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"Right Thinking"

Uninhibited's picture


The practice of right thinking, according to Freire, is grounded in a number of factors, one of which includes teaching by example.  When teachers engage in right thinking they are open to multiple answers, and are able to acknowledge and respect the autonomy and lived experiences of their students. Right thinking stands in opposition to the banking system of education because it recognizes that education is not the transferring of knowledge but the wonder of curiosity and discovery. In describing right thinking, Freire emphasized the importance of leading by example by saying “right thinking is right doing”, but what does it mean for educators to teach by example? How are authorities responsible for fostering right thinking?

In chapter three, Freire gives the example of why right thinking cannot be achieved without right doing. He tells the story of a visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil where he described the education system as disastrous. He says, “the whole system was a disaster, from the state of the buildings and the classrooms to the quality of teaching” (Freire, pp. 48). Freire then goes on to ask how students can be expected to learn respect and cleanliness when facing such a level of neglect from teachers and authorities. What does it mean for students to enter a school building that is not conducive to learning? This story is important because it acknowledges that students are indeed affected by the environment in which they learn and when this environment consists of old, unkempt buildings, and dated curriculum it is more difficult to engage in critical thinking in the same way. The story also reveals that there is contradiction between what students are learning in the classroom about things such as responsibility and the current state of their lived experiences and spaces.

These two points are essential when looking at the current state of our education system today, especially that of students in low-income communities. Is there a correlation between the time and money spent on making schools a place where students can thrive and feel safe and student success?  I think that lived spaces are as much part of students’ experiences as are their day-to-day lives. Their environments send messages about how much value is given to students and their learning and what place students occupy within the school structure. Right thinking, would suggest that students should have the opportunity to go to school in a place that feels welcoming and conducive to critical thinking. It should be a place where they feel empowered to ask questions and provide alternate answers.

Using an example of my experiences visiting various high schools in Philadelphia can be useful in understanding this idea. As a freshman, I was struck by the difference between a high school I visited on the Main Line and another in West Philadelphia. Just looking at the school buildings was enough to understand the stark differences of opportunities that students at both schools could take advantage of. One school had been newly renovated, with a brand new gym and multiple reading rooms, murals etc. The other was an old school building that looked more like a jail than a place for learning. Now imagine being a high school student at one of these schools, what do you think your value is when you walk in in the morning? Do the fences and metal detectors tell you something about who the system expects you to be in five or ten years? What does it mean to you to have people invest in your education to make sure that your classroom has the latest technology? What does it imply about people’s expectations of your own learning? I’m not suggesting that learning and critical thinking can’t happen in old school buildings, but what I’m pointing to is the link between perception, value, and learning.

This last point correlates to Freire’s explanation of right thinking and right doing. When Freire gives the example of his visit to Sao Paulo, he is most concerned with a lack of consistency on the part of the authorities and educators. He places responsibilities on the authorities for their neglect of the school buildings and curriculums because he believes that critical thinking stands in opposition with their state at the time. This means that in order for students to learn about curiosity, link their lived experiences, and imagine new realities, they must also see actions that reinforce these ideas. The state of education, as Freire saw it, was old, neglected, and abandoned. Going to school in depleted buildings is therefore contradictory to his idea of education. Authorities and educators can advocate for right thinking and think that speaking about it is enough, but their actions are in reality teaching the opposite to students, even if it is not explicit. Right thinking and right doing must go hand in hand not just because students deserve an environment which is conducive to learning, but also because it is simply hypocritical not to.

I appreciate Freire’s description of right thinking because it gives an explanation that is often forgotten when speaking about the education of low-income students. Although much attention is paid to their families, the size of their classes, or the barriers they face, we often neglect to note the importance of their environment. According to Freire, it seems as though progressive education and unkempt spaces are contradictory, one cannot happen if the other is present. What can educators and authorities do to ensure that time and resources are allocated both to revamp curriculum but also to renovate school buildings in a way that makes students want to learn?