The most common questions I have received in response to my thesis so far have dealt with the issue of authority in the teacher-student relationship. Many, based on personal experience, believe that the analogy presumes an oppressive, authoritarian relationship of the teacher over the student. Dewey and Confucius do not operate from this presupposition, but they don’t spend much time explicitly explaining why–they simply assert their pedagogical views and move on to their real arguments.
Paulo Freire, focusing solely on the philosophy of education, fills in this gap in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). In my project, a brief discussion of Freire’s argument of the “problem-posing educator” over the “banking model of education” will serve two purposes: 1) It will show that these conceptions of proper education, while still utterly overlooked in today’s K-12 school systems, still have a modern following and should not be discounted as antiquated or disproven, and 2) It will clarify the fact that my conception of the teacher-student relationship is normative rather than descriptive.
I understand that for most people, the first thing they think of when the teacher-student relationship is invoked is not the same thing that I am utilizing in my thesis, but I think this is okay, and probably even beneficial. For if the two relationship are truly analogous, as I believe, then the easily understood problems in one will mirror those that may be more difficult to see in the other, but are there nevertheless.
I will copy here a few quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed that appear to be helpful to my project:
His efforts must be imbued with a profound trust in people and their creative power. To achieve this, they must be partners of the students in their relations with them. (p.75)
This is where Freire begins to explain the cooperative, as opposed to authoritative, process of education that he supports. This is also essentially the perspective that we, as developer, must adopt towards developing nations–we must trust and respect their ability to plot their own destiny.
Unfortunately, those who espouse the cause of liberation are themselves surrounded and influenced by the climate which generates the banking concept, and often do not perceive its true significance or its dehumanizing power. (p.79)
We cannot “give” liberty or development to developing nations because these are not things that can be handed out like awards. These things are processes born within the developing nations, and developers are merely present to assist when requested. Constantly we must recoil from a sense of superiority or authority, however seemingly justified.
…[The teacher] 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. (p.80)
Here again is an example of how the teacher/developer, out of a sense of superior knowledge, does all of the work that the students ought to be learning to do for themselves. This makes me wonder about all of those democratic constitutions adopted by the vast majority of nations over the last century—mostly modeled off of those of Britain or the US (probably more the former than the latter). I wonder if a detailed series of case studies might reveal that those left more flexible and able to meet the specific demands of their adoptive nations turned out more successful than those forced to strictly follow the model constitutions.
Both the US and Britain had to write and edit their constitutions themselves, and this seems like an important developmental stage. In a sense, a constitution is a piece of technology, and as with most technologies, it is most responsibly used by those who created it, not those who received it without having to put work into it.
Unlike technology, however, a constitution cannot really be kept secret or proprietary. But I think developers could take it upon themselves to recommend that developing nations start from the ground up when working to reorder their governments or societies–rather than pushing pre-packaged shortcuts at them. As with cooking, the best social/political reforms are made fresh from local ingredients.
The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of doxa (notion) is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of logos (understanding). (p.81. Definitions are mine.)
The problem-posing educator is Freire’s solution to the banking-model. My interpretation is that he’s basically prescribing the Socratic Method: keep asking the students questions about their beliefs and perceptions until they are forced to consider them critically, with the ultimate goal of arriving at true understanding. This is already more or less what “practicing” development ethicists like Denis Goulet have been doing, although they have not, to my knowledge, described the process in these terms.
Socrates makes an interesting example–he was a teacher of men, and sometimes those he taught were hostile and didn’t ask for his lessons. Yet he saw himself as a public servant (as he said once or twice in the Apology) and took the initiative in confronting his unwilling students. He was at the same time both aggressive and un-authoritative: the lesson was a collaborative process, and the student was not given an answer, but rather led (or perhaps dragged) to discover one for himself.
Might this be the ideal model for international development policy? Should we act as the gadfly to nations that are walking along the precipice between development and catastrophe? My initial feeling is that this might indeed be best, but only if we also had Socrates’ sense of restraint (that is, his practice of humility, whether genuine or not). This is probably too much to ask of a nation that has issues with arrogance already, though, and so I might be more inclined to fall back on my previous argument that we should only enter into the teacher-student relationship with those students who have sought our help. Stick with the way things work in college as opposed to K-12 education.
Posted by Scott Zuke on Nov 30, 2008.