In Chapter 1 of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Freire defines his theory and identifies the oppressor and the oppressed. He writes of how in order to liberate the oppressed and to provide a meaningful educational experience, the “learner” must be actively involved in the construction of their education. Traditional pedagogies maintain this power dichotomy by teaching with “the banking model of education” where content and information is passed from those with power to those without power. Freire calls for a new and transformative pedagogy to be developed where the oppressed have a voice and learning is based upon personal interests and curiosities and where subject matter is connected to the lives of those doing the learning.
I often think about what it would look like to attempt to apply these ideas where students are allowed a voice and participate and share in the process of learning. We hear many reasons that students are disengaged from school, yet these same students will display a passion and motivation for learning many difficult things when outside the confines and constraints of the school.
“The fundamental goal of dialogical teaching is to create a process of learning and knowing“. pg 17 introduction Donaldo Macedo
““Dialogical education” and situating learning within students’ lived experience have been vastly influential, but the implementation of these ideas has never been unchallenging (Freire, 1973, 1974, 1992)” Blikstein, TRAVELS IN TROY WITH FREIRE
Are these students disinterested because they are used to school being what they feel is a waste of their time? They have “gotten good at school”, they know exactly what they need to do, and what they don’t have to do? Is there a way to re-engage students, to give them a meaningful
“Digital technologies, such as computers, robotics, digital video, and digital photography, could play a central role in this process: they are protean machines (Papert, 1980) that enable diverse and innovative ways of working, expressing, and building.” Blikstein, TRAVELS IN TROY WITH FREIRE
What does choice really mean?
If I look around the room during my Makerspace I see passion, choice, hard work, personal interest and intrinsic motivation. Sure, these are students who have chosen to be here during their 45 minute lunch and recess period. These are students who bring with them an interest in creating with the computer, or building robots, or learning more about physical computing. These students know they have made a choice to be in the room, and they are able to choose what kind of project they would like to work on.
We can’t confuse choice with “do whatever you want”. If I were to give an open ended choice to one of my classes, many would choose “nothing” or “browsing sneaker images on the Internet”. Anything else suggested would be an affront to them, “why do I have to do that” they would tell me, and they often openly admit to being lazy and not wanting to do anything but sit with their friends and chat.
As an educator it is not my responsibility to inspire them, to provide spaces and openings in subjects and content that they haven’t yet been exposed to, to open up new worlds for them? But how do I reach all the students and tap into all of their interests within the current structure of the public middle school? I teach all the students in the school, they are required to be in my class, which meets twice a week. My curriculum spans a range of digital content areas, creative opportunities, but there are still a few students in each of the classes of 30 that tune out.
The process of “deschooling”
Can we ever hope to “de-school” working from within the constraints and boundaries that have existed for so long and with which both teachers and students rarely question the inequality and lack of agency that most traditional pedagogies work from? Are there tools and methodologies that can be put in place to allow for the “dialogical education” that Freire so eloquently writes about?
“In addition, the more students learn in this fashion, the more they learn about learning itself: students learning to learn is more generative that students only learning content.” Blikstein, TRAVELS IN TROY WITH FREIRE