Restoring Humanity are short(ish) segments on understanding a key idea of progressive education. This time, we're tackling discipline! What are the roots of our discipline system, what issues exist, and how can we solve them?
Hosted by Human Restoration Project
Chris McNutt: Hello, and welcome to Things Fall Apart from the Human Restoration Project. My name's Chris. Today, we're going to be talking about critical pedagogy, transforming one's mindset by thinking critically about the school system and enacting many changes. We'll be covering the basics and the history behind how it was invented and where it comes from as well as talking about how to actually implement it at your school. This work as well as our regular interview-style podcasts and free resources are a result of our incredible patrons. A special thanks to Matt Laughlin and Erin Flanagan for making this possible. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project and find everything we do as well as consider contributing on our website at humanrestorationproject.org. You can also follow us on Twitter at humerezpro. The founder of critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire wrote, The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people or the liberator of the oppressed, but he or she does commit himself or herself within history to fight at their side. Freire's experience was unique for an educator. He was born in 1921 and was raised by a middle-class family, albeit in one of the poorest regions of Brazil. He quickly became infatuated with educating those who were marginalized. Central to Freire's understanding of education was his father, who taught him about his culture with authority, but remarkably with compassion and understanding. During the Great Depression, the Freire family struggled and moved into a poorer neighborhood in another area of town. Freire lost multiple years of secondary school in this struggle, and in general, he was considered to be a pretty mediocre student. Even when transitioning into law school at age 20, he struggled to maintain high grades as he had to work to provide for his family. Education was central to Freire. So he began to teach a Portuguese language class shortly after obtaining his law degree. At the same time, he began to lecture trade union members on their rights and responsibilities. And soon after, his work became recognized as he was appointed to the Social Service for Industry as Chief of the Department of Education and Culture. In his new position, Freire constantly involved parents and children into his conversations. He worked with families to solve issues of malnutrition and child labor, and empowered families to take charge of their own problems, rather than relying on his organization solely. These were called workers clubs, and were almost like small governments within themselves, aimed at solving the needs of the working class. That being said, Freire was forced to resign after criticism of his open, democratic leadership style, which was considered to be too soft, too unorganized. Despite all this, he began to work with a few other teachers in building grassroots schools. They worked together to build K-through-adult learning programs, this new system, which was aptly titled the Paulo Freire system, that utilized also aptly the Paulo Freire method, where teachers, students, and families would build curriculums together, and then use methods like action groups and debates and roundtable discussions to work through content, which again, they chose and developed, as well as just pedagogical problems, like how should they be treated, how do they feel like they should be treated. Everything is very consensual. This work brought Freire to teach part-time at a university, where he became involved with the socialist-leaning Catholic Students Club. They were deemed a radical organization by the government. They fought for universal health care and social services and housing, and so much more for the working class. They met with those living in slums to talk about their problems, they helped educate them to speak up for themselves, and they taught them how to bring up all of their problems to the proper authorities. Freire was determined to find a solution to this core issue, how to educate all people rather than those in the middle or upper class. Freire began to observe and write about one of his core problems with the educational model. People are being manipulated by their education. Education isn't coming from what they want, but rather the government or someone with something to gain. This would later be translated to what's deemed now as the banking model, which we'll talk about here in a second. He continued to find ways to reform education and to speak about issues within the dominant culture controlling educational systems. He wanted to educate the illiterate to take charge of their own problems by teaching them directly about what those problems were and giving them the voice to do something about it. Reformists and leftist groups helped Freire form the National Plan of Literacy Training, which had overwhelming financial support. However, in 1964 Brazil faced a military coup which ended all potential success of this program. Freire was soon arrested for his subversive teaching methods and exiled. He visited Chile, the United States, and Geneva to lecture on education and what was now deemed critical pedagogy. Returning to Brazil after some government issues were solved, he lived most of his life lecturing as a Brazilian professor, continuing to push for this reinvention of power, often to the dismay of the government, who criticized him, among many others, that had something to gain. Freire published many books in his life, most notably Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and served as inspiration for many great writers, professors, and thinkers such as Henry Giroux, Antonia Darter, Bell Hooks, Paul Willis, Peter McLaren, and Shirley Steinberg. His connection with those that struggled the most, even