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Reading Freire (first half) and Dewey

jccohen's picture


dshu's picture

Reflection to Freire's reading

After reading Chapter 2 of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I recall the recollection of his Pedagogy of Freedom. I began my undergraduate career, as a first semester freshman, learning about the "bank" concept in Critical Issues in Education . Now as a second semester senior, I once again have the opportunity to reflect back to this concept. Looking over my own undergraduate career, I have noticed that the banking learning method has taken place for a very long time and it is still going on.  I have recently encountered a different scenario.  It was a turning point to me. In my math senior conference course, I have worked with a team on a community project. We have used our math skills to apply what we have learned throughout our life to successfully complete the project. In addition, this project has provided me with opportunties to learn new skills in order to have the project completed on time.

This semester, I have been placed in high school math classes. I have witnessed how my host teacher is trying to have her students apply what they have learned to real world examples. Although learinging math usually follows a bank system, but teachers can always make it more meaningful. I fully agree with Freire's point, "Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality" (81). His solution to the concern of banking education is to have students be problem-posing (critical thinkers), rather than sit still and listen. Students are expected to be inquisitive.

My reflection is "How can we integrate both banking and problem-posing to all subjects in schools?" Does equal amount of work need to be put into both or not? Probably not, because we sometimes need to exhibit more of the bank system than problem-posing or vice versa.

dharris's picture

Banking & context

I also share the question of how to integrate both banking and problem-posing to students in our schools.  I also wonder what that looks like and if there are examples of schools in the U.S. or elsewhere (Finland?) that have found an effective way to balance these basic pedagogical principles.  I think back to my time spent student-teaching English in Chile when I was abroad: it was very clear that banking was the chosen method of teaching and llearning, with English especially, since the students truly did not have any "building blocks" to work off of.  At the time, I had just begun to read Friere and found myself frustrated with the way classes were run at my students' school.  I adamently stuck to my believe that education is primarily a process of drawing out the innate curiosity and capacity for learning that all humans possess.  However, reading Freire this time around, I find myself resonating somewhat with some of the banking principles.  How, for example, is a Chilean student expected to learn English without having at least some of the basics imparted to them via banking.  "Hello" is "hola", "thank you" is "gracias"; these are foundational pieces of learning a language that seem to effectively transmitted using banking.  I believe they could be (and are by some) learned through a more osmosis, context-based approach.  But what, I wonder, is so bad about banking (if anything) in this situation?

mschoyer's picture

During my field placement

During my field placement last semester, I noticed a similar instance. I was in an ELL classroom (where I will be again this semester), and a degree of banking was used. With this said, my cooperating teacher was very good about explaining the words/concepts to the students (1st through 5th grades) and also encouraging them to make "real world" connections, but there was also an aspect of memorization and "depositing" knowledge that I think is necessary with ELL.

I think Friere would definitely be against the kind of mechanical memorization that the students in my class did. Friere said, "the capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students' creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors"  While I do think that certain teachers rely on banking as the only educational model, and perhaps it could be easy to accidentally rely on banking, sometimes banking is necessary. I think Friere looks passed these instances. In a subject such as ELL, where children are trying to rapidy pick up a new language, a degree of pure memorization and repetition is necessary. It is not the only way to teach, but it is banking, and often times, it works. Banking is sometimes necessary, but should not be the only or most utilized strategy. To answer your question, I think it would take more work for a teacher to incorporate problem-posing, as it seems easier and less work-intensive to simply drill information to students.

jcb2013's picture

Freire Part 1, A (Reposted in proper section)

For my first reading response (on the first half of the Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed text) I took a broader look at the text, instead of picking a specific passage.  Therefore, I will be responding to the first half of the text as a whole. 

            Having read Freire excerpts in previous classes I was prepared for ‘Pedagogy of the oppressed’ to be a dense text.  In reading the first half I was confused by his argument in relation to his text.  It appeared almost hypocritical.  Freire spends the first few chapters discussing the relationship between the oppressed, and the oppressors, the relationship between teachers and students, and finally the purpose and characteristics of dialogue. 

