When authority takes the side of freedom
In the banking system of education, Paolo Freire elaborates in “Pedagogy for the Oppressed,” students are no more than “empty containers” that are ready to be “filled in” by the knowledge of the teacher. Education, Freire explains, becomes “the act of depositing.” Instead of communicating to a curious community of learners who are eager not only to understand but also to actualize the meaning of their lives, the teacher is a dictator who issues communiqués to students who have no other choice but to follow. This makes education a tool for oppression.
The banking method deprives the students the power to realize their true worth as humans. The teacher is a “god” in the classroom who resists dialogue. In this regard, the methods of teaching instill fear more than love for learning. It is an environment where students are reduced to malleable objects. Freire points out that it is a kind of situation which “inhibits the creativity of students.” By emphasizing how a new skill learned matches the demands of a globalized economy, the student is reduced to a mere “cog in the machine.”
It is important not only to question what happens in the classroom. Freire says the interest of the oppressors is to “change the way people think and not the situation which oppresses them.” In this sense, the oppressed are often viewed as a disease of which the society must get rid. For instance, those who are supposed to be responsible for the wellbeing of society deliberately remove the poor from the streets as though they were trash, instead of castigating those who caused their deplorable situation.
Freire reminds us that the oppressed are actually not in the margins. They are also within the social structure that exploits them. The basic point henceforth is to make them “beings for themselves.” But this is not the case. The bright children of poor families are granted scholarships to study in good schools. When they graduate, they will be employed in big corporations. These corporations control everything—power, entertainment, telecommunications, consumer goods, and many others. When they climb the ladder of success, those children in the margins, many of whom will become accountants, bank managers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, will become the next generation of oppressors.
What is so wrong about the banking system is that, Freire says, it is “uncritical of reality.” It renders people docile and mindless “automatons.” The bigger problem is that “oppression is necrophilic.” “It is nourished,” Freire writes, “by death and not by the love of life.” Yet, the banking system views people as passive entities that do not have the inherent power to transform their own reality. The goal of the ruling class, by means of an elitist socioeconomic system fueled by the commercialization of education, is to make people adaptable to the environment forced upon them by their oppressors. Many intellectuals have produced a great amount of research to address many of our social problems, but Freire makes the observation that authentic thinking does not happen in ivory towers. It can only occur in authentic dialogue and communication.
The domination of the elite is made manifest in popular culture. It happens in the form of mass indoctrination. Almost always, liberation from the bondage of poverty is often portrayed on the basis of a fairytale or fortune. The poor are often ridiculed in some TV game programs. Their decrepit homes are shown and their difficult lives are narrated in order to set up an atmosphere for viewers to think that popular hosts of TV shows have a heart of gold. In truth, TV networks and producers make a lot of money by exploiting and humiliating the poor. Given this type of mass indoctrination, the escape route designed for people and instilled in the minds of young TV viewers is one of luck and not one that is rooted in the ability of the individual to make intelligent choices in life.
True emancipation only happens in action. It is for this reason that Freire introduces the “problem-posing education.” In this process, “authority takes the side of freedom; it is not against it.” The most prominent feature of this type of learning, according to Freire, is that it is transformational and takes the situation of people as its point of departure. Children will draw from their rich experiences insights about their lives.
But since the ultimate aim of this process is human freedom, the learner has to be critical by posing a question that should lead to the unmasking of the latent forms of control and domination unscrupulously instituted by the ruling class. Teachers themselves learn from the process. After all, no one is exempt from being a student in that thing we call “life.”
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. His paper, “On the ethical and democratic deficits of environmental pragmatism,” will soon be published in the Journal of Human Values.
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