Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” in Today’s Classroom

We’ve learned about the banking concept of learning described by Pablo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed as ” knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.” For Freire, this is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the assumption that students “know nothing,” that they are empty vessels who are provided with appropriate knowledge at the behest of their instructors. There is a power dynamic at work here that mirrors much of the structure of colonialism, which is Freire’s point. In a gross simplification of this point, the oppressor comes into the learner’s environment claims it as his/her own and bestows upon the oppressed people knowledge that he/she deems necessary for the oppressed to function as the oppressor sees fit. This makes sense when we consider the fact that the traditional classroom is based around power dynamics: the instructor has all of the power, standing at the front of the class leading a lecture or assigning work and the students all face the instructor as knowledge is passed in a 1-1 ratio–from instructor to students.

What we can learn from Freire is to open the classroom up a bit, to not force the oppression of that power dynamic on all learners for all subjects in all contexts. That is not to say that lecture is inherently bad or that instructors must relinquish all power in the classroom. In fact, if we’ve learned anything from this class its that lecture is very appropriate in a specific context. But the point is to be able to find a balance of teaching approaches based on the needs of the learners. Students should have some agency in how they learn, and part of the instructor’s job is to be able to show students how to find that agency. For me, as a composition instructor, I try to make it imperative to get to know my students personally, to build and foster a trusting relationship.  Writing is so tied to personal experience, that it is important to not only get to know my students, but also to provide them with a comfortable space for them to produce there best work. In this, we can see Freire’s influence.

I would be interested in seeing how Freire’s teachings take form in other disciplines. Fee free to tell me in the comments below.

Teacher evaluation: how much it shows the truth?

This semester I am teaching principle of microeconomics. My class is a large class with more than 100 students. This is my first time that I teach such a large class and in this view, it is a fascinating experience. I have a policy to ask from my students to give me a feedback about my teaching. I ask my student to fill out a survey and also write their comments in the middle of semester. This semester I asked from students before spring break and more than 65% of class filled out the survey. The survey helps me a lot to improve my teaching skill and after the spring break I try to apply some of the feed back I got into my teaching approach. However, I found their evaluation is not completely accordant with reality. For instance, I do my best to bring the real world examples into class and since the course is talking about the theory of microeconomics, most of the time it is hard to find a good example that matched with real life situation. I showed them a video of presidential candidate to explain different economic systems. I found a graph that shows younger people tend to vote to Bernie whereas middle aged people tend to vote for Hillary and from this example and graph, I explained the notion of opportunity costs. I talked about Martin Shkreli case which increases the price of a drug used for curing AIDS by more than 700% overnight last September and then I ask a question why he can do it easily without being worry to loose money and from this approach I explained the notion of elasticity of demand. All in all, the feed back I gained was that they don’t get examples from real world and they don’t know how these theories can be applied into real world. I also get a feed back for instance that I read from slides while I never do that and I don’t remember I teach by reading slides. After the survey was closed, I think a lot how much these surveys and teaching evaluation questionnaire shows the reality? When I consider the part of the survey which was related to evaluation of students, almost all of students read the course carefully, do their assignments regularly and attend in class seriously, but when you consider the course and teacher evaluation, students tend to be pessimistic and think that all of their problems with this course comes from a fact that either teacher or books are not helpful and the teacher does not teach effectively. In this atmosphere, I look at teacher evaluation done with a students with lots of doubt. I don’t want to exculpate myself, however, after getting those feedback where part of that (and for sure not all of that) is far from the truth, I am thinking about this question that is teaching evaluation done by students can evaluate truly the teacher? My answer to this question is “No”. In my opinion, student based evaluation of teachers are really good tools for considering teaching effectiveness of a teacher from point of view of those who are going to learn the materials, but this evaluation is not enough. In fact, students are biased and if they think they are not good in a course, they give more negative weight to teacher and they don’t look at themselves that maybe they don’t study hard or take the course seriously. In my view, in addition to student based evaluation, teachers need to be evaluated by their colleagues. The feedback of other faculty members about teaching policy would be much helpful due to their experiences and the fact that their views are not biased. Evaluation of teachers both by students and faculty members can give a big and clear picture to a teacher to improve her positive skills and remove the negative issues from her teaching approach.

Smarter, Dumber, or Lazier?

This week I read an article entitled “Is Google Making us Stupid?” 

