Translated into several languages, most editions of Pedagogy of the Oppressed contain at least one introduction/foreword, a preface, and four chapters.
The first chapter explores how oppression has been justified and how it is reproduced through a mutual process between the "oppressor" and the "oppressed" (oppressors–oppressed distinction). Examining how the balance of power between the colonizer and the colonized remains relatively stable, Freire admits that the powerless in society can be frightened of freedom. He writes, "Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion". According to Freire, freedom will be the result of praxis—informed action—when a balance between theory and practice is achieved.
The second chapter examines the "banking" approach to education—a metaphor used by Freire that suggests students are considered empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher. Freire rejects the "banking" approach, claiming it results in the dehumanization of both the students and the teachers. In addition, he argues the banking approach stimulates oppressive attitudes and practices in society. Instead, Freire advocates for a more world-mediated, mutual approach to education that encourages the co-creation of knowledge. According to Freire, this "authentic" approach to education must allow people to be aware of their incompleteness and strive to be more fully human. This attempt to use education as a means of consciously shaping the person and the society is called conscientization, a term first coined by Freire in this book.
The third chapter discusses the idea that "to speak the true word is to transform the world". Freire developed the use of the term limit situation with regards to dimensions of human praxis. This is in line with Álvaro Vieira Pinto's use of the word/idea in his "Consciência e Realidade Nacional", which Freire contends is "using the concept without the pessimistic character originally found in Jaspers" (Note 15, Chapter 3), in reference to Karl Jaspers's notion of Grenzsituationen.
The last chapter proposes dialogics as an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics, which use conquest, manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule. Freire suggests that populist dialogue is a necessity to revolution; that impeding dialogue dehumanizes and supports the status quo. This is but one example of the dichotomies Freire identifies in the book; others include the student-teacher dichotomy and the colonizer-colonized dichotomy.