Compare and Contrast Paulo Freire and William Brickman

Both Paulo Freire and William Brickman stand as giants in the field of education. However, their views and concerns hardly ever converged. While Freire’s basic focus was the relation between education and socio-economy, Brickman’s scholarship was on comparative education at the international level. It is fair to say that these two areas are worlds apart. Yet, the work of both thinkers is integral to modern thought on education. Their theories and views continue to influence contemporary education professionals.

One of the major focus areas of Freire’s work was the role of education in maintaining the existing social order. In other words, he sought to answer the question of how the oppressed in society continues to remain so? If the purpose of education is to enlighten, and in consequence, liberate the individual, then why are human relationships ripe with domination of one party over the other? It is a fair question and the answer lies in the way content, structure and access to education are designed by the dominant class. In this case, Freire’s basic thrust is said to be political economy of education. (Flanagan, 2005, p.22) For this reason his theories were attacked by mainstream institutions whose vested interests it sought to undermine. On the other hand, the emphasis of Brickman’s work was on how culture plays an important role in education. This is especially true with language learning, where social customs and intellectual traditions determine how the language is used. (Silova & Brehm, 2010, p.11)

Although the areas of inquiry are divergent between the two educators, they share a common feature. For example, their works are a product of their childhood and personal experiences. This is not to say that their approach is not systematic or that their inferences are biased. What it shows is that they bring valuable insight from their formative years to their research. In the case of Freire, his father’s sudden loss of wealth due to a financial market crash plunged him into poverty. This immediately affected the quality and content of education that he had no choice but to undertake. (Flanagan, 2005, p.22) In the case of Brickman, the fact of growing up in a multi-cultural environment helped shape the direction of his professional work. As a young man he assimilated different cultures through direct involvement in their milieu. For this reason, Brickman believed that the best method to understand various education systems and methods is to experience them first hand.

Of course, critics are quick to point to some glaring flaws in the approach and relevance of the concepts of Freire and Brickman. They argue that the issue of poverty, not being so acute in the developed world, should not be a major factor in education theory. There is some merit to this assertion, although, to be fair to Freire, his concern had always been universal and seldom parochial. Moreover, it is not that the education system in advanced societies like the United States is utopian. As a matter of fact, it is seen by some intellectuals as a system for the indoctrination of young susceptible minds. Brickman too had his share of critics, who considered his approach to studying education as old-fashioned and unsystematic. During Brickman’s lifetime, there was a paradigm shift from subjective-comparative methods espoused by him toward scientific/statistical methods that were breaking onto the scene. (Silova & Brehm, 2010, p.11) There is some merit to this criticism, although, Brickman’s core contributions to education remain undisputed.


Flanagan, F. M. (2005). Greatest Education Ever: London: Continuum International Publishing.

Silova, I. & Brehm, W. C. (Eds.). (2010). Speaking of Brickman [special issue]. European Education: Issues and Studies, 42(2), 1-100.