This article raised some really interesting points. I can say in all honesty, I don’t know how the brain works enough to really weigh-in on a scientific scale; however, I do have some thoughts about how the age of technology manifests in the classroom. While I think the age of technology has revolutionized the world in numerous positive ways, I think it has perhaps created a level of dependency that no one really anticipated. I can’t count the number of times basic math has been on an exam, and students in the classroom panicked because calculators weren’t allowed. There have also been a number of times when working in teams and drafting group documents where a student asks siri how to spell a word (I guess spell check has too many steps)!

I don’t honestly believe that the majority of students don’t know how to do basic math in their head or spell words over two syllables… but the dependency on technology is rather alarming. Given the trends I have observed as well as the changes in learning patterns highlighted in the article, I wonder: are we doing students a disservice by catering to this new era of “technology enhanced” learning? 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to use the comments section below!

Lessons from Castalia (Part III)

Part I & Part II

Part III re-imagines current educational institutes to serve more comprehensive goals.

Part III

                It is instructive here to consider the Castalia of Greek mythology.  Castalia was a nymph whose ultimate fate was to be turned into a water fountain.  But fountains must flow – that’s how they maintain their shape.  Knecht resigns his office because he recognizes that the pedantic arrogance of the Province and the growing divide between it and the outside world threaten its sustainability.   His observations and concerns allow for a critical reflection on current reasons for schooling and serve as an invitation for all to reexamine the purposes of education and reevaluate its priorities.

Before addressing what the particular values scholarly institutes are to society or which values they should primarily pursue, it is important to discuss ways in which such institutions can be practically sustained.  The answer is obvious.  To maintain and grow societies’ educational institutes and their capacity to school a population of assertive, critical thinkers, it must promote teaching excellence in its students – the ability to teach each other and future generations.  Societal education into the distant future can only continue if students become teachers in cyclical fashion.

Knecht fears that Castalia is becoming the aristocratic class of its time, doomed to corrupt itself if it forgets its privileged position and will share the fate of many similar societies that preceded it.  Knecht criticizes the average Castalian for being self-absorbed in study:

The purpose of his life seems to him to be cultivation of the scholarly disciplines for their own sake,… Castalian culture… is for most of those associated with it not an instrument they play on like a great organ, not active and directed toward goals, not consciously serving something greater or profounder than itself.  Rather, it tends somewhat toward smugness and self-praise, toward the cultivation and elaboration of intellectual specialism (349).

The Castalians who leave as teachers to serve in the surrounding country Knecht recognizes as “men of integrity and worth, who really desire only to serve.”  Their work is described as “incalculably important” to “the pleasant climate and the intellectual luxuries of [the] Province.”  Knecht explains to the Board of Educators, “These fine teachers out there are, strictly speaking, the only ones among us who are really carrying out the purpose of Castalia.  Through their work alone we are repaying the nation for the many benefits we receive from it” (351).

Teaching is clearly important in Hesse’s view.  But it’s critical to realize its limits. Knecht’s biographers make an interesting distinction between teaching and educating.  Teaching relies on pedagogical skill and involves the transference of information; it’s the joy of seeing students rearrange materials into original configurations (238).  Teaching is about skills, knowledge, talent, and experience.  Education relies on the teacher’s personality; it relies on the ability to win students over and lead them by ones’ inspirational example (238).  Educating is about transmitting values, wisdom, character and meaning.

As Kohn warns, we should be wary regarding education and skeptical of our ability to pass on transcendent truth.  It is the same counsel that the Music Master gives Knecht during a correspondence about the meaning of the Glass Bead Game.  Knecht claims to be on the path to

The real mystery of the Game and its ultimate meaning…, down into the One and All, into those depths where the eternal Atman eternally breathes in and out, sufficient unto itself.  One who had experienced the ultimate meaning of the Game within himself would by that fact no longer a player; he would no longer dwell in the world of multiplicity and would no longer be able to delight in invention, construction, and combination, since he would know altogether different joys and raptures” (121-122).

