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 data’s content, 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.
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.
During a debate about the banking concept in my current English Comp 100 class, I stated that I believe that problem-posing education is better than the banking concept. A classmate named John Patton stated that he didn't agree with Freire that problem-posing education was better than the banking concept. Reading my other classmate's Banking Concept essays has led me to agree with fellow student Ben Bond, who stated that the it is best when the banking concept and problem-posing are used together. In Ben's essay he stated, "In my own experience, I have benefitted from both concepts in different ways. TBCoE has helped me in math by memorizing principles of the subject, and in english classes by helping me to remember rules central to language and the proper execution of it. Problem Posing has helped me to better grasp that which I’ve already learned. My teachers would work with us and encourage questions to be asked regularly. Class participation has been rising in schools and seems to help the class get a flow of things. In moderation these to can coioncide to promote a healthy classroom experience."I understood what Ben had stated, but his words alone were not enough for me to understand exactly how education is better when the banking concept and problem-posing are used together.
While reading fellow classmate Courtney Huff's Banking Concept essay, she asked this question in regards to the banking concept, "So does this concept only work with adults who already have an understanding of the world around them? Which then leads me to a firm believing that I have had for years, children only know what they are taught. Can we utilize this method in our younger children to encourage critical thinking at a younger age or do they need a firm understanding of the basics."
I commented on her essay with "Children only learn what they are taught.. That's a true statement, but who is teaching them? They observe what we do. They are active researchers. Even when we aren't teaching them, they are observing and learning, self teaching."
To better explain herself, in a revision Courtney stated, "I believe Freire said it the best and I will quote him “Narration leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into containers into receptacles to be filled by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.” In my margin this was marked as interesting because I see this being practiced with my 8 year old son. Memorization is key to multiplication and division was a statement his teacher made last week at open house. Is this truly the only way to have an 8 year old know how to do multiplication? Even for that fact was this something someone dumped into her receptacle or her own judgement of the easiest way to learn times tables? I think I have fell victim of being a banker. My daughter is now two. She can identify all the primary colors, as well as a multitude of shapes. The reason she can is because I bought flash card and showed them to her daily from age one on. Only after the revision of this piece did I realize that out on our walks, or at the grocery store, I rarely question if she knows these colors or shapes off of the white 4X6 card."
Courtney's statement about her child memorizing through flashcards at age two has lead me to believe that there is nothing wrong with the banking concept when a child is too young to understand logic. My first born son had learned and recognized his letters, numbers and shapes by the time he was 18 months old through songs and watching videos. One day while in the car, as I pressed on the break pedal, My son said, "octagon", as he pointed his finger at a stop sign. In fellow classmate, John Patton's notes, he stated, "You're telling me knowledge creates more knowledge like wealth creates more wealth. To me this principle always implied that you already have an abundant supply to start with." Courtney's perspective combined John's perspective has influenced my new perspective. John stated that his perception of knowledge creating knowledge implied an individual needs an abundant supply of knowledge in order to create more knowledge. His perception evoked thought. "Do we need an abundance of knowledge to gain more knowledge?", I asked myself. My thoughts reflected on what Courtney had earlier said in regards to her daughter and on my experiences with my own children. I believe we don't need an abundance of knowledge to begin with to gain more knowledge, but yet only the memorization (banking concept) of 26 letters, 10 numbers, and a few basic shapes.
Letters, numbers and shapes are symbolic representations of ideas. The numbers represent quantity. Letters represent sounds that when combined create words to which we attach ideas or beliefs. The memorization of these symbols is the catalyst for obtaining the ability to understand and communicate with other humans. Letters, numbers, and shapes could be considered the molecular structure of education. With that being said, I believe that problem-posing education and the banking concept share a symbiotic relationship, or in other words, the two concepts depend on each other for their very own existences.