The Times They Are A-Changin: The age of peer-to-peer lending

The entire Paulo Freire reading was passionate and emotional (just look at this video of how he moves his body when discussing about critical thinking). I can strongly relate to some of the arguments that Freire makes based on my experiences in Nepal and India. However, I also feel that the situation is not as dire now as it probably was during Freire’s time. I discuss both these contradicting perspectives below and conclude with learning/teaching implications that I feel we could learn from Freire’s work.

When I was working in India, there was a growing movement of right-wing Hindu nationalists (the party power) to enforce Hindu teachings in schools. This movement has been termed as saffronisation. Rajasthan, a large state in the western part of India, has decided to change the textbooks from 2016 onwards. These new textbooks has far more content on Hindu movements, and allegedly, downplays on works involving other religions. Likewise, Karnataka state, where Bangalore city – the “Silicon valley of the east” lies, has also decided to change their textbooks from 2017 onwards following the same line as Rajasthan.

If we think about it, these policies assume the “banking model” of education, and unfortunately, they are not wrong. Education system in India and Nepal are mostly follow the banking model especially in public schools. It is fairly common to see teachers as the center of the learning process, and pupils as mere objects whose mind is being filled. The learning practice has been such that students rarely question teachers or argue against the information being provided. This is so prevalent that many students feel that they insult the teacher if they question anything. Critical thinking is not something that is usually taught or discussed within the school boundaries. This makes adding Hinduism-laden content in the textbooks a very effective way to influence young students.

This brings me to the second part – and the relevance of the title. The time in which Freire experienced inequality was quite different – huge economic inequality existed in Brazil, people needed to be literate to vote so that meant the voice of the poor was extremely suppressed, and there were very few alternate sources of information other than formal education. Additionally, until 1960s behaviorist approach to learning was prominent. All this would have culminated in an environment where the privileged teachers who could expound knowledge and influence behavior could so in their interest (or as Freire writes by “changing the consciousness of the oppressed”).

In modern days there are far more free information sources (although it remains highly debatable how “free” each of them are). Particularly, access to Internet, the decentralized repository of a vast range of information, has empowered lots of people. Teachers are no longer center of the learning process. Rather, “peers” who produce information over the internet have become far more influential. Since it is decentralized and enormously connected, a person of influence in one setting may be the influenced one in the other setting.

Although learning has become peer-to-peer and more decentralized, the importance of critical thinking is equally, if not more, important. There are all sorts of information out there and to figure out the relevant ones, and filter out the wrong/misleading/useless ones require a well-rounded understanding of the world. Freire uses the term “consciousness” to highlight the levels of situational awareness – moving upwards from “magical consciousness” to “naive consciousness”, and further towards “critical consciousness” and finally to “political consciousness”. These terms may seem like a hyperbole but the underlying fundamental idea that Freire expresses remains highly relevant. The time may not be of a banking model, but “action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” – which Freire terms as “praxis”- is imperative for our society to progress either be it to ensure justice and equality, or to mitigate oppression (corporate, political, social, emotional) and suffering. Understanding the world through the words and acting upon it is highly important, as Dylan writes:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again

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Beyond the Dimensions of my ‘Horticulture Box’

In horticulture, relating course material to broader cultural and social issues is sometimes neglected. In short, students want to know how to successfully grow plants so they can get a job. Yet, according to the ideals of critical pedagogy defined by Paulo Freire, I, as a teacher am responsible for raising awareness of issues that go beyond the dimensions of my “horticulture box.”

But what does horticulture have to do with social justice?

While linking ornamental crop production to issues such as social inequality may be a stretch, relating plant production to state- or country-wide environmental issues does seem achievable.  I admit, I don’t often do this when teaching horticulture courses. Nonetheless, the following would be my attempt at leading horticulture students to discover how knowledge of a large-scale environmental issue and the solution to this issue can help them circumvent future obstacles.

This is what I might say to a classroom of horticulture students studying ornamental plant production.

Environmental Issue:

“As some of you may know, most of Virginia is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in which agricultural runoff (namely nitrogen and phosphorus) is the leading non-point source of surface-water pollution. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay have led to wide-spread fish kills which have, in turn, negatively impacted the fishing industry. If we don’t find a solution soon, Virginia seafood prices will likely skyrocket.”