The benevolent Music Master responds,

A Game Master or teacher who was primarily concerned with being close enough to the ‘innermost meaning’ would be a very bad teacher.  To be candid, I myself, for example, have never in my life said a word to my pupils about the ‘meaning’ of music; if there is one, it does not need my explanation.  On the other I have always made a great point of having my pupils count their eighths and sixteenths nicely.  Whatever you become, teacher, scholar, or musician, have respect for the ‘meaning,’ but do not imagine that it can be taught.  Once upon a time the philosophers of history ruined half of world history with their efforts to teach such ‘meaning,’… The task of the teacher and scholar is to study means, cultivate tradition, and preserve the purity of methods, not to deal in incommunicable experiences which are reserved to the [students]. (122)

Hesse teaches the same message about the limits to which the lessons from ones’ experiences may be clearly taught to others in such a way as to impart wisdom as well as knowledge through the title hero of Siddhartha.  Siddhartha explains his reasons to not study the Buddha’s teachings,

You have [reached the highest goal] by your own seeking, in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment.  You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings… That is why I am going on my way – not to seek another and better doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone. (27-28)

This echoes the lessons Knecht gave to the elite Glass Bead Game players about the dangers of disciplines and specialties.  Hesses’ novels make a coherent argument for the ‘highest goal’ of an education.  As Knecht explains to Designori, it is to become like the Music Master – one of Hesses’ “Immortals”:

Whose serenity is not playful shallowness, but earnest depth… this man possessed the virtue of serenity to such a degree that it radiated from him like the light from a star; so much that it was transmitted to all in the form of benevolence, enjoyment of life, good humor, trust, and confidence…To achieve this cheerful serenity is to me, and to many others, the finest and highest of goals… Such cheerfulness is neither frivolity nor complacency; it is supreme insight and love, affirmation of all reality. (315)

Teaching and educating find a unity in Joseph Knecht.  While professors and instructors should strive to achieve both, only the most exceptional among teachers will have the ability to educate.  Students mostly have to educate themselves – they’re the only ones who can attached personal value to their skills, derive meaning from their experiences, express their character through the force of their talents, and learn to apply knowledge wisely.  It is a challenging course, but “only the weak are sent out on paths without perils” (81).  Joseph experiences a kind of schizophrenic tension in his personality as a youth when he first begins to grasp that no way of thinking or being can be correct or perfect.  In desperation, he exclaims,

Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding… If only there were a dogma to believe in.  Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere.  Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense.  The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness.  Isn’t there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine? (83)

His devotedly cheerful tutor, the Music Master, consoles young Knecht,

There is truth, my boy.  But the doctrine you desire, absolute perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist.  Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend.  Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself.  The deity is within you, not in ideas and books.  Truth is lived, not taught.  Be prepared for conflicts, Joseph Knecht – I can see they have already begun. (83)

With these considerations in mind, it is interesting to compare Knecht’s evaluation of Castalia to Chris Hedges’ critique of American higher education in his Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.  Hedges argues that American culture has degraded to the point of consumerism, fetishized competition, celebrity worship, and banal conversation while the American people – who mostly rely on corrupt or at least pitifully substantive media for their news – ignorantly or uncaringly allow corporations to externalize the costs of their actions regarding environmental restoration and maintenance of social justice to the public.  The fountain of ideas to update our economic and social structure has stopped flowing.  Hedges lays many of these problems at the feet of institutes of higher education, especially Ivy Leagues, for producing a citizenry that perpetuates the status quo without questioning or critically assessing the power dynamics in their culture or society.

Culture, to use the words from Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, is a people enacting a story.  It is the collective narratives we tell ourselves and each other about our origins, purpose, history, future, and priorities.  As much as we feel like rational, self-interested, and intelligent beings, overwhelming evidence suggests we are creatures of little understanding prone to acting automatically; who fool ourselves by subtlety replacing difficult questions with easier ones and comprehend the world largely by constructing narratives of questionable accuracy or legitimacy to provide coherency to our experiences – these narratives more or less allow us to assign significance to our actions and meaning to our lives (Kahneman).

Institutional attempts at education have to settle for teaching, even if individual instructors are exemplary, because students are more likely to – naturally, one might add – discover and accept the dominate wisdom presented throughout the rest of their culture’s narratives.  We have to be aware of that and make it clear to our students: a teacher’s job – like a parent’s – is to put themselves out of business.  If at no point is the student able to teach themselves i.e. learn independently through synthesizing skeptical questions and critically evaluating the reliability of information as well as their most basic assumptions, then there is something wrong with the course structure or pedagogical approach.

Idolatrous scholarship is exactly the kind Knecht would gaily admonish.  The idea of service is emphasized throughout The Glass Bead Game.  In addition to creating teachers to sustain their institutes and spread knowledge, universities have a paramount responsibility to serve by illuminating the intellectual path that most serves society’s needs.  Schools are the primary lens through which young people will learn to critically evaluate their culture and environment; they must be instructed to question skeptically and taught to identify significant information if they are to operate self-sufficiently.

