Brickman and Freire: Two Incomparable Men

The field of International Education presents researchers with an array of cultures and personalities who have contributed diverse ideas and approaches to the study of Education. Two of these personalities, Paulo Freire and William Brickman, contributed greatly to their own countries’ views of the role of Education and how to study it. Living in countries separated by thousands of miles, both contemporaries added to their fields in a substantive way while encountering resistance from some peers and support from others.

Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a Brazilian educator, brought a fresh perspective to the understanding of the role of Education with the publication of his Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1970. In this work, Freire compared the educational process with how banks service their clients and how they operate: clients make deposits and the bank takes those deposits, keeping them until they are needed. Under this model, teachers play the role of clients making deposits, and students are simply receiving and saving them for later. According to this system, learners perpetuate societal oppression, because they are learning not to value their own contributions and teach others to live by those same principles (Flanagan, 2005).

William Brickman (1913-1986), an American educator, was a major contributor to the field of International Education in the United States. A man of many talents and interests, Brickman believed that History, allied with international and comparative research, would allow for a better understanding of Education. According to Silova and Brehm (2010), Brickman’s focus on History resulted in certain scholars considering him a “specialist in the history of comparative education” (p. 19).

Both Freire and Brickman encountered resistance from the academic community. Brickman was one of the founders of the Comparative Education Society, and in that role he started a series of meetings at New York University and study tours during which scholars visited several countries and learned about educational practices abroad. Silova and Brehm (2010) point out that Brickman’s historical approach began to fade to the background of educational studies when scholars shifted to giving statistical methods and scientific research more attention and space in their publications (p. 24). While many capitalist countries’ academicians received Freire’s ideas with “anger,” developing nations embraced his theories and are still under the influence of his teachings (Gerhardt, 1993). The resistance to Freire’s work, however, went beyond academics: Freire had been jailed and exiled after the 1964 military coup in Brazil, and as a result his Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published first in English (Paulo Freire, 2012).

Brickman and Freire had extensive international experience that served as a strong background to their views and subsequent theories. Silova and Brehm (2010) indicate that Brickman spoke many languages and travelled extensively, having done undergraduate work in German (p. 20). Freire was born and raised in Brazil (Flanagan, 2005), but as an adult was forced to live abroad for many years; during that time he was able to network with educators and philosophers of diverse backgrounds and countries (Gerhardt, 1993).

While Brickman enjoyed relative calm and assurance that his ideas and works would not be the cause of physical harm, he found himself in the position of being a target of strong criticism for his choice to be an inclusive journal editor. Brickman believed that diverse opinions and ideas were a good thing that could only serve to strengthen the field of Education (Silova & Brehm, 2010). On the other hand, Freire was physically in danger during many years of his academic career. The academic opposition came mostly from foreign scholars, but the political and ideological opposition, which could result in real danger to his life and well-being, came from the government and its agencies (Gerhardt, 1993).

Brickman’s success with his historical focus in comparative education rests with the fact that he was a very capable researcher who was open to academic dialogue and to the expansion of knowledge through the incorporation of other disciplines into the study of Education. While his focus was historical, he nonetheless opened the doors to scholars who disagreed with him or had a different viewpoint (Silova & Brehm, 2010). Freire was successful because his ideas resonated with a large portion of the globe that lived under turmoil and the constant friction between Capitalism and Communism. A Marxist at heart, Freire was opposed by First World scholars but well received by academicians in the Third World (Gerhardt, 1993).

Both men, William Brickman and Paulo Freire, stand out as two immensely important educational scholars who impacted a generation of researchers and practitioners around the world. They had very different yet somewhat similar backgrounds. They were both well received by some of their peers yet were strongly critiqued by others. In the end, students of International and Comparative Education owe a debt of gratitude to both Brickman and Freire for their ideas, words and deeds.



Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder.

Flanagan, F. M. (2005). Paulo Freire (1921-1997): Education for freedom. In Greatest educators ever (pp. 191-241). London, England: Continuum International. Retrieved from

Gerhardt, H. P. (1993). Paulo Freire (1921-97). Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education, 23(3), 439-458.

Paulo Freire. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Silova, I., & Brehm, W. C. (2010). For the love of knowledge. European Education, 42(2), 17-36.


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