While Freire is clearly writing with the purpose of educating, and re-educating society, I find that reading his text is very much exclusive to a large percentage of people.  I question his intended audience, his actual audience, and how “approachable” this text seems to those he labels the “oppressed,” or even an average student. This text is very well known within the field of education, and from what I’ve seen somewhat controversial because of Freire’s arguments. While I generally agree with what he argued in the first half of the text (i.e. the banking method is not effective, the relationship between the teacher and students should be a two-way learning/teaching method, etc.) there were multiple points/pages in the text that I struggled to get through and understand.  While I can’t say whether this is Freire attempting to create opportunities for critical thinking, “Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking” (pg. 92), or whether his writing style requires its readers to have a higher intellect (that I very well may lack). 

In my opinion, if someone such as Freire is arguing for the improvement of societal relations, dialogue, and education his text should be more accessible (in terms of understanding).  The way, in which this text is written, I feel would very much exclude a large number of people from comprehending or even reading the text. 

Laura H's picture

Freire Reading Response #1

In theory, I very much agree with Freire’s criticism of education as a “banking” system, where teachers deposit knowledge into their students. I would argue that anyone who has been in school has at some point experienced this type of “narrative education” (71), in which students are expected to “memorize mechanically” the information given to them (72). However, Freire’s solution to this problem seems much more simple than in theory and in practice. He suggests that, “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information” (79).  While this idea of encouraging teachers to be in dialogue with their students is very appealing to me, I do question how a teacher would incorporate this theory into an every day lesson.

For example, if a teacher is trying to teach her students how multiply, in what way can there be a “dialogue” between the students and the teacher? I do believe students should not view their teachers as having all the knowledge, but are there some instances in which it is necessary for the teacher to transfer some amount of knowledge? I especially wonder about how this varies among age groups. Perhaps older students might be able to think critically about the world and question the information they are given, but it seems as though this might be difficult with younger students.

Freire’s argument about “being more human” (85) is a more abstract concept that might be able to applied across age groups. A video/article from the New York Times I saw the other day very much speaks to this idea in practice. Here is the link: This teacher shows how while he can teach his students the laws of physics, he needs to give them something more humanistic and meaningful than a formula to give them a sense of purpose. Here is a quote from the teacher: “When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.” In this way, I think Freire understands that wanting to question what we learn and incorporate real human “problems” into our learning is a natural tendency. However, we also need to think about how we can integrate such concepts in curriculum and pedagogy in a way that is both realistic and effective. 

JBacchus's picture

Freire Pt. 1

As many others in the course, I have previously read and studied Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I find that this book tends to be an ultimate foundation for our education department (clearly evident by the name of the Praxis Program). As I have talked so much about this book as a whole, I chose for this (more than likely) final reading of Freire to focus on intimate details of the reading. 

I was struck when Freire argues that the "great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed [is to] liberate themselves and their oppressors as well" (44). He writes that the oppressors cannot "find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves" (44). He follows up this thought with the argument that "true generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity" (45). At the end of last semester I had a discussion with a professor (who shall remain unnamed) of the department about the (what she called) "internationalization" of Bryn Mawr College. This conversation turned to a more political and social discussion of the "internationalization", as she knows fully that I tend to be more conservative in my views than the rest of my peers. She argued that she was against this "internationalization" for reasons of what Freire would call, "false charity". She was against it, not for the very principal of having a diverse college, but for the possible negative perceptions. Her view was that, as Bryn Mawr College was recently awarded the representation of the highest population of international students, it would be viewed as a Western attempt to swoop in and rescue those who we determined as needing rescuing. This was a prominant discussion in my Third World Feminisms class, which frequently discussed the role of outside organizations entering into what they viewed as oppressive communities. If this is the case, are the oppressors not those that are also oppressed but in a different way? Oppressed by what they view as necessary in terms of "false charity"? From this, is there a single population that is not oppressed? 

mencabo's picture

Re: Freire pt. 1

I thought you and your class brought up a very important and interesting point about what it means to “internationalize.” I understand the possible negative responses, but at the same time I wonder, then how can we make progress if we (as students, teachers, an institution, etc.) don’t open up channels where students can interact more closely with each other? In addition, I wonder if our definition of internationalization is limited to the idea of bringing in students from countries outside the U.S. (in this case since we’re in the U.S.). So does that mean that this is actually another form of “othering?” In fact, it seems that international students are often defined as students who do not hold their host country’s citizenship status. They are studying in the U.S., but aren’t fully integrated within the U.S. yet. 