The roles schools serve then should be to identify and evaluate the narratives presented by the surrounding culture while teaching students the tools to refine their perception and analysis of themselves and the world.  Schools should also do what they can to promote reasons for continued learning and criticize narratives which threaten civilization.  Neil Postman identifies several narratives present in public schools in his The End of Education that he feels fail to provide students with transcendent reasons for learning.  For instance, Postman and Hedges both criticize the emphasis placed on economic utility of future workers as the primary purpose of school.  Postman further proposes alternative narratives that do serve to make learning a meaningful experience to students.

It is unfair to hold schools totally accountable for cultural decline however.  They do not exist in a vacuum; cultural degradation neither originates totally in schools nor affects educational institutions exclusively.  There are signs of degradation in American politics, its economy, and its environment which mutually influence each other.  Likewise, a solution to cultural degradation will require restructuring other realms of society as well as schools.

Richard Wolff argues in Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, that public schools should primarily be conceptualized as tools to maintain democratic society and as sources of fresh ideas that expand and reinvigorate democratic ideals.  He primarily frames his arguments politically as they relate to a need for restructuring the economy to achieve social justice.  Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability, provides complementary economic arguments that are framed ecologically and primarily address environmental concerns.  Both ideas are centered on increased participation and autonomy of people, either in government or commerce, and an enhanced sense of community.  Each makes the argument that the new economy would ask different demands of schools.  Hawken also offers a more tempered and optimistic view about ethical governance and the potential for corporations to lead the way in solving ecological and social problems created by industry than either Wolff’s or Hedges’ skeptical cynicism.

Two of the narratives Postman promotes in his book involve conceptualizing Earth as a spaceship to encourage globally communal thinking in students, and emphasizing America as a nation founded on seeking truth through continuous argument about which questions are important and experimentation in developing more refined answers.  Postman suggests the study of archaeology and anthropology to help students grasp the narrative of Earth as a spaceship on which all humans and life are ecologically interdependent.  ‘Spaceship Earth’ can serve as the narrative that reinforces Hawken’s vision.  Postman’s narrative of the American Argument could conceivably serve the needs identified by Hedges and Wolff for creating a more engaged public.

Both types of these commitments – to each other as in Wolff’s democratic Worker Self-Directed Enterprises and to their environment as in Hawken’s ecologically conscientious economy – will require practice.  The modern world is demanding new types of thinking that are more nuanced and dynamic than narratives of the past.  Schools are a natural place to plant new seeds of thought and habit.  Future citizens will be best prepared to solve their problems if classrooms are restructured to give students more authority and independence in collectively directing their education.

Empowering students to teach each other is very compatible with the sort of economic and societal systems proposed in Democracy at Work & The Ecology of Commerce.  Classroom structures that rely on students to develop content and educate each other through peer-reviews while under an instructor’s supervision would build the necessary habits of participation, engagement, and social commitment that future communities will require.  It would also be a sustainable way to maintain increasing levels of education in the population by training everyone to be a teacher.


To be educated means to have an awareness of the biases that color one’s perception of the world, the limits’ to one’s knowledge, and to one’s capacity for understanding – in short, to be educated means to know ones’ self; however, an education should make students aware of their ability to grow, and of the potential to experience learning as a transcendent act of consciousness with the power to shape their lives.

Joseph Knecht and the Music Master represent the pinnacle of education: the state of perpetual understanding and awe and child-like peace characterized and evidenced by their radiating, infectious optimism in all situations.  But Hesse warns that people cannot be taught to be this way; they must find their own path to such a place.  While their example should be pursued by individual teachers and students, educational institutions have to set different goals for schooling the pubic.

Schools and teachers should emphasize the art of questions and tools of inquiry; their efforts ought to direct societies’ intellectual endeavors towards being critically self-aware and reflective.  Communities of the future will necessarily be more socially and ecologically integrated than they are today.  Students can be prepared to create such economies by gaining experience in democratically run classrooms engaged in community service.  This is old wisdom.  Henry Thoreau presents a similar argument in Walden:

[Students] should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.  How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?

