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Pedagogy of the Unimpressed: Reflections on Schooling and the Work of Paulo Freire

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Kids in school
Kids in school


Reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed this spring I felt as though Paulo Freire was articulating perfectly something that has been hovering in the air near me for years. It made me rethink how I see my education. Why do I find myself in a village of 3000 inhabitants in Maine, USA? Why did choose to study at the institutions I did? It even made me reflect, quite thoroughly on the path that brought me to where I am today. The activism, the volunteer work --What was driving that desire? Freire sheds light on why certain “humanitarian” projects feel so wrong and why they are carried out so often anyway and with such passion.

As a kid, there was always something about being in school that didn’t feel quite right to me.  What was most important was getting to the class room by 9:00. Memorize the answers, don’t talk too much, try not to ask questions. (These were the most important parts in dealing with authority-- it goes without saying that the most important part about school was how you conducted yourself socially.) Each day from 9am until 3:30pm we had to sit still on a chair behind a little wooden desk beneath florescent lighting and listen. During the sitting we were periodically explained bits of information that seldom had any relevance to our lives. We were almost never asked our own thoughts, when we were it was so that they could be corrected. We learned how to think.

“Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the student to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are” (Freire, 71).

Freire describes the implicit beliefs underlying this system of education which he calls the “banking” model. In this scenario the teacher is the narrating Subject which the students are passive, listening object.

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry.  The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence”(Freire, 72).

In public schools, teachers are not supposed to express their political or religious views but with the banking model of teaching that is used in most primary and secondary institutions it is impossible not to.  I remember my early educational experience now and I think, at another school teachers may not have allowed graphic and hyperbolic anti-abortion rhetoric as part of an oral presentation in English class. A different teacher may not have felt the need to biblically justify the lesson she gave on evolution beforehand. It is impossible to separate your own politics when teaching using the banking model. When the students are approached as subjects, with valuable perspectives, with personal experiences, with knowledge of their own they and the teachers are both free to be more fully human.

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mccabe.melissa (Melissa McCabe)
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