Freire-inspired programs in the United States and Puerto Rico: a critical evaluation

by Blanca Facundo

Table of contents

Section 1: Who is Paulo Freire?

Section 2: How is Freire seen in the United States?

Section 3: Who are we?

Section 4: What did we do?

Section 5: Working in the system

Section 6: Evaluation and transformation

Section 7: The lessons of Guinea-Bissau

Section 8: Summary and conclusions


Go to comments on Facundo's essay from Alternativas.

Go to Robert Mackie's article.

Return to "Facundo on Freire" entry page.

This document is located on the

Suppression of dissent website

in the section on Documents

in the subsection on Facundo on Freire

This document has been produced with funds awarded to the Latino Institute by the Fund of the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education (U.S.D.E.), under grant number G-00800606. Any opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of FIPSE, USDE, or the Latino Institute.

This document has no copyright and may be reproduced as needed.


This essay is an effort to conceptualize the problems faced when trying to use the ideas of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in the context of the society of the United States of America.

Its author, Blanca Facundo, was born in Puerto Rico of working-class parents who "progressed" as their society embraced dependent capitalist development between 1947-1964. "Educated" in the island's State university, Facundo began to search for herself an answer to her dissatisfaction with her society. In the process, she attempted to become a junior college teacher in the late 1960's, but found the state of the art in Puerto Rico wanting. It was at this point that she discovered the Spanish translations of Paulo Freire's works.

After thoroughly immersing herself in Freire's works, she moved to the United States and created a disparate network of projects which were attempting to apply Freire's theories. After a decade of such efforts, she now attempts in this essay to understand the meaning and objectives of the theory she embraced, as a means for evaluating the processes and outcomes of the programs in which she participated. Acting critically, she endeavors to reflect upon the actions of a distinct group of Freire followers in the United States.

This essay is a testimony, a testimony of being present at the beginning of the future.

Juan M. García-Passalacqua
Ana G. Méndez Educational Foundation
January 30, 1984

"It is intrinsic, then, to the critique practiced here to reject an account of history that is essentially pollyanna-like, and to help persons bear bad news concerning their most cherished projects, neither overestimating their own chances nor underestimating the prospects of their adversaries. The critique I practice is stripped of the myth of inevitable progress. It does not believe that the evil are destined to lose power, that the good are fated to win it, or that we will inevitably surpass our ancestors (...) the rules that I obey here call upon me to attend to specially and to bring out those sides of a matter that the participants themselves might prefer to avoid. The rule I follow says that, if there is something systematically silenced in an area of discussion, it is the analyst's responsibility to bring it into focus. In this analytic, then, it is a critical theorist's special task to speak the bad news." -- Alvin W. Gouldner, The Two Marxisms.


Anything I may say here was better said by Alvin Gouldner in the above quote. However, I cannot consider this essay to be either a 'critique' of Freire's theory, or of Freire-inspired programs in the United States, in the manner in which Gouldner undertook a critique of Marxism. This is because I am writing about a theory I adopted with a great deal of enthusiasm in 1969 and with which I have tried to act, as an educator, since.

I have used Gouldner's approach to a theory. I am aware that I am writing about five elements: a theory, the theoretician, his practice and that of those of us who adopted the theory, including myself. All five elements are still evolving. 'Capturing' them with the written word is a task that to this day I don't know how I dared to attempt.

The why (as all whys) seems a simple matter: It had to be done by someone, it is provided-for in the theory itself, it is a requirement of a funding agency, and so on. The how-to (as all how-to's in our practice) is easier said than done. Thus I summarize the process at the end of the essay.

I consider this essay to be a very tentative first step toward our self-understanding. I pose many questions and leave them unanswered. I open up many themes that remain open at the end of the essay. This is a direct reflection of my practice as an educator: I believe that the most important questions are those that resist a simple, factual, individual answer.

It has been pointed out to me that the focus of this essay is the relationship between theory and practice and the role of evaluation in connecting/investigating that relationship. Perhaps it is. My intent has been to raise and discuss issues that, from my perspective, are key for an evaluation of Freire-inspired programs in the United States, but which are seldom examined by practitioners.


Many of the bibliographic sources used in this essay were not available in the English language. I have translated into English all quotes taken from these sources. I have also tried to use non-sexist language, but I have not changed the language used by other authors when quoting them.

The notes at the end of each section are used for several purposes. In some cases I expand upon the information provided in the essay; in others I reflect upon statements made in earlier years and which as of 1984, I find unclear and/or inaccurate. In some I offer information on how to get a hold of a resource that may be of special interest to the reader, but difficult to find in the United States.

Further dialogue on the contents of this essay is more than welcome.

Write to: PO Box 365082, San Juan, PR 00936-5082, USA.


It is impossible to name all the persons who, over the years, have shared with me ideas, practices and concerns about the issues I raise in this essay. In more ways than one, I am grateful to everyone who, at one time or another, shared in the work of the IRCEL and Alternativas networks, and who helped to construct a document file on the use of Freire's ideas in the United States and Puerto Rico, between 1980-1983.

At the international level, I must acknowledge the assistance of Vanilda Pereira Paiva (Brazil), Linda Harasim (Canada) and Birgit Wingenroth (West Germany). They all provided me with copies of their recent research products on Paulo Freire, his work and his writings. In the United States and Puerto Rico the following helped out in a last-minute search for further documentation: Renate Taylor (Reston, Va.), América Facundo-Santiago (Dallas), Marilyn Frankenstein (Boston), and Samuel Silva-Gotay (San Juan). Readers of the manuscript who provided strong and valuable criticism include Eva Diaz, Juan M. García-Passalacqua and América Facundo-Rosado.

For special dialogues on difficult subjects I am glad to be able to name Dino Pacio Lindin and Bienvenida Rodríguez (New York City), Barry Alpher (New Jersey), Caridad Inda and Chris Zachariadis (Washington, D.C.), and Magaly Rodríguez Mossman in Minneapolis. For typing and editorial assistance with the final format of this essay I am indebted to Zayda Sánchez.

As a working single mother I cannot leave out the patience and support provided by my parents and my children in the difficult months during which I struggled to understand, to write and rewrite about issues that provoke tension, anxiety and confusion.

I accept full responsibility for any error or misinterpretation that the reader may find in this essay.