            In addition to restructuring for more collaboration between students and teachers, schools can reevaluate the subjects emphasized in school and the ultimate purpose of education.  As in the Glass Bead Game, all subjects are valid, intimately connected, and capable of leading to genuine enlightenment as well as false, empty virtue.  Students should seek the perfected happiness achieved by the Immortals.  Schools can facilitate this goal by emphasizing the study of anthropology and ecology to understand the deep connections we share with our ancestors, neighbors, and environment.  They can also highlight the importance of narratives to the human psyche and social behavior.  Students should also be encouraged to investigate the interplay of power and morality.  Study of the scientific method – with increased attention to language and rhetoric – will equip students with the tools necessary to skeptically evaluate the narratives of their time and maintain their intellectual autonomy without diminishing their capacity for collaboration.

Hesse’s novel offers many other insights for students, teachers, administrators, and politicians.  It hope my essay serves as an argument for investigating it for yourself.



Hesse, Hermann.  Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game/Magister Ludi): A tentative sketch of the life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht together with Knecht’s posthumous writings.  Henry Holt and Company.  1990.

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha.  NJF Books.  New York, NY. 1951.

Hedges, Chris.  Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and Triumph of Spectacle.

Postman, Neil.  The End of Education.

Kohn, Alfie.  What does it mean to be well educated?

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Lessons from Castalia (Part II)

Part II deals mostly with an analysis of the novel’s main characters and the examples they set for students and teachers.  Please see Part I for a brief synopsis of the text.  Part III continues the discussion of Part II and evaluates connections between Castalia and contemporary public schooling.

Part II

            For such a rich text, I think it is appropriate to analyze the novel in two parts.  Part II will be an investigation into the novel’s main characters to see what lessons there are for teachers and students.  The focus of Part III will be on the example and warning Castalia sets for contemporary educational institutions.

Perhaps the most outstanding example of pedagogical excellence that the novel illustrates is the level of collaboration between the instructor and pupil.  Castalia has a seemingly rigid structure and hierarchy; however, the majority of Castalians are afforded the luxury of studying whatever suits their fancy.  In his collection of essays, What Does It Mean to be Well Educated?, Alfie Kohn argues with supporting evidence that education works best when it resembles such a collaborative environment.  Many teachers profess that one of their highest goals is to create life-long learners.  What better way to do so than by giving students some authority to direct their own education?  Students should be involved in creating class assignments and learning objectives.  Of course, senior members of The Order’s Hierarchy do annually review scholarship but, the evaluations are far more qualitative than quantitative.  That is, the quality of Castalian learning is assessed narratively rather than alpha-numerically.

This is an invitation to educators to rethink their use of grades and the educational goals they serve.  Kohn’s essays further argue that a focus on or even use of grades as a means of evaluating students can undermine quality learning.  Grades attract students’ attention away from the content and reduce their interest in learning as they tend to worry about how they will be evaluated instead.  Acting rationally, students opt for easier assignments over challenging ones when grades are emphasized in the classroom.  The pressure to perform is also cited as a reason many students cheat.  He does concede that this kind of very personalized assessment is more demanding of often already over-worked teachers.  However, even if giving students a simple letter grade makes things easier for teachers, does it serve the best interest of the students?

I suspect many educators will feel that they tend to collaborate with their students and their intellectual journeys are mutually beneficial.  And I don’t mean to suggest that students and teachers are equals in this journey.  Teachers obviously are in a position of power and, correspondingly, responsibility; teaching is arguably the most influential profession on the planet.  It has been my experience that professors vary widely in their feelings about their obligations to students.  On one hand, I have seen professors who seem – at least unconsciously – more interested in merely having their own ideas and perspectives paraphrased back to them.  I can understand the joy it must be to see one’s intellect mirrored and echoed in this way with the vitality and vigor that youth are blessed to possess.  The temptation to exert such unjustified influence is surely enthralling.  I’ve also seen contempt for ignorance: as if the last place the professor would rather be is in the classroom sharing their knowledge, that they are primarily researchers and discovers of truth who cannot be bothered to explain the more fundamental aspects of their field to novices.  As a student helping his peers, Knecht struggled with some of these issues.  He admits to being flattered at their tendency to seek his guidance but also annoyed with their lack of self-reliance and temptation to use his influence to exert undue power over them (135).  On the other hand, I have been lucky to have so many educators in my life whose character reflects more closely that of Knecht as Magister Ludi.  They have been caring and patient, willing to earn respect and win authority by interacting with students on a genuinely individualized level.  Like Knecht, the examples they set were far more valuable than any information they were able to transmit.

