Bank balance

In reading the excerpt from “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, I am again in throes of processing such sensational pedagogical writing. My problems are: (1) the gross generalizations are laughable, and with many of the writings and discussions in such vein, I would like to see the data to back up claims that most educators are “Narrators” depositing information in “banks;” and (2) this movement seems much more apropos to our current K-12 system, as it is mandated by governmental regulation.

In either case, the instructors I know–both K-12 and at the university level–actively work against the stereotypical approaches of instructor-student dynamics in the classroom. I am well aware of how impressive my friends and acquaintances are, and I’m optimistic that this approach is more widespread than we give credit.

The excerpt is only chapter 2 from the book, so I am curious to read the rest and gain a broader perspective of the narrative. It’s a bit much to choke down much of what Freire writes in somewhat isolation–such as, “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 oppression.”1 In regards to this specific quote, I am also curious to know more about the time and place Freire is drawing from, because to apply this to 21st century pedagogy in the US seems far-fetched at best. While I am the first to criticize and call for the retraction of Common Core, I in no way think it is an exercise of domination over students/citizens.

Again, how does this apply to the university? The banking concept, at least, can apply pretty readily, but is it prevalent (as many would have us believe)? I would like to see data on that. I cannot think of an instance in my university studies in which student participation and contribution in the classroom was discouraged. Of course content must be given, and often in a lecture method. It is here that I come back to a common argument of mine in that half of a student’s education (if not more) is dependent on student responsibility. If the student needs more than what is given, approach the professor.

The practical reality of the University is that we have thousands of incoming students every year, and thousands of outgoing graduates, all with the goal of earning a degree that all but guarantees a given knowledge-set bestowed on the student. Instructors are in the position of making sure adequate and appropriate information is given and received in the classroom. There are going to be plenty of instances of banking this knowledge, and plenty of instances of going beyond merely lecturing to the student (dependent on the instructor, the students, class size, and material, among other variables).

Freire’s philosophical approach makes for a good read, and is certainly passionate, but I look forward to more practical approaches in aiding the learning process.


Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed.New York: Continuum Books, 1993.

On eggshells

Hello. My name is Cody, and I….

  • …am white.
  • …am a male.
  • …am married.
  • …am a father to a wonderful son.
  • …come from an extremely impoverished, agricultural community in rural Alabama.
  • …am a student loan statistic, living with unbelievable student debt.
  • …am the first generation of my family to graduate from University.
  • …am the first of my family to finish an advanced degree.
  • …am an agriculturalist, ecologist, biologist, botanist.
  • …spent three years working in the field before pursuing a PhD.
  • …am a follower of Christ.
  • …come from a broken family with continued rocky relationships.
  • …am neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal.
  • …have worked with members from more cultures than I can count.
  • …drive a Subaru.

And so much more.

In talks concerning inclusivity and diversity, more often than not, the first two items on my list of descriptors are all that matter. According to these discussions, I am the pinnacle of society, and therefore, am not a concern of progressive thought. However, if one of the first two items in my list of descriptors could change, I would be viewed as the object of progressive thought. It is here, that I want to draw our attention to a video I related with this week:

In all our talk about how to move forward with inclusivity and diversity within the university, it feels as though we are always looking for the nouveau approach (if for no other reason than to remain relevant). Now, it is currently apropos to announce our pronoun preferences (as unique and specific as they may be), if not to further advertise more of our personal identifiers (e.g., gender). Why this is now important in the classroom is beyond me. More importantly, I feel this movement trivializes so much.

Let me ask: If, in an attempt to be inclusive, we implement pronoun announcement in class, why do we not also seek to know more of the individual? Why is it not important that I announce my life experience in poverty? Isn’t my learning framed by that experience as much as someones gender? My point is not to denigrate the gender spectrum revolution, but instead to point out how I feel our progressive steps are misguided. We are taking one step forward, and three back.

Referring to the video, searching ancient knowledge, and visiting the creased pages of history, I am reminded of how important a mere assertion was for relationships of past centuries: Are you friend, or foe? Would not our classroom benefit more from a similar model of camaraderie amongst the students? Of course our society has become one of individuality, in which the parts are greater than the sum. Here’s hoping we can again be sojourning learners and citizens, instead of each vying for our place, first identifying with a group that does not pertain to the purpose of the classroom.

In the classroom, we should first be learners. Then we can hope for common ground with everything else.

Hello. My name is Cody, and, in the classroom, I….

  • …am a learner, and a facilitator of learning.


I’m amorphous, mostly.

Writing about my “authentic teaching self”is proving difficult, as I’m not sure how much of my previous teaching style was due to implicit nature and how much has been due to external circumstance. When participating in discussions concerning teaching praxis, instructors are clear in defining their styles and objectives, not necessarily with the intent of converting their listener, but most assuredly with utmost conviction. We, as instructors, are often very aware of how we present ourselves and our material in the classroom. Of course, this is likely biased, as those they talk about teaching methodology are often those that enjoy teaching. I’ve not had many conversations with instructors that despise their role.

