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Freire implies that teachers are only telling students what to know rather than conversting with them, which explains why Freire insists that “education is suffering from narration sickness”(Freire 71). This means that he believes that educators only fill student’s minds with information, that the teacher feels is important, without providing the students the meaning and personal relevance that information has. By using this method, the student is oppressed by the teacher and unable to fulfill a complete state of consciousness.
I can remember several times in my educational experiences where I have been the “depository” in Freire’s Banking Concept of Education, but no experience is more relative than my Organic Chemistry class three years ago where I learned that problem-solving education is vastly superior to banking-education because it allows students to acquire true understanding of their world and the ability to reach consciousness. During the summer of 2009, I took a summer semester of Organic Chemistry at University of California Berkeley.
When I first entered the lecture hall, there were masses of people fighting for seats and some even resided to sitting on the floor or going into the side room to watch the lecture on television. As soon as the clock hit 9:00 am, five faculty members walked into the room: Professor Francis and four Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs). From the start, Dr. Francis went over the course structure, what it entailed, and how we as students could obtain help. While he was going over the syllabus information, he made one point extremely clear: “I cannot answer your personal questions during lecture time.
If you have questions, please visit me during my office hours or please ask one of the GSIs. ” After making that point, he transitioned into his lecture on functional groups; however, I was not following him. I immediately knew that this would be a lecture-only class, and I knew that I would need to write down every single note, diagram, or graph he showed us and memorize it for future examinations. Freire would acclaim that I would become a “depository” because I would simply allow Professor Francis to deposit his ‘knowledge’ into my mind without further question or thought.
I would become a slave, oppressed by the very person who was supposed to free me (Freire 74). Dr. Francis continued in his slide show and a large slide labeled ‘Hydrocarbons’ appeared on the screen, and below the title were several different organic hydrocarbon functional groups, such as alkenes, alkanes, alkynes, benzenes, and toluene. He discussed each hydrocarbon in great depth and showed us students how to recognize them based on their bond sequences and patterns, how they react in the presence of other organic molecules, and how their chemical bonds affect water.
After an exhaustive lecture of copying everything he said into my 12×8 notebook, he announced that we must memorize all of the hydrocarbon groups, and to be able to recognize them for an exam setting. Never once did he explain what what makes them important. I raised my hand at the end of the lecture, and asked him what the application of hydrocarbons are in the ‘real-world’. He replied not to worry about that, and that we needed to be able to recognize them and know how they function chemically, not practically, and why would he take the time to explain how hydrocarbons function?
In order for Dr. Francis to keep his job, Freire asserts that, “the teacher must assume all of his students as ignorant”(Freire 72). This implies that if Dr. Francis had gone straight to the point and explained why hydrocarbons were important in the real world and in a laboratory setting, he wouldn’t have a job. It was his job to pick out extremely detailed and ‘useless’ properties and functionalities of hydrocarbons and make them seem important to us.
By continuing to explain and confuse us students, he was able to maintain a shroud of ignorance over the student body, and from this, he justifies his job as absolute. This is what Freire refers to as the “cycle of ignorance” that continuously allows the teacher to keep his job because society believes that the ignorant students need him for their self-betterment. For the next several weeks, I adhered to Dr. Francis’s ‘Banking Style of Education’, and it worked. I received an A on every exam and test I took because I memorized and accepted the information Dr. Francis gave me without second thought.
Freire feels that my total submission to the instructor was the reason for my success because he suggests that “The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are”(Freire 72). Freire’s explanation worries me because to know is not to know. Just because I could recognize different functional groups, which in the banking concept would make me a better student, did not mean that I could apply my understanding of organic chemistry to a real life situation because I hadn’t been taught to apply the information to anything at all.
My ignorance and inability to grasp the true meanings and concepts of organic chemistry became extremely clear in the laboratory because the lab is where students take all of their knowledge and apply it to solve a problem or set of problems. After the first quarter of the summer semester, the laboratory portion of the course opened. My first assignment was to estimate the bond angles of methane, and at first I had no idea what to do because I had only been instructed to recognize methane and its bonding patters.
I was never asked to manipulate the molecule’s properties to gain further understanding, and this caused me to realize that I was flawed because the ‘knowledge’ that I acquired was not mine, but Dr. Francis’ deposits of impractical segments of knowledge. With no idea where to start my laboratory or how to assess the assignment, I asked the Teaching Assistant (TA) for help. She simply replied, “Think about what you know about methane’s properties, and manipulate your knowledge so you can measure the bond angle. Needless to say, this was not helpful because I had no idea how to apply my knowledge and understanding because I was not taught to. I was simply an object who, according to Freire, “is in the world,” implying that I was not conscious of my own being and awareness (Freire 78). This is why I allowed Dr. Francis to continue depositing information into me because he posed himself as my liberator, my educator, but he was my oppressor. By not being able to use and apply my knowledge, my critical consciousness and inner will to understand began to diminish.