Students can also learn from Knecht’s example.  For instance, when he is sent as a diplomat to Mariafels on the pretense of introducing Benedictine monks to the Glass Bead Game, “Knecht thought it important to win Father Jacobus’s approval for the Castalian authorities’ project; but it seemed to him far more important to learn as much as possible from him” (191).   Here again, the best learning is shown to be a collaborative effort; the biographers credit his studies with Father Jacobus as an integral part on Knecht’s path to becoming Magister Ludi:

The result [of their “animated exchange of views”] was that at the very time [Knecht’s] areas of study were so notably expanding , he was also forced once again to contemplate, understand, and reinforce his own intellectual and historical base.  In his efforts to present the nature of the Order and of the Castalian system to Father Jacobus with maximum simplicity and clarity, he inevitably stumbled over the weakest point[s] in his own and all Castalian education (194).

The lesson for students is that their education will be of little value to them unless they take an active role in directing it.  Passive learning is just a euphemism for no learning at all.  Their example shows that the best teacher-student relationships are dynamic – where each individual serves alternately, or even simultaneously, as student and teacher.  Plinio Designori, a non-Castalian whose family’s children are privileged to receive Castalian education and who engaged Knecht with lively debates concerning the virtues of the meditative versus natural life during their adolescence together, describes to the Magister how Castalian education served him when studying at university.  Designori explains,

I abided by the rules I had learned among you… They seemed to strengthen and shield me, seemed to preserve my gaiety and inner soundness and to increase my resolve to pass my student years in the Castalian way as far as possible, following the paths that my craving for knowledge indicated and not letting anything coerce me into a course of studies designed to prepare the student as thoroughly as possible in the shortest possible time for a specialty in which he could earn his livelihood, and to stamp out whatever sense of freedom and universality he may have had (297).

In the same way that the Music Master’s peaceful serenity and Father Jacobus’s sagacity tempered “by a profound insight into the inadequacies and difficulties of human nature” highlight the contrasts between contemplative and engaged forms of scholarship, Designori’s juxtaposition with Knecht illustrates the different paths students may take toward exemplifying either form (193).  Knecht, with “his educator’s perception of the various shades of character”, observes a remarkable change in his friend (289) when they are reunited as old men.  Compared to the bold, exuberant, student whom Knecht knew at Waldzell, Designori’s

youthful charm had been submerged and extinguished…, but the traits of superficiality and blatant worldliness had also vanished.  The whole man, but especially his face, seemed marked, partly ravaged, partly ennobled by the expression of suffering” (290).

As their conversation continues, Designori goes on to lament,

You recall how in defending our world against yours I used to extol the unspoiled, naive life? If that was a piece of foolishness deserving punishment, my friend, I have been harshly punished. Because this naive, innocent, instinctual life, this childlike, untrammeled brilliance of the simple soul, may possibly exist among peasants or artisans, or somewhere, but I never succeeded in finding it, let alone sharing in it… I don’t know whether my life has been useless and merely a misunderstanding, or whether it has a meaning. If it does have a meaning, I should say it would be this: that one single specific person in our time has recognized plainly and experienced in the most painful way how far Castalia has moved away from its motherland. Or for my part it might be put the other way around: how alien our country has become from her noblest Province and how unfaithful to that Province’s spirit; how far body and soul, ideal and reality have moved apart in our country; how little they know about each other, or want to know… – in any case, it ended as it was bound to end.  The world was stronger than I was (295-298).

            Knecht – tracing an alternative path to enlightenment – struggles with similar problems reconciling the value of rigorous introspection with our natural instinct to ascribe significance to worldly experience.  And once Knecht

explored all the possibilities the office  provided for the utilization of his energies and had reached the point at which great men must leave the path of tradition and obedient subordination and, trusting to supreme, indefinable powers, strike out on new, trackless courses where experience is no guide (286-287),

he resigns from his office.  His resignation is a means to expresses concerns to his colleagues on the Board of Educators regarding the Pedagogical Province that mirror Designori’s complaints about the inadequacies and limits of Castalian wisdom as applied to the outside world.

We don’t need no Education

“You! You! Yes, you! Stand still, laddie!”
When we grew up and went to school
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness
However carefully hidden by the kids

I think Pink Floyd summed up the entire education system (back in the 1970-80’s) fairly well in their song “We don’t need no Education”. The effects of such an oppressive educational model are still present, in fact, the educational model hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. The lyrics (accompanied by the video) articulate in a concise fashion the banking model of education (as described by Paulo Freire’s in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed“); it is particularly apparent in the last couple of lines in the song where the students recite along with the teacher:

“An acre is the area of a rectangle

whose length is….”

