Education, the process of taking in and applying information, is an important part of life that directly impacts an individual’s judgement and reasoning of both themselves and society. A person’s educational experience has the ability to influence their life despite their intelligence level or home life situation. In Paulo Freire’s book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, two major learning styles, the “banking” concepts and the “problem-posing” methods of education, and their effects on students are discussed.
My personal early education was within a public school system in the small town of Canton, Massachusetts. While public schools are often stereotyped as being both diverse and inferior compered to private schools, my high school was mainly white and Roman Catholic and it contained many students that were academically focused and capable of getting accepted to prestigious colleges such as the University of Miami. In my experience, certain teachers within this school system have helped me to see, through a process of trial and error, the best way I take in new information. My education has undoubtedly been molded by a combination of both the “banking” concept and the “problem-posing” method and has allowed me to develop into the person that I am today.
Being from a public school of a relatively small suburb in the Northeast, I have been pressured since the start of my education to learn in order to pass a government issued exam. Even as early as third grade, the focus of my teachers was to prepare their students for the dreaded statewide MCAS exam. The majority of my school memories from elementary school are of me practicing for the essay portion of this exam and being taught to use “50 cent” vocabulary words that would catch a grader’s attention and help us students gain a higher score. Yet, at this age, I did not really give my education too much thought. I automatically assumed that this type of mechanical drilling was the only way to do well in school and ultimately to make my parents and the people I cared about proud of me.
As I grew older, I have realized that I will never know the true reason that my teachers chose to teach to standardized tests. Their reasons for this may have been purely self-interested and inspired by incentives such as receiving an extra pay bonus. Still, I personally believe that the intentions of my earliest teachers were mainly benevolent and helped to prepare me for my later education.
As a starting point for learning, elementary school teachers are expected to tell students what they needed to know. Even though a large portion of this process may include having the “receive, memorize, and repeat” information as if they are almost robotic, this instills them with a set of skills that will become critical in the later part of their education (Freire 260). While it may seem that an elementary school teacher who teaches with this method would have little to no impact on how a student will succeed in life, these educators taught me educational techniques that I still value to this day.
Many of the experiences that I have had with these teachers have taught me the importance of personal management. If my teachers had not placed an emphasis on the importance of organization and structure, and its relationship to success, then I would not be able to handle having a large study workload. Also, by introducing me to the importance of competition at a young age, I have been motivated to accomplish more academically and outside of the classroom than I would have without their guidance.
Even though the initial principles of this “banking concept of drilling information into students may appear to be oppressive and constrictive, the benefits received by both the instructor and the student typically serve their best interests and satisfy what the student is looking to gain from their education. Therefore, I believe that it is slightly inaccurate to deem this educational method purely as a means of depositing information from one person to another. I am thankful that a portion of my education has been similar to that of the “banking” concept because it has given me the framework to pursue more advanced studies.
Although a portion of my academic career has been somewhat impersonal and standardized, I was fortunate enough to take a class that gave me a chance to both think critically and cognitively while learning new material. In my junior year of high school, I was able to take an Advanced Placement history class that has brought my style of learning to a more advanced level. In this history class, the teacher gave us a schedule of what we would be doing each day of the current unit we were in that was very similar to a college syllabus.
Each day of class we came prepared with background information on the topic we would be learning about which was reinforced by the teacher giving us an almost daily quiz. Although at the time taking these quizzes was tedious, it allowed for the class to discuss numerous historical topics in a short period of time. Our teacher, with the use of technology, presented different copies of primary sources to the class which led to a natural and flowing discussion of different topics. That history class was unlike any other course I had taken in the past and, while it was still challenging, I was able to do well and I scored a high grade on the AP test.
I believe that the reason for both my personal success and that of many others in my class was due to the fact that my teacher combined methods of both the “banking” concepts and the “problem-posing” methods that were presented in Freire’s article. Instead of pretending to know all of the answers, my teacher posed problems to us students that we were able to work together to solve (Freire 265). While I was challenged academically to think on a critical and comprehensive level, there were certain aspects of that type of learning that required me to simply fill my brain with information. Without taking the time to learn basic facts and concepts of a certain subject, I would have never been able to insightfully discuss or give a knowledgeable opinion on it.
