In this article, I draw on ethnographic ﬁeldwork among popular adult education non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Brazil to show how popular educators interpreted and acted based on Freirean pedagogical theory in ways that appeared to reduce its potential for social change. I pay particular attention to three complicated issues that continue to trouble popular or critical educators everywhere: understanding the meaning of dialogue, transforming traditional teacher-student relations, and incorporating local knowledge into the classroom.
In what follows, I ﬁrst outline some of the basic tenets of Freire’s philosophy. I then discuss the setting of this study, the history of popular education in that region, and the methods by which I collected the data for this study. In the core of the article, I use ethnographic data to show how Brazilian adult educators understood and employed Freirean pedagogical theory. I then discuss what these ﬁndings teach us about critical literacy and critical pedagogy.