Meet Paulo Freire

The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is among most the influential educational thinkers of the late 20th century. Born in Recife, Brazil, on September 19, 1921, Freire died of heart failure in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 2, 1997. After a brief career as a lawyer, he taught Portuguese in secondary schools from 1941-1947. He subsequently became active in adult education and workers’ training, and became the first Director of the Department of Cultural Extension of the University of Recife (1961-1964).

Freire quickly gained international recognition for his experiences in literacy training in Northeastern Brazil. Following the military coup d’etat of 1964, he was jailed by the new government and eventually forced into a political exile that lasted fifteen-years.

In 1969 he was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and then moved to Geneva, Switzerland where he assumed the role of special educational adviser to the World Congress of Churches. Hereturned to Brazil in 1979.

Freire’s most well known work is Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). Throughout this and subsequent books, he argues for system of education that emphasizes learning as an act of culture and freedom. He is most well known for concepts such as  “Banking” Education, in which passive learners have pre-selected knowledge deposited in their minds; “Conscientization”, a process by which the learner advances towards critical consciousness; the “Culture of Silence”, in which dominated individuals lose the means by which to critically respond to the culture that is forced on them by a dominant culture. Other important concepts developed by Freire include: “Dialectic”, “Empowerment”, “Generative Themes/Words”, “Humanization”, “Liberatory Education”, “Mystification”, “Praxis”, ” Problematization”, and “Transformation of the World” (Miami.edu).

Read chapter 2 of his famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In it, Paulo Freire distinguishes between what he calls the “banking model” of education and “problem-posing” education or “liberation praxis.” In so doing, Freire brings critical pedagogy deep into conversations about peace education and the role of education at large.

“Education as the practice of freedom – as opposed to education as the practice of domination – denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, unattached to the world; it also denies that the work exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man not the world without people, but people in relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it (Freire, 81).”

Reflection Question: Are their instances and situations where the “banking model” of education is actually the most appropriate or the most effective method in providing a learning experience? If so, what would that learning situation/context be?  If not, why not?

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15 thoughts on “2.9

  1. Freier’s work is revelatory in that it has really prompted me to alter the lens through which I view the educational process. Often as teachers we limit the exchange that happens in the classroom to us presenting informarion and concepts and our students receiving, responding to, and assimilating this new scheme. We then respond to our students questions and cues and the process repeats. Its an abstraction, but also a fundemental truth that we very often learn from the dialog that happens in our classrooms just as our students do.
    With regards to the banking model, I do see where it can be applied. The first domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy is simple remeberance. In math, in science, in social studies we must have some information stored in our memory to operarte within the discipline. Still, to effectively use and categorize that information further exploration, understanding, and dialog are necessary. Try as i might, I struggle to see where the banking model would be effective. It may be a small part of a lesson, but would never be effective in generating a deep understanding on its own.

  2. I cannot think of a context in which the banking concept would be the most appropriate method of instruction. Even when instructing in field where there are clear “right” answers, perhaps in the field of mathematics, hard sciences or perhaps job training related to operating machinery (where consequences of the “wrong” way could even be dangerous), I still believe there are ways to make the learning experience experiential, and thus empowering. When a learner can begin a learning process by first acknowledging what they already know, or ideas they may have about a new topic based on what they know of related topics or simply by applying logic, this will always be more empowering, and in my opinion, more meaningful than if they are simply told what is “right”. For example, students can make hypothesis building upon previous lessons, or the instructor could hold a brainstorm to find out what the class guesses might be some effective approaches.

  3. Paulo Freire’s writing is really powerful. I agree with him that teachers and student should both be on a path of inquiry. But I do think that some of the aspects of “banking” education are appropriate at times, particularly in teaching history, which is what I do. I believe it’s my job to teach, for example, the events that historians believe led up to World War I and World War II. I spend very little time expounding to the students. It doesn’t work with ELLs. Rather I select short texts and have them read about events. As much as possible, I toss into the mix some primary sources that give the perspective of someone who lived during the events we are discussing. I use a banking model in that I select what events we are going to talk about it and initially the texts we use to read about them.

    But I also teach in a “problem-posing” mode in that I encourage students to ask questions, such as “What’s the author’s perspective?” “What is missing from this version of the events?” “How are the versions different?”
    I often tell my students that history is different perspectives. To put it succinctly, “History is an argument about the past.”

