The Word and Dialogue PAULO FREIRE

In Chapter 3, Freire focuses on “the word” as the foundation of all dialogue. The word and dialogue, as Freire articulates it, are essential elements of his problem-posing education. The word and dialogue also directly oppose the banking system of education. The banking education model, according to Freire, works to maintain systems of imperialism and oppression. The banking system does not encourage critical thinking and empowerment. Therefore, the banking system of education is an effective expression of power for keeping marginalized and impoverished groups, marginalized, impoverished, and incapable of challenging the systems that are oppressing them.

In Chapter 2[5] (not part of the required reading), Freire outlines the banking concept of education as possessing the following aspects:

1) the teacher teaches and the students are taught;

2) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

3) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

4) the teacher talks and the students listen—meekly;

5) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

6) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

7) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;

8) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

9) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

10) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Can you see how the banking concept of education mirrors Tuhiwai Smith’s discussion of colonial education? The students are passive recipients of the teacher’s knowledge of which there is only one way to learn. The students are not consulted about what they are learning or how they will learn it. Any questioning or “non-compliance” on the part of the student may result in discipline from the teacher. For Freire, the banking concept of education reflected systems of oppression in the larger world. Banking education created compliant, self-disciplining subjects unable to think critically about their circumstances, and were, therefore, “educated” or, rather, trained to continue to maintain systems of oppression without question.


Using Foucault’s framework, can you analyze the power relations at work in the banking concept of education? Think about: what are the actions of its power over the subjects? What are the systems of differentiation? The instrumental modes? Forms of institutionalization? Rationalizations? How are privileges maintained via banking education?

Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy directly challenged banking education through dialogue. Dialogue occurred via “the word”. For Freire the word contained both reflection and action. Reflection is important to dialogue because it calls on the speaker of the word to thoughtfully engage with an idea. Reflection encourages critical thinking and questioning. Action allows for transformation and change. Through action, the speaker can name the world in which she lives; such naming is a truthful articulation of the world and it is through such truthful articulation that the world is transformed. The word is not spoken in isolation but in dialogue with others. Freire writes, “Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection” (p. 88). This means that when we engage in dialogue with others we do so in a way that encourages the free expression of ideas ultimately leading to authentic, honest articulations of experience.

Freire’s concept of dialogue is important to CBPR because CBPR practitioners must develop the skill and capacity for creating spaces where oppressed groups feel safe to speak, reflect, and act on the situations and circumstances that impact them. In this chapter, Freire provides critical insight into how CBPR scholars can build their capacity for creating safe dialogic spaces. For Freire, love and compassion, humility, a sense of interdependence, and faith in the humanity of others are the essential elements of dialogue. It is through these capacities that CBPR practitioners can engage with a community in a significant way that results in critical analyses (i.e. naming) about the issues affecting them. These four elements are also the foundation of a self-reflexive practice. Self-reflexivity (or self-reflection) is THE most important skill and capacity for the CBPR practitioner. Developing self-reflexivity is how you build your skill in creating and facilitating safe dialogic spaces.

As we have discussed earlier, engaging with underserved groups means you must explore the systems of oppression and power that caused these groups to be underserved and oppressed in the first place. Many times you, as the academic research or public health professional, represent these systems. You must be willing to face that responsibility and hear how the academic and public health systems (and by default, you) affect people. Listening and bearing witness to people’s suffering is painful and emotional. Therefore, it is important for you to have love and compassion for yourself. Humility is essential for really hearing people. Humility enables you to see that it is not about you but the situation or circumstance. (This aspect of humility is important when working through issues of white privilege that we will discuss in class 2). Humility is also acknowledges that no one is better than anyone else. Interdependence is the recognition that you cannot improve the situation without the community and the community cannot do it without you. Faith in humanity’s desire to evolve and “be more fully human” protects you from becoming a cynic. Faith in others engenders optimism and a belief that you can be successful in your fight for health, environmental, and social justice.


How do you think self-reflexivity or self-reflection relates to the CBPR practitioner’s capacity for working with oppressed communities? How can self-reflexivity contribute to our critical thinking skills around issues health disparities and social justice?


Congratulations! You just completed the readings and lecture for Module 1! In this class, we learned about the foundations of CBPR, the difference between positivism and hermeneutics, the role of The West in shaping how we understand the world, how to analyze the power structures around us and the importance of self-reflection in your public health work. You are now ready to move onto the discussion and assignment that will, hopefully, further expand your understanding of the concepts discussed in class this week.


1. Minkler, M. and N. Wallerstein, Community-based participatory research for health: From process to outcomes. 2008, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

2. Tuhiwai Smith, L., Decolonizing methodologies research and indigenous peoples. 1999/2004, London: Zed Books.

3. Wing, S., Whose epidemiology, whose health? International Journal of Health Services, 1998. 28(2): p. 241-252.

4. Foucault, M., The Essential Foucault Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. P. Rabinow and N. Rose. 2003, New York: The New Press.

5. Freire, P., Pedagogy of the oppressed. 1970/2013, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.


Created with images by Jirka Matousek - "ISC Orientation Week 2nd Meeting Spring 2012" • - "For rights of day laborers"

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