Updated: Apr 29, 2020
The first time I read Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” it was a bit like falling in love! Although I couldn’t understand everything he was saying, much of it connected with me deeply.
Where I had been asking myself for some time: “how can we make education more life-giving?” he began to give me the vocabulary and initial understanding of how to bring it about. I also appreciated that Freire explicitly talked about the values of love, care and solidarity that underpinned his work. This enabled me to begin a journey of my own (helped along by other writers) to identify my own key values.
Freire, a Brazilian teacher, introduces us to the concept of education as freedom. Writing from a sense of solidarity with the poor, he contends that traditional teaching styles keep the poor powerless by treating them as passive, silent recipients of knowledge. He advocates for pedagogy that is collaborative, problem-posing, dialogical and participatory. Writing in 1970, Freire asserts: “Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming-as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality”. He asks that teachers reduce the authoritarian power dynamic between themselves and their students by turning the classroom in to a community of learners where everyone’s contribution is equally valued.
Freire’s Banking Method of Education.
In chapter two of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Freire claims education has become "an act of depositing, in which the students are depositories and the teacher is the depositor.” He suggests that teachers make deposits of information which students passively receive, memorise and repeat. This he calls the “banking” method of education, of which he writes: “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.” He goes on to say that education for freedom, in contrast, drives towards reconciliation of teacher and student so that they are both simultaneously teachers and students.
How can we apply this today?
Of course, education has changed significantly in some countries since the 1970’s. In some settings classrooms look a bit less like the picture below and a bit more like the one on the right. Surprisingly though, the world is still dominated by classrooms where students sit in rows and teachers stand at the front and impart knowledge. It seems that the factory-style, banking model persists. Why is that? Here are some reasons I can think of:
· Sometimes it is out of necessity, where resources in a nation are low.
· Sometimes it is out of a lack of investment in the development of education in a nation
· Sometimes we resort to default traditional methods because we think we
can’t cover the breadth of material without it.
· Sometimes it’s political will because politicians cannot envisage more imaginative, creative, life-giving ways to do things.
· Sometimes it’s just that traditional methods keep everyone in their place and then authoritarianism is never questioned.
Perhaps we can see several of those and others we can think of in our own contexts.
Recently a friend, who is a teacher, said to me: “wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to stop and grapple for some time with the amazing questions students ask instead of having to tell them we can’t discuss it because otherwise we won’t get through the curriculum.”
How do we move towards change?
Freire writes: “If men and women are searchers and their ontological vocation is humanising, sooner or later they may perceive the contradiction in which the banking education seeks to maintain them, and then engage themselves in the struggle for their liberation. “
We make the change by struggling with the contradictions between what we hoped being a teacher would be and what it has become. We begin to struggle within ourselves to identify the values that are most important to us and how we can teach out of them. We struggle with the questions that are raised when what we see is unfair or oppressive and begin to read, think and talk about it. Then we find ways to practise a pedagogy of the heart in practical ways in our classrooms themselves. We will look at how we can do this in future blogs.
We also make the change by being brave! Recently I was part of an online meeting with over a thousand teachers in the UK talking about how the current Covid-19 crisis could bring positive change to education. One speaker emphasised that to make change happen we will have to be brave. She is right. As teachers, we can make changes that shift the emphasis away from power and control and towards equality and freedom, but it will take courage, because it goes against the status quo.
We will unwrap the theory and practice of this much more in future posts as we develop our lenses for critical pedagogy and continue this journey. Below are some reflection questions to prompt further thought. Read them through and pick the one’s that strike a chord with you.
How important is it to me to create a classroom environment where everyone’s voice is heard, accepted, valued and welcomed?
How can we practise pedagogy which enables collaboration and dialogue in our classrooms?
What do I need to change to move from being “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”?
How can I create a classroom which is a learning community that reconciles the teacher-student contradiction and enables us to share the journey?
How can I practise education as liberation, rooted in love and care?
Paulo Freire (2017) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin Classics
bell hooks (1994) Teaching to Transgress. Routledge. Chapter 4
Chris Watkins (2005) Classrooms as Learning Communities. Routledge.