    There’s a lot of room in teaching history to have students embark on inquiry. Throughout the year I have them embark on mini-research projects on a subtopic of their choice within the topic we are discussing.

    In reading Paulo Freire, I recognized that perhaps it wasn’t all bad that I came into teaching high school without being a certified history teacher or having majored in history in college. By reading like crazy and cramming, I passed the history certification test that first spring. So my first year, I truly was learning the history we were discussing in class alongside my students. (I did try to stay one half step ahead of them, as a matter of pride. Would Paulo Freire say that wasn’t necessary?)

    Some students were frustrated by my response at times to their questions. I would often say I didn’t have an answer for it right away, and we’d have to research it. “But you’re the teacher,” they would say. Usually I researched it. It probably would have been better if we took some class time to research it together.

    Actually, I think the teacher should be responsible to know his or her content area well. I don’t advocate school’s hiring teachers who aren’t certified in a subject. But having the basic idea that my students and I are on a similar path of inquiry about history is a good approach, I think.

  4. Daniel Knoll: Katie took the words right out of my mouth. I’m sitting here trying to think of instances where I encountered the banking model (especially in math class) and trying to decide if that was the best model for teaching, and in each instance I think of a way that the problem-posing method does the job more effectively. The banking method fails to create meaningful connections within each student to the given material, especially because it neglects multiple intelligences. Students learn in diverse ways, and providing them the opportunity to come to their own conclusion makes the concept stick. I understand that the banking method is used because there are certain basics students need to learn to move on to more complex topics, and there is only so much time in the day. Banking might be appropriate in situations where the problem-posing method has not worked. If students are trying to solve their own problem and aren’t getting frustrated or confused, it may be time for the teacher to step in and try and little more direct, teach to student passing of information.

  5. Annsleigh Carter: In my content area, English, the only time I could see the banking method justifiable to use is perhaps in the study of grammar. There are just rules that simply have to be memorized such as “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’.” I can’t think of another way of explaining that because… that’s just the way it is. In every other instance, though, I feel like my content area is uniquely conducive to the constructivist teaching model since the study of literature is grounded in interpretations and discussion. Even when memorizing vocabulary words, there are ways of teaching the words that have meaning.

  6. Honestly, I kept thinking, “of course there are situations, what about so and so?” Then I’d dissect that idea and realize, no there has to be at least a little two way dialog, if for anything to understand what is being taught. I think that the younger students are, the more banking model teaching is forced on them but this doesn’t have to be the case. I guess in some situations, learning tax law or a specific process for doing something safely, then the banking model might most appropriate, but for most things it doesn’t allow the students to think and synthesize the information for themselves so the amount of learning wouldn’t be as great as a more empathetic model.

  7. I agree with Adam and Marg. I think that while the problem-posing model is best in many ways, there is a real value to banking models when memorization is needed. Beyond dates, math, and language—where some form of banking might be appropriate—it would seem that even learning about other cultures would require the banking method to some extent. Again, I grew up in Montana where we had little access to racial/ethnic diversity, religious diversity, etc. I think that in order to help students understand the complexity of culture and learn respect for others, it was really important for my teachers to teach us about people and things outside our community. While experiencing these differences would be ideal, it would be impossible for students to learn about Daoism, apartheid, or the conflict in Rwanda without some banking. I don’t think that the banking model is inherently negative or problematic, but it should be used carefully and along with problem-posing methods.

  8. As a product of a “banking model” colonial education system for my primary and secondary education, and a largely “problem posing” undergraduate, graduate and post graduate education in American Universities, I am convinced of the superior nature of the latter method. Nonetheless, the curriculum of my primary and secondary education reflected the reality of our lives, the paucity of teaching and learning materials, and opportunities to respond to posed problems. Indeed, the banking model may have been appropriate for elementary math to Latin. In the absence of calculators and computers, rote learning of tables, conjugations, etc. and repeating them for teacher approval may have well been appropriate. What I do know is that when it came to an understanding of the world, the banking model in a colonial education system implanted ideas of the great British Empire and how fortunate we were to be colonized. The British were “civilizing” us, and we ought to be happy and grateful for this experience. An activist household and local political agitation pushed back against this, and an American university education consolidated my liberation.