In the banking model of education, the student is viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. Paul notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power”. The following lyrics from the same song “We don’t need no Education” succinctly express that a banking/factory model of education is oppressive and abusive and change is needed:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

The lyrical brilliance of Pink Floyd shines here where they use double negatives; “don’t” and “no” in the same line negate each other expressing that although education is necessary, operating within the confines of the current system makes the children mindless souls that do not have free creativity or imagination (this argument is not only supported by the lyrics but also through the stunning visuals in their video). The combination of words “thought control” and “dark sarcasm” further argues that teachers can be perceived as authoritarian and controlling. In particular, if the child does not please the teacher then the child is automatically wrong and punished for their behaviour.

I think there are plenty of parallels between Paul’s work and Pink-Floyd’s lyrics. However, both bodies of work seem to paint an extremely pessimistic view of the education system. The lyrics and the book are fairly old (70-80’s) and may have been apt for the post-war era. In the current context, there are several common themes/core ideas that still ring true today.

Lessons from learner-center syllabus

Last session in GEDI class we talked about learner-centered syllabus. I have been teaching a large class this semester and from the beginning of semester I think about learning process and how I can stimulate learning environment in class.  The problem in a large and heavily lectured class is most of the evaluating process determines by tests. In a class such as principle of microeconomics  where more than 100 students sit in a class and there is no final project, assignments and exams are only the available tools for evaluation, learning will immolate and the mindset of students become all to get good score rather than learn stuff. It makes sense and it is a rational decision for student to get the good score which means to be good in tests in this situation. I think writing a syllabus using learner-centered is not enough in this situation. The problem is even you emphasize on learning and try to give some roles to students as the learner of the class, at the end of the day students will evaluate based on their scores on tests and everyone knows this game and as a result the rational decision asserts that students just focus on materials which tend to be part of the tests rather than learning in a general way. From the early of the semester I have this challenge and I could not solve this problem yet. For me, learning is more important than the grade. I think my responsibility is to teach in a way to transfer knowledge as much as I can to my students and try to stimulate learning process and critical thinking about the concepts of microeconomics. However, even I emphasize on learning and not memorizing a lot, students know the rule of game and the rule of game pushes them to get the best point as much as they can. For some students the shortcut to getting good points come from memorizing the materials and this strategy unfortunately works partially. I try to solve this challenge both in class and mostly during my office hour to bring examples from every day life. I also refer students to their intuitions as they ask me questions. Although these strategies  work, the challenge  still remains and in a heavy lecture based large class with having tests and assignment as only tools for evaluation, preparing learning community environment in class becomes a great deal.


GIS: A Useful Tool of Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy suggests that teaching and learning should be contextual and aim at raising critical awareness among students. Critical pedagogy has been used by educators to refer to a broad range of pedagogies that employ critical theory, feminist theory, anti-racist theory, multicultural education, inclusive pedagogies, and so on.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is an useful tool of critical pedagogy becasue it has the potential to help reproduce or transform oppressive conditions in society and it can be used to examine and build contexts that maximize students’ ability to analytically observe, consider, and respond to the world in which they live (Crampton and Krygier’s “An Introduction to Critical Cartography”). Below are two examples to illustrate how GIS can be used for critical educators to engage students in critical thinking.

Veronica Velez, Daniel Solórzano, and Denise Pacheco explore the role of race and racism in shaping the historic, evolving spatial relationship between south Los Angeles high schools near the Alameda “Corridor,” and their surrounding communities. They apply GIS within a critical race methodology to examine geographic and social spaces, identify and challenge racism within these spaces as part of a larger goal of identifying and challenging all forms of subordination. They spatially examines how structural and institutional factors influence and shape racial dynamics and the power associated with those dynamics over time.

Matthew W. Wilson’s Critical & Social Cartography seminar in Harvard Graduate School of Design asked students to think and make pretty maps by their analytical skills. In order to make pretty maps to reflect reality, what information should be included or excluded? How to represent different variables or types of information?  How might a map designed to meet the needs? What would the students be required to do in order to create this map? Through the process of problem-posing, students were encoraged to think critically.

Merging GIS and critical pedagogy requires that we ask how GIS can help students theorize from multiple perspectives about the role that space and spatial relationships play in their immediate lives, local communities, and beyond. As a widely applied tool, GIS can be applied to critical pedagogy.

How hard is it for a teacher to admit that he was wrong!

