Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society Fifty Years Later

An international symposium held St. Michael’s University College (USMC),
University of Toronto,
Toronto Canada May 21 - May 22 2021.

About the Symposium

Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the English publications of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, this symposium will generate an original and cross-disciplinary analysis of their work and its lasting impact in educational theory and practice.

This event is an invitational international two-day symposium marking the fiftieth anniversary of two of the most influential books in modern educational and social theory: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (published in Portuguese in 1968, translated into English in 1970) and Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (published in 1971, drawn from articles written in the late 1960s). The event will take place at St. Michael’s University College (USMC), University of Toronto, the home of an internationally distinguished Faculty of Theology, a tribute to the Catholic underpinnings of these two public intellectuals, whose penetrating and prescient critiques have made an indelible impression both within and beyond theological circles. The symposium will gather the members of the Theory and History of Education International Research Group, led by Dr. Rosa Bruno-Jofré, the Civic Culture and Education Policy Research Team from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, members of the Institute for Research on Vatican II at USMC, and members of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions/RNDM women religious, who work with political refugees and join efforts with various NGOs in Canada and internationally .

Research Being Exchanged

Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971) has been one of the most impactful critical books on education. Likewise, the English translation of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) has influenced the thinking of both educational theorists and practitioners. Both signaled a powerful critique of educational institutions. Freire offered a political ethics of social change and his notion of liberating education was linked to political action, while Illich offered a critique of schooling that would be a point of reference for alternatives such as homeschooling and forms of digital learning.

Both Illich and Freire embodied the critique of education in the long 1960s. For this reason, Session I of the symposium will situate Freire and Illich in the intellectual, theological and ideological currents of the time and examine the specific locus of their work and expansion (Bruno-Jofré, 2016; Bruno-Jofré & Igelmo Z, 2012; 2016; 2017). This is important because there is a search for frames of reference in critical pedagogy on the part of educators committed to ecological issues, rights, equality, and of those trying to theorize the changes brought by the technological revolution to pedagogy and education in a broad sense. Both authors were sources of inspiration in different ways to channel aspirations for change into utopian conceptions of education, in many cases informing reform.

While Freire found inspiration in liberation theology, Illich, a Catholic non magisterial, was theologically orthodox and iconoclast and had neo-medievalist views of the state. For Illich, education was one of the certainties of modernity to be critiqued. After his conflict with the Vatican, he moved from the critique of the Church as It (institution) to the critique of schooling. While Freire’s theories were rooted in practice, Illich provided epistemological tools that nourished insights (Bruno-Jofré & Igelmo Zaldívar, 2012).

Session II will be devoted to the theological intersections to Freire’s and Illich’s work given their strong connections to the Catholic faith, an element of their thought that has been neglected. Illich’s Tools of Conviviality (1973) and Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope (2004) provides further understanding in this part.

Session III will move us to the lasting presence of Freire and Illich (1971; 1973; 1981) in contemporary critical issues in education in dealing with energy, digital educational tools, and a re-creation of critical pedagogy. This part also explores Freire (1970), Illich (1971; Cayley, 1992; 2005), and Indigeneity by examining their opposite views of the emancipatory potential of education within the context of our decolonizing era, following Murray Sinclair’s calls for action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It discusses the impact of Deschooling Society and Illich’s critique of compulsory schooling on homeschooling and on critical conceptions of adult education (the case of John Ohliger (1980; 1983). It also examines the influence of Illich’s ideas, in particular those of Deschooling Society, on John Holt, who in the 1970s and 1980s was one of the most prominent leaders in homeschooling.

In Session IV of the symposium, presenters will examine cases where Freire has been applied in attempts at transforming education in the last decades from Bangladesh, Spain, Chile, and “new war societies” such as Rwanda, Serbia, Cambodia, and Central America. In the case of Chile there is an interesting intertwining of Nel Noddings (1984; 2002) and Paulo Freire. Spanish philosophers of education will close this part engaging in a hermeneutic analysis (Kederman 2014; 20015) to explore most recent readings of Freire.