  9. I think that everything can be and should be taught through problem-posing methods rather than banking methods. All subjects should be explored and understood through inquiry and asking questions in order to master a deeper meaning. It can be argued that it is easier to memorize math facts such as times tables and arithmetic but in fact it is not in memorizing that you understand. Those concepts especially need to be taught in a problem-posing manner in which students truly understand why 7X5 is 35. After they have understood the concept, then it is acceptable to practice through drills to gain speed which is often necessary and I don’t consider banking because they have already understood the concept and just need to get it down quickly in their mind. It is also sometimes important to remember dates etc in history, but I think that when you have learned what has happened in history through problem-posing and inquiry it is easier to remember those dates because you can put it in a context of what was happening at the time and in the world.

  10. I think I am most in line with Marg’s thoughts on the matter. There are some things that simply have to be memorized. As an American Historian, I’m not that big on dates, but I certainly want my 11th graders to know the significance of 1776 when asked by Jay Leno.

    The trick is in getting to recall of facts. Vocabulary, math, and other basic concepts should be taught in the problem-posing model early on, but by the time students are in their last two years of education, these should be quick recall issues.

    I like to think that banking techniques, if not the banking model, are useful for students to build a toolbox with which to ask the liberating question of “why?” Oftentimes, my students will literally just ask me for the answer to opinion questions. It seems many of them have not been taught to ask “why,” so I can definitely see where Friere is coming from, but I cannot wholeheartedly reject the banking model – as I don’t think my students are prepared to take that leap.

  11. I do think elements of the “banking method” are appropriate in instances where memorization necessary. I thought it was interesting that an example Freire used was math facts – telling a child that 4 x 4 is 16 without developing an understanding of why. As a math teacher, I obviously believe that understanding of why is crucial, but it also drives me crazy to see my 7th graders draw out little groups of tick marks or circles to solve problems because they haven’t memorized.

    However, for the most part, I generally find this to be inappropriate in that it takes away all student voice and involvement and is typically not an approach that I would take to instruction. Even in the instances when memorization is necessary, there are elements of the banking method that I would never elect to employ, such as “the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing.”

  12. I am hard pressed to think of a situation when the “banking model” would be acceptable or effective because I do not believe that this model in any way creates a learning experience. By teachers acting in a dominant role and “filling” the “receptacles” of the student, they are denying students human values that education should nurture – critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, and empowerment. The banking model leads only to rote memorization, and puts the students in a passive role while treating them as objects. This annuls all creative power and puts a student in the position of a spectator of his own life. In my opinion, education in all forms should practice freedom and empower students to think critically and play an active role in the learning process.

  13. I think that for the banking model to ever be appropriate and effective, it can only be to instruct mature, socially aware groups of students in highly technical subjects. For instance, in a situation where safety rules must be communicated quickly and implemented exactly, a knowledgeable teacher might be compelled to just hand down the information verbatim. Critical thinking and cooperative learning might not be necessary if the students have a generally advanced sense of their own education and already have a good, equal relationship with their instructor. But this would only be true under limited circumstances; obviously, if the time and resources are available, an alternative to the banking model is preferable.

  14. I find it hard to say that there is a most appropriate situation; yet, if I were to realistically apply this standard than a student’s experiences become an absolute right. I do think there are some fundamental tenants in which the banking method is necessary, especially in terms of young learners and creating an atmosphere of tolerance. I do not think that a young learner will necessarily agree or affirm a loving atmosphere. Why? Because this may not be modeled at home; henceforth, a banking method must be applied in terms of introducing the topic and creating a foundation.

  15. I can not think of a situation in which the banking model is most appropriate for learning. I’d be interested to know if my classmates disagree. The banking model is clearly the historic model of education: teacher is all-knowing, students absorb his/her knowledge without question; those who do question are discouraged and at times even disciplined. In my view, this connects back to the definition of success purported by society that Jing Lin discussed in her book: you are successful if you are educated (in the traditional sense – you have acquired degrees). Thus, the teacher is more successful than his/her students thereby earning the right to control the learning environment absolutely. I do not think the banking model is ideal for learning because it assumes so much of the educator and so little of the student. The student is rendered passive. The student does not have control of his/her learning and thus becomes disconnected from it. This may garner “success” by society’s terms – the ability to jump through hoops in order to reach the next level of social status. However, what has one learned? Certainly not the joy of discovery and thrill of community. For me, one of the most compelling (and most selfish) reasons I continue to teach is that I learn from my students. It is a dynamic relationship and it allows me to thrive.

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