“The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them” (Freire, 2000, p. 73).
Friere argues that the knowledge transmission model of education (banking education) forces students to focus their attention and energy on passively acquiring or memorizing information presented to them, which distracts them from actively participating in the construction of reality. By participating in this model of education, students change themselves to fit into reality as presented to them rather than attempting to transform that reality.
This quote exemplifies Freire’s key argument, which is that banking education is a tool for oppression that serves primarily to maintain the status quo. One of the ways in which this is achieved is by dehumanizing students by transforming them from creative and active subjects in the construction of reality to receiving objects of a “lifeless and petrified” reality (2000, p. 71). Eventually, within this model, students don’t just accept the static reality presented to them, but become active agents in maintaining its existence. This serves the interests of the oppressors because their crafted reality is not at risk, and those who may seek to change it are instead assimilated into it. However, Friere does acknowledge that banking education may actually lead to such strong tensions between the presented reality and learners’ need to become fully human that some learners may rebel and strive to make the world fit them instead of succumbing to the banking education requirement for them to fit into the existing world. This model is contrasted with problem-posing education, which is dialogic and allows learners and teachers to establish a reciprocal relationship as they engage in the process of transforming reality. Friere presents banking education and problem-posing education as mutually exclusive and distinct praxes.
The reason that this quote and Freire’s work stood out for me is because the juxtaposition of instructivism (or “banking education”) and other social theories of learning is a common theme in education discourse. My own educational research and beliefs about learning often draw on the idea of learning as a dialogic process that occurs through social interaction. In my own professional role as an educational developer, I often challenge the idea that many educators have of knowledge as “a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” (2000, p. 72). However Freire problematizes the transmission model of education in a way that I had never considered before. His arguments that this model is not just a form of knowledge absolutism, but also serves to reinforce existing oppressive structures and results in turning learners into automata, forced me to critically reflect on a number of practices that we promote in education and whether these also force docile submission to an “existing” reality.
In previous courses and reflections on constructivism and instructivism, I argued that some traditional instructional models, such as the lecture, which are designed for transmitting a standardized body of facts and information, may still have a role in education (Dilkes, 2019). However, Freire argues that “those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety” (2000, p. 79). The implications of this for professional education in particular, in which the goal of education is largely enculturation into a professional practice, is unsettling. I’m not sure how professional education, such as Engineering, Medicine or Law, could be transformed in such a way to fully eliminate all traces of the transmission model of education. There are standardized bodies of knowledge that drive professional standards and governing rules which necessarily contradict the idea of education as a practice of total freedom. This isn’t to say that professional education requires students to be enculturated into a static or rigid community of practice. In fact, I have previously argued that “the culture and values of the community can (and are) renegotiated through every act of enculturation” (Dilkes, 2020). I wonder, if instead, there could be a hybrid model that both served to prepare students to practice within the existing culture/community while providing them with opportunities to transform that culture/community without needing to entirely reinvent it in the process. Or perhaps, I too am suffering from being “surrounded and influenced by the climate which generates the banking concept” (Freire, 2000, p. 79) because it is so ingrained in our curricular practices. And maybe that’s exactly what Freire was arguing – that every instance where we accept the banking education model is a microaggression against freedom, even (or especially) when it can be justified by tradition or necessity.
Dilkes, D. (2019) A Brief Look at Learning Theories [Blog Post] Retrieved from http://edubabble.ddilkes.com/2019/10/02/week-3-historical-influencers-and-looking-more-deeply-at-the-various-aspects-of-online-learning/ (Links to an external site.)
Dilkes, D. (2020) Community & Conformity [Blog Post[ Retrieved from http://edubabble.ddilkes.com/2020/03/10/community-conformity/ (Links to an external site.)
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed / Paulo Freire ; translated by Myra Bergman Ramos ; with an introduction by Donald Macedo. (30th anniversary ed.). Continuum.