The Death of the Classroom

12/05/2016 12:38 | Updated 12 May 2016

Paolo Friere, a twentieth century Brazilian educator and leader theorist of critical pedagogy is best known for his work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed wherein he necessitates that conscientização  (critical consciousness) be incorporated into the educational system, thus creating a liberating education.  Friere's concept of critical consciousness  is a liberating cultural action which links pedagogical theory with revolutionary praxis allowing that  the individual repel what Friere terms the "banking concept" of education, "in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits" (72).  Friere contends that forcing students to memorise and regurgitate information is a form of education where there is no space for dialogue and which creates a society where the citizens digest and somnambulantly act in accordance with the messages perpetuated by the State:

It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. 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. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them. (73)

Friere's description of the "banking" method best describes the Latin American tradition of positivism against which he reacts embodied by texts such as  José Enrique Rodó's Ariel (1900) which influenced Latin American political and social control well beyond Uruguay over one hundred years ago.  In his manifesto Rodó portrays an educational atmosphere which mythicises reality and bars the student's ability to critique the formulas being fed, advocating an eclectic doctrine of higher learning which is inaccessible and unconcerned with material existence or the struggles of the poor and oppressed.  Through this educational process, the masses are left in ignorance while only the elite, descendants of Europe, can attain any possession of knowledge and power.

Friere's alternative to the "banking" method is what he terms a "problem-posing" education which entails a type of learning that necessitates dialogue, disposes with the authoritarian role of the teacher, and leans heavily on critical reflection in order for "men [sic] to overcome their false perception of reality" (p. 86) and maintain a critical awareness of the world.  Friere views "problem-posing" education as a "humanist and liberating praxis"-- an education which necessitates both the consolidated action of the oppressed against the structures which oppress, and the transformation of teachers and students from objects of the educational institution to its subjects, thus empowering the masses with a transformative praxis of reality "in favor of the liberation of people" (102).

Friere suggests that the first step in executing a "problem-posing" education is to undertake a "thematic investigation," a process towards understanding the "significant dimensions of an individual's contextual reality" (104) through a dialectical interrelation of the concrete and the abstract.  Thus, the "thematic investigation" becomes a cultural action -- a dialogical process of critical reflection, knowledge, and ultimately a means of creation. In carrying out a "problem-posing" education, investigators go into a community and, with the natives, formulate a curriculum based on the community's specific problems, needs, desires, and socio-political orientation,  creating an educational agenda where dialogue and criticism compound the process towards establishing a practical forum of individual's contextual reality  whereby the pueblo actively takes part in  ideological formation. In this way, ideology is the necessary moment through which the  individual must pass in order to achieve critical consciousness. Through Friere's "problem-posing" education, individuals gain an understanding of history and through this knowledge they can emerge from their submission with a critical awareness, thus enabling the subject to intervene in the world:  "Intervention in reality--historical awareness itself--thus represents a step forward from emergence, and results from the concientización of the situation" (109).

Skip to the twenty-first century when one must wonder if Freire's words ever had any impact within various UK universities as copious articles on the Internet abound regarding the reasons for which the British classroom has largely become a place of stagnancy and silence while the university is left as a for-profit business.  Lecturers often read out to students from neatly presented words projected on the screen in the front of the classrooms, as students aim their mobile phones at this screen --"click click click" go the mobile phone, snapping away, collecting photos of each progressive PowerPoint frame.  And these clicks are not the sound effects from their Twitter feed, but rather from their mobile device-as-camera, taking frame for frame shot of each and every PowerPoint slide present. Welcome to the contemporary form of "note taking."  And then in between each of these shots, the student returns to tweeting since such pedagogical methods force the classroom into a stultifying, unidirectional forum whereby the professor speaks, the students click, remain silent, and die a quiet intellectual death.

The problem, of course, is not that students are resisting a spirit-deadening format in diverting their energies towards something somewhat more interactive than a polychromatic series of PowerPoint presentation templates. I mean who wouldn't revert to Twitter if only to have one single original interaction in avoidance of the endlessly violent shuttling of ideas to memorise aimed at the student-cum-consumer in this the new British university.  The real problem is not the student's reaction to PowerPoint, but its implementation as "new technology" in higher education today and the fact that today most universities are telling lecturers that PowerPoint is the way forward.  The fact is that in the humanities especially, PowerPoint simply has no place. Students and professors alike need to resist this format which is keeping students from learning, from questioning the texts they are assigned, and worse, today more and more students are given PowerPoint in lieu of reading, since more departments are instructing their lecturers from giving students reading.  Instead, PowerPoint is fast becoming the modern-day York Notes where students have merely to show up and snap away.