At the beginning of each semester I often assign Paulo Freire's "Banking Concept of Education" as the first reading
of the semester. His work has had a profound effect on the way I view the classroom, as a place for growth and change and
it is the underpinning for the way I choose to teach. I think it is only fair to share that philosophy with the students
in my classes.
Freire's most well known work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the source of the "Banking Concept of Education"
essay I assign. In it Freire reduces the typical school paradigm to its basic financial terms: students are seen as empty
bank accounts waiting to be filled with the knowledge of their teachers who will deposit information into their students'
empty accounts. Students are unquestioning and inactive recipients of their teacher's wisdom. They are assumed to know nothing
and the teacher is assumed to know everything. They are expected to sit quietly in their seats and wait to be filled up.
They are not expected to ask questions, only answer them. They are given grades and do not earn them. The teacher decides
what grade to give and the students accept that decision.
Freire advocated a liberatory pedagogy, one based in what he called a "problem solving" pedagogy. Students
assume the role of teachers--they take part in developing a curriculum that is relevant to their lives; they share their work
with one another. They ask questions and then pursue the answers because they matter to them. They take part in the process
of evaluation and assessment. They are active learners, very much a part of a participatory and reciprocal learning experience.
Learning is a living organism and the students are its blood, breath, and spirit. The teacher is a facilitator of the experience,
an active participant in the process of learning. The teacher is expected to learn from and with her students.
Of course I recognize that a decentered anti-authoritarian classroom is as much an imposition of the power of the teacher--"You
will free write!"--on her students as any other "oppressive" methodology; however, I share my philosophy and
the choices I make with my students. They are free to make choices as well. They are instrumental in the design of the curriculum,
the essay topics they develop and the process of evaluation and grading. Every part of the course is a potential subject
for inquiry, reflection, and negotiation.