Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in Today’s Classroom

We’ve learned about the banking concept of learning described by Pablo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed¬†as ” knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.” For Freire, this is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the assumption that students “know nothing,” that they are empty vessels who are provided with appropriate knowledge at the behest of their instructors. There is a power dynamic at work here that mirrors much of the structure of colonialism, which is Freire’s point. In a gross simplification of this point, the oppressor comes into the learner’s environment claims it as his/her own and bestows upon the oppressed people knowledge that he/she deems necessary for the oppressed to function as the oppressor sees fit. This makes sense when we consider the fact that the traditional classroom is based around power dynamics: the instructor has all of the power, standing at the front of the class leading a lecture or assigning work and the students all face the instructor as knowledge is passed in a 1-1 ratio–from instructor to students.

What we can learn from Freire is to open the classroom up a bit, to not force the oppression of that power dynamic on all learners for all subjects in all contexts. That is not to say that lecture is inherently bad or that instructors must relinquish all power in the classroom. In fact, if we’ve learned anything from this class its that lecture is very appropriate in a specific context. But the point is to be able to find a balance of teaching approaches based on the needs of the learners. Students should have some agency in how they learn, and part of the instructor’s job is to be able to show students how to find that agency. For me, as a composition instructor, I try to make it imperative to get to know my students personally, to build and foster a trusting relationship. ¬†Writing is so tied to personal experience, that it is important to not only get to know my students, but also to provide them with a comfortable space for them to produce there best work. In this, we can see Freire’s influence.

I would be interested in seeing how Freire’s teachings take form in other disciplines. Fee free to tell me in the comments below.

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