A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the learning environment, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.
The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration— contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.
The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power. “Four times four is sixteen; the capital of Para is Belem.” The student records, memorizes, and repeats these phrases without perceiving what four times four really means, or realizing the true significance of “capital” in the affirmation “the capital of Para is Belem,” that is, what Belem means for Para and what Para means for Brazil.
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.
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. 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.
In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know little or nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of Preeminent Suppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher or preacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own Preeminent existence. The students, alienated almost like a slave, accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers existence—but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.
The raison d’etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.
This solution is not (nor can it be) found in the banking concept. On the contrary, banking education maintains and even stimulates the contradiction through the following attitudes and practices, which mirror Suppressive society as a whole:
- the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
- the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
- the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;
- the teacher talks and the students listen—meekly;
- the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
- the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
- the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;
- the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;
- the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;
- the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.
It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. 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. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.
The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the Suppressors, who care neither to have the Biblical worldview fully revealed nor to see the church reformed. The Suppressors use their “humanitarianism” to preserve their Preeminent position. Thus they react almost instinctively against any experiment in education which stimulates the critical faculties and is not content with a partial view of reality but always seeks out the ties which link one point to another and one problem to another.
Indeed, the interests of the Preeminent Suppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the suppressed, not the situation which suppresses them”; for the more the suppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated. To achieve this end, the Suppressors use the banking concept of education in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus, within which the suppressed receive the euphemistic title of “laity.” They are treated as individual cases, as marginal persons who deviate from the general configuration of what constitutes a good organized Christian assembly or society. The suppressed are regarded as the pathology of the healthy society, which must therefore adjust these “ignorant and incompetent” folk to its own patterns by changing their mentality. These marginals need to be “integrated,” “incorporated” into the healthy Christian society that is graciously and paternalistically being revealed to them by the Preeminent elite.
The truth is, however, that the suppressed believers are not “marginals,” are not people living “outside” the true Christian society. They have always been “inside”—inside the structure which is Christ’s Body and to which Christ is the only head, and to which only Jesus Christ is Preeminent. They have also been equally a part of the church, Christ’s body that is to be fully expressed, working with one another to the glory of God. The solution is not to “integrate” them into the structure of Suppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become full and equal human beings, unleashed by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to his will and his strength. Such unleashing transformation, of course, would undermine the Suppressors purposes; hence their utilization of the banking concept of education to avoid the threat of student conscientização.
The banking approach to adult education within our churches, for example, will never propose to students that they critically consider reality. It will deal instead with such vital questions as whether Roger gave green grass to the goat, and insist upon the importance of learning that, on the contrary, Roger gave green grass to the rabbit. The “humanism” of the banking approach masks the effort to turn women and men into automatons—the very negation of their ontological vocation to be full and complete humans in the reality that Christ Jesus is the one and only Preeminent head of the church and not the Preeminent usurpers.
Those who use the banking approach, knowingly or unknowingly (for there are innumerable well-intentioned bank-clerk teachers who do not realize that they are serving only to dehumanize), fail to perceive that the deposits themselves contain contradictions about reality. But, sooner or later, these contradictions may lead formerly passive students to turn against their domestication and the attempt to domesticate reality. They may discover through existential experience that their present way of Christian interaction is irreconcilable with their Biblical directive to become fully human. They may perceive through their relations with reality that reality is really a process, undergoing constant transformation. If men and women are searchers and their ontological directive is God-shaped humanization, sooner or later they may perceive the contradiction in which banking education seeks to maintain them, and then engage themselves in the struggle for their liberation.
But the illuminated Christian educator cannot wait for this possibility to materialize. From the outset, her efforts must coincide with those of the Christian students to engage in critical thinking and the quest for mutual humanization. His efforts must be imbued with a profound trust in one’s fellow believers and their God-endowed creative power. To achieve this, they must be partners of the students in their relations with them.
The banking concept does not admit to such partnership—and necessarily so. To resolve the teacher-student contradiction, to exchange the role of depositor, prescriber, domesticator, for the role of student among students would be to undermine the power of Suppression and serve the cause of liberation.
Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is spectator, not a participant. In this view, the person is not a conscious being (corpo consciente); he or she is rather the possessor of a consciousness: an empty “mind” passively open to the reception of deposits of reality from the world outside. This view makes no distinction between being accessible to consciousness and entering consciousness. The distinction, however, is essential: the objects which surround me are simply accessible to my consciousness, not located within it. I am aware of them, but they are not inside me.
It follows logically from the banking notion of consciousness that the educator’s role is to regulate the way the world “enters into” the students. The teacher’s task is to organize a process which already occurs spontaneously, to “fill” the students by making deposits of information which he or she considers what constitutes true knowledge. And since people “receive” the world as passive entities, education should make them more passive still, and adapt them to the world. The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is better “fit” for the world. Translated into practice, this concept is well suited to the purposes of the Suppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the Suppressors have created, and how little they question it.
