The philosophy and work of Brazilian Paulo Freire have left a very extensive mark both in pedagogy and in the social sciences because they have allowed the establishment of dialogues and reflections on the development of educational practice in different contexts, especially in Latin America.

Next, we will describe in an introductory way one of the key concepts of his work: Popular Education.

Education beyond school

The background of pedagogy can be located from the early stages of Western philosophical thinking. However, school and education as institutions that aim at the socialization of the youngest are mainly based on the values ​​of the modern era.

In Latin America, modern educational institutions and practices were consolidated at the end of the 19th century along with other economic and political systems that had many consequences, some of them conflicting and even painful for oppressed populations and groups.

From there, different strategies were raised, including school and public education. But his response was soon insufficient, which also developed other alternatives in the field of social sciences, which were largely driven from the thinking of the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire.

What is Popular Education?

Popular Education is a stream of thought and action, that is, a theoretical and methodological orientation within the area of ​​social sciences (although its strongest application has been in pedagogy and social and community work), which has been very important for the development of programs for the “popular” sector.

The word “popular” arises from the opposition between “the popular” and “the official”, where “the popular” refers to a practice or thought that is opposite to the official. For its part, “the official” is a practice or a thought that is accepted by a majority, although it has generally been imposed and not agreed upon.

In more practical terms, the concept of Popular Education has been useful to exert resistance to the dominant models, not only educational but also political and social.

In this sense, it is a practice that seeks to create fairer and more humane societies in defense of human rights, identities, gender, the environment, (among other phenomena that express social problems), trying to modify the role of actors that are poorly considered or that are normally considered as liabilities in official models.

Where does it come from? Some background

Popular Education draws on cultural and community theories and is characterized as an integral proposal with political and ethical commitments. It is based on participation, dialogue and recognition of different knowledge during educational practice, which is understood to not only occur within the school but in different spaces.

It is developed from the philosophy and proposals of Paulo Freire, who had made a long tour of places in Latin America, whose main characteristic was political oppression.

Freire had been linked to different movements and participatory organizations and from there he became interested in systematizing some of his experiences. He had recognized the need to strengthen social actors, and to enhance participatory environments and changes in mentalities through cultural and social production.

Some of these organizational projects are, for example, the Popular Culture Movement of Recife where Freire coordinated the Adult Reeducation project. Likewise, the flow of Popular Education is influenced by different social and political phenomena that gave rise to the development of theories such as liberation theology, the theory of marginality or popular promotion, especially in the 1960s.

Education as a practice of freedom

Popular Education intends to develop strategies to strengthen and preserve the community; more specifically the communication and political organization of historically oppressed popular sectors (understanding that these strategies should not be imposed, as traditionally had occurred in Latin American territory).

In other words, it understands pedagogy as a communicative action that has effects on the construction of the person and the collective.

From there, Popular Education reflects on the role of the educator and allows us to go beyond the position of authority or to conceive it as the only bearer of valid knowledge; but he understands the educator as a mediator in the educational space.

This allows us to consider the contradictions that the educational practice itself generates in the educator, who constantly finds himself in the need to decide between being open to diversity or using the logic of imposition.

For this current, education is not a purely mechanical process, but it is a process that must take into account the subject of education, that is, their culture, their knowledge, their history, their expectations and their possibilities to project a future. In other words, try to recognize the other as a subject of knowledge, and not as a passive subject.

One of the problems that Popular Education is currently facing is that it has often been equated with training, projects or programs developed by NGOs but that once again leaves social actors as liabilities. Therefore, it has been a project in constant construction and debate and has inspired numerous social movements, not only in Latin America but around the world.