when it often affected him personally, has led many to appreciate and follow his teachings, even though his work has never explicitly been supported by school systems, at least not on a large scale or for a long period of time. So what is critical pedagogy? Now that we know a little bit about the guy who started it, let's analyze what's all involved. If you've ever read Freire, you'll know it's really hard to follow. It's been interpreted in a lot of different ways, it changes from book to book, it's translated, and frankly, it's pretty dry and academic. It comprises elements of Marxism and anti-colonial thinking, but it doesn't really support any particular point of view, and it doesn't offer any explicit methods for schools to follow. That being said, there's so much we can learn from Freire's ideas, which have been built upon over the years, and I'm going to attempt to define some of these key points. The first one is the hidden curriculum. So the hidden curriculum are the unwritten and unintended rules and lessons of schools. We often talk about the curriculum, so lessons, activities, teaching methods, and more, but the hidden curriculum is what students may learn about themselves and others as a result of this work. So for example, school often teaches students that to be a quote-unquote good student is to become uniform and do what you're told, to meet the rubric exactly what it says, and partake in a certain number of required courses, extracurriculars, and sports. The overall lesson may have been meant to prepare them for college, but the hidden message is really, you should never rebel, really never question authority, never find something you truly like to do, to just obey complicity. Another example could be thinking about how you're not allowed to ask for help on a test or work with others, that's cheating, but in the real world, typically when we solve problems, we use other people constantly, we use the internet at our disposal, for example. Or maybe perhaps you look at an entire history class, you can go through a whole history class in many schools and maybe listen or hear of two safe African-American voices. You might hear about Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass. That makes the implication that either African-Americans rarely achieved anything, or maybe that history is just being marginalized for many racist reasons, for who writes the textbooks, for how the government gets involved in textbooks, et cetera. And really the rules itself reflect this hidden curriculum, maybe certain clothes are banned in inner city communities, but not mentioned at all in the suburbs. It's interesting to note how inner city classrooms tend to have more uniform policies than everywhere else. There are cultural ramifications here that are very important to notice. The second major concept, which is really Paulo Freire's core principle, is the banking model. The banking model refers to seeing students as empty vessels waiting to be filled by their knowledgeable teacher. He argued that the banking model, quote, attempts to control thinking and action leads men and women to adjust the world and inhibits their creative power. Like many other reformist thinkers of the 20th century, Freire believed that the state-mandated curriculum was destructive to students' individualistic thinking. This of course is widely presented in schools throughout the United States. Freire describes many teachers talking about reality as if it were motionless, static and compartmentalized, and predictable, and that they will fill these students with a narration without much significance at all. When the teacher is the narrator, students simply just memorize narrated content. And these filled students now are not only filled with mandated knowledge, which is often not really that important, but have been transformed into thinking like a depository. They no longer question things or think outside the box. I mean, really just think about it, walk into any classroom taught traditionally, especially a high school classroom, and tell students to learn whatever they want to do, or to do a truly creative project without any boundaries. And they'll usually just give you a blank look. I've had students Google how to be creative enough times that it makes me want to revolt against really this whole system. Furthermore, students in the banking model are seen as not knowing anything before the teacher enters the room. Their ignorant, their cultural background, their history, their family life, everything is ignored. In a standardized education system, know your students often just means know their name, or find a way to give them their state mandated medicine in a creative way, not ever to figure out actually what they want. In Freire's own words, here are the dichotomies of the banking model. The teacher teaches, and the students are taught. The teacher knows everything, and the students know nothing. The teacher thinks, and the students are thought about. The teacher talks, and the students listen meekly. The teacher disciplines, and the students are disciplined. The teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply. The teacher acts, and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher. The teacher chooses the program content, and the students, who were not consulted, adapt to it. The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, so she or he sets an opposition to the freedom of the students. And finally, the teacher is the subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects. To add, I love this quote, the interests of the oppressors lie in changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them. In other words, the goal of teachers is not necessarily to solve the root problems that students are going through, or to look at their lives, but rather just give them enough that we feel like we've transformed them into quote unquote better people. Teachers often see their quote bad students as lazy and incompetent, while those who do whatever they say