In the readings and the video about Paulo Freire this week, I stopped at his sentence “It is necessary in being a democratic and tolerant teacher to explain and to make clear to the kids that their way of speaking is as beautiful as our way of speaking“. Actually, this is concurrent with one of the controversial topics in social media in the last few days. This post , is about a father who stood up for his daughter who was being made to feel bad because she had a better (or a different) answer than the other kids. The girl got the question “What is the largest number you can represent with 3-digits?” in a standardized test. The intuitive answer is 999, however the girl came up with the answer 9^9^9 (written as superscripts without the power operator). Whatever the answer is correct or wrong it is a big debate and others are getting other formulas with larger values. What concerns me here is that, the teacher and the school’s principal did not show any flexibility with this answer. The teacher claimed that they did not study powers yet!. Which forced the girl’s father to go the long way to get his daughter’s right.

The question here, “Is the teacher’s behavior pedagogical?”. I don’t think so at all. The teacher could be right in some part, but he dealt with the problem in a superficial way. To put together other unprofessional activities from teachers, I suggest reading the post. The post is entitled “Great teachers: perfectly imperfect“.   The post mentioned two situations where teachers caused deep effect to young kids with their way of humiliation. I want to quote the conclusion of this article “The point isn’t that we should hold ourselves to a standard of perfection in our interactions with students. But we should hold ourselves to perfection when it comes to owning our imperfections and their impact on students.

On the other hand, there are brighter sides in this story. Another teacher wrote an article entitled “Five of the biggest mistakes I made as a new teacher“. I think this an important article for new teachers. The article gives five critical mistakes that this teacher committed which are: She took things personally, she avoided dealing with parents, she waited too long before intervening with students, she was afraid of making mistakes, and she were trying to cover everything. From these points, I want to stress that she discovered that it is not the world’s end if she made a mistake.  She was making up answers for the questions she does not know, in order to remain the smartest person in the class.  However, when she let her students see her making mistakes and then admit them and further taking steps to correct them, this made it okay for students to make mistakes too.  The more she took risks in the classroom, the more she made it safe for students to take risks.

Finally, I want to conclude with a story that happened to me in a networking class two years ago. The homework for this course was only short answers. The professor gave us the questions and I made everything correct and I found that I got only  90%. He graded one question as wrong while I felt it is correct. I contacted him and explained my view point, we were to calculate the length of one packet in bytes, (the packet is a combination of ones and zeros). The packet length varies according to the type of the packet. The type mentioned in this problem does not use some of these ones and zeros, so I just ignored them. When I explained this to him, he gave me partial grade. I again felt unfair, I looked in the protocol specification and I found that I was right. I contacted him again with the protocol. He thanked me for this information, informed me that he thought the packet length was fixed whatever the protocol. He gave me full grade and asked me to share this protocol with my class mates. What concerns me here is the instructor was very flexible. He gave me and other students with the different answer, the full grade. I believe that is what Paulo Freire meant in his talk to be a tolerant teacher.

Problem-posing education: Roger, a goat and a rabbit

Chapter two from Paulo Freire was probably the best thing I have read in the course thus far. I would assess his argument as partly being anti-intellectual in that it inspires subjects to receive an education that makes them active doers in the world. There is a spiritual echo present here that chooses ‘becoming’ over ‘being’, action over intellectual description.

Perhaps in an effort to begin the process of a dialogic, problem-posing education would be to open up what Freiri calls the banking concept of education (i.e., an act of depositing knowledge from active subjects to passive recipients). Freire gives a (humorous?) analogy of the banking concept of education that deals with a form of knowledge that has no bearing on reality. Thus, we teach a “vital question” like “Roger gave green grass to the goat” only to instead come to learn that actually “Roger gave green grass to the rabbit”. I would love to begin a dialogue on what you think this analogy is meant to represent within the banking model of education? I have an idea, but need further clarity from other disciplines.

Chomsky sees the education of Freire as consciousness raising. I also really appreciated how lucidly Freire shows the relationship of language to power and ideology. Cultivated languages essentially masquerade as ideology and power. Nevertheless for Freire, one must have an acquaintance with the dominant linguistic pattern, but it is not necessary that they imbue the dominant pattern. Their learning it is for different reasons than say aspirations for wealth or prideful articulation. Rather, it is so they can voice their oppression so it be understood by others. His reinterpretation of Marxism, fused into a spiritual liberation theology that is active, focusing on education for life, that is anti-necrophilia has, after a long time, convinced me that we can and should do something to change our educational system, one teacher at a time — beginning with YOU.


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