Only by putting in a substantial amount of individual effort was I able to grasp anything that my teacher or classmates would say during a lecture or discussion. Although this experience may appear to solely support the “problem-posing method”, without the initial instruction of my early teachers to be self motivated to learn and do well in my classes, I would have believed that spending time studying outside of the classroom was pointless and that without a teacher I would be incapable of learning anything. Therefore, my academic growth that occurred during my junior year would not have been possible if I did not have such influential elementary school teachers.
My educational experience over the past twelve years has definitely established me as the student that I am today. While many aspects of growing up in a small town in the Massachusetts with many similar types of people surely affected my education, it is certainly my teachers who have made the largest impact on me. With both the initial guidance from my elementary school teachers and with the introduction of critical thinking that was introduced by my history teacher, I have developed a style of learning that feature aspects of both the “banking” concept of education and the “problem-posing” method and this has proven to be successful for me in the past.
Still, I hope that as I begin to continue my education at the University of Miami and possibly even in graduate school, that I will continue to grow as a student. In the future, I plan to take many different courses and be exposed to new types of thinking that will help me to develop intellectually. If I follow this path one day I may possibly be able to perfect my learning style and develop an efficient method that will help to bring me both success and knowledge in the future.
Paulo Freire was a Brazilian ideologist whose radical ideas have shaped the modern concept of and approaches to education. In his essay The 'Banking' Concept of Education, Freire passionately expounds on the mechanical flaw in the current system, and offers an approach that he believes medicates the learning-teaching disorder in the classroom. The flawed conception, Freire explains, is the oppressive “depositing” of information (hence the term 'banking') by teachers into their students.
But, according to Freire, a “liberating” educational practice (his problem-posing method) negates the unconsciousness of those in classroom roles, and no false intellectual stimulation can exist within that practice. On the contrary, in any case, the student is responsible for understanding the material one way or another depending on what style the teacher adapts, even if the content is un-relatable to the students’ lives. If a teacher has a certain premeditated lesson, then there can be no true independence on behalf of the student, because both the banking and problem-posing concepts are anti-autonomous.
The “banking concept,” as termed by Freire, is essentially an act that hinders the intellectual growth of students by turning them into, figuratively speaking, comatose “receptors” and “collectors” of information that have no real connection to their lives. Freire states:
"Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is a spectator, not re-creator. In this view the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente); he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty “mind” passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside" (247).
What Freire means by this is that the banking concept imposes a schism between a person (teacher and/or student) and the “real world”, resulting in the evident demise of his or her true consciousness, since the former can only be realized through the relationships and connections the individual draws from the material to their life.
In this view, Freire claims that by assuming the roles of teachers as depositors and students as receptors, the banking concept thereby changes humans into objects. Humans (as objects) have no autonomy and therefore no ability to rationalize and conceptualize knowledge at a personal level. And because of this initial misunderstanding, the method itself is a system of oppression and control.
To alleviate this “dehumanization” produced by the banking concept, Freire introduces what is deemed as “problem-posing education”. In this approach the roles of students and teachers become less structured, and both engage in acts of dialogic enrichment to effectively ascertain knowledge from each other. According to Freire, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (244).
This means that true comprehension can only be fashioned though conversation, questioning, and sharing of one’s interpretations by all persons in the classroom. Within this concept Freire calls for an equal playing field, or what one of my former teachers called “mutual humanity”: “It [problem-posing education] enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process by overcoming authoritarianism and an alienating intellectualism” (253-254). However, Freire failed to observe that incessantly within the apparatus of a classroom there is an imbalanced power structure between the teacher and the students. For all intents and purposes, the teacher is always an authority, no matter what.
However, inherent in the problem-posing method is a two-pronged line of attack, meaning there are two classroom modes within the one problem-posing method. One is pseudo-dialectic, which is the illusion of students and teachers actually “discovering” knowledge with and from each other, because the teacher poses a question but already has the solution in mind. In this way, the students are directed towards a particular outcome, and do not have independent thought-processes.
