New Learning’s Updates

Remembering Paulo Freire

Mary and I were fortunate to spend time earlier this month with our dear colleagues Walkyria Monte Mór and Lynn Mario Menezes de Souza at the University of São Paulo, and Alessandra Coutinho Fernandes at the Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba.

While in São Paulo, we visited the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, an annex of the art gallery in the old railway company headquarters. The building was used by the security police to hold and torture political prisoners during the dictatorship. Downstairs, the prison cells with screams for liberation carved into the walls. Upstairs, artworks - including a piece by Leila Danziger, 48 books nailed to the wall, all considered dangerous and subversive, including Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Some words from the book:

A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. The relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students) … Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse still, it turns them into ‘containers’, into receptacles to be filled by the teacher. The more completely he fills the receptacles, the better a teacher he is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositaries and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and ‘makes deposits’ which the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is [people] themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, part from the praxis, [people] cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other …

The truly committed must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of [people] as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness directed towards the world. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of [people] in their relations with the world. ‘Problem-posing’ education, responding to the essence of consciousness—intentionality—rejects communiqués and embodies communication. It epitomizes the special characteristic of consciousness: being conscious of, not only as intent on objects but as turned in upon itself … as consciousness of consciousness.

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  • Patrice Cooper