as smart and great leaders. The goal of education should not be to integrate those historically oppressed into the system, but to transform the system itself so people can just be themselves, to be human. And finally, the third major point that Paulo Freire often spoke about in Critical Pedagogy was the culture of silence. This continues the oppressed and oppressor narrative, Freire described two societies, one that is culturally alienated, and then the dominant culture. The alienated society is dependent on those who oppress it, and their alienation is imposed by colonial rule and a culture of silence. As in, the alienated society typically does not have a voice, and people don't really talk about its issues, and if they do, it's suppressed really quickly, sometimes violently, sometimes through mass media, etc. Freire made it his life's work to giving a voice to this silence culture. By giving a voice isn't literally just letting them speak, but giving them the tools to recognize their marginalization and a transformative power to creatively overcome their problems. For example, talking about their neighborhood's history and government actions towards it, or about workers' rights to their parents' jobs. In more well-off areas, it would be humanizing the positions of those oppressed by society, giving students tools to empower others rather than just continue their marginalization. Bringing up the fact that this society exists is not just what they see on the news. Bringing up silenced voices is often political. As it goes against the will of the ruling class, you're going to talk about corporations and political parties and the state standards. Freire did not believe education could be neutral. If one's going to empower students, they must take a risk by talking about power structures and politics. This risk is one that's paramount to recognizing the culture of silence. So these three core tenets are crucial to reimagining our education system, but how would you ever put any of this into practice? Critical pedagogy keeps being written about. People keep bringing it up, but how many of us actually attempt to transform our classrooms? To reimagine our system without the traditional teacher-student dichotomy is to go pretty much against every facet of a teacher training program and to disrupt the narrative that communities usually expect from their schools. Perhaps it's worthwhile to attempt to realize what this classroom would be. A teacher would work with students to construct a curriculum, and while a teacher would have their professional input, students would be in charge of making decisions. The classroom would explore problems in students' lives and hypothesize as well as realize how to solve them. The classroom would be an extension of academics into practical life advice. It would explore political discourse and find ways to disrupt the narrative, whether students were the ones being oppressed or born into the system of the oppressor. Eliminating the state-mandated curriculum requires a large risk with a gigantic reward. Yes, there is, of course, almost no way within the public model as a lone teacher you could do this, but you could subversively teach content relevant to student desires while feigning ignorance to authority or just teach the bare minimum when you're forced to. We have to recognize actual problems in the world and talk about them. We have to reject this neutral, milquetoast curriculum in favor of one that engages students through what they want. This isn't just talking about issues of race and poverty and gender and all these crucial subjects. It's also just letting students explore things that are really cool, that they might not know could be school. For example, talking about video games and robotics and reading and poetry and things that kids honestly like doing, but school kills that because they no longer have a choice in what they can do. So how do we do this? It's actually kind of easy in theory. Just ask what they want to do, and that takes a lot more work than just saying it. I'm sure you realize that. But every time we have students developing our curricula, we're doing something right. Before you teach something, let students accept or deny it. Let them analyze what activities you're doing and what projects you might propose and give them time to tinker with those ideas. Have them debate it or even reject them entirely if they hate it. Just let them debate everything that you're going to do. Maybe let them give out entirely new ideas and develop the curriculum with them. Expose them to many things that don't necessarily fit into your content area to see if that's something that interests them. This is easier with younger students. You'll see the effects of the hidden curriculum and banking model with older kids. They won't really know how to react. They might think that you're lazy or don't know what you're doing. They might not understand that they actually can change it, that it's not a trick. They might not honestly know how to think for themselves. In fact, the process of developing the curricula together will probably be a stronger learning component that's going to equate to way more than what they actually end up doing. And Freire's work never gives a step-by-step, so it's difficult to offer a direct solution outside of just saying communicate openly. Don't think that student choice means that you have a preset idea of what students will do and you're offering options. For me, the hardest hurdle to jump is defeating this idea quoted by Paulo Freire, where he said, students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher. If we're going to design a classroom that's really open, where discipline, norms, content, and learning is all agreed upon, it's going to be really hard. And when you have to couple that with mandatory seat time, compulsory education, standardized testing, that seems like a catch-22. But simply stated, in my opinion, the best way to adapt this pedagogy is to be radically open and take radical risks. It's