That said, I have not participated in many conversations revolving around the dynamic nature of teaching and the need for uber-plasticity. I suppose this is one of my premier concerns with teaching: each semester is vastly different than the one prior. Knowing my audience is the first task I undertake–even before the semester begins.

This revelation came during the years before my PhD studies in my international agriculture development work. We often lead classes, workshops and conferences (as well as intern trainings and seminars). I taught many sessions, and the turnover is far greater than the university setting. My fellow instructors and I often talked about how finicky the classes are–one session, the students want all hands-on learning and no classroom time, the next session the opposite. We took feedback to heart, but it really could not inform how we handled the next session because it was comprised of very different students with very different goals and very different experiences. Did I ever truly develop a solution? Maybe. Maybe not. I can only change so much, and often met many students’ needs, while others felt neglected. I’ve come to accept that this is going to be a common theme.

This brings me to my next point: contextualization of material is difficult. Once I feel I know generalizations about my audience, I can then contextualize the material. It is my point to understand whatever I am teaching to such a degree that my examples (often parables) are contexualized as well. This was extremely important, and infinitely difficult, with my previous job, as the students were from all over the tropical and subtropical world. Thus there were huge cultural considerations to boot.

Lastly, I, as many do, rely on passion and transparency to bridge all gaps. The one set of truly bad reviews I received was from a new class that I acquired and was not at all interested in (and the first time I taught it, I was feverishly sick). I tried my darndest to fake some passion and interest in the subject and the students saw right through me. As an introvert, I always have to draw energy and present myself in many ways that are unnatural to me when I teach, but it oddly comes with ease because of my passion for teaching, itself.

As for transparency, I mean it in terms of the material taught and the management of the classroom. In my previous posts, I’ve not shied away from my dislike of hyper-connected (technologically) classrooms. I try to strip away everything unimportant to the material and help my students really connect with the ideas being shared. I don’t want the material muddled or convoluted. I don’t want the students distracted. I don’t want teaching tactics to stand in the way either. Pedagogy has its place, but many of my previous instructors and teachers seemed to hide behind teaching methods in lieu of grassroots learning.

This is me, but I rarely can say anything in the aforementioned conversations with fellow instructors because my innate teaching self is malleable, constantly processing my environment and adapting as much as possible. And so far, it has served me well. Currently, I am focused on how to best get to know my students on individual bases, so if you have any feedback that has worked for you, please let me know. One thing I hope to implement in my career is to require at least one office meeting during the semester to have face-to-face time, but this is heavily dependent on class size. We’ll see how it goes!

Moving forward by visiting the past

Isn’t it interesting that everyone has a particular bent for the novel learning method? Our society is structured to never revisit the past, but to embrace the future. Take, for instance, the Progressive movement in politics here in the US. This camp hangs its hat on leaving our past behind, moving forward in great strides, always living on the very edge of societal innovation.

In contrast, my area of study is rooted in very ancient things–concepts that are timeless and profoundly explorative. Horticulture/Forestry, at its very best, is absent of technology at its very core, and integrates only that which is absolutely necessary. Sure, there are GIS methods for mapping various traits via satellite mapping, etc, but a student/professional/hobbyist cannot exist without exposing themselves (nay, immersing themselves!) to the very subject they study.

Therefore, all this talk about digitally-based learning and interactive classrooms mean very little to me. Instead, I see the exact opposite necessity in my classroom: Unplug the students, immerse them in the very subject they came to study, and use physical learning to drive home concepts and explore imaginative unknowns.

In my case, creating a game to simulate and accompany classroom concepts is almost worthless. The students need to instead touch a tree, look at cross-sections, and ponder the structures contained in our specimen to understand how water moves through the system. They need to visit urban forests to see and feel how urban stressors (e.g., compaction) limit tree establishment and success. They need to know the miraculous way trees cope with competition and innumerable stressors, pests and disease to survive, thrive, and provide ecosystem services.

I am absolutely progressive in regards to educational reform, however, the path to successful teaching and learning is vastly different for me than what we are discussing in this class so far. There is a need to revisit our past in education. We need to reclaim interactive learning–not digital interaction, but interaction with the physical subjects that we study. Our students need less classroom time, and more subject investment.

Grades: A new four-letter word.

Hello. My name is Cody, and I survived being graded.

