Freire 2.0

Students love the classics when it comes to educational theory. They cite Vygotsky, Dewey, and Piaget. But what about more contemporary voices?

For this post, I want to discuss the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, particularly as it relates to social media and Web 2.0. Freire has several ideas about what should happen in a classroom, but in a nutshell, students involved in critical pedagogy are all about disrupting the status quo and acting for change. Teachers who embrace critical pedagogy avoid the “banking” concept of education, as explicated by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970):

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Teacher standing at a board labeled knowledge. Buckets below get stray drops.

Created from Microsoft Office clip art.

Receptacles hold and dispense. But it’s hard on social media to just be a container, to retweet URLs endlessly without comment. Even content aggregators have some kind of filter, picking and choosing what gets featured. My Professional Writing course, which focuses on social media, can be tricky for students accustomed to the banking model. I do set the parameters of the course, choosing the content to be covered and setting extremely flexible deadlines, but I sure don’t know everything — and if I act like I do, I apologize profusely! I try to work alongside students, blogging and pinning and tweeting with them rather than at them. I don’t want them to passively consume information; I hope that they seek out new professional avenues for themselves, wrestle with questions about the professional identity / identities they want to create online, and share their discoveries with the web. Ideally they will become the “searchers” that Freire envisions.

Searchers sometimes want maps. In my class I provide how-to videos for each new tool, but they are relatively quick overviews. I fully expect students to struggle with execution. I tell them to keep things professional; although we do discuss pitfalls of over-sharing on social media, the definition of professional is up to each student. The openness and the struggle with unfamiliar technology cause a lot of discomfort for students who want to do things “the right way to get an ‘A’.” They want a guaranteed formula for success, and they have learned, after being in the education system for most of their lives, that the formula often boils down to “find out what the teacher wants and give him that.”

  • What if the teacher wants you to figure it out yourself?

  • Why should education be comfortable?

If you’re thinking, hmph — teachers are paid to teach! then you may be thinking in the banking model. Critical pedagogues facilitate students’ engagement with real-world problems. They encourage. They follow students on their journeys. And let’s face it: travel isn’t always five-star luxury hotels.

As Freire declares, “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.” Reaching across the globe has been made easier with a platform like Twitter or an open wiki.

I always get a little sad when students celebrate the end of a class project — “last blog ever! yay!” — as though course content and skills have a clear expiration date. I completely understand, however, the impulse to see college as a series of buckets to be filled until a diploma appears.

I just reserve the right to kick those buckets down the road a little.

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