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Reflection Paper #2

Swetha's picture

    After reading Freire’s perspective on teaching and learning, and their relationship and dichotomies, I think it is fair to say that he has offered the reader a romanticized and idealistic version of a classroom and the dynamic that exists between teachers and students. He also presents a fairly isolated view of the classroom, only slightly taking into account the background and family lives of students. This highly contrasts to the writing of McDermott & Varenne, seeing how there is not as much of an insistence on the importance of the individual, but rather the teaching methodologies and practices in and around the classroom. He is much more optimistic about the future; a quote that stuck with me in relation to this was,”I am not angry with people who think pessimistically. But I am sad because for me they have lost their place in history” (Freire 26). I struggle to put this in context of his argument for critical thinking in the classroom and critical analysis of teaching by teachers. It seems a little contradictory to me that he is so anti-pessimistic, yet looks for criticism. I do not mean to equate pessimism and criticism, but being blindly optimistic about the future does not leave much room for critical thinking, whether constructive or not.
    Freire rightly, in my opinion, outlines the importance of education and “educative practice” as a “specifically human activity” (24). He highlights the need for teachers to be held to a high ethical standard and the resulting “correct thinking” that only teachers have that must be communicated to the students. “In fact, the person who thinks ‘correctly,’ even if at times she/he thinks wrongly, is the only one capable of teaching ‘correct’ thinking” (34). I think this places a huge responsibility on the teachers to adapt themselves in order to suitably teach students. There is also a huge discrepancy between the ideas of what “correct thinking” entails. It is inherently cultural, because nothing can be determined without a “cultural lens,” as Lareau says. Also, if students are only taught through a very limited “correct” thought process, they will not be exposed to other schools of thought or other methods of critically thinking and developing “epistemological curiosity,” which also seem to be among Freire’s goals for learning.
    From the beginning, Freire claims a “progressive” approach to the educative process, which he describes when he defines teaching as “not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge” (30). However, every time he refers back to a “traditional” approach, he uses “mechanical memorization” as an example of the “banking system” that the “traditional” approach relies upon. I think sort of subconsciously, Freire presents the same sort of dichotomy between traditional and progressive education that Dewey discusses. Freire also uses the “either/or” model to describe his idea of a conditioned existence and a determined existence. He claims that a conditioned existence lends itself better to a progressive education, where, as a student begins to recognize the conditions that shape her views and the “unfinishedness” of her mental capacity, there is room for critical thinking to be formed (Freire 54). In accordance with his idea of conditioned existence, Freire refers to a conversation he had with a woman who he perceived thought of herself as a failure for being poor; he criticizes her for having “not yet understood that the cause of their suffering is the perversity of the socio-political and economic system under which they live” (78).
    Due to Freire’s extremely abstract and theoretical framework, it is hard to see applications in the classrooms I am in. However, I can see his logic behind the need to have teachers who think “correctly” because of the huge impact teachers have on students’ learning.
Although I have only been to my placement in an 8th-grade classroom once, the classroom had an interesting dynamic because the students were doing busywork as the teacher met with individual students to discuss their future plans though high school and beyond. Although not in the form of a traditional lesson, the teacher was clearly shaping students’ thinking by offering them ideas of what they could and could not do in the future. For example, I heard a bit of the conversation with one of the students she met with, and it seemed like she was offering him ideas about the future tailored to the “cookie-cutter” lifestyle associated with the upper-middle-class. She asked him about possibly aiming to go to Harvard, play college sports, do Math or Finance in college, and all of this was before the poor kid had even entered high school. I was a little surprised at the amount of influence the teacher had over the student, because the boy just nodded his head and agreed with whatever she was saying. I’m not trying to imply that the boy was not capable of going to Harvard and managing sports and a Finance career, but it all seemed very planned. This relates back to Freire’s idea of the conditioned/determined existence, because I doubt the kids see their circumstances and background affecting their perspective as early as 8th-grade, but they sort of already feel themselves going along with the “plan” by then. This aspect of their lives sort of falls into place with the atmosphere of the classroom as well; the students were doing bookwork in science, where they were just filling in blanks and could find all the answers directly in the book, without having to do any critical thinking. It was a little shocking to see the students find nothing wrong with that and just want to “outmaneuver the authoritarianism and the epistemological error of this ‘banking system’” (Freire 32).