One of the thinkers most influential in the teaching pedagogy – or at least my pedagogy as a beginning teacher – is Paulo Freire. In particular, his Pedagogy of the Oppressed??provides a powerful image of the teacher-and-student relationship, as it is and as it ought to be.
Freire(1989) approaches the role of the teacher by outlining the problems of the traditional teacher/student dichotomy, namely that the teacher is the opposite of his/her students:
- The teacher teaches and the students are taught;
- The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
- The teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
- The teacher talks and the students listen – meekly;
- The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
- The teacher chooses and the enforces his[/her] choice, and the students comply. (p. 59)
These juxtapositions reveal what Freire refers to as “the ‘banking’ concept of education,” which considers students as vessels, “‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher” (p. 58). He continues on to criticize this oppression-based approach to teachings, whereby teachers deposit knowledge into empty student vessels, as though “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” (p. 58).
Reflect on this much for a moment. It’s a bold accusation, surely; but Freire’s boldness does not make him any less right. Do you remember your teachers? Most of them – most of mine – were the keepers of knowledge in the classroom. They asked the questions, we tried to answer, and they told us whether we were right or wrong. Like a two-tiered society built on oppression, teachers hold the power in the classroom by keeping their students powerless. This power is not of wealth or status, but of knowledge.
Importantly, Freire offers that oppression cannot be overcome by the the oppressed gaining power over their oppressors. (Power differences remain, and oppression only continues with new oppressors.) Instead, oppressors and the oppressed need to remove the division of power. Returning to the teacher-and-student relationship, he suggests that students become students-teachers and that teachers become teachers-students. Students are those who are only taught; “students-teachers … while being taught also teach” (p. 67) – they take an active, engaging, and impassioned role in their education. Teachers are those who only teach; the teacher-student “is [her/]himself taught in dialogue with the students” (p. 67).
In a sense, teachers-students teach by modelling learning. What better gift to bestow upon one’s student than the gift of a lifelong love of learning?
Freire, P. (1989). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum Publishing.