Have you ever had a teacher you really enjoyed? Why did you enjoy him? For most people it is because the teacher interacted with the student and made them feel involved in the learning process. As Carl Jung puts it: “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” (para. 249).
This situation has proved true in my educational experiences, with the most positive experience stemming from a Public Policy professor that I really enjoyed. I learned more knowledge in a few weeks than I had in all the previous classes on similar topics I had taken over the years because we worked together at a common level to solve a problem. This is contrary to the action taken by most teachers who instead dictate words to the students like they were “depositories.” (Freire 213). These students then learn have learned the cold hard facts but not the greater context within which those facts lie, or as E.M. Forster put it : “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” (Columbia Dictionary of Quotations).
Freire in his essay “The Banking’ Concept of Education” confronts this situation. He calls this one sided way of teaching the “banking method of education.” Also, he proposes a “problem posing method” as a solution to the unfavorable “banking method.” In the “problem posing method” the students and teacher work together at a common level and learn from each other. His analysis of the “banking method of education” and its antithesis, the “problem posing method,” has many parallels to my educational experiences. These similarities make me agree that Freire’s “problem posing method” is more advantageous than the common “banking method.”
Our views on the “essence” of human beings and how they learn is related to our views on whether, why and how, humans acquire or develop knowledge. If we believe in “born criminals” the amount and kind of knowledge that we will grant to that particular human being will be the one that leads her or him into what s/he was born for.
Freire in his essay “The Banking’ Concept of Education” defines two methods of education. The first is the “banking method,” which describes the current status of education and Freire exposes the faults of the system. The banking method is characterized by the relationship between the student and his teacher. Teachers deposit knowledge in the students and “his task is to fill’ the students with the contents of his narration.” (Freire 212) Students are dehumanized and are compared to objects. Freire describes them as “containers” and “receptacles to be filled’ by the teacher.” (Freire 213) The students are considered to be absolutely ignorant, while the “teacher presents himself to be their necessary opposite.” (Freire 213)
The second method Freire proposes is his solution to the banking method is called the “problem posing method.” In this method “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.” (Freire 218) The students and teachers work together as “coinvestigators” in which the teacher gives the students “materials” for their “consideration,” and the teacher “reconsiders” his own considerations as the students express their feelings. This situation causes the students to “feel increasingly challenged and obligated to respond to that challenge.” (Freire 219)
For Freire, the human world and mind are in a never-ending process of becoming. If this is the case, how do humans learn or acquire knowledge? Freire’s viewpoint is not free of contradictions. He holds the human mind to be both active and social; and states that we learn through a process of abstraction: abstracting information from the out-there reality and reflecting upon it through the use of critical thought. But “true” knowledge only emerges when critical reflection is combined with transforming action and further critical reflection, in a never-ending process of these beings whose vocation is to be more human. (Matthews 85).
Knowledge is not a static given, but a constructed becoming. Freire rejects the idea that knowledge can be “poured into” the mind as if the mind were only a passive receptacle and as if knowledge were a static, finished thing.
It seems that group learning is more “true” than individual learning in Freire’s thought.
Freire admits that the social world into which humans are born does condition humans, but in this conditioning he sees the roots of human freedom: “We are conditioned. How do I know it? Because I was able to go beyond the limits of condition. If I cannot see the conditions, I cannot say I am a conditioned being. What are the limits of this room? The walls. How do I know? Because I can’t walk through them. Then I know. But if I say I am a conditioned being, this is also why I can go beyond. Secondly, it is this being conditioned that makes me free. I recognize it and I have to transform it, not just describe it. The way to change is historical. The process of knowing my own limits comes together with change. I cannot accept that we are beings of adaptation because we are historical beings. History is not just the past. It is also what is happening. My becoming, I am; but if I just am, I am not.” (Vermont 67).
If there is only one correct way of understanding reality (the correct way, Freire seems to imply), and that is the reflecting-acting-reflecting process, which leads to “true” learning, can we say that those who do not use that particular way do learn? I guess Freire would respond with a “Yes, but…” (they learn myths, or they learn how to be oppressors, or they learn the wrong kind of things, a knowledge that is not liberating but oppressive).