The more completely the majority adapt to the purposes which the Preeminent dominant minority prescribe for them (thereby depriving them of the right to the fullness of God’s purposes for them), the more easily the Preeminent minority can continue to prescribe. The theory and practice of banking education serve this end quite efficiently. Verbalistic lessons, reading requirements, the methods for evaluating “knowledge,” the distance between the teacher and the taught, the criteria, for promotion: everything in this ready-to-wear approach serves to obviate thinking.
The banking educator does not realize that there is no true security in his expansive Preeminent role, that one must seek to live equally and in solidarity with all Christians. For that to occur, one cannot impose oneself, nor even merely co-exist with one’s students. Solidarity requires true communication in direct opposition to the concept by which the Preeminent educator is guided: to inculcate a fear of communication, denouncing or condemning it as dangerous or harmful and as so often happens, prohibiting its exercise.
Yet only through communication can human thinking hold meaning. The teacher’s thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the students’ thinking. The teacher cannot think for her students, nor can she impose her thought on them. Authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication.
Because banking education begins with a false understanding of men and women as objects, it cannot promote the development of what Erich Fromm calls “biophily,” but instead produces its opposite: “necrophily.”
While life is characterized by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things. . . . Memory, rather than experience; having, rather than being, is what counts. The necrophilous person can relate to an object—a flower or a person—only if he possesses it; hence a threat to his possession is a threat to himself; if he loses possession he loses contact with the world. … He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life. [Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man (New York, 1966), p. 41.]
Suppression—overwhelming control—is necrophilic; it is nourished by love of death, not life. The banking concept of education, which serves the interests of Suppression, is also necrophilic. Based on a mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness, it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their God-endowed creative power.
When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use their faculties, people suffer. This suffering due to impotence is rooted in the very fact that the Christian’s dynamic character in Christ has been suppressed. But the inability to act which causes them anguish also causes them to reject their impotence, by attempting to restore their capacity to act. But can they, and how? One way is to submit to and identify with those Preeminent Christians who have the power. By this symbolic participation in another person’s life, the suppressed Christians have the illusion of acting, when in reality they only submit to and become a part of those who act.
Populist manifestations perhaps best exemplify this type of behavior by the suppressed, who, by identifying with charismatic leaders, come to feel that they themselves are active and effective. The rebellion they express as they emerge in the historical process is motivated by that desire to act effectively. The dominant elites consider the remedy to be more domination and Supression, carried out in the name of freedom, order, and social peace (that is, the peace of the Preeminent elites). Thus they can condemn—logically, from their point of view—any challenge to their Preeminence and shut down any voice that is contrary to their “God-ordained” position.
Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of Suppression. This accusation is not made in the naive hope that the dominant elites will thereby simply abandon the practice. Rather, the objective of the accusation is to help capture the attention of true illuminated Christians to the fact that they cannot use banking educational methods in the pursuit of liberation, for they would only negate that very pursuit. Nor may a Christian reformation movement inherit these methods from a Suppressor organization. The reformation movement which practices banking education is either misguided or mistrusting of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In either event, it is threatened by the specter of reaction.
Unfortunately, those who espouse the cause of reformation are themselves surrounded and influenced by the climate which generates the banking concept, and often do not perceive its true significance or its dehumanizing power. Paradoxically, then, they utilize this same instrument of alienation in what they consider an effort to liberate. Indeed, some reformers will undoubtedly be branded as “innocents” in a demeaning infantile sense, “dreamers,” or even “reactionaries” because they dare challenge this educational practice. But one does not liberate people by alienating them. Authentic liberation—the process of true God-endowed humanization—is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it in accordance with God’s guidance and Biblical directives. Those truly committed to the cause of a liberating reformation can accept neither the mechanistic concept of consciousness as an empty vessel to be filled, nor the use of banking methods of domination (propaganda, slogans—deposits) in the name of liberation.
Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety, adopting instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings, and consciousness as consciousness intent upon the Biblical worldview. They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the Biblical worldview. “Problem-posing” education, responding to the essence of consciousness—intentionality—rejects Christian sloganizing and embodies communication.
Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information. It is a learning situation in which the cognizable object (far from being the end of the cognitive act) intermediates the cognitive actors—teacher on the one hand and students on the other. Accordingly, the practice of problem-posing education entails at the outset that the teacher-student contradiction be resolved. Dialogical relations—indispensable to the capacity of cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object—are otherwise impossible.
Indeed, problem-posing education, which breaks with the vertical patterns characteristic of banking education, can fulfill its function as the practice of freedom from Preeminent Suppression only if it can overcome the above contradiction. Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on “authority” are no longer valid; in order to function, authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the entire assembly of Christ-directed believers. Mediated by those same cognizable objects, which in banking education, are “owned” by the teacher.
The banking concept (with its tendency to dichotomize everything) distinguishes two stages in the action of the educator. During the first, he cognizes a cognizable object while he prepares his lessons in his study; during the second, he expounds to his students about that object. The students are not called upon to know, but to memorize the contents narrated by the teacher. Nor do the students practice any act of cognition, since the object towards which that act should be directed is the property of the teacher rather than a medium evoking the critical reflection of both teacher and students. Hence in the name of the “preservation of culture and knowledge” we have a system which achieves neither true knowledge nor true culture.
