What is Liberation Pedagogy?*

Education for Liberation

Alexander Lynn

Babies gain knowledge of the universe through their experience, and so it is with the learning process for humans of whatever age group. Babies learn by doing. They learn to stand upright by trying to stand upright, by seeing (perceiving) others around them, by envisioning themselves doing what they see others doing, by falling repeatedly; they learn through their practice.

All human knowledge comes from social practice. Two kinds of experience, direct and indirect, are the basis for all human knowledge. Moreover, knowledge gained from indirect experience (experience of past times or foreign lands — gained from being told stories or from studying books, for examples) was, at another time or in another locale, direct experience for someone else.

According to the theory of knowledge of Liberation Pedagogy our learning, as we grow from infancy, is a never ending cycle of experiences, organizing perceptual knowledge (knowledge gained through our five senses), testing this knowledge in practice, summing up this experience to form concepts (rational knowledge), and using rational knowledge to improve our practice. With each of these cycles, the content of our practice and knowledge becomes richer and more all-rounded. (Mao, p308)

The way of teaching traditional to Western society runs directly counter to the natural learning process. Learning by rote, memorization, repetition, and the stockpiling of lifeless facts, turns the learning process upside down. Instead of the learner being the subject, with the basis of learning being the subjects’ experience, the learner is turned into an object/receptacle. Information (from books, from the teacher) is dumped into the container (the student’s head) and the student is enjoined to retain this information to pass an academic test. (Freire, 1993, chptr 2). This way in education serves the economic needs of the ruling social force in today’s world. The dominant economic group needs a passive, malleable, and dependent populace, which is then subject to the demands of the prevailing economy.

Conversely, the foundation tenet of Liberation Pedagogy — that of the standpoint of social practice — guides the educator/practitioner to facilitate a learning process whose subject is the community of students:

· A community of adult learners is gaining literacy skills in the course of their efforts to obtain voting rights, end segregation, and end employment discrimination. The content of the literacy training — that is, the material used — needs to be the voter registration forms and the anti-discrimination laws, which are the substance of the subjects’ (the learners) social practice. (Clark, 1964, p113)

· Dominican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Haitian, Bosnian and Somali high school students in a Boston Public School classroom are studying U.S. history. At the center of this study must be the subject of how and why these students got to the U.S. For Liberation Pedagogy, this subject matter (the lives of the students) is the catalytic agent which can bring their knowledge of U.S. history from the perceptual level (disconnected phenomena) to the level of concepts — that is, to an understanding of systemic patterns, the logic of the ways of the United States. (Lynn, 1997, pp. 79–80)

· Recovering drug addicts in a rehabilitation center are learning the process of recovery in their group. The practice of learning to read (by reading the recovery texts together) becomes a significant contributing factor in the emergence of an elevated sense of self in the learners, a sense of the recovery of a dignified self that had previously been lost to drug addiction. (Narcotics Anonymous, 1993; Lynn, 2001, pp19–20)

· Liberation Pedagogy appropriates the physical sciences through the lens of social science. When studying cures for cancer the practitioner guides the students in determining where the study should begin: Should it start by examining the molecular structure of a skin tumor, or by investigating the social process underlying the existence of cancer-causing chemical agents in our food, water and air? It is the social posture of the community of students that will determine the answer to this question posed by their instructor. (Levins, 1987)

· Adult learners in the English 101 course at an urban community college must take this required course in order to get their initial degree. Teaching how to communicate in English, the practitioner of Liberation Pedagogy, the English instructor, begins with content: What is it that these students need to communicate? Next is process: How are we learning English together, and how are we communicating our message outside of the class? By placing these two issues at the forefront, the issue of form — that is, English grammar — is derivative, and good form (correct English grammar) is a result of, and bi-product of, the content and process of the communication needs of the students.

· Teenage girls in a public school demand and win the right to one hour class-time per week in their own circle. Their literacy development is measured by their desire and ability to identify what they want to learn about — in this case, they want to learn about themselves; how they want to learn — in this case, through the time-honored communication ways of women; and the goal of their learning — to honor the ways of women in their practice, towards the goal of making the world a better place to live in. This is Liberation Pedagogy.

In all of these instances, the standpoint of social practice necessitates a community building process. Humans are social beings, and all human experience is social experience. Liberation Pedagogy is in the service of the people, and consciously directs itself to serving the community building needs of the people. (Chabal, p 117) All knowledge, in this context, is a tool to create a better world; a tool with which we, the people, attain our rightful power.


Amilcar Cabral, The Revolution in Guinea, Monthly Review Press, New York, New York, 1969.

Patrick Chabal, Amilcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War. Africa World Press, Trenton NJ. 2003.

Septima Clark, “Literacy for Liberation,” Freedomways, Freedomways Associates, New York, 1st Quarter, 1964.

Paulo Freiri, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum, Inc., New York, 1993.

Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, The Dialectical Biologist, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987.

Alexander Lynn, “Living History,” in American History is, at its Heart, the Story of African America, United Youth of Boston, 1997.

Lynn, People’s Research, Springfield College Pub., Springfield, MA, 2000

Mao Tse-tung, “On Practice,” in Selected Works, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, China, 1967.

Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text History, 1981–1993, World Services Office, Inc., 1993.

*Excerpted from Alexander Lynn, the Community Teacher’s Guide to Liberation Pedagogy, Social Justice Education Publishers, Roxbury, MA, 2013

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