As for the question, “is there a single population that is not oppressed?” I suppose if the oppressor is an abstract idea or a cause, then in a sense everyone has probably experienced some form of oppression and maybe will continue to do so. But then, the feeling of oppression gives people reason to strive for a better environment and system and essentially, a “better world.” Of course, even that presents problems because oppression takes on different forms and each person or group has to respond in a way that presents the least damage…

lyoo's picture

Freire and Dewey

It was interesting to revisit the works of Freire and Dewey after having last read them my freshman year in Critical Issues.  I discovered that through everything I've learned and experienced over my undergraduate career, I was able to assess their work more critically and question the things they had to say about education and society.

To start with Freire, I found his writing to be very political which makes sense beacuase he argues that the oppressed, through being educated about their oppression, must eventually demand policy and governmental change.  However, his very abstract and political style of writing was a turn off for me. For example, many times his arguments end with the cause for making people more human or free. Anyone can agree with that, and this is great political rhetoric. But I found myself wanting Freire to give specific definitions for what being human and free is to him.  He even acknowledges that freedom and inalienable rights are different things to different people when he talks of the "oppressors" ideas of these concepts. So what exactly is his definition?

When Freire talks of putting an end to "the dominant class" in society, it is evident that he has been influenced by the writing of Karl Marx who he also cites in this book. I find it ironic that in a book which talks of ending oppression, he takes the ideas of a philosopher who influenced some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. 

Freire calls teachers "the revolutionary leadership" and students the "oppressed." But what about what he said of the wealthy and dominant class being the oppressors. Some students will be from a higher social economic background and others from lower. So are the rich students both the oppressed and the oppressors? And even if Freire argues that one can be both the oppressed and the oppressor, he would be contradicting himself when he says that these rich students must be educated (in an empty vessel sort of way) to think that what they know, value, and have learned from their background/way of life is wrong and they must be freed from their own folly. This is because he also says that the educator must be in conversation with the oppressed, and not treat them paternalistically.

Overall, I felt that Freire's writing equated education with a narrow political agenda. Instead of seeing education as a means to discovery, truth, and knowledge, education is just a means to establish Freire's ideal of a just world order. However, just because I am not a fan of Freire's work, it does not mean that I am for the status quo in education today. I do believe that there are many groups of people who are oppressed under the American educational system.  But these issues are not simply a matter of the rich vs. poor.  The rich can become poor and the poor can become rich.  I believe the problem lies in power and agency being taken out of the hands of individuals about their own education due to failed and counterproductive policies (no matter how well-intentioned these policies were).

I found Dewey to be much more focused on the concept and idea of education and the learning process. Some questions that come to mind after reading his work are: Does one need school to receive an education? Dewey arugues that Education is a social process. Has that always been true? Also when Dewey says that school life should grow gradually out of the home life, I wonder, what about kids without much structure or positive learning going on in the homes?

transitfan's picture

I think Friere would very

I think Friere would very much agree with your statement that education should be a "means to discovery, truth, and knowledge." [Or did he say that and you aren't buying it?]  At the same time, I agree with him that a politically neutral education isn't possible; existing models of teaching defend the status quo.

His view (with which we can agree or disagree) is I think not that teachers should be spewing out communist propaganda but rather that once students are taught to think critically and creatively, they will demand a transformed society in which there arise new possibilities beyond rich and poor. This is Marxist, to be sure, but also compassionate for all people, as on p 56 "the act of rebellion...can [be] an act of love" (about  freeing the oppressors). [The idea of "transcendance" also makes me think of religious philosophy, something else that has been abused to empower many oppressive regimes.]

