Years ago, in 1970, before I became a teacher, I read a book my mom was reading,Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere, a great humanitarian educator and philosopher from Brazil. What stuck with me was Friere’s criticism of what he thought most educational institutions were doing to students, a “banking” model where “deposits” of education were made and “withdrawals” identical to the deposits were extracted. Rote instead of learning; memorization instead of comprehension. With this type of education, it is not only the poor who are oppressed, it’s all who are oppressed since the art of thinking, questioning, reasoning, discovering is not engaged.
Friere knew that, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” His words guided me as I started out, once upon a time, as a young teacher in the mid-seventies and his words stayed with me as I learned from my students what their needs and interests were and used those needs and interests to guide me in my lesson planning and curriculum development.
For some reason, I have been thinking of Friere the past couple of days, don’t know why.
Schools have tried to do better by students, but they’ve a long way to go. Our society still does not put the needs of students and their families first. They would rather blame teachers and teachers’ unions for all the ills that school systems are plagued with. Testing and more testing is not a solution; testing doesn’t measure intelligence or capability or real comprehension. Testing is just testing and it costs millions of dollars. The money would be better spent on creating schools that are learning hubs in each community where students, parents, community members and school personnel all work together to meet the needs of an ever-changing society with student populations from all over the world. Teachers want to teach and they want to teach well.
The reality is that a hungry child must be fed first. A child with no clean cothes to wear because someone couldn’t get to the laundromat, must have clean clothes and clothes suitable for all types of weather. A child who has no place to study in a cramped apartment or who is in charge of younger siblings or who gets very little sleep due to a myriad of living conditions, can’t function well in school.
I believe a good teacher is an artist. Teaching is a calling, like artists who are called to write music, perform, paint, write, act, sculpt, dance…Like all art, teachers must also whip out of the air, talents they didn’t even know they had, when confronted with the neediness of so many of our families today. Support our teachers. Help families. It’s our future that’s at stake!