The false dichotomy between teacher and student has plagued educational practices throughout all time. It presupposes that the teacher is the source of knowledge, leading students into submitting their cognitive faculties to the whim of a teacher’s words. In actuality, teachers are just as ignorant as their students in many aspects – the blind leading the blind. Of course, teachers are almost always educated to a high level, and they will have done sufficient research to give them the intellectual upper hand in a classroom context in terms of their own specialisation at least, but when you consider the subject matter that teachers omit that could be useful to a student, it becomes a case of election based on either personal opinion (teacher bias) or mass opinion (exam body bias) but certainly nothing to do with the individual requisites of the student. One could argue because there is often an age difference between student and teacher (especially in school) that teachers are more qualified to give an opinion on how and what skills should be used and learned in the classroom, but they cannot accurately tailor the lesson to the specific needs of each student. For this reason, Paulo Freire and many of the pedagogues that he has touched with his written work ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ oppose the idea of banking and narrative in the classroom as both these common practices negate the fact that the teacher is as much a student as those he teaches.
Banking i.e. the idea that students are the ‘depositories’ and the teacher is the ‘depositor’ is in Freire’s eyes an outdated, under-stimulating framework for the classroom. The idea that the teacher defines his or her existence through the notion that students are unknowledgeable receptacles is a poisonous ideology as it seeks to subdue students and bully them into accepting their inferior position in the classroom and indeed the world. This is the basis of the oppression that Freire talks about in his work. And it is relevant in the first world to the extent that there are limitations placed on students where there need not be. This leads to the regurgitation of ideas as students are not being taught to critically assess the lessons of teachers in pursuit of betterment, they are merely taught to store them and use them to come up with new ideas based on previously established ones. With a lack of critical ability, one may never be able to challenge the status quo and synthesise contradictory arguments out of the skeptical information presented to them by teachers. For a teacher to maintain face, he or she must sometimes act as a dictator often does, through presupposed infallible correctness. This hegemony of knowledge allows for the balance of power to be set firmly in the hands of the teacher and outlines a clear structure for the lesson so that there is no doubt that the teacher is there to teach and the students are there to listen.
There is no point in accusing teachers of imposing themselves on students if there is no other way of teaching. To many, this is the sole reason why the power relation between students and teachers is never addressed, for lack of a viable alternative. Children and teenagers are not easily controlled so, understandably, teachers often expend a lot of time and energy trying to passivise them in an effort to make them listen and absorb the target content. Freire posits that “the more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world.” So it could help if teachers focused more on harnessing the natural curiosities, criticisms and instincts of children as opposed to subduing them. It really boils down to the teachers’ skill, perceptions of reality and how they believe reality should be.
It has long been thought that education makes a good propaganda tool, a way by which the ‘oppressors’ or the government control the consciousness of the ‘oppressed’. The syllabus content of school subjects is very much focused on what is as opposed to what could be. The idea of course is that once children gain a firm grasp of the subject matter, and only once they do, may they postulate on how to achieve better results through different means. This is a sensible structure as children should be encouraged to fully understand a topic before critically analysing it, but as Friere delineates, this structure does not allow for much critical thinking because a student’s knowledge of a subject very rarely supersedes that of a teacher’s. And whereas many teachers outwardly welcome criticism and try to foster the interest of students, the syllabus is an ongoing cycle that must be adhered to, leaving only very little room for argument. The way that the education system is structured means that children are not afforded the opportunity to criticise their reality as most of the content that is imbued in their lessons is meant to help them fit into the ‘fragmented’ reality presented to them. Indeed it is very difficult to change any established school of thought even when a detailed rectification model is presented, less so for students who may be equipped with all the necessary tools to make novel suggestions, but who lack the background knowledge to back up their hypotheses. Even so, as Freire states, those outsiders who cannot find a place for the subject matter in their reality, the oppressed as he refers to them as, should be treated differently not quelled.