Your point on rich students versus poor students is quite interesting. Oppressive systems affect both the rich and the poor, and both the oppressor and the oppressed, so I would say that poor students and rich students who are not taught to problematize or be creative are both being harmed, along with the well-meaning teacher who does not teacher their students to be creative and critical thinkers. However, from what I have seen the best example of "critical intervention" in education systems are found in majority wealthy areas, such as elite private schools and liberal arts colleges. I am struggling myself right now to think about how to apply Friere to the urban environment. For example, if in a field placement last year if someone had told me they wanted to be a police officer, I would have said "great!" But if one of my friends said that, I would have wanted to have a discussion about how police forces exist defend the interests of the elite and oppress the masses, etc. Surely I should engage with my student as I would with my friend, but in the current school structure it would have been awkward and probably futile. This would be true in both a struggling large public school and a rigidly structured highly-performing charter school. I think educational techniques like "theater of the oppressed" might help to address this. But back to the point, my thought is that--given the great potential power of the oppressed--it is very deliberate that critical inquiry-based education is mostly left to the oppressors and their children.

I think you raise an interesting question with Dewey's statement that school life should grow out of home life. Perhaps in Dewey's geographical and/or historical context one could assume that all of one's students were coming from one type of home-life. In our geographical and historical context, we have students coming from many different sorts of backgrounds. So how can entering school be an organic and gradual transition from home life when that means so many different things for different people? At the same time, just because one student's home might have less structure, we shouldn't assume that there isn't other "positive learning" going on there. Children coming from such environments may develop levels of resilience and independence that can be great for real life, and therefore that Dewey might like. Our current classrooms may devalue the skills and experiences of students coming from such--we might say--"oppressed" backgrounds relative to the skills and experiences of students coming from more "traditional" backgrounds.

rbp13's picture

While reading Paulo Freire’s

While reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and John Dewey’s My Pedagogical Creed, I was struck by the similarities between the two theorists in terms of how they view the roles of the teacher and the students. While each author uses different language to explain their philosophies, both emphasize the importance of the student as an active participant in his or her own education. Without assuming this responsibility, Freire argues, the student is effectively oppressed; while he may not recognize the domination of the oppressor, but he also is not determining what he knows or how it is known. His learning is therefore dependent on the oppressor and the relationship between the two is one of “violence”, as Freire calls it. For more effective and equal learning to occur, both the oppressor (teacher) and the oppressed (student) much recognize the reality of oppression and allow the student to assume more control. Likewise, Dewey believes that education is fundamentally social and that learning should occur in the context of students’ experiences. Understanding material in relation to oneself is necessary in encouraging students to be active participants in their own education.  In this situation, the teacher must establish a partnership with the students and recognize herself as a facilitator of the learning process, rather than one who gives knowledge.

I ultimately agree with Freire and Dewey’s conceptions of the roles of the student and the teacher and their relationship to one another. The idea that the student is and “empty vessel” onto which the teacher must impart knowledge has made me uncomfortable since taking Critical Issues in Education when we began reading material that used this metaphor. Furthermore, research shows that motivation and thorough engagement with the material occurs when students interact with information in ways that are meaningful to them. Thus, imposing information on passive students or neglecting the importance of socialization in education, is a disservice to the students because they will not enjoy learning and will therefore not learn as effectively.


abenjamin's picture

This post brought me back to

This post brought me back to a conversation that came up many times in my Critical Issues class: the idea of being unfinished. I firmly believe that we are all constantly learning, moving forward, changing, and that we will never be finished. And as teachers, we much remember to keep this in mind. As rpotter said: "the teacher must establish a partnership with the students and recognize herself as a facilitator of the learning process, rather than one who gives knowledge." We as teachers are not finished products helping our students on the way to also being finished. Instead we should be encouraging constant learning in our students, including by example. As "facilitators of the learning process" I believe it is our role to work with students side-by-side, learning together. Freire writes "both humanization and dehumanization are possibilites for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion" (p.43). He comments that the oppressed and oppressors must acknowgledge their unfinishedness in order to move forward in their humanization. 

