Critical Pedagogy: Helping Transform Student Lives Through Critical Thought
The traditional educational methodology, or "the banking method," a phrase coined by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, has been the basis of education in the United States for well over twenty years. In this method the instructor has very specific information or skills to teach to the learner, a student who supposedly lacks these skills. The students gain the information only from the teacher, neither bringing other information into the class nor contributing in any way (Sledd 504). The focus, in the traditional methodology, then, is on knowledge transfer. The teacher possesses a specific body of knowledge while the student does not. Through teaching, the instructor transfers his/her knowledge of the subject to the student. The student learns, usually through repetition and memorization, and claims it as his/her own knowledge after reproducing the transferred information on a test. The teacher knows that the transfer is successful if the student can pass the test. For example, in the short story "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton, a king uses an arena system in which the accused criminal must choose from two doors. If he chooses one door, a beautiful maiden will emerge. By choosing this door, he has proven his innocence and as a reward, the couple is married immediately. However, if he chooses the other door, a fierce tiger will emerge and devour the "guilty" party. This arena system serves not only as the kingdom's judicial system, but as a form of entertainment for the subjects as well. Textbooks comment on the conflicts involved in the story, foreshadowing, character, and also irony. The McDougal, Littell Literature Book states Irony is a contrast between what is expected and what actually exists or happens. The narrator says that "the minds of [the king's] subjects are refined and cultured" by witnessing the events in the arena. This statement is ironic because watching people being slaughtered is neither refining nor cultural. (164) When using the banking method, the teacher tells the students that the statement "the minds of the subjects are refined and cultured" is ironic. There is no discussion, and the students do not question the teacher's statement. If the students can identify the statement on the test as ironic and explain why it is considered ironic, they will have mastered one of the teacher's objectives. However, a number of educational theorists are now scrutinizing this methodology and discussing its limitations. The critique of the traditional model came about in part as people became concerned with the increasing passivity of today's youth. Because "man is [considered] a passive being" in this concept, the learner is "the object of learning to read and write, and not its subject" (Freire, Politics of Education 46). In the "banking model" of education, students are empty vessels to be filled with valuable information by the knowledgeable teacher. The educator is the one who knows the information while the student does not know.