This is too good for me not to lift right off of one blog and plunk it down here (“Steal this Blog Post!”)–this is from Paul Thomas cross-posting at DailyKos and Schools Matter, “Universal Public Education Is Dead: The Rise of State Schools.”
More than thirty years, however, before Rich’s bold and accurate commentary on public education, Paulo Freire warned against the danger of authoritarian schooling:
“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in the which the scope of action allowed to the students extends as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits….For apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, individuals cannot be truly human….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. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as process of inquiry.”
Fulfilling fully Freire’s warnings about banking education and ignoring his call for problem-posing education as individual empowerment and as essential for democracy, NCLB codified the accountability era, entrenching standards- and test-based state education to replace universal public education.
U.S. schools under the jurisdiction of state and federal governments are now scripted processes that view knowledge as static capital, students as passive and empty vessels, and teachers as compliant conduits for state-approved content.
The accountability paradigm is antithetical to human agency and autonomy and thus to democracy, but it serves the needs of the status quo and the ruling elite; in effect, accountability paradigms driving compulsory education are oppressive:
“Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests if the oppressor. No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why? While only a revolutionary society can carry out this education in systemic terms, the revolutionary leaders need not take full power before they can employ the method. In the revolutionary process, the leaders cannot utilize the banking methods as an interim measure, justified on grounds of expediency, with the intention of later behaving in a genuinely revolutionary fashion. They must be revolutionary—that is to say, dialogical—from the outset.” (Freire, 1993)
If our commitments to education lie within our commitments to democracy and human autonomy, then we must set aside the accountability regime of scripted curriculum as “standards” and reducing all teaching and learning to outcomes as test data.
Instead, we should build schools that are problem-posing, as Freire explains, wherein students are student-teachers and teachers are teacher-students with both in dialogue and partnership in forming the questions and seeking the answers.
The accountability paradigm fixes knowledge as authoritarian capital, above even the possibility of being challenged. In problem-posing classrooms, students and teachers read and re-read the world as well as write and re-write the world.
To read and write the world is to unpack and examine the world as it is, bound by the context of time and place at the moment of the reading and writing. But this is mere observation; if we stop here—even if we are rejecting the banking concept of education—we are failing action, which requires re-reading and re-writing.
Re-reading and re-writing the world acknowledges that being as a human is always becoming, and these acts embrace the perpetual cycle of re-reading and re-writing as essential for both human agency and democracy. Teaching and learning are reciprocal and on-going, not hierarchical and ends to attain, possess.
Paul also quotes from Adrienne Rich (poet and essayist and outspoken feminist) from her book Arts of the Possible:
“Universal public education has two possible—and contradictory—missions. One is the development of a literate, articulate, and well-informed citizenry so that the democratic process can continue to evolve and the promise of radical equality can be brought closer to realization. The other is the perpetuation of a class system dividing an elite, nominally ‘gifted’ few, tracked from an early age, from a very large underclass essentially to be written off as alienated from language and science, from poetry and politics, from history and hope—toward low-wage temporary jobs. The second is the direction our society has taken. The results are devastating in terms of the betrayal of a generation of youth. The loss to the whole of society is incalculable.” (p. 162)
My only comment on what Rich has written is that she must have been living in a different country to propose the first mission a possibility! And maybe it was a different country. But we are a country that speaks with a forked tongue as our native peoples knew well. We preach liberty and humanitarian ideals while we destroy other people, other cultures, other geographies to suit our ends. If we’re not shooting and bombing a country we are moving in large machinery in order to denude its forests, plunder its minerals, and perhaps enslave its people to labor on corporate chain gangs in the sands or on deep sea platforms.
Even the class of elite, “gifted” students who have been given the opportunity to read the literature of the oppressed, to follow the work of Marx and Engels, Ruskin and William Morris, Thoreau and Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr, Goodman and Chomsky , are conscripts in our war on the planet as they have chosen instead Hayek and Rand (they’ve actually read Rand) and the cult of progress.
Freire offers the most incisive remark regarding how we should raise our children to be “critically conscious”: They must be revolutionary—that is to say, dialogical—from the outset.
Thomas puts the emphasis in the right place when he stresses that human being is always a becoming; and that is Freire’s point as well, as a revolution is always a turning and returning, back to the radical nature of being. There is no settled state but death.
I would argue that there is no victory on this particular field for education, or for critical consciousness for that matter. It is always a dangerous prospect to ask the right questions of the wrong people.
A perfect example of a failure of education is the church founded on Paul’s story of Jesus as Christ. Jesus is the sage of becoming–always insisting on living for “the other” in every moment as you live for yourself. You eat and drink and laugh and congregate with everyone NOW. And that NOW is truly the realized Kingdom of the magnanimous being. But there is always the next moment and always the next chance. The church insists on a different story and in the process becomes a calcified institution serving worldly power.
A perfection is not a becoming
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And so we must raise this very serious point. Is the school as conceived and institutionalized in the US the school that will teach humans the ways of becoming?
The answer, so far, has always been “no.” But maybe we can draw another circle still…