between Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg about the ever-changing nature of their relationship to Freire’s work and a memoir by Veronica Gesser that describes his transformative influence on her work as a graduate student, an elementary school teacher, and a college instructor.

Theoretical re-workings of Freire’s work are offered over five chapters in the next section.  In “Freire, Marx, and the New Imperialism,” Peter McLaren and Ramin Farahmandpur analyze what the triumph of capitalism as the global ideology means for schools and societies around the world.  Similarly, in “Limitations of the Public Space,” Judith J. Slater posits that capitalist interests undermine democratic access to resources and to participation in social arenas.  Changing theoretical directions, Gerard Huiskamp, in “Negotiating Communities of Meaning,” provides a subtextual reading of Pedagogy of the Oppressed that explicates certain elements that conflict with the idea of popular democratic participation that is at the heart of Freire’s pedagogy.  Jill L. Haunold takes a similar approach to her historical examination of child labor and compulsory education in the U.S.  Haunold separates her analysis of child labor from that of other oppressed groups to frame her point “that today’s schools are an extension of this exploitation and act as tools to further oppression” (p. 95). 

The section concludes with “Wake Up, Neo,” in which Ricky Lee Allen conducts a poly-semiotic analysis that identifies the shortcomings of the criticalist, populist Christian, and Black Nationalist interpretations of The Matrix.  More than simply an analysis of popular culture, Allen’s use of the lens of critical white studies to interpret the highly acclaimed film accentuates his larger theoretical project of naming “the problem of whiteness in critical theory, and thus, in critical pedagogy” (p. 124).

The final section focuses on the practical implications of the Freirean legacy and is comprised of seven chapters.  In “The Quest for Authentic Engagement,” Stephen M. Fain posits that the habitus, or culture, of educational research suffers from a lack of authenticity and, as such, works as a structure of oppression.  Echoing the sentiments expressed in the previous chapter, Fain invites us to reflect upon the oppressive forces that shape our profession and to “peel away the layers of the onion of our field and consider the core values that drive our work” (p. 137) toward refocusing it on the task of liberation.  Next, Wendy W. Brandon describes a framework she employs with her largely white and affluent pre-service teachers at a top-tier liberal arts college to disrupt the assumptions, ideologies, and images that result in the continued oppression of students of color. 

Along the same lines, in the following chapter Cesar A. Rossatto describes three program initiatives taking place in Brazilian popular schools that are informed by Freirean principles.  In these and other schools in Brazil, “educators are called on to identify and deconstruct hegemonic structures to recreate democratic possibilities” (p. 170) that affirm the culture and knowledge of the local community.  Laureen A. Fregeau and Robert D. Leier describe a similar initiative TERRA, a process implemented in graduate education courses to “prepare K-12 teachers and adult educators as transformative intellectuals through a praxis model experience” (p. 173).  In a broader social analysis, Dawn Emerson Addy discusses the study circles that brought a broad base of community members together, across points of racial, ethnic, economic, religious, and political differences, to grapple with the challenges of population shifts in South Florida.  In this chapter, Addy highlights a case study involving one such dialogue that resulted in the development of action strategies to address economic problems and ethnic conflicts at individual, social, and political levels in the Florida community.

In the chapter that follows, Charles Reitz explores the possibilities of a critical pedagogy in community colleges.  He raises for discussion several elements of EduAction, a perspective that informs “innovative teaching strategies grounded in radical social analysis that can bridge the gap between the classroom and the community, theory and practice” (p. 199).  The section and the book conclude with “We Know What’s Best for You:  Silencing of People of Color,” written by Arisve Esquivel, Karla Lewis, Dalia Rodriguez, David Stovall, and Tyrone Williams.  In this chapter, the authors address their topic by interweaving critical and cultural theories in analyses of five distinct educational policy cases that take readers across time and space from nineteenth century Jamaica to contemporary U.S. society. 

The Freirean Legacy is difficult to read.  Comprised of fifteen chapters, composed by 22 authors, that cover less than 220 pages, the book bombards readers with an array of ideas in rapid-fire succession.  That this may be the case, however, does not diminish the depth to which ideas and issues are taken up in this book.  In fact, many of the chapters speak to each other in very interesting ways. 

For example, in providing an expertly executed counterpoint to those on the left who arrogantly dismiss race as a concept unworthy of critical inquiry, Esquivel and her colleagues evoke an ethical consideration raised by Allen in his chapter:  “Is it more important to be ‘right’ that capitalism is the totality that encompasses all other totalities,” asks Allen, “or is it more important to construct movements of solidarity against all forms of dehumanization?” (p. 124).  Also, the projects that Rossatto and Addy describe in their chapters make the proposals to extend access and democratic participation to all in society, as offered by McLaren and Farahmandpur and Slater, optimistically feasible.  And to be certain, there are also contested areas within and between chapters.  With respect to the latter point, the method that Brandon describes in her work with pre-service teachers, for instance, appears to be the very one that Huiskamp critiques as a “subtextual ‘pedagogy of the intellectual activist’” (p. 74) and that Haunold takes theoretical issue with in her analysis. 

Although certain pressing issues, such as gender and sexual oppression, are largely unaddressed in this volume, this book goes a considerable way in mapping some of the challenges of challenging various forms of dominance in schools and societies around the world.  The authors also emphasize the need for continued dialogue and reflection grounded in and transformed by our lived realities.  Herein is a notable strength of The Freirean Legacy:  the authors expose the interconnected nature of the various forms of dominance that exist in schools and societies and convincingly demonstrate that we are all implicated in these relationships.  Further, the inevitable conflicts that they create “allow for – or rather demand – moments of reflective pause as a means of verifying or disproving the validity of one’s knowledge and practical course of action” (p. 91).  Huiskamp’s point here echoes those of his collaborators in reminding us that changes in oppressive circumstances are always possible if we can imagine different ways of thinking about our conditions and muster the will to act according to our newly generated knowledge.  This vision, shared by all of the volume’s authors, engenders a hope that informs the idea of the untested feasibility that, in my view, is at the heart of the Freirean legacy.


Darder, A. (2002).  Reinventing Paulo Freire:  A pedagogy of love.  Boulder, CO:  Westview Press.

Darder, A., Torres, R., & Baltodano, M. (Eds.) (2002). The critical pedagogy reader.  New York:  Routledge.

Freire, M. A. & Macedo, D. (Eds.). (2001). The Paulo Freire reader.  New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1995).  Pedagogy of hope:  Reliving the pedagogy of the oppressed.  New York:  Continuum.

Freire, P. (1996).  Pedagogy of the oppressed.  New York:  Continuum.

McLaren, P. (1999). Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the pedagogy of revolution. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 7, 2003, p. 1348-1351
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11105, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 7:05:44 PM

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About the Author
  • Garrett Duncan
    Washington University in St. Louis
    E-mail Author
    GARRETT ALBERT DUNCAN is an assistant professor of education and of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He researches and writes on the education of black children and youth in U.S. urban and suburban public schools. In addition to teaching classes that align with his research, writing, and methodological interests, Garrett also teaches social and philosophical foundations of education courses.
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