Paulo Freire and the Bolsonaro Election

Published on November 12, 2018

by Professor Peter Lucas


The other day I was talking to my students about the late Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire and his theories of consciousness.  There’s at least three.   First, there’s an intransitive consciousness whereby many people believe that only God or perhaps, fate, can change one’s situation.  A second kind of consciousness Freire called semi-transitive.  This mindset recognizes the rights of political participation but believes that if only the right person can be elected, then this savior will deliver people from their lot.  Finally, there’s a critical consciousness where people realize they have the power to create change through their own skills and capacities.

The bitter election in Brazil that divided the country was another case study in semi-transitive consciousness.  Almost 56% of the Brazilian population is betting, or better yet, praying that Jair Bolsonaro can end the widespread corruption, bring about political stability, salvage the economy, and stop the lethal violence gripping the country. In so doing they are also valorizing Bolsonaro’s views that many believe are dangerous.  Among these are his pledges to roll back gun control legislation, encourage more police violence including torture, and weaken the enforcement of environmental and indigenous laws in the Amazon.  Half of the country is on edge with Bolsonaro’s public comments defending the legacy of the Brazilian dictatorship.  Moreover, he has a history of denigrating women and gay people and Afro-Brazilians and other minorities.  But perhaps the most chilling thing is Bolsonaro’s threats to a free and democratic media and his plans to criminalize human rights activism.

Bolsonaro is also part of movement to denounce the historical recognition of Paulo Freire as a global educator and to remove his name from educational institutions.  Freire became the patron saint for human rights and peace educators the world over because his ideas were too radical for the formal system.  As one of the creators of the critical pedagogy movement, he had essentially four objectives.  First, education should be about critical consciousness.  Second, education should empower people to self-educate themselves in order to self-mobilize.  Freire also reminded us that the more we learn the more we have to unlearn certain regressive values.  And finally, education should be for freedom, liberation and social transformation.

Freire was never welcomed because transformative education was too threatening for the political elite.  And as the Bolsonaro election has taught us, the elite have no interest in unlearning those regressive values.  In fact, Bolsonaro, along with his mentor Donald Trump, want to promote the very values many people want to change such as individualism, excessive consumerism, nationalism, militarism, sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, hero worship, a fascination with the rich and powerful.  That these values are openly promoted instead of critically unlearned remind us that the struggle for critical consciousness continues and transformation will have to come from the ground up.  The road is long, but critical pedagogy holds that the discourse of critique is only as good as the discourse of hope.

Peter Lucas uses the Paulo Freire and Myles Horton book We Make the Road by Walking in his Global Youth Media class. 

Header Image Credit: Alessandro Dias

Body Image Credit: Alessandro Dias