About PFFS

Front6-11b (2)The Paulo Freire Freedom Schools (at both the University and Downtown locations) in Tucson, AZ are demonstration learning environments operated by CITY Center for Collaborative Learning.  Both schools provide early adolescents with an innovative educational program that ensures they are prepared for the 21st Century.  photo 4

Our students are deeply engaged in learning about issues that are real and relevant and that directly impact their lives and the community they live in.  As small schools, we are able to know each of our students well (as individuals) and celebrate who they are and what they can contribute.  We design learning that will support their specific learning needs, push them to continue to grow and highlight their unique gifts and talents.  It is our mission to ‘promote powerful, transformative teaching and learning within appropriately structured learning environments dedicated to the integral development of individuals and communities for a more just and sustainable world’.

What’s In A Name?  

paulo-freirePaulo Freire was a Brazilian educator (1921-1997) who promoted throughout the Americas a radically different way to look at learning.  Traditional educational theory had viewed learners as ‘empty vessels’ waiting to be filled with knowledge/learning by the content expert (a process Paulo Freire called ‘the banking method’ of education).  The teacher was the subject, the active agent in the learning process, and the learner was the object, the passive recipient of expert knowledge from the teacher.  We refer to this traditional theory in the past tense but unfortunately it is as alive and well today as it ever was in the past and is actually touted by some as the exemplar of good teaching practice.  But Paulo Freire understood the learning process very differently and brain researchers in this last decade have discovered that he had it right all along.

Paulo Freire believed and taught that real learning happens when the learner is empowered to actively engage with real world content, to make their own connections, and to construct their own meaning.  Paulo FreirePaulo Freire knew that for real learning to take place the learner must own the process and be an active agent and meaning-maker in the process.  Brain researchers have now proven that real learning (deep, enduring understanding of content) only happens when learners are engaged in this way.  It has always been and continues to be our mission to create powerful, engaging learning environments that support this kind of real learning at ‘Paulo Freire’ Freedom School.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

freedom-schoolThe Freedom Movement in America spawned the Civil Rights Movement, the Poor People’s Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Peace Movement, the LGBT Movement, the Environmental Movement, and most recently, the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements – to name a few.   At the height of the Freedom Movement in the 1960s hundreds of college students from across the United States joined with Mississippians young and old alike to form together what they called ‘freedom schools’ to both expose the inequities of segregated public education in the south and to demonstrate a better way to educate.

We were and continue to be inspired by these brave people, the ‘freedom schools’ they created and the learner-centered methodology they employed.  We opened Paulo Freire ‘Freedom’ School in 2005 with the intention that the PFFS community would be grounded in this legacy.

rosa parks

Martin Luther King Jr, Pete Seeger on the left and Rosa Parks, Ralf Abernathy on the right at the Highlander Folk School in Tennesee.


Myles Horton (founder of Highlander) with Paulo Freire at the Highlander Folk School. See We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

PFFS – University opened in 2005 with a focus on social justice and environmental sustainability.  It has been a successful demonstration site/lab school for best instructional practices and small school design for fifteen years.  PFFS – Downtown opened in 2014.  It has implemented these successful strategies with the same focus but in a completely redesigned delivery of interdisciplinary, problem-based, ‘full immersion’ STEM curricula.  Both schools are public schools grounded in the legacy of Paulo Freire and the Freedom Movement in America. Both schools are demonstration sites/lab schools within  CITY Center for Collaborative Learning in Tucson.