not a small step of maybe letting students help out with a unit here and there. It's introducing them to the class with a blank slate, communicating to them what the purpose of the class is according to the state, explain the history behind those decisions, really even explain the banking model, and give them the tools to take charge of their own learning. That requires room for mistakes, many hours of lost, quote-unquote, content time, and tons of collaborative work. See, programming students really has to go beyond one classroom. Multiple teachers have to work together over multiple years, especially in high school, to train students not to be trained. Kids naturally learn, and they won't stop respecting you if you give them the tools to be self-sufficient, albeit you'll need to earn their respect rather than force it upon them. Administration must let students not only have choice in their classrooms, but choice at large. Students should be in meetings. They should have a student council that isn't just the best students as handbooked by teachers, but a random assortment that represents the entire student body that can reform at will. And they should have real voice. They should be involved in every step of every process. It's possible in public school. It's just that no one really cares. They don't believe that children can handle it. They think that they're going to be too self-absorbed themselves, et cetera. There's nothing really outside of a few choice topics like IEPs that students and families can't bring a perspective to. The more people that understand critical pedagogy and apply it to their teaching, the more drastic the change. So many educators are turning to books or ed gurus who preach to make their teaching better, but better teaching should not translate to doing the traditional model better. If we're doing that, we may as well just say we're really good at forcing kids to do something. It's an interesting trait, but it's not liberating. It's not really caring about kids. It's not really the point of education. If we believe that education provides a means for empowerment for anyone, then we must instill values at every level that reinforce openness, communication, and recognizing real problems in our communities. A radical pedagogy subverts authority, and the irony is that schools are authority. They're extensions of the government. Therefore, there's no denying that giving voice to students has an explicit risk in a school's designated purpose. Every level of one's community not only must have a seat at the table, they have to know why they have a seat at the table. Parents, students, community members, teachers all must recognize the principles of critical pedagogy in order to understand their being oppressed by the system. They might not even realize it. If not everyone agrees with the principles, there's going to be a subversive group who's going to dismantle and work against all progress that could potentially be made. People that say, well, what if they're not college ready, or they have to know this curriculum, et cetera, et cetera. Establishing an actual learning community takes a lot of time, effort, and diligence, and it's not going to happen overnight. And don't forget how important families are to education. They're so often lost in the mix outside of a random email every single semester. Some PTOs give some credence to school events, but they're often just glorified fundraising groups. Why are families not involved with every level of a school and constantly in communication? After all, they're essentially the backbone of a child's life. Educators are just assisting. Therefore, parent education programs on critical pedagogy, as well as constant ways for input and assistance, working out in communities, constantly inviting parents in, and making it worthwhile for them, are needed for an educational revolution. Teachers must band together for changes like this. If administration won't budge, or if they're only willing to offer a consolidation prize, stick together and fight. If they continue to not care, just go someplace else or bring in a third party. Radical change requires radical action. Essentially to enact these changes, teachers are rebels. They're fighting for what's just. They're fighting for their students. They're not talking about little petty things like how research demonstrates that greeting students increases their test scores. They're giving students real giant opportunities, not small steps, but large steps. It's so tiring to see article after article talking about how to teach better when we could just really say how to control better. We need teachers who care about kids to the point where they give up the often ill-regarded label as teacher and really become educators, which in my opinion can mean a lot more. An educator works with the entire community to educate and liberate and guides others to a better future, not a top-down authority figure who dictates what a better future is. Oftentimes we view standards as the what and we reach them in the how. Critical pedagogy rejects that entire structure. It's not about doing the existing structure in an interesting way or to sneak in some student passions every now and then. We're talking about actually uplifting the entire narrative in favor of, here's what the state says you should do. I'm telling you this because of these concepts of critical pedagogy that I think you need to know about. Now, what are you going to do about it? And what do you want to learn about today? Essentially, we need to make learning communities to learn to fish, not fish for them, and everything in between. Hope you enjoyed this podcast. We want to connect with you and hear your thoughts. Follow us on Twitter, YouTube, Medium, and other social media, and be sure to check us out on our website at humanrestorationproject.org. If you want to support us in our endeavor of starting a movement towards progressive ed through high-quality resources, consider supporting us on Patreon. Thanks again!