It’s twelve at night. Tons of papers and a cup of coffee on the desk prepared for pulling an all-nighter. Studying for the exam tomorrow, cramming tons of class-notes and materials. Students are fighting for an A. However, what do we expect them to learn from it? Is it even beneficial to them? After all, most students forget almost everything as soon as they finish the exam. Apparently, there are some fundamental problems in our current educational system.
In the three essays, “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education” by Paulo Freire, “Against School” by John Taylor Gatto and “The Achievement of Desire” by Richard Rodriguez, the authors realize different problems of the educational system and have different opinions about it. In my point of view, the main problem in the current educational system is that it encourages students to receive information meekly, without doubting, questioning or even understanding the material. As a result, these students resemble machines which acquire many facts but can barely develop their own critical thinking.
The three aforementioned authors have differing opinions on the current educational system, but they all describe it as a system where students merely receive information but do not undergo critical thinking. In “Against School,” Gatto states that the educational system is a scheme the government uses to make people more “manageable” by reducing their critical judgment. To achieve this, school provide answers of every question to the students. It works because “Easy answers have removed the need to ask questions” (Gatto 155). It is true.
Since students were taught in their early life that teachers are absolutely right, and that they should obey the authorities, as a result, most of them do not judge the teachers’ explanations. As they grow up, students tend to find the answers from books or teachers instead of figuring the answer out by themselves. Thus, their critical and original thinking have been obliterated completely under this educational system. Moreover, the boredom of schooling successfully removes the students’ curiosity which drive them to ask questions. A similar idea appears in “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education.
Freire uses the term “banking system” to describe the educational system where the teachers deposit a large amount of knowledge on the students. Students soon become receptacles which “extend only as far as receiving, filling, and storing the deposits” (Freire 1). These students do not understand how the information related to the real world, and can neither apply the knowledge to the real world problem nor develop their own critical thinking. In “The Achievement of Desire”, Rodriguez mainly describes his early life as a successful student.
It gives a concrete example to support Gatto and Freire’s opinion. As he describes himself as a “great mimic; a collector of thoughts, not a thinker” (203), it fits Gatto and Freire’s description about the educational system, that even a considerably “successful” student could not perform critical and original thinking. Under this type of educational system, students try to find their way to achieve high scores. However, it turns out that the best way to be successful in this system isn’t the best way to learn.
In the essays, the authors describe how the “successful” student is like. According to Freire, “The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are” (1). In order to be considered “good” under this system, students need to receive a large amount of facts on a superficial level. The best strategy is not to think, not to question, just believe and memorize it. Freire observes a phenomena in which teachers talk about contents “which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them” (1).
In this way, students acquire tons of facts and maybe enhance their memorization ability, but fail to understand how these facts are connected to the daily life. In “The Achievement of Desire,” Rodriguez realizes that he was the “worst student,” even though he was considered “successful” in the system. “He becomes in every obvious way the worst student, a dummy mouthing the opinions of others. But he would not be so bad—nor would he become so successful, a scholarship boy—if he did not accurately perceive that the best synonym for primary ‘education’ is ‘imitation’” (203).
The scholarship boy noticed that the best way to succeed in this system is to borrow and copy the ideas of others. Clearly we know that this is not the way to learn, as learning requires original processes. Therefore, it can be concluded that being successful in the educational system is not the same as being successful in learning. My experience supports this. Some teachers in my high school ask students to memorize all the model answers to every possible question that might be asked on the standardized test, but do not give explanations or have activities which could actually help students understand.
The aim of teaching would then become merely the test scores. My physics teacher kept reminding us how many students got an A in a standardized test under his training, which emphasized becoming “machines for solving problems. ” Being these machines could improve our performance on a test; however, we did not retain any substantial knowledge throughout the class, some even losing the motivation to learn afterwards. Solutions to a problem can be simple once we understand the cause of it. In the essays, the authors suggest their individual solutions.
Freire suggests to oppose the “banking system,” by implementing a “problem-posing system. ” In a problem-posing system, teachers pose some problems related to the world and ask the students to attempt to solve them without a straight forward answer (Freire 7). Students would then have the chance to explore the respective topic by themselves, think about every possible solution creatively. It takes time for all students to figure out the answer, and some of them may even fail to do it, but at least each student has tried to think about the problem.
In this way, students are learning the material cognitively, and hence they will understand it more deeply and be able to apply the knowledge to the real world. Moreover, this system can motivate students to learn. According to Freire, “Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge” (8). When students try solving the problem, they are not being narrated by the boring materials and instead use their creative brainpower.
They will find it fun to learn in this way and grow an enthusiasm to continue learning. In “Against School,” Gatto suggests to do the retrograde of the school’s mediocre influence on children. “School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively teach your own to think critically and independently” (155). To do this, we can educate children not only by books, but also encourage them to join different kinds of extra-curriculum activities such that they can grow interest in all areas.
As an international student, I always compare the educational systems in America and Macau. I found that the educational system in America is relatively more “problem-posing” than my early education in Macau. Professors always give us chance to discuss and have more in-class activities. I fit in this problem-posing system and thus I can learn better and understand concepts more clearer. In conclusion, in order to learn cognitively and acquire the true knowledge, students should try to understand the materials before they decide to believe and cram it.
Doxa means common beliefs and facts, while logos means the principle of knowledge. When students deeply understand it, they will attain the level of logos, not only doxa. It gives the students knowledge as well as the skill to derive other truths. To avoid being a machine, we should have our own thought and creativity. In the ideal problem-posing system, students can explore it in their way but not copying others’ ideas because they do not need to worry about their grades. They would then have their original opinion and thought, instead of meekly receiving information, being a mindless machine.