Not only did I survive grades, but I have come to appreciate them. Apostasy in contemporary pedagogy circles, I know. Before you click away, I will remind my readers that my posts so far regularly feature my admission of a sickly, broken education system, both K-12 and in higher ed. I, too, want to see reformation happen, but my end goals are different than what we have read and watched in class so far. So much of what we have covered seems to be coated with sensationalism and revolution, yet, I daresay, there is a lot of momentum to be captured and altered. Instead of thinking about our efforts linearly, in which progress can only be made via a sharp departure from the status quo, we should think radially, in which varying degrees of change can be made without losing ground and with vastly different trajectories.

If people like Alfie Kohn were to have their way, it seems the slate would be wiped clean; a system failed and forgotten. Because there is much wrong with our current grading schemes, we must get rid of it. May I encourage us to instead rethink the purpose of grades and how we evaluate students using a grading system?

Grades are merely one part of a students greater portfolio. One part. I have yet to experience or hear of an instance in my circles in which GPA has been the guiding factor for an individual’s success in the job market. However, I am all too familiar with the role it plays in evaluated potential employees or incoming graduate students. Again, it is one part.

As an example, my undergraduate degree is in Animal Sciences. My final GPA at graduation was deplorable. If I was to be solely evaluated according to my GPA, I would never have gotten into graduate school. It turns out that working in the horticulture department and making connections with the faculty made much more of a difference than my grades ever could. The professors I worked with knew my work ethic and my knowledge in the field. I had no issue getting into the program because I had many references vouching for me.

This brings me to my next point: Grades help to guide. Or at least they should. In my case, it was abundantly clear that animal sciences were not my passion, nor did I have aptitude for chemistry (organic, biochem, etc) and genetics, as reflected by my performance. Instead of kicking against the goads, I took class feedback, i.e. grades, to heart. The classes that I performed well in and understood on a deeper level are responsible for me successfully choosing my master’s program and now PhD program. My master’s GPA was much closer to 4.0, and my PhD GPA is higher still. I take these as indicators that I am on the right path. My aptitudes and desires are aligned with my professional path. Grades can be good.

I am in full agreement that our grading system needs revamping (in large part because of grade inflation and its current ineffectiveness), but stop short of calling for its removal altogether. Grades are one part of evaluation, both of oneself and by a potential employer. School performance helps others understand your ability to rise to a task and achieve goals. Again, grades are just one part of a diverse portfolio.

Before leaving this post, I do want to comment on something that irks me in some of our readings. Speaking of Alfie Kohn again, much of the contemporary pedagogy rhetoric aims to belittle those that are not onboard the progressive train. Case in point, in “The Case Against Grades,” Kohn uses such statements as: “Why tests are not a particularly useful way to assess student learning (at least the kind that matters), and what thoughtful educators do instead, are questions that must wait for another day.”1 Or elsewhere alluding to “responsible” educators as those that agree with his viewpoints or the “best” teachers as those who don’t give tests. It is counterproductive to insult or insinuate against those that you are trying to persuade.


1Kohn, A. 2011. The Case Against Grades. Effective Grading Practices 69(3):28-33

Educational Malaise

Horace Mann, “Father of the Common School Movement,” is credited with saying:

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.1

Historian, Educator and Dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education (1917-1933), Ellwood P. Cubberley, wrote of Mann,

No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.

I could end the post now and have made my point. Educational reform is mired in a lack of clarity of vision and an unsure foundation. Mann, being the pioneer and reformer that he was, made his intents on implementing common education very clear. Now 155 years after his death, our goals seem much different. The former system was founded on principles of equality and societal benefit. The current system operates more on degree pursuit and personal benefit.

There is also prevalent within the system a sort of elitism that shuns the trades and glorifies the arts. A strong statement, sure, but nonetheless true. Tradesmen and women have lost prestige within society in lieu of graduates from four-year institutions. There is great need to restore the value of trade education.

We do students disservice in many ways, one such way is our assembly-line method of running students through primary and secondary education, assuming all students equal and promoting university attendance for all. Administrators and teachers ignore individual aptitude in lieu of further education. Instead of advising and enabling students to pursue their interests and natural talents, they are instead told that university education is a necessity. Instead of promoting studies in auto mechanics, mechanical engineering is promoted. The result is a university ripe with students not interested in their studies and confused about their purpose. Continuing the trend of holding all students on equal ground, without acknowledging aptitude and differences, faculty in higher education have to adjust grading scales and expectations, ultimately leading to perpetual grade inflation.

We need to recalibrate, reminding ourselves of what true education is: enabling students to be successful in their pursuits through critical thought. In tandem, we need to restore and revalue trade education, certification, and apprenticeship. These degrees are no less important than those awarded at four-year institutions. This would be a firm foundation from with further reform in teaching methods could stem. So before we really delve into anti-teaching and mindful learning, we need to realize that our classrooms are filled with students better suited elsewhere. Only then will we begin to understand why so many students are distracted and uninterested.


2 Ellwood P. Cubberley, Public Education in the United States (1919) p. 167