Freire points out that once the student and teacher (or the oppressed and the oppressor) come to terms with their relationship, the students must take more control in the own learning. The learing process should be a joint one between students and teachers. The relationship should be one of two people learning together, facilitated and guided by the teacher. 

hl13's picture

response to Friere/Dewey

I do agree that Friere and Dewey share many of the same ideas about the role of the teacher and student, and how the student should play an active role in learning while the teacher should in learning as well. I believe that Dewey and Friere both write about how education should occur in the spaces which relate to students' experiences, that learning should occur in the bond between teacher and student, and that education is a great tool for social change. Both also put forth ideas and theories I agree with, and recognize the dynamics which have made me uncomfortable in the past, as you have suggested.

While I think the reading does suggest this at some points, I do not think Friere intended us to identify the teachers as the oppressors and the students as the oppressed. Friere does examine the prolematic relationship that can occur between students and teachers if the teacher treats the student as an "empty vessel". I also think his ideas can be interpreted towards larger social groups, where teachers as well as students are the oppressed, and they lead one another out of oppression. In the introduction, Donaldo Maceno writes: "Jay and Graff point out, 'Friere assumes that we know from the outset the identity of the 'oppressed' and their 'oppressors'". Ultimately, we do not always know who the oppressors and oppressed are, neither do we know what roles they play. 

ellenv's picture

The idea of the active

The idea of the active student participant really interests me in the context of a comment made by the classroom teacher at my Praxis. During a break between activities, she started talking about the students that she had just been working with in a small group. She indicated that she had given them books that where above their comfort level for reading, but that she gave them to them anyways because she figured they could "talk it out" as a group. She went on to comment on the fact that in a school setting, students are often instructed to keep quiet, finish their work, and engage with only themselves. She then stated "of course students end up talking and creating what we often call disruptions in the classroom, they are bursting to talk and we tell them not to, who can do that for 8 hours a day?" I think this statement raises the possibility that silence is also an active process, albeit an entirely different form of activity than the active participation that comes with communication/dialogue. That being said, the idea of active silence raises some questions for me.

If  silence and communication are both active processes, can they both be of some value in the classroom? I do not mean in an entire sense where one occurs without the other, but rather in a balanced manner. Of course, there is also a difference between forced silence and chosen silence to take into consideration as well. However, I think both silence and communication have a place in the classroom. I think Freire indirectly speaks to this point in his discussion of developing consciousness, which can come about via internal reflection (and is active in nature). Often in Education classes in the Bi-Co we practice this silence/internal reflection when we take a moment to write before discussing in small and large groups.

Ultimately, you could argue that internal reflection is a form of communication with the self, though it is externally silent. If that is the case, how can teachers incorporate silence into their classrooms in an active way? Should they even be trying to direct or influence students' internal reflection?

sully04's picture

reply to rpotter's post: "Violence"

Rachael’s post triggered my imagination with her reference to Friere’s choice of word in ‘violence.’ I really like Friere’s imagery of violence to describe teacher-student relationships that are characterized by oppression as he writes, “Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons- not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized,” (55).

I immediately think of Indian Education by Sherman Alexie that we read in class- with its intense imagery of bad teachers that had such a profound and lasting effect on Alexie. The teachers in his poem used violence both physically and verbally to maintain a relationship with students that ensured hierarchy. Sure, Alexie is referring to violence more literally than Friere may intend to use, but the two authors describe similar teacher-student relationships that can destroy students. Friere goes on to write about what keeps students from working towards freedom: “When they discover within themselves the yearning to be free, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same yearning is aroused in their comrades. But while dominated by the fear of freedom they refuse to appeal to others, or to listen to the appeals of others, or even to the appeals of their own conscience, “ (47). I’m reminded of Alexie’s imagery of wanting to escape his small town education and explore more- could it be that his poetry is a tangible and concrete story of a more abstract concept that Friere is emphasizing? I’m imagining the small town school landscape that Alexie is trying to escape as the realization of a more abstract idea of oppressive schooling that Friere talks about.