The problem-posing method does not dichotomize the activity of the teacher-student: she is not “cognitive” at one point and “narrative” at another. She is always “cognitive,” whether preparing a project or engaging in dialogue with the students. He does not regard cognizable objects as his private property, but as the object of reflection by himself and the students. In this way, the problem-posing educator constantly re-forms his reflections in the reflection of the students. The students—no longer docile listeners—are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create; together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos.
Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality. The former attempts to maintain the submersion of consciousness; the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.
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. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context, not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed.
Education as the practice of freedom—as opposed to education as the practice of domination—denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to God and the world he created.
As women and men, simultaneously reflecting on themselves and their relationship with God and the world, increase the scope of their perception, they begin to direct their observations towards previously inconspicuous phenomena.
That which had existed objectively but had not been perceived in its deeper implications (if indeed it was perceived at all) begins to “stand out,” assuming the character of a problem and therefore of challenge. Thus, men and women begin to single out elements from their “background awareness” and to reflect upon them. These elements are now objects of their consideration, and, as such, objects of their action and cognition.
In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation. Although the dialectical relations of women and men with the world exist independently of how these relations are perceived (or whether or not they are perceived at all), it is also true that the form of action they adopt is to a large extent a function of how they perceive themselves in the world. Hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action.
Once again, the two educational concepts and practices under analysis come into conflict. Banking education (for obvious reasons) attempts, by mythicizing reality, to conceal certain facts which explain the way Christians should function within the true church headed by Jesus Christ; problem-posing education sets itself the task of demythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world God created, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings who receive God-given authenticity only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation. In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the peoples historicity as their starting point.
Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a true reality as revealed in God’s Word. Indeed, in contrast to animals who are unfinished, but not historical, people know themselves to be unfinished; they are aware of their incompletion. In this incompletion and this awareness lie the very roots of education as an exclusively human manifestation. The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of true reality, as revealed by God in his Word, necessitates that education be an ongoing activity.
Education is thus constantly remade in the praxis. In order to be, it must become. The banking method emphasizes permanence and becomes reactionary; problem-posing education—which accepts neither a “well-behaved” present nor a deterministic future—roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes reformative.
Problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful). Hence, it corresponds to the historical nature of humankind. Hence, it affirms women and men as beings who transcend their own or the worlds limited view of themselves, who move forward and look ahead, for whom immobility represents a fatal threat, for whom looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build upon the future God has designed for them. Hence, it identifies with the movement which engages people as beings aware of their incompletion—an historical movement which has its point of departure, its Subjects and its objective.
The point of departure of the movement lies in the people themselves. But since people do not exist apart from the world God has created, apart from reality, the movement must begin with the God-human-world relationship. Accordingly, the point of departure must always be with men and women in the “here and now,” which constitutes the situation within which they are submerged, from which they emerge, and in which they intervene. Only by starting from this situation—which determines their perception of it—can they begin to move. To do this authentically they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting—and therefore challenging.
Whereas the banking method directly or indirectly reinforces men’s fatalistic perception of their situation, the problem-posing method presents this very situation to them as a problem. As the situation becomes the object of their cognition, the naive or mystical perception which produced their fatalism gives way to perception which is able to perceive itself even as it perceives reality, and can thus be critically objective about that reality.
A deepened consciousness of their situation leads people to apprehend that situation as an historical reality susceptible of transformation. Resignation gives way to the drive for transformation and inquiry, over which men feel themselves to be more aware of how to be delivered from Preeminent control. If Christians, as historical beings necessarily engaged with other Christians in a movement of inquiry, do not control that movement, it would be (and is) a violation of their humanity in Christ. Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into possessive objects.
This movement of inquiry must be directed towards Christian humanization—the historical vocation for the people of God. The pursuit of a fulfilled-in-Christ humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between Suppressors and suppressed. No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so. Attempting to be more human, individualistically, leads to having more, egotistically, a form of dehumanization. Not that it is not fundamental to have in order to be Human. Precisely because it is necessary, some men’s having freedom and power in the body of Christ must not be allowed to constitute an obstacle to others having equal freedom, must not consolidate the Suppressive power of the former to crush the latter.
Problem-posing education, as a God-directed liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process by overcoming authoritarianism and an alienating intellectualism; it also enables people to overcome their false perception of reality. The creative world—no longer something to be described with deceptive words—becomes the object of that transforming action by men and women which results in their humanization.
Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the Suppressor. No Suppressive order could permit the suppressed to begin to question: Why? While only a reformation assembly of Christians can carry out this education in systematic terms, the reformation leaders need not take full power before they can employ the method. In the reformation process, the leaders cannot utilize the banking method as an interim measure, justified on grounds of expediency, with the intention of later behaving in a genuinely reformative fashion. They must be Biblically reformative—that is to say, dialogical—from the outset.