Introduction to January 2009 Issue of Nelta Choutari

Critical Pedagogy is a term that refers to a whole range of educational theories that emphasize the need for the learner to be critically conscious about the process, purpose, and relevance of learning. Many of the key concepts of critical pedagogy are derived from a few major educational philosophers like Paulo Friere, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky. In this column, we are presenting a reading from the famous book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Freire in which he critiqued traditional systems of education as mainly an act of ‘banking’ or depositing of information by teachers into the heads of students as passive learners. As a more progressive, humanitarian, and democratic alternative, Freire proposed the idea of what he called the ‘problem-posing’ model of education, a process that involves learners in the understanding, application, and production of knowledge as it matters to their lives, situations, and needs.  Critical pedagogy is an educational approach that attempts to help students question and challenge existing social structures of inequality and domination, beliefs and practices to overcome problems and achieve intellectual and spiritual as well social and economic empowerment and emancipation. In his book Empowering Education, author Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as “habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse” (129). Some scholars argue that this concept evolved out of Paulo Friere’s philosophy of education; but there were other scholars before Friere who had laid much groundwork for the development of critical pedagogy. John Dewey (1859 – 1952), who is often considered the founder of ‘progressive’ and also ‘constructive’ education, had developed many ideas that helped define and shape modern pragmatic, student-centered, and experience-based pedagogies. Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934), a Russian psychologist whose work is often credited as the key source of constructivist theory of education, had contributed the idea that learners learn best from interacting with other learners and in real social situations instead of teachers’ lectured input. The common constructivist practices of collaborative learning, peer mentoring, group work, and peer review all draw on this idea that students can learn through meaningful interactions with their peers, rather than solely with the teacher. Critical pedagogy, in short, is the pedagogy of socially directed and intellectually conscious education.

Freire’s Ideas (intro to reading)

Freire: Banking Model of Education

Paulo Friere’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a book that most of us have either read or read about and one that has sold almost 6 lakh copies and Freire is one of the most famous educational philosophers of the twentieth century. The part of the book that is being introduced here is where Friere discusses the ‘banking’ model of education, or the traditional approach in teaching where teachers “deposit” facts and ideas into the students’ minds, instead of involving them in actively generating their own ideas, helping them make knowledge relevant and productive in their own real lives.

Friere suggests here that the banking model of education is usually used by, or works in favor of, the rulers/oppressors of the society; teachers in such systems may teach without even realizing how they are being used by the oppressive system. By simply banking given ideas as knowledge in their students, they help the system ‘brainwash’ young people into believing in the status quo, into accepting the patterns of inequality and injustice as ‘natural’ and ideal, and into disciplining them in the name of education so the system can always benefit from the established values, stability, culture, etc.

The alternative approach to education that Friere suggests here is what he calls the ‘problem-posing’ approach. To simplify, this approach involves the teacher presenting problems of real life before students, including perhaps the problems of traditional education, so students can think about those problems for themselves and in relation to the reality of their lives, and learn through solving real problems. By helping students see that education is creating knowledge that matters to the learner, that knowledge is a ‘process of inquiry’, and that they “educate the teacher” in the process of creating knowledge, a true teacher can transform the system of education and the society in favor of the learner instead of molding them to fit in and ’succeed’ in the system.

This quick introduction to the reading already sounds ineffectual…. please enjoy Friere himself, now available online (at this site). If you wish to read more, almost the entire book is now available online here.

The 27th Letter of the English Alphabet

Teacher’s Anecdote (Nelta Choutari Jan 09)

It was the very first week of my teaching at Pinewood English School in Butwal, about 15 years ago. I had just given classwork to my Nursery class and was going around to see how individual students were doing. One little boy, named Ankit, called me: “Sir, here come na.” (he had been a ‘boarder’ for a year, so he already had an impressive range of pidgin English expressions to communicate with). ‘This what?’ he asked, showing me a strange drawing on his notebook that looked like the letter G with three arms added to the right side! I said, “I don’t know.” He looked in my eyes, smiled, and then said, “Tell na!” With me sitting there realizing the difficulty of the situation, Ankit repeated his question for a while, along with strong gestures and the sweet voice of a four year old, “Umm, tell na, sir”! I finally ventured an answer, “That’s nothing”.

Ankit looked at me, smiled very brightly and with a visible sense of gratitude, and said, “E, nothing”! Then he went on to draw the same shape once again, and showed me: “Look, sir, this nothing”!

To this day, I remember Ankit and the 27th alphabetical letter in English that he invented and forced me to name. That has been the most unforgettable moment of respect for the kind of creativity that kids like Ankit demonstrate, which I am often afraid I have inadvertently stifled for 15 years. ‘Am I banking or am I not?’ is a serious question.

–Ghanashyam Sharma

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