Ways of Learning

Curiosity, Creativity, Compassion, and Cooperation are the 4 C’s of human nature. A fifth C is the darker side of our nature: Control. In past (and non-western or Indigenous) societies, they educated their youth through self-directed learning that required a high level of respect, cooperation, creativity, and mutual exploration. Adults guided the children rather than enforcing a strict curriculum. However, this style is rarely if ever present in our current school system. Why?

Social Control and Education

In Western world, societal control was the ‘necessary’ evil for European ambitions and colonization. To achieve this, they needed to rewrite how human nature was known. The concept of humans as empty vessels to be filled has its roots in the European philosophers of 1500s – 1900s. This ideology treats humans as objects to be carefully molded to fit the needs of society and thus, became the primary form of societal control. In Invention of the White Race, Theodore Allen shows how brutal enslavement, genocidal colonialism, and exploitive tenancy:

… principles of social control in a stable civil society based on racial oppression:

1. The oppressor group must be in the majority. This might be called the Sir William Petty principle, after the person who first formulated it. This principle may incidentally serve to give racial oppression a “democratic” gloss.

2. From this “majority principle,” and from pyramidal structure of class society, it follows that the majority of the oppressor group is necessarily composed not of members of the exploiting classes, but an intermediate social control stratum of laboring classes, non-capitalist tenants, and wage-labors.

3. These laboring-class members of the oppressor group are to be shielded against the competition of the members of the oppressed group by the establishment of economically artificial, “anomalous” privileges – artificial because they subordinate short-term private individual profits to considerations of social control.

4. Just as system of capitalist production presents cyclical crises and regeneration, so the system of racial privileges of the laboring classes of oppressor group is adapted and preserved, come what may of economic crisis, impoverishment, famine, intramural conflict, natural calamity or war, in order to maintain the function of the intermediate buffer control stratum.

End of Chapter 5, The Invention of the White Race: Racial Oppression and Social Control by Theodore Allen.

That intermediate stratum, in America especially but this harmful social control has been exported worldwide, is often marked by how close to pasty white a person’s skin is. This stratum assists in preventing workers from building solidarity against the capitalist class and keeps lower classes in competition over artificial forced scarcity of resources, jobs, and housing. Yet humans are not born with this ideology or its principles. It must be taught, but to teach it, the leaders of the social control must standardize the education so that people of that nation get the same ideology, so to preserve specific privileges for some groups and exploitation for others. It’s often called the “banking method” as it treats us as recepticals to be filled up rather than autonomous beings with ability to think critically. To think critically would damage the pillars of social control and can tip them toward destruction.

Paulo Freire tackles the harms from the ideology of ‘banking method’ and contrasts it with a healthier and more liberatory approach he calls “problem-solving pedagogy.”

If we are to seek true liberation, then we cannot use the master’s tools – as Audre Lorde said, ‘the master’s tools can’t bring down the master’s house.’

Screenshot of an excerpt of text by Paulo Freire that reads: "Authentic liberation—the process of humanization—is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it. Those truly committed to the cause of liberation can accept neither the mechanistic concept of consciousness as an empty vessel to be filled, nor the use of banking methods of domination (propaganda, slogans—deposits) in the name of liberation.
Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the world."
Screenshot from Freire’s 2nd chapter

To be conscious requires us to critically think, but to critically think, we need to learn how to problem-solve, to be creative, to explore who we are and our relation to others and our environment. We need to return to the roots of our humanity, the 4 C’s, which requires education to be based in problem-solving not ‘banking.’

Problem-solving methodology is rooted in dialogue between teacher and student, where they consent to the material, critically think and discuss material, and learn from each other. Dialogue cannot be forced, else it ceases to be dialogue and becomes lecturing at best and abuse at worst. We cannot speak for another, as that takes away the person’s voice, and thus fails to be dialogue. Dialogue must meet the other with an open mind, else it ceases to be dialogue and becomes a projection of our assumptions and/or refusal to account for our own biases. Paulo Freire provides some excellent examples of what is not dialogue:

Dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning and acting, is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility. How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own? How can I dialogue if I regard myself as a case apart from others—mere “its” in whom I cannot recognize other “I”s? How can I dialogue if I consider myself a member of the in-group of “pure” men, the owners of truth and knowledge, for whom all non-members are “these people” or “the great unwashed”? How can I dialogue if I start from the premise that naming the world is the task of an elite and that the presence of the people in history is a sign of deterioration, thus to be avoided? How can I dialogue if I am closed to—and even offended by—the contribution of others? How can I dialogue if I am afraid of being displaced, the mere possibility causing me torment and weakness?

