Monday, 21 December 2015

Education of the oppressed

"The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of 'a circle of certainty' within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or enter into dialogue with them. "

That's from the introduction to 'The Pedagogy of the Oppressed' by Paolo Freire. If you've been reading other threedegreesoffreedom.blogspot entries you may, just may have noticed his name being mentioned once or twice.

We should all be humanised (or humanized) says Paolo, and, when you think about it, isn't that the best way to live? To be fully human is to recognise, respect and even cherish the humanity of other people. Once you respect others (you don't have to like them) you grow as a person yourself and you flinch from doing anything that negates their humanity.

I think a lot about schools. I've had quite a lot to do with them throughout my years. I've attended one school or another for primary, secondary and, perhaps you could even say. tertiary education. I've gone back to school for evening classes. My children went to nursery, first and secondary schools. When I think of the schools, I flinch because all I can remember is the dehumanising qualities that stand out in them. The raising of hands to ask permission to perform a natural function like go to the toilet. The inability to be yourself, the real you, and not just the rough-tough social you who doesn't care that no one hands you a Christmas present, in the schoolyard where everyone is watching, and what that lack says to all the young people around you: it says that you're dispensible, unnoticeable, uncared for...invisible. Unpopular. You don't see, say or do 'the right things.' You don't sound the same as everyone, walk the same, like the same music, actors, films, books... You constantly measure yourself by the yardstick of another or others and cannot match up. You are not accepted. You do not exist, but the simulacrum who interacts with peers and teachers and assistants has to be you - yet not you.

For the most part of the day, you do not exist. You are not verified. You are not validated. You are not loved.

Then there's the passing of knowledge to one group from other knowledge sources and this is what Paolo calls 'the banking system of education.' A teacher deposits knowledge in his or her students.

The teacher narrates, the student listens. There is no room for problem-solving, no room for 'we' (the teacher and student as problem resolvers). There is no space for dialogue. The teacher deposits the fossil of his or her knowledge into the pupil, and the pupil must receive it in silence and without enquiry and without testing. It seems to me mendacious that although we report and aver that we cherish scientific enquiry and the mind that challenges everything we actually encourage the opposite. Schools never request different, thoughtful, challenging answers from their pupils; they want the 'right' answer and they will discard the thinkers' responses as 'wrong' answers. Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison in their book, 'How Children Learn at Home' tell us that one home educated student went to school and was thoroughly astounded that the teachers, not the pupils, asked the questions in class.

"Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorise 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.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat."

Paolo Freire details the 'banking' system of education, and we all know what a mess the banking system itself is in at the moment, don't we?

I'll give him the last word here: "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 an absolute ignorance upon 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."