Paulo Freire’s essay, The Banking Concept of Education, details the author’s belief that the nature of conventional education is oppressive because the teacher objectifies the student while playing a hierarchical role. Freire’s solution to the banking concept of education is his theory of problem-posing education, a form of education that puts students and teachers on a level playing field.
The Banking Education
The banking concept classroom layout consists of the teacher being the focus located at the forefront like a stage with the students collectively oriented in a manner that faces in the direction of the teacher, like an audience. The banking concept implies that the teacher is viewed as an all-knowing superior being, as the student is viewed as an ignorant inferior being, not capable of true understanding. The banking concept’s method of depositing information oppresses the student because it does not promote critical thinking for understanding, but rather only promotes an atmosphere where the ignorant inferior student memorizes and repeats data back to the all knowing superior teacher. The process of memorizing data without obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter is oppressive and damaging, as it creates, within the student, a grandiose sense of pseudo intellect that hinders the development of the individual’s ability to think critically. The student remains ignorant and oppressed while believing he/she is intelligent and liberated. The banking concept of education serves to benefit the elite class only, by creating an easily controllable subservient class of ignorant workers who are obedient to authority, possess minimal critical thinking skills, and blindly accept information with out inquiry.
The Problem-Posing Education
The problem-posing classroom layout may consist of student seating arrangements that wrap around the teacher in a semicircle, stadium seating where students sit at a higher elevation then the teacher, and many more, including the banking concept classroom layout. Problem posing implies that both the teacher and students are on a level playing field, though the teacher still holds the authority. Problem-posing education takes the focus off of the teacher’s role of authority and places it on the subject matter of the study. By encouraging open discussion, debate, brainstorming and the sharing of ideas, the problem-posing method of education academically benefits both teacher and student while it promotes creativity and individualism. Under the banking concept, students regurgitate memorized data without having an understanding of the content of the data, where as problem-posing education liberates the student by promoting critical thinking, allowing students to dissect and better comprehend the information that they have memorized. Problem-posing education liberates the oppressed and serves to benefit all of society as a whole, by influencing individuals to think critically, engage in debate and group discussions, and to share perceptions, ideas, and other information collectively for the sake of obtaining knowledge and progress. A society consisting of an informed competent majority class is not only harder to control or oppress, but more likely is capable of self-governance.
My Experiences with the Banking Concept and Problem-posing education
I have experienced the banking concept of education through out my entire public school career, but one particular instance that stands out in my mind was in my 5th grade mathematics class. The teacher’s name was Ms. Neff. Neff had a notorious reputation for being an evil hag, but the students prayed that she’d be their teacher because it was known that she didn’t believe in the concept of homework. I was lucky enough to be a student in Neff’s math class. The rules of the class were simple but oppressive: Don’t speak unless called upon. Sit silently while the teacher writes notes on the chalkboard and teaches the lesson. Copy the teacher’s notes. Complete and submit the day’s assignment before the end of class. Please refrain from asking questions till the end of the lesson. If the class assignment is not complete by the end of the class, student must finish it at home and hand it in promptly at the beginning of the next day’s class.
This was the ultimate hierarchical classroom setting. While the lesson was being taught, students were not permitted to ask questions. Questions had to wait until the end of the lesson. Our assignments, if not completed in class, must be completed at home. I thought she didn’t believe in homework… hmmm??? So basically, if a student did not understand the course material, he/she would be cornered to waste time by sitting in silence, waiting for the lesson to end when Ms. Neff would better explain the materials. I took the assignment home almost every day. Math was never my strong point, but 5th grade solidified a huge possibility that math would remain to be my weak point upon entering the 6th grade.
The most humiliating moment of my public school career occurred in Ms. Neff’s class. I dared to speak out without being called upon and at that moment Ms. Neff cocked her head like a beast while pointing her finger at me and ordered me to “Sit on the ground!” After I followed her command and sat on the floor in shame, she walked past me. With my eyes gazing up I met contact with her eyes gazing down, and under her breath she followed up with, “That’s where dirt belongs.” The banking concept of education isolates the student as if they are alien to the society to in which they belong. The teacher’s power comes not only from his/her coveted knowledge, but also from the fact that he/she learns and gains insight from his/her students without the students’ awareness.
By far, the best teacher I ever had during my public school education was my 7th and 8th grade science teacher, a man by the name of Kenneth Acker. Mr. Acker implemented characteristics of problem-posing education in his classroom. On the first day of 7th grade, we took our seats at the black lab tables in the classroom. The teacher’s desk was positioned at the back of the classroom behind all the lab tables. The focus was on the chalkboard. Mr. Acker introduced himself. He was a young guy, maybe a few years out of college. I’ll never forget what he said to us that day: “You guys are in 7th grade now. I know you’ve learned a lot. You’ve been taught what to think, but this year I am going to teach you how to think.”
Mr. Acker didn’t assign us to our seats but instead let us sit wherever we wished. If our chosen seating arrangement disrupted the class, he would implement his authority accordingly and reassign our seating arrangement. Every Friday, Mr. Acker would give us an extra credit assignment. He’d write a question on the blackboard. The question never had a right or wrong answer but always evoked thought. The one sample question I remember was “How do you think the world was created?” Some had comical off the wall responses to the question like, “God ate a sandwich and farted out the universe.” But most students answered with biblical or scientific responses. Mr. Acker challenged the beliefs from both sides. A student mentioned how the biblical answer was impossible because he didn’t believe the universe could be created in 6 days. Acker got the gears in our heads moving when he responded, “If God is an infinite being with no beginning and no end, and humans calculated the length of a day as the amount of time it takes for our planet to make one full rotation, how can we assume that one day for God is 24 when he existed before the Earth? Maybe one day for God is 600 billion years. How do you know?” Some kids responded with a good example of the fixed mindset, “The Bible says that God created the universe in 6 days, so I believe it was 6 days.” One student responded with his belief in the big bang theory, “I don’t believe in God. God said let there be light, but I believe in the big bang theory”. Mr. Acker chimed in with, “How do you know if the big bang wasn’t a result of God’s command of “let there be light?”
Now let me include that Mr. Acker taught science and didn’t preach religion. He taught us the scientific theory. He was simply asking questions that made us think and question our own belief systems. I responded with nothing. I was blown away by the teacher’s ability to challenge of both beliefs while correlating them. The classroom was engaged in debate and discussion every Monday morning with responses to our extra credit assignments. Mr. Acker had nicknames for every student. He called me Mandy Gandy because I was dating a fellow classmate named Mandy Murphy. Sometimes he referred to me as Gandy Man. Mandy’s nickname was Murph Dog, but he also sometimes called her Mandy Gandy as well. Mr. Acker engaged the class with goofiness. “Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species” is ingrained in my head because of the jingle that man had taught us. Kenneth Acker furthered his education, earning a PhD, and is now the Principle of Garnet Valley Middle School. Mr. Acker taught me the greatest thing any teacher can teach, how to think critically.