These two methods, the banking method and problem posing, are opposites. The first major difference between the two is in the way each communicates knowledge. In problem posing, “people teach each other” and “arguments based on authority are no longer valid.” (Freire 254). While in the banking method the teacher “presents himself as their necessary opposite.” (Freire 349). Also the “banking education resists dialogue” while “problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition.” (Freire 357) Directly or indirectly the banking method “reinforces men’s fatalistic perception of their situation,” while problem posing present such situations “as a problem” to be solved. (Freire 358) These differences in methods directly relate to my experiences in education and showing the flaw in banking education.
The banking method of education has been by far the most common method in which I have been educated in my classes. From first grade through high school, my classes have been plagued by this style of teaching. My experience in a class was Geography, taught by a teacher whose style of teaching was the perfect example of the banking method. Each day, class consisted of lecturing. Her narration was as Freire described it, “lifeless and petrified.” We were not allowed to ask questions in class or discuss the material. Instead we were forced to listen and absorb what she taught in class as law. Her favorite sayings were; “I told you in class. Weren’t you paying attention?” and “all the information is in your book.” These two phrases were the only dialogue she would grant me in my quest for answers.
So I followed her advice. I started memorizing facts, dates and information. I wanted a good grade. This too follows Freire’s observations, “the more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better the students they are.”(Freire 349). The more information I stored without question, the better the grade I got. I didn’t think about the knowledge, its meaning or implications. I was a bank of knowledge, she knew everything and I just absorbed it. To solve this situation, Freire outlines the problem posing method as a solution to the banking system.
I have had a few problem posing educational experiences in my life. These experiences have been fun and very educational. My most memorable problem posing experience has been the Public Services class that I took just last term. A project-oriented class working with the government of Sacramento County, California on several community issues, this class had no fixed agenda, lecture or pre-determined project outline. Instead, the professor outlined the several issue areas where the students were expected to research and develop proposals for the county.
The class was divided into separate teams to work on specific issues, my team was assigned the issue of decentralizing county government and creating some form of local advisory and decision-making structure for the unincorporated areas of Sacramento County. The direction and final product was at the sole discretion of the various teams, we were given no more than general background information on the County, the rest of the research and final product were up to us.
During the course of this project, my team decided on focusing on the formation of neighborhood associations as the best structure to research for our issue. When we informed the professor of this direction, he expressed some reservation about this particular structural form, but let us proceed in this direction if we felt it was best. As we did the research and developed case studies from local governments across the United States, we continually kept the professor updated on our progress and findings. He helped us find sources of information and we engaged him in dialogue about the our findings. In the end, after the presentation of our final report, the professor admitted that he had learned much more about neighborhood associations and how they related to and assisted local governments in decentralizing decision-making down to a neighborhood level.
Our interaction did not have the negative “teacher-student contradiction” in which only the student learns; instead we were “both simultaneously teachers and students.” (Freire 354). It was from the resolution of this “contradiction” that we succeeded in creating a problem posing experience. This system of being “coinvestigators” follows Freire’s words, “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teachers, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.” (Freire 254). The professor helped teach me about how to develop in-depth research and relate that research to the needs of a third party and I helped in showing him that there were more successful models of neighborhood associations than his experience and knowledge had led him to believe.
The problem posing method of education provides a more positive and productive learning environment for students in comparison to the banking method of education. A student learns to analyze problems and situations critically through the problem posing method and create their own unique solutions. Contrarily, students of the banking method become “depositories” for information, and they never really gain any understanding of the information in a larger context. As Freire says, “knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” (Freire 349).
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. Columbia University Press. 1998.
Freire, Paulo, “The Banking’ Concept of Education,” Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (1972). Rpt. in Ways of Reading, eds. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 1999. 347-359.
Jung, Carl, “The Gifted Child,” (1943). Rpt. in Collected Works, ed. William McGuire. 1954.
vol. 17, para. 249.
Mathews, Michael, “Knowledge, Action and Power,” Literacy and Revolution: The Pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Robert Mackie. New York: Continuum. 1991. 82-92.
University of Vermont. “Literacy and Social Change Conference: Blue Series and Green Series”, Burlington: University of Vermont, 1981. 1-115.