Posted: March 6, 2014 in Critical Pedagogy
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The way that an education system is organised, structured and seen as successful, is when knowledge is transferred from one mind to another, from the teacher to the student.

Paulo Freire describes this imbuement of knowledge, so keenly advocated by many, as the ‘Banking’ concept. Remember, there are a lot of bankers in education; beware they come in many guises.

However every teacher has the potential to become what Henry. A Giroux and Peter McLaren describe as “transformative intellectuals” through the teaching and understanding of Critical Pedagogy. This philosophy allows students to be educated and also vitally, develop a personal “conscienticizao”, translated from Freire’s native language of Brazilian Portuguese, as a critical consciousness.

Critical Pedagogy is concerned with the student learning knowledge; knowledge that will enable them to recognise that they are part of an oppressive system. Through this teaching the student can then possess an educated awareness of their own place in this system and importantly have the knowledge to do something about it.

Critical Pedagogy, which has been suggested in some quarters, has no connection with discovery learning. Now repeat after me and write that down seven times…I believe this an effective strategy of traditional teaching!

Gert Biesta, suggests however, that knowledge is an emergence of meaning. An emergence of what we understand as we participate in the world through individual actions. An emergence that always represents something more real than itself. He also points out that knowledge can never be an: “object that can be transferred from one place to the next.”

The challenge of teachers becoming transformative intellectuals, rather than ‘bankers’ however, is due to their resistance to move away from being technicians of content, who simply transmit knowledge.

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.” Freire

As soon as ‘banking’ teachers shake off this arrogant idea that it is important at every given opportunity to remind their kids how clever they are and how much they know, they may start to break down the self-imposed academic and cultural barriers between themselves and their students.

“It only serves to create misfits, people who believe themselves superior to the rest of humanity because they have accumulated in their memory a certain quality of facts and dates which they cough up at every opportunity to almost raise a barrier between themselves and others.” Gramsci

‘Banking’ education is unfortunately focussed and encouraged in many teacher-training programmes. We should be considering not how teachers can learn educational wisdom; but ask the question, how can teachers become educationally wise? This educational wisdom is not a skill or competence, or a result of regurgitating scientific evidence, but a quality that permeates and characterises the whole person and comes with experience.

As Biesta suggests we shouldn’t be: “satisfied for teachers to operate as unresponsive robots that are supposed to intervene on equally unresponsive objects rather than to engage in educational encounters with real human subjects.”

If we look at the means of how this ‘banking’ concept works in a classroom we may see, an enforced uniformity, a focus on the outward appearance of attention, decorum and obedience and a reliance upon passivity and receptivity.

Traditional education involves theories about how to teach students (as objects) and theories about how the students (as objects) can learn; which ultimately affects how they should be taught. All of which allow these ‘bankers’ to simply deposit generic knowledge into the minds of the students they teach. And don’t forget, this is an extremely effective method, as these young minds have been prepared to passively receive these regular deposits of knowledge through the means of this style of teaching.

This traditional education directs and controls the kind of learning that takes place, ensuring that only: “legitimate meanings emerge in the classroom.” Biesta

When it comes to student learning there is a huge difference between ‘learning from’ the teacher and ‘being taught’ by the teacher. Both are concerned with the relationship between teacher and learner but both are radically different. When a student learns from their teacher they are in a very fundamental sense ‘in control’ of their learning. While the experience of ‘being taught’ is a very different one, because when we are ‘being taught’ by someone, something enters our field of experience in a way that is beyond our control.

To ‘learn from’ puts the student in a position of mastery, where as a student involved in a ‘taught by’ scenario relies on the capacity of receptivity and perhaps even gratitude, rather than mastery. Which leads us to think about the question, can ‘mastery learning’ be achieved through ‘traditional teaching’?

A student that is ‘being taught’ will be subject to an authoritarian conception of teaching. Unfortunately manifesting itself into the very real idea that a lot of teaching is about total control. Interestingly, but not surprisingly the most effective teachers and teaching strategies, as supported by research, are the ones who steer the educational process towards the production of pre-specified learning outcomes and pre-defined identities.

Any attempt to place limits on the kinds of natural identities and meanings that emerge in a classroom is an attempt to ensure that their students learn ‘legitimately’. A failure to adapt to this way of learning or an opposition to not learn what is being taught is perceived as an educational failure.  

In essence: Education still remains a form of planned enculturation or ‘training’.” Biesta

‘Banking’ education has the detrimental power to develop a sustained enculturation of our students. Enculturation is the process by which people learn, through ‘being taught’, the requirements of their surrounding culture and acquire values and behaviours that are deemed to be appropriate or necessary to exist in that culture.

Teachers should never have pre-conceived assumptions about what their students can achieve. We should allow students to be educated “without a pre-determined end”. In other words teachers should not try to socialise people into a particular way of being.

Biesta argues that as educators we should be responsible for maintaining a “space of emergence” for students to grow and develop as individuals, and that teachers should not attempt to initiate or socialise students into a common way of being and should never try to make students more similar. Something that may be sadly achieved by teaching every student in every school the same content through a Core Curriculum programme.

In fact the very purpose of this conventional curriculum is to ‘iron-out’ student idiosyncrasies and cultural ‘kinks’ so that the students being educated can develop in the ‘right’ way.