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 3, Paulo Freire

Problem-solving methodology requires dialogue, but only if such dialogue respects with humilty and love the consciousness, body, and mind of the other person. Again, the goal is not to treat students as a well to be filled, but as conscious beings capable of critical thinking and speech. Those involved in this education are cooperative learners and teachers eager to explore, honor, and respect one another’s humanity and transformative growth.

However, the Western education paradigm requires a ‘banking method’ to teaching, where students are vessels to be filled with the ‘right’ information and narratives. Students are not allowed to critically think as that would cause a disruption of the continuation of staus quo. Instead, students are expected to memorize the narratives of the oppressors, to think the way they decree, to behave within their constructed parameters, to not question the oppressor’s constructed reality.

Some people like Akilah S. Richards focus on ‘unschooling’ to unlearn the Western pedagogy of ‘banking’ and not trusting children or giving them autonomy. She writes:

Unschooling is child-trusting, anti-oppressive, liberatory, love-centered approach to parenting and caregiving. It is a way of life that is based in freedom, respect, and autonomy. Unschooling is a curiosity-led approach to learning without testing or predefined curricula. Unschoolers see learning as organic by-product of living and being a child, and therefore, reject the premise of passing information from adults and books to children based on what is believed (by adults) to be necessary learning. Children follow their interests, and their parents offer resources, which can include direct instruction from books, for their children to pursue, exploring what they enjoy…

Listening and witnessing help parents to facilitate learning by offering resources for their child to pursue their interests and to follow their curiosity, without restrictions of time limitations or judgment by way of testing.

Deschooling and unschooling are healing work as much as they are liberation-centered lifestyle practices.

Raising Free Peoples by Akilah S. Richards

Here Richards explains a way to unlearn Western education’s coercive, top-down, pyramidal power structures and punishment-based learning. Deschooling embraces the Problem-solving approach Freire describes. Love, respect, humility, trust-building are essential to building the relationships necessary to learn with someone rather than lecture to them.

To be truly conscious and to liberate our minds from the Western ideological chains, we must unlearn how to learn.

Let’s see how Freire contrasts these methods of education:

Image of Paulo Freire from website: Global Social Theory

Problem-posing” education, responding to the essence of consciousness—intentionality—rejects communiqués and embodies communication. It epitomizes the special characteristic of consciousness: being conscious of, not only as intent on objects but as turned in upon itself in a Jasperian “split”—consciousness as consciousness of consciousness.

Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information. It is a learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act) intermediates the cognitive actors—teacher on the one hand and students on the other.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

As conscious human beings, we are not passive wells for a teacher to fill (just as children are not blank slates for parents, teachers, society to write upon). We have the ability to think beyond what we are told, but if we continuously receive the message to blindly obey what society tries to dump into our minds, then we can become trapped in oppressor’s domination webs.

Many authoritarian groups and leaders abhor education and books that present an alternative view because it often induces critical thinking. Education and what we read or discuss with others can give us new language to explore our reality, our environments, and our relations with others. In order to maintain power over us, the oppressor needs to limit our language, knowledge, and ways of being. Thus, the rigid control of education and societal narratives.

The teacher must be the one to teach, to hold power over the student, while the student exists as a receptical and absorbs the narrative given to them. Critical thinking cannot exist in the ‘banking method’ because the moment questions arise to critically examine the given narrative is the moment the fragile veil masking reality shatters, and reality ceases to be the carefully constructed fiction of the oppressor.

How do we define these two ways of learning?

Let’s examine how Freire defines it through the critical examination of how lessons are constructed. Cognizing is a term he uses to uncover the complex, active thinking required to create a lesson.

The banking concept (with its tendency to dichotomize everything) distinguishes two stages in the action of the educator. During the first, he cognizes a cognizable object while he prepares his lessons in his study or his laboratory; during the second, he expounds to his students about that object. The students are not called upon to know, but to memorize the contents narrated by the teacher. Nor do the students practice any act of cognition, since the object towards which that act should be directed is the property of the teacher rather than a medium evoking the critical reflection of both teacher and students. Hence in the name of the “preservation of culture and knowledge” we have a system which achieves neither true knowledge nor true culture.

The problem-posing method does not dichotomize the activity of the teacher-student: she is not “cognitive” at one point and “narrative” at another. She is always “cognitive,” whether preparing a project or engaging in dialogue with the students. He does not regard cognizable objects as his private property, but as the object of reflection by himself and the students. In this way, the problem-posing educator constantly re-forms his reflections in the reflection of the students. The students—no longer docile listeners—are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create; together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos.

Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality. The former attempts to maintain the submersion of consciousness; the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.

Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context, not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed.

Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world. In these relations consciousness and world are simultaneous: consciousness neither precedes the world nor follows it.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

The object of study can range from an multitude of objects within our universe to an infinite amount of ideas. To think critically, we must be open and willing to engage in dialogue and seek understanding between the thoughts, actions, and perceptions of others. Freire describes this examination of the object or idea as an act if cognition, which is an active act. He contrasts it with the “banking method’s” approach, where students must be passively absorbing what another tells them. The students do not utilize their cognition to memorize another’s words. The need to question the truth of the teacher’s narrative is discouraged.

To become an active agent in one’s education requires acts of cognition. Quoted above, Freire describes how that works between students and each other and the teacher. They contemplate, critically examine, reflect, and work together toward understanding. This is not an passive act but an active one.

Freire mentions the level of doxa versus logos. These are ancient Greek terms that is a nod to Plato’s theory of forms and learning. Plato assigns doxa to the lower level realm, which is a logicless realm that is easily manipulated and housed in the unreasoning and belief portion of the soul. For Plato, physical objects in doxa level are not in their true form – not until logic and reasoning (through logos) give them meaning and depth. (Aristotle would dispute this to call doxa the common sense or practical thought from which all knowledge starts.) Thus, logos represents the higher level of thought based in logic, critical examination, and robust cognitive acts like scientific or philosophical reasoning. Cognitive acts require logic and reasoning to help facilitate learning through dialogue, active actions, reflection, and reforming one’s understanding through new knowledge or perspectives. To build knowledge and understanding, logos creates a horizontal format of learning, where the teacher is simultaneously student and teacher and student is both teacher and student.

Indeed, problem-posing education, which breaks with the vertical patterns characteristic of banking education, can fulfill its function as the practice of freedom only if it can overcome the above contradiction [Note by Aidan: this contradiction is the teacher-student relation]. Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on “authority” are no longer valid; in order to function, authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other…

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I quoted the above detailing the two styles of educating in depth as Freire paints the contrast beautifully.

Liberation requires us to be conscious and in relation with each other and the world. Freire shows us how to work toward that aim. We must foster dialogue, critical thought, building relations, unlearning individualism, and creating in collaboration with each other and our environment. We are not separate from the natural systems of our planet, and our actions and ideologies have tremendous impact on each other and our environment. To achieve sustainable harmony and equity with each other and our planet, we must break down our indivialistic walls of alienation our current societal systems grafted onto us. The destruction of the old is always accompanied by the creation anew. Dialogue and action mediate these relations.

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 3, Paulo Freire

Liberation cannot happen if we deny others their right to speak. When we deny people that right, we become an oppressor. This denial of speech is central to the banking method of education, where the student is denied authentic dialogue with the teacher and other students — in fact, students are often denied their right to speak, especially if their words exit the constructed reality of the oppressor. As always, what we say impacts each other and our world, and harmful speech that tears down isn’t authentic, true, nor healthy. Accountability must exist to provide guides in our relating, destroying, creating, and becoming. To be accountable means owning what we say or do and accepting consequences and learning from those to do and be more true, compassionate, equitable, and just.

Problem-solving pedagogy is also rooted in collective approaches to building and maintaining community. Because to have authentic dialogue and liberatory critical thinking and action, we must work together in solidarity and compassion. It is only when we come together that we hold the power to break the harmful social control systems and exploiting class systems. Alienated by the “banking method,” we often fail to bridge the chasms between classes and racial and gender groups. But the more of us challenge the status quo, the more able we are to build community and power to fight for liberation, to unlearn individualistic white supremacist imperialist capitalism ideology, and dismantle it for good.

In its stead, we can build a more equal, equitable, just, and sustainable future, where everyone’s needs, bodily autonomy, and talents are respected and honored. We are powerful together.

By Aibird

Open the door, step inside. Here you find a forest, teeming with animals and birds, which sweeps up the sides of snow-capped mountains. Here in the small pocket of beauty, one finds the essence of my soul. A writer at heart, I delve deep into the finer details of humanity's spirit, and seek to share with others what gems I uncover. I find life exciting and full of interesting surprises, and despite the great pain that often confronts me, I persevere with the joy in my heart still bubbling, and the light of my soul still aflame. There is a time and a place to introspect one's self, but often enough it is best to not look back in regret, but leap forward in the present toward the achievement of one's deepest dreams. I am a wanderer. An explorer. One place cannot contain me for long, but to my friends and family, I remain loyal, for love is not bound by time nor place. Once cultivated and nourished continuously, it binds people together on a journey through the unknown reaches of life.

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