During the week I was chatting with a friend about student disengagement in the primary and secondary school streams. My friend operates in this space, while I operate in the adult education space. The discussion was very interesting and I look forward to catching up soon and continuing the conversation, even of we are bound to bore our loved ones who will also be present. During the conversation, I asked my friend to answer the following question: “education is …?” She answered: FREEDOM.
While I agree with her, I got to wondering how education = freedom? Then I recalled the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, particularly his seminal essay, ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.
Freire writes from the point of view of the oppressed and discusses humanization and dehumanization. The essay outlines how the oppressed who recognize their dehumanization and seek to struggle against those who oppress them. The essay is also an instrument for discovery by the oppressed and the oppressors; but the greater emphasis is on the oppressed. Friere argues that “it is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors” (p. 56).
In expounding further, Freire in chapter 2 discusses the concept of banking in education. Banking, in his construct, is where “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” (p.72). He then extends this concept further on page 73:
“On the contrary, banking education maintains and even stimulates the contradiction through the following attitudes and practices, which mirror oppressive society as a whole:
(a) the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
(b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
(c) the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
(d) the teacher talks and the students listen — meekly;
(e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
(f) the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
(g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
(h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
(i) the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
(j) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.”
Recalling this concept and the conversation I was having, I couldn’t help think of the current debates around education in Australia and how it is labelled the ‘culture wars’. What I find interesting in the current debate is how, in my view, resembles much like the banking concept of Friere.
We currently have experts on each side declaring that their model is the best. In doing so, they impose their perceptions of what education is and what is important on students, teachers, and society with limited, if any, consultation. By way of example, in Australia, we currently have Cross-curriculum priorities.
With these considerations and the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians in mind, the curriculum gives special attention to these three priorities:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
- Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia
Cross-curriculum priorities are embedded in all learning areas. They will have a strong but varying presence depending on their relevance to the learning areas.
The rationale for these priorities is stated as:
The Australian Curriculum has been written to equip young Australians with the skills, knowledge and understanding that will enable them to engage effectively with and prosper in a globalised world. Students will gain personal and social benefits, be better equipped to make sense of the world in which they live and make an important contribution to building the social, intellectual and creative capital of our nation.
So, it would appear that the goal of the national curriculum is to equip students with dealing with a broader society and to be able to make sense of the wider world, and offer them freedom in their future choices.
- Is it possible that by imposing constraints of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Asian perspectives are we limiting the so-called world view and understanding of the global society that the curriculum exposes to achieve?
- Are these constraints an example of educational oppression?
- Would we – as a society – be better off not imposing social/cultural perspectives and constraints, but teaching subjects such as science, mathematics, physics etc from a purist perspective free of cultural constraints?
- Could this free approach combined with encouraging students to explore society as a whole facilitate educational freedom and possibly inspire creativity?
- Or does all education need a contextual basis?
Let me know what you think.
 Freire, P. (2005). Pedogoy of the oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing.