We Make the Road By Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

A Pith Book Review
July 21, 2011

I was already a dedicated fan of Paulo Freire when my professor assigned the book. I had already fallen in love with the paradoxically romantic and pragmatic tale of Freire’s endeavor to effect social change in his homeland Brazil by teaching the most marginalized people to read so they could vote. What I didn’t know going into this book was that Freire had a theoretic doppelgänger in the Appalachian Mountains of America, named Myles Horton. “We Make the Road by Walking” is a collection of candid, provocative and intimate conversations between Myles and Paulo, two lovers of freedom through education.

At its’ heart, the book is about pedagogy. Both Freire and Horton were as concerned with the “how” as the “what” of education, so to speak. They talk extensively about how the teachers approach will determine the success or failure to build positive relationships in the learning environment; relationships that inform the selection of content. Students, and their experiences, are to be respected as critical aspects of the learning process. In fact, in the author’s view, the content of curricula cannot be determined in absence of the students.

Throughout his work, Freire refers to the “banking” style of education wherein the technician (teacher) deposits predetermined information into the account (student) and expectantly awaits a formulaic outcome. According to Freire, this style of education contributes to oppression, rather than freedom. In conversation with Horton, Freire says:

For me there is a certain sensualism in writing and reading—
And in teaching, in knowing…Knowing for me is not a neutral
Act, not only from the political point of view, from the point of view
Of my body, my sensual body. It is full of feelings, of emotions, of

The conversations take place at the home of Myles Horton. He talks about the importance of finding a process for learning, rather than relying only on books, or teachers, to get answers. Horton views teachers as guides rather than gatekeepers of information. A teacher doesn’t need to know every answer. A teacher needs to be skilled in helping students find their own answers.

What shines through in reading this book is the depth of value these two revolutionary thinkers hold for the process of education. Its hard not to be affected by the kindred spirit infused with love these two share.

For anyone seeking to renew and inspire a love of education, I recommend this endearing book. I go back to it and visit the ideas like old friends each time I need to remember the essence of my role as an educator. It is a truly grounded, yet somehow magical, account of how learning can unite people to work for a common good while empowering each and every one.

by Abby Wills, MA

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2 responses to “We Make the Road By Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

  1. Rod Kenyon

    I am so glad to see you highlighting the work of Freire!

  2. Carol Bryan

    You wrote:…. the depth of value these two revolutionary thinkers hold for the process of education. Today more than ever the work of Freire is important. Freire (2000) believed in personal empowerment and social transformation. Freire (2000) transformative learning theory and beliefs can be educational tools used today as education becomes more global and as students from all over the world become connected through the world wide wed. Thank you for sharing the review and videotape.

    Carol Bryan


    Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (20th anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.

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