This is why Freire announces, “The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world”(Freire 73). Freire implies that students lose the will power, the motivation, to develop awareness when they are force-fed information, so he argues that students must develop this ‘critical consciousness’ themselves through problem solving. This is when I realized that Dr.
Francis couldn’t and won’t teach me how to understand what I have learned; I needed to learn how to apply and master the information I was taught by myself, not some other individual. Education is supposed to empower individuals; however, since I was ‘in-the-world’ I let the banking concept oppress me and my true understanding of knowledge. I failed the first Organic Chemistry lab. I didn’t know how to solve the problems and apply my knowledge, nor did I have the willpower to, so I simply gave up.
I was incredibly frustrated after the first lab, not because I couldn’t get the right answer, but because I couldn’t apply my knowledge to solve the problem. I spent the next several lectures gathering notes, expanding on them, and making sense of the information; however, I was still unable to understand the information in practical terms. My frustration grew because I felt that all my efforts studying information and memorizing its contents was wasted. How could education provide all of this knowledge that we, as students, are unable to apply?
What was the point of education? At the time, I felt education was society’s largest flaw because it wasted the time and severed the creativity students put into it. Freire agrees with me because he argues, “The capability of banking education is to minimize or annul the students’ creative power”(Freire 73). This implies that Freire agrees that education is flawed because it severs student creativity; although, it does not answer why we must learn meaningless and impractical information obtained in our lives.
Freire responds that not everyone will find meaning through their education; however, he believes that people should continue to pursue the parts of education that students find interesting, such as in a higher education setting (Freire 76). I knew most of the information that I obtained in chemistry was impractical for most individuals and even myself in a day-to-day scenario, but chemistry was interesting to me. It was something that I wanted to pursue and gain further understanding of because every piece of information left me wanting more.
Giving up and throwing my knowledge away was not an option because I wanted and worked my entire life to make sense of what I learned in this world, and it keeps on changing and reshaping every day. As a last effort, I went to the tutoring help desk at the university to get help, so I could understand my information and knowledge and apply it to the lab. I was assigned a tutor, Kevin, and he brought me and two other students into a small concealed 10×10 room with a large foldup table in the middle.
We all sat down and Kevin asked us what we needed help with. The other students didn’t look like they were forced to be there and kept quiet, so I took the opportunity to obtain help. I told him that “I have a hard time applying the lecture notes in the lab. ” Kevin explained that my situation was very typical because the lectures and exams were based on memorization where the labs relied on the interaction between what you know and how to solve the problem. He brought out an organic chemistry book and questioned, “Why is water polar? I immediately responded that water is polar because the oxygen atom has more elections than the hydrogen atoms at any one time giving the hydrogen molecules a positive charge and the oxygen a negative charge. Kevin told me that I was right, but this occurred due to the extreme differences in electronegativity. We continued to solve problems together and critique one another on our answers, and from this he was teaching me and I was teaching him. Freire would call this interaction, “problem-solving-education” because “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students”(Freire 80).
This implies that both teacher and student work together to solve problems, and by doing so, they gain a greater understanding of the topic. This is exactly what Kevin and I were doing because we were teaching each other and able to create a more significant understanding and meaning of chemistry that allowed me to visualize a topic and solve it logistically instead of memorizing the topic and solving it formulaically. This is why Freire belives that “the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos”(Freire 81).
Freire’s text implies that common knowledge and understanding (doxa) can be transformed into true mastery of the subject and reason (logos). Since Keven and I were taking basic information and each giving it new meaning in our problem-solving tutoring sessions, I was able to acquire a true mastery and understanding of chemistry. Working with Kevin several times a week gave me a true understanding and relation of chemistry, which allowed me to pass my lab course with an A. Overcoming the problems of the banking-concept and learning the problem-solving method changed my life forever.
I took the problem-solving method that I learned with Kevin and applied it with other students, colleagues, professors, and friends, so I could continue to problem solve and gain true understanding of knowledge throughout my life. Problem-solving education continues to be vastly superior to banking-education because in addition to learning and understanding information, problem-solving-education forces individuals to retain information they acquire so they can apply for future use.
Since I was able to take knowledge and apply my understanding of it, Freire would conclude this type of understanding as “being with the world”(Freire 78). Being with-the-world means that the individual is conscious of their surroundings and is able to fully interact in the world they are in. Instead of being an object or vessel, the individual is able to make conscious decisions and interpret the world as they see it.
This induces self-freedom and liberation in a person because when a person learns something, they retain that information forever and no human being in the world can take that information away. It also provides a mental salvation because if the physical realm is too harsh to live in, those who have mastered problem-solving and acquired pure consciousness can escape from their physical realm into their consciousness where they have stored all of their memories, techniques, and information, and no person can get to them besides themselves.
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