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In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire explores the deep-rooted, bank-clerk structure of education and the way that it deprives people of true humanity. While promoting the main idea that our education system follows an oppressive “banking method,” Freire discusses what it is to be human and have full consciousness, neither of which is gained through the education systems in place. Education in Freire’s eyes is not merely about learning in the classroom, but rather an “authentic liberation – the [true] process of humanization,” (79) that students carry into the world. In the system currently in place, students are constantly dehumanized in education, leading them to become more dreadful and robotic, rather than prosperous. What seems to be a flaw in the way education is given and received actually relates to a broader idea of wholesomeness, creativity, and the pursuit of “people’s historical vocation” (85) of humanization and the barriers that students face that prevent them from ever fulfilling this vocation.
Freire’s primary points surround the idea that our education model has adopted a system where teachers give deposits, and students merely receive them without any critical analysis or thinking, thus never allowing them to evolve and grow as individuals. He argues that “the more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are,” (71) in the eyes of teachers and society. In a sense, students are trained to become robots, completely deprived of their humanity, but never realizing this as this very robotic phenomenon is glorified in our society. The emptier students are, the better they are able to be “filled” with the information “deposited” into them by their teachers. This very notion prohibits students from ever thinking for themselves, because if they already have individual ideas, they will no longer be able to retain information they are fed. Thus, the only way to thrive in such a society is by being empty, lacking individuality and worst of all – complying to their dehumanization.
From Freire’s viewpoint, education is meant to create. Whether it is the creation of new ideas, individual perspectives, or a new world, the knowledge gained from education is meant to allow people to think critically and as a part of the world around them. The point of such an education is to help people view and understand the world “not as a static reality, but reality in process, in transformation”, (83) which simply does not happen in the bank-clerk method. The aforementioned dreadful process of “depositing and filing” has a simultaneous effect on students’ personalities, as “it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation and knowledge,” (72) as they receive more outside information from their educations, or oppressors. Before they are thrown into this system of education, students have desires, curiosity and abilities to critically think. However, the horrific structure of education rids them of that the more they are introduced to the material in class and the methods through which they are supposed to show their understanding of that material. They have information robotically thrown at them, and their job is to eventually, throw it back, but this time, in the form of tests or quizzes. Instead of evolving and growing as human beings through education, they face the opposite effect.
Aside from the inherent conditioning of students that occurs in our education system, Freire also argues that there is an economic exploitation of students by their oppressors. The dehumanization he talks about branches from a power complex of oppressors who “use their ‘humanitarianism’ to preserve a profitable situation” (74) of students who will never see a creative world because they won’t have enough productive knowledge to create one. The “profitable situation” in this case is the powerful role that the oppressors posses, one through which they can constantly condition students to become more and more lifeless, and never allow them to truly pursue their true vocation. Furthermore, by enclosing the students’ personalities and potentials for creativity in a constant cycle of “filling” and “depositing”, the oppressors can ensure a world where they are always at the forefront of the education system, and in turn, the most economically compensated in their fields without allowing for new generations to leave the cycle of oppression to become one of the oppressors.
The way that the students are conditioned and taught creates an atmosphere not unlike the one of a slaughterhouse. The students are trained, they are taught to do things in a certain manner that is beneficial to their oppressor, without any individuality. Freire uses the term “domestication” (75) when describing the style of education imposed on students. They are talked about as pets, or animals, that are being trained for their inevitable failure in their pursuit of their true vocations – humanization.
Through the juxtaposition of “biophily,” the connection human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life versus “necrophily,” the yearning for deadness, Freire further unveils the implicit desires that educators inherently hold to condition students to “become lifeless and petrified” (71). The obvious need for power and control in teachers are evident in their necrophilious desires that over time suppress any room for a development of biophily in students. The way of teaching is clearly oppressive and “oppression—overwhelming control—is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not life (75). This very love of death speaks to the reasons behind the method adopted by the oppressors where slowly, they take the life, creativity and potential for transformation out of their students. The constant domestication students face ultimately takes away their individuality, and as educators are the ones that facilitate this process, they hold that necrophilious desire. Although it is not literally killing, they take away so much from their students that eventually, all the life is drained out of them. The list of practices of a teacher-student dynamic listed by Freire implicitly serves as a primary example of such a circumstance. (73)
All of the characteristics implied by the list for teachers show a great deal of power. Everything that occurs in a classroom is brought from the teacher onto the student. The student is merely the receiver of the action, and has no say in what is going on. In this way, they are dead on the inside and unable to think for themselves or make conscious decisions, and their passive nature in such situations in what allows them to thrive in this world with a “fragmented view of reality deposited in them” (73). The students will only ever know what the teacher tells them, and therefore, are slowly stripped of their identities and potentials to thrive in the world and become fully human. Thus, the education system in place is only well-suited for the oppressors, because the more the oppressed learn, the more passive they become and let themselves adapt “into” the world instead of “with” the world to grow from it (76). This idea of education being something that domesticates students speaks to the nature of the oppressors, who continue to domesticate students. However, in some cases, even the oppressors can be stuck in the cycle of domestication themselves.
Although highly critical of the educators/oppressors in this bank-clerk method of education, Freire does leave room for speculation on whether or not the intentions of the oppressors are actually to dehumanize. Freire’s ambiguity when discussing the intentions of teachers as “knowingly or unknowingly [dehumanizing their students as] there are innumerable well-intentioned bank-clerk teachers who do not realize that they are serving only to dehumanize” (75), is interesting as it carries a strong message about the deep-rooted nature of the education system currently in place. In some cases, it is not that teachers are trying to oppress and overpower their students for their own “profitable situations”, but rather that they, even as members of the educational community, do not understand the implicit consequences of the education system in place. They are not able to teach differently, because they don’t even see the problem in the bank-clerk method of education or they were never allowed the creativity and freedom to come up with different methods of teaching, as they only know how to teach in the way that they themselves learned. Not only does this create room for discussion of the teachers’ intentions, but also poses our education system as an institution that is rotten at the core. It is not that teachers are trying to manipulate students, but that even they are misguided in the way the education system should work through years of being domesticated in a system that does not benefit anyone. Through this constant cycle, the oppressed tend to oppress, never actually finding a way out of the system.
Although primarily criticizing the method of teaching in our education systems, Freire makes strong points about the way students’ lives are affected after they have been through the dreadful process of schooling. It is not that the schooling system is ineffective because it doesn’t allow for students to learn, but rather because it takes away their ability to learn from within and see themselves as individuals in the world with a voice and sense of power. It takes away their humanity, which Freire believes to be the most important aspect of life and pursuit of education. By allowing readers to understand the cycle, Freire almost achieves in his writing what he desires for our education system. He makes people think, use critical analysis skills, and ultimately, pursue people’s true vocation – humanization.
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