Hannah Arendt suggests that, we are who we are only by virtue of others who frustrate the purity of our actions. If we try to preserve the purity of our actions we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to develop into our own unique distinctness.

Education purposely and consciously shapes students into possessing and displaying certain kinds of subjectivities, far removed from developing a unique distinctness from our students. These indoctrinated habits and attributes will mean that students can ‘fit in’ in today’s society.

For many kids, schools disconnect from their lives and become a form of dead time. If these critics think that knowledge speaks for itself and does not have to connect in some ways to the lives of their students, it is because they don’t care about these students and view them as disposable, while treating them as indifferent and dumb. The notion that knowledge should be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative is lost on those reformers who are really simply accountants of a neoliberal audit culture.” Giroux

The banking education system often seen and advocated in this country: “serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed” And, why would they? Learning that is centered around the experiences, contexts, cultures and histories of the students in a particular school will only empower students to become critical and engaged agents, capable of making a change…and we don’t want that do we?

From the film “Inherit the Wind” (1960) Lawyer Henry Drummond (played by Spencer Tracey) explaining to teacher on trial, Bertram T. Cates (Dick York) about the importance of staying true to his own morals and beliefs. (36:17 – 36:40)

  1. […] Part of this value judgment and consideration that education is always a moral practice leads us to the idea that we shouldn’t be discussing what is effective teaching or effective practices, without firstly asking the complex question; effective for what? Something I have written about before here and here. […]

  2. Hi Tait,
    Thank you for this very thought provoking post. I have now read twice and many ideas are resonating within me. It is a passionate laying out of your values and educational philosophy, inspired by reflections on the work of great thinkers on education. It will inevitably draw criticism, and their are points in it that are explained in a “train of thought” rather then a purely academic fashion. This does no detract from its strength and message. I fear only that it may not serve to open dialogue or debate with those you criticise in your post. The key message and value of CP for me is the creation of dialogue. There is always a danger of reinforcing dichotomies when we argue our case. Biesta’s 2012 article on teaching (cited in first comment) is valuable in appealing to both parties and for me offers some common ground. We should not forget that most if not all educators have very similar aims. It is the methodology which varies. There is a desparate need for dialogue, between teachers, between teachers and students, between educators and the public. I hope that this post raises questions that will inspire people to think further on and to discuss the fundamental questions which concern us all. Thanks again for provoking thought and debate. It is what we all should aim to do!

    • taitcoles says:

      “We should not forget that most if not all educators have very similar aims. It is the methodology which varies” – I would question this, have you read my scibblings on this sublect?

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks Tait. Read the post you suggested. I see what you mean. I should have developed my point a little more. I believe that most teachers want the best for their students, care about their welfare, and want them to have successful lives. There must be very few teachers who would claim to want to enculturate, indoctrinate or oppress their students. Yet this happens. I agree that a new code is needed, as is a requestioning of the difference between code and style. My main point is that we can start from a common position as teachers and that dialogue may be more fruitful if we do. There is a tendency to polarise the debate which in my view does not help. I broadly agree with your views on education and look forward to more discussion. Thank you again for your reply to my comment. Rory

  3. Thanks for your post – interesting to see your developing synthesis of a number of ideas. I think the work of Gert Biesta is extremely useful and thought provoking, but at the same time complex. In some of my own work I’ve used his writing with Deborah Osberg on emergentist curricula ( as a foundation for research into co-constructive curricula and action research. Here, there is a really quite radical and democratic line of argument. This at first glance might then seem to be at odds with his more recent work on ‘giving teaching back to education’ ( although I think it has a number of levels which are still radical in their message, but move beyond many of the moribund false dichotomies which increasingly exist in educational debate. I think slow, detailed reading of some of his books, especially his most recent – ‘The Beautiful Risk of Education’ is well worth a read.

  4. Steve Padget says:

    Thank you for your breath of fresh air this morning. I was aware of the power of the Freire argument but the other contributors to the argument are new to me and I will have to do some more reading. I follow the line of M.A.C.Halliday, Neil Mercer and Robin Alexander who, among others, emphasis the role of language in learning. I also think that people such as David Gruenewald need to be listened to more; his take on the critical pedagogy of place is very inspiring. However, the conceptual and the cultural shifts that need to take place in order for these ideas to take root is enormous, as are the pressures exerted by the powers that be on all phases of education from ITT programmes downwards, but these are nothing compared with the philosophical shift that is needed if we are to understand the very nature of learning. Were we to succeed in doing that we might achieve a more effective and fulfilling relationship between learners and teachers and between learning and teaching.

    • taitcoles says:

      Cheers Steve,
      I agree that the fight could be an enormous one, but it’s still a fight that needs to be fought. In my mind we have to look at our ITT provision in the UK for long term impact.
      I’ve read lots of Gruenewald – I particularly like this

      • Steve Padget says:

        Thank you for the link to the Gruenewald article. This is in fact a document that I have on my hard drive having used in the past. It was this article and a reading of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed that changed my thinking about the process of learning and an re-examination of the role of the teacher. My thoughts on the matter in a concise form and aimed at an ITT audience can be seen in chapters one, two and seven of ‘Creativity and Critical Thinking’, Routledge, 2013.

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