This book presents the public life of an important and admirable man, Paulo Freire (1921–97). He came from a lower-middle-class family (which proudly held on to its piano!) in the state of Pernambuco in the impoverished Brazilian Northeast. Already teaching there in the 1940s, he became convinced that the prevailing illiteracy was the greatest bar to individual and group progress. Andrew Kirkendall gives distressing figures on illiteracy in Brazil and around the world throughout this book. Freire and Kirkendall both emphasize that illiterates were barred from voting until decades later, in 1988. Illiterates, said Freire, were only a mass, but with literacy they could become gente, the people.

Freire found himself when he joined the Industrial Social Service, established in 1946 by flexible-minded industrialists to promote literacy and other social goods among the workers, because they feared that the ignorant could be easily led astray by leftists. Here he...

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