The other is genuine dialectic, meaning the teacher poses a question with no intention of steering the dialogue towards a single answer. Depending on the amount of experience the teacher has under their belt, they can expect a certain percentage of the possible answers, but it is the remaining percent of answers, which they had never actually considered, that they in fact take interest in.
Freire asserted, “If it is true that thought has meaning only when generated by action upon the world, the subordination of students to teachers becomes impossible” (247). What this means is that passive “learning” thwarts true consciousness, which then means no active imagination can be produced in which action is facilitated. In view of the fact that “mock” problem-posing education does not necessitate agency on behalf of the students, then the method is, too, ineffective at facilitating consciousness that precedes reflection, which can therefore not be acted upon.
Hence this method does not grant the students “liberation”, and their so-called independence is but an illusion. (Let it be known that for the sake of argument the ideas of “illusion” and “reality” are taken loosely to reflect the nature of different educational methods, not the nature of the ideas themselves).
On the flipside, genuine problem-posing diminishes a teacher’s authority to a level that does not obstruct the exchange of ideas. Necessary participation, attendance, effort in assignments, and so on and so forth are indeed authoritative, however within the classroom dialogue there is a natural conversation that is not hindered by authoritativeness. At this point it is necessary to consider the nature of freedom: the difference between being free and being free of. True freedom is profound; can anyone ever truly be free? In this case of genuine problem-posing, the student is free of the oppression of limiting intellectualism inherent in banking and pseudo-dialectic.
In essence, the Freirian spectrum- with “banking” at one end, pseudo “problem-posing” at the center (which essentially is a form of banking) and genuine “problem-posing” at the other end- mimics the real world in that one is always subject to some degree of authority. The dynamics of those relationships depend on how much each party is willing to give and take, meaning to what degrees the authority renounces their control and the subject allows them.
The notion that students believe they are granted true independence in a classroom has consequences in and on the world at large. Illusory freedom is disastrous because it is a belief in something that is not truth- it does not exist. Therefore students become part of the “real world” believing they know all simply because they were under the impression they were free when they “learned” it. In reality, the students had never discovered what was true for them, and consequently were led to accept an idea and regard it as true without question.
In the instance of true dialectic, the student regards the minimal authority as a non-threat, whereby the student then becomes the final authority on their convictions. In the real world, this is instrumental in fostering a society of enlightened, open-minded and independent persons. Freire elucidates:
"In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation. Although the dialectical relations of women and men with the world exist independently of how these relations are perceived (or whether or not they are perceived at all), it is also true that the form of action they adopt is to a large extent a function of how they perceive themselves in the world. Hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action" (252).
What Freire means is that problem-posing is dynamic because, according to the text, reality is in a continuous state of change. He is saying that although the actual dialogue subsists whether or not the subjects recognize the true nature of reality, their actions are formed by their perceptions of their own reality. The revolutionary component of problem-posing is when both the teacher-student and student-teacher contemplate their own “realities” and are then empowered to imagine otherwise.
Because of and through this imagination, the teacher-student and student-teacher act upon those considerations, and thus revolutionize the current reality and “advance humanity”. The authentic form of thought and action produced by genuine problem-posing is the key to human progression: by placing oneself in the timeline of humanity to learn from the past, examining one’s life in relation to the present while questioning everything, and moving onward to shape the future while never ceasing to idly negate those lessons.
Education in the post-modern society has become the backbone, the foundation for the persons of that society that will one day hold the reigns. The future of humanity is closely linked to the individuals produced by education, and the methodological circumstances in which that intellectual transformation took place. Necessary to the future is an attention to the present in which we vow to set genuine, dialectical education as the bar to initiate advancement, and search for the rebirth of imagination.
Freire, Paulo. “The “Banking” Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. 8th ed. Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. 242-254. Print.
Freire, Paulo. “The “Banking” Concept of Education.” Ways of Reading. 8th ed. Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford- St. Martin’s, 2008. 242-254. Print.
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