In Session V, the symposium will be by and large devoted to examining past and current readings of Paulo Freire in relation to Catholic education and to an analysis of congregations in Spain using Illich’s insights. The proposed curriculum for secondary Catholic religious education for Ontario in the 21st century has as its reference Pedagogy of the Oppressed and William Pinar (2011; Stafford, 2019). The RNDM community Our Lady of the Missions will discuss the influence of Freire (Jofre & Bruno-Jofré, 2015; Bruno-Jofré, 2017) and their current engagement with non-governmental organizations working with refugees.


Details and updates on the schedule can be found on our shared schedule document.

DAY 1 (Friday, May 21st, 2021)


Welcoming addresses

Session I: Historical Framework

“Freire and Illich in the Long 1960s: Their Critique of Educational Institutions” by Rosa Bruno-Jofré (Queen’s University) and Jon Igelmo Zaldivar (Universidad Complutense de Madrid).

Session II: Theological Intersections

“The Reception of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Magisterial Documents since 1968,” by theologian Michael Attridge (USMC)

“Consciousness and History in Lonergan and Freire,” by theologian Darren Dias (USMC)

Session III: Freire and Illich and Contemporary Critical Issues in Education

“Ivan Illich, Gender and Energy Transitions, and Education,” by Ruth Sandwell (OISE, U of T)

“Building Convivial Educational Tools in the 21st Century,” by Kristina Boylan, Ana Jofre, and Ibrahim Yucel (SUNY Polytechnic, Utica)

“Freire, Dialogue, Critical Thinking and Digital Learning Environments,” by Ina Ghita (graduate student, University of Barcelona)


“Freire, Illich and Indigeneity,” by Christopher Beeman (University of Brandon)

“Reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed through the lens of Tribal Critical Race Theory: Indigenous Reflections on Overlaps, Departures, and Social Developments,” by Lindsay Morcom (Queen's University)

“The Ideas of Ivan Illich in the History of the Homeschooling/Unschooling Movement and His Intellectual Relationship with John Holt,” by Jon Igelmo Z. and Patricia Quiroga (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

“‘Lifelong Learning’ or Life Sentence? On John Ohliger’s Illichian Ideas,” by Josh Cole, independent scholar and member of THEIRG

DAY 2 (Saturday, May22nd, 2021)


Session IV: Freire in Attempts at Transformation Across Continents in the Last Decades

“The Reading of Paulo Freire in the Process of Building Resources Across Communities in Bangladesh (BRAC) from 1972 to 1981,” by graduate student Mohammad Fateh (Queen’s University)

“New War Societies in the Light of Five Central Ideas in the Work of Paulo Freire,” by Thomas O’Donogue (University of Western Australia)

“The Spanish Reception of Latin American Popular Education: The Influence of Paulo Freire in the Writings and Praxis of Enrique de Castro,” by Tatiane Freitas Ermel (post-doctoral fellow, Universidad Complutense de Madrid) and José Luis Huerta (Universidad de Valladolid, Spain)

“'The wolf shall dwell with the lamb'. Traces of Prophetic Judaism in the concept of love in Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” by Gonzalo Jover and David Luque (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)


Session V: Catholic Education and the Influence of Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich

“Paulo Freire’s Educational Philosophy and Secondary Catholic Religious Education for the 21st Century,” by Joseph Stafford (Queen’s University)

“Our Lady of the Missions/RNDM and Paulo Freire: from grassroots biblical work, schools in Peru to work with refugees in Manitoba,” by Veronica Dunne, Denise Kuyp, and Sandra Stewart (RNDM)

“Epilogue, The Impact of Practice on Theory,” by James Scott Johnson (Memorial University)

Event Organizers

This event was made possible by a Connection grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Principal Investigator

Rosa Bruno-Jofre
Rosa Bruno-Jofré,
Queen's University


Michael Attridge
Michael Attridge,
Host of the Symposium,
St. Michael’s /University of Toronto
Veronica Dunne
Veronica Dunne ,
Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, RNDM Canada
Jon Igelmo
Jon Igelmo,
Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Elizabeth Smyth
Elizabeth Smyth,
University of Toronto

Supporting Institutions

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