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Paulo Freire rejected the traditional method of teaching, which consists mainly of passive learning, and advocated a more active learning approach. The style of learning he said worked best at shaping students was something similar to the Socratic method of dialogue and inquiry. This made students more engaged. Instead of sitting in their desks like passive receptacles waiting for information to be downloaded into their brains, they become more like participants in their own education, taking ownership of the educative process (Micheletti). The focus on active learning and the Socratic Method is what high schools need now more than ever. Considering that the U.S. Department of Education has found that every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school for a total of 7,000 students per day quitting school before they graduate, one can see that there is a veritable mass exodus of children from the education system (DoSomething.org). Why are they leaving? Freire contends that it is obvious: they are not being challenged to take ownership of their own education and their own lives—so they are leaving to do it themselves, to take control of their futures on their own. If the schools are going to treat them like mindless automatons, tasked merely with sitting in a desk and receiving input while teachers apply the “banking concept of education,” it is no wonder they are leaving in droves. They are not being given anything that in their estimation is worth their while—and who can blame them? As Lickona and Kristjansson have noted, schools need to be reformed by focusing on character education, and the way to do that is to use the methods of the ancients—Aristotle and Plato—to help students learn more both about themselves and about their roles and duties in the world. This paper will show that the best way to reform high school is to combine the recommendations of Freire with the recommendations of Lickona and Kristjansson to empower students to take ownership of the educative process through active inquiry and dialogue with teachers.
In Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the reformer notes that love and humility have to be at the root of reform: “if I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love people—I cannot enter into dialogue…[and that] dialogue cannot exist without humility” (90). The teacher must have both in order to help students to take ownership of the educative process. A teacher who enters the classroom with an attitude of superiority as though he were the king of the castle is not going to click with many students. Students in high school have been in school for most of their lives by that age. They do not want to be treated like children anymore: their bodies and minds are maturing and they resent being asked to sit like docile five year olds waiting to receive their nugget of information. They have questions—millions of questions—and the teacher should be there to help answer them. The idea that the teacher is there only to stick to the standardized curriculum pushed on schools by the U.S. Department of Education is ludicrous. The U.S. Department of Education is not in the actual classroom dealing with actual real life students who want to know about everything—why girls are the way they are around boys, what it is like out in the real world, whether marijuana really is a gateway drug, why people get married, whether college is actually worth it. The U.S. Department of Education thinks of kids in high school as like little passive robots waiting to be programmed—and the schools at the local level play along because they want the money that the federal government offers them so long as they can show they are meeting the standards through testing. The whole charade is meant to make people feel good about the school system when in reality no one feels good about it at all because everyone knows it is a complete train wreck. If it weren’t, why else would kids be abandoning ship once every 26 seconds? That is not the sign of a healthy system? That is the sign of the Titanic sinking.
How to change it? Freire insists that teachers need to realize that they are teaching in a system that is actually designed to keep people oppressed. The idea of the classroom in general is one that is designed to facilitate the oppression. Socrates, for instance, who is the father of Western philosophy, did not teach in a classroom: he taught everywhere and he taught simply by asking questions and pursuing the truth. Today, people hardly know what truth means—or they imagine that everyone has his own truth—that it is something that only exists subjectively. They have no concept of objective truth and have not been taught this concept because their teachers did not have it. The whole of the modern era is fixated on denying the existence of objective truth. But what happens when you deny that and try to get others to deny it? They see through you and run away—and that is what is happening with today’s schools. The students see right through the waste of time that is modern education, teaching only to the standardized curriculum, ignoring the humanity of the students, and treating their questions with disdain. There is no dialogue, no inquiry, no discourse, no exchange of ideas, no pursuit of truth like what Socrates did when he was laying the groundwork for all teachers who followed. Today’s teachers imagine the only way to teach is to follow the program given them by the state. But as Freire points out, the state is not interested in liberation: the…
…on the wall for amusement. They think the shadows flickering on the wall are reality and that there is no other reality. Every so often one of the people looks behind to see that the light creating the shadows is coming from somewhere—a source outside the cave. That person gets curious and begins to investigate the manner, sooner or later emerging from the cave into the blinding light of the sun. But the person has to know more about the source of this light so begins to climb upwards towards it. Plato makes the case that this is what true philosophy is all about and that most people do not pursue it because the pursuit is actually hard work and requires focus, energy, commitment, resilience and perseverance.
The school unfortunately is another place where interpellation is playing out. Students spend nearly nearly all of their first 22 years of life on this planet in school, sitting in a desk, expected to be docile and receive the information that is being given them without question. If they question or resist, they are deemed problematic and life is made very difficult for them. If they leave school, they find it hard to qualify for a decent job. There is little they can do to be successful other than subject themselves to the authority and accept the lessons of the school get the two or three degrees the industry now demands if the person wants to make good money. School should exist in this way. School should be there to empower, not to oppress. It should be a place where questions can be asked—not where they are shut down the way Socrates was shut down in Athens by the Athenian government. School should be a place where true insight can be gained and where innovation can begin.
Reforming today’s high schools is a necessary step that teachers must take. Every minute, another four students are dropping out. They are leaving because they are being treated like passive slaves who are there only to be groomed for the rat race, to be good consumers, to pledge allegiance to AT&T, Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Facebook, and the S&P 500. They are not being taught anything about human nature other than what the politically correct crowd within the government wants them to “learn” about human nature—i.e., what they want human nature to be (not necessarily what it is). They are being denied the humanities, the works of classic literature that nourished generations of Westerners for hundreds of years. They are not being taught the noble ideas or the philosophy of the ancients. They are not permitted to ask questions, to be inquisitive, to challenge ideas or the establishment ideologies that are so obviously oppressive. And so they are leaving. They are escaping to go it alone. And unless schools are reformed by teachers…
Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer. The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception. Stardom and celebrity: A reader, 34, 2007.
DoSomething.org. “11 Facts about High School Dropout Rates.” https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-high-school-dropout-rates#fn1
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2018.
Kristjánsson, Kristján. "There is Something About Aristotle: The Pros and Cons of Aristotelianism in Contemporary Moral Education." Journal of philosophy of education 48.1 (2014): 48-68.
Lickona, Thomas. "The return of character education." Educational leadership 51.3 (1993): 6-11.
Micheletti, Gabrielle. “Re-Envisioning Paulo Freire's “Banking Concept of Education’.” Inquiries Journal 2.2 (2010): 1. http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/171/re-envisioning-paulo-freires-banking-concept-of-education
Plato. Allegory of the Cave. https://web.stanford.edu/class/ihum40/cave.pdf
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