My attempt to engage horticulture students in this issue:

“How many of you plan on owning your own nursery some day? Given what we know about fertilizing ornamental plants, why may ornamental crop production be a substantial contributor to the aforementioned agricultural nutrient runoff?  What potential environmental regulations might ornamental plant nursery have to deal with in the near future? For those of you who hope to own your own nursery, what could you do to avoid having to deal with these tedious regulations?”

Now, I want you to put yourself in my students’ shoes. If you were given the above information and were planning to start your own nursery in Virginia (just pretend), would you seriously consider diving deeper for a solution to this problem? Let’s say that these impending regulations would be a serious headache and will almost certainly be implemented if something isn’t done soon.

Learning to be a Learner

After reading chapter two: There is no Teaching Without Learning of Paulo Freire’s book: Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, it came to my mind what kind of knowledge should a professor acquire, so the cause of teaching will have a learning effect .

Most of you are currently struggling as teaching assistance because there is no other option to obtain that so well received assistantship. Since the first day, this has been a topic of discussion in every class, where students share their anecdotes to get feedback from the others to feel that they are on the right track and of course, to feel that most of them are in the same situation. But let me tell you something, I believe there is no right solution to these “issues” on how you should teach. You can’t decide whether you should only be “cool”, “funny” or even if you should talk about your daily anecdotes to make the students feel comfortable in your class.

Everybody has a different perspective of how should a college professor should be. Im sure most of you have seen the following meme that shows the different perspectives that people have about what it means to be a college professor. ( The picture is self explanatory, but as you can see even the actual professor thinks he does something that he is not really doing.  Should we act like Mr. Burns as the villain and wreck the students lives or should we help students open their minds and find what they really want in their life as Robin William did with Matt Damon?


Learning to be a Learner might be the hardest thing to accomplish since we are trying to learn what we should learn, to find our Authentic Teaching Self. Finding your Authentic Teaching Self can be a difficult task, however is not an impossible one to achieve. One of the things that I have noticed from the professors is how they behave to get the attention of the students during a lecture. According to a paper published by Diane M. Bunce et al, How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers, the authors mentioned that if a student does not have the enough motivation during a lecture, they will pay attention for an average of 10-20 min ( This means that if you made the wrong choice on how to approach the students, you will see the effect of the attention decline after 10 min of starting the lecture. So, we ask ourselves again what could be the best practice to apply in college in order to not transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge, as mentioned by Paulo Freire?

As connected learner that we are the first thing that came to my mind was: “let me google best practice in college” to find the answer; the first thing that I found was: A Brief Summary of the Best Practices in College Teaching ( tructional-methods/best-practices-summary). Just by reading the title I told myself: “I finally got the answer that I needed”, but all of you know that is not that simple. Even though the document was divided into 12 specific and well explained areas that the author believe you should concentrate to follow the best practices in college, it will not make you find your Authentic Teaching Self.

There is a lot to cover in this topic, however the question will always remain open no matter whom tries to summarize best practices to become the “ideal college professor”. I believe the professor has two options, either he/she adjust to each individual student or treat every student as a whole. The problem with the first one is that due to the constant changing, the professor will not have a own identity and the second one will have an impact on the students since not every student have the same knowledge. You can’t speak only in English in a class with different student from around the world, you have to talk to them individually in their own language in order for them to learn from the one that was once a learner.

I Want to Believe!

I had never read the works of Paulo Freire before this was brought to the forefront of my education, and yet it feels like I have read everything by him. Every now and then I read a theorist’s work and I come to the realization that everyone that I have been reading is merely echoing the initial speaker. This was my experience with Paulo Freire. He was serving as the source for a great deal of theory in this class, as well as the others that I have taken part in. His work was being repeated and added to over the years and I had been seeing those additions without being able to recognize the original foundation. The problem that one encounters when they come across a work like this is the issue of contributing anything relevant to the conversation. I agree with Paulo Freire and have found his ideals to hold true in most classrooms. If we give students the ability to become collaborators in their education and in the world, then they will be able to shape the world that they live in. This is especially true in rhetoric which seeks to sway the opinions of others in order to accomplish tasks that one may not have the martial power to accomplish. Only through knowledge and a true understanding of the world can people begin to change their environments. However, there is a final component to Mr. Freire’s work that I think he acknowledges as a given, but, in my experience, some teachers may not fully grasp: A belief in your students.

The cornerstone of Paulo Freire’s work is the belief that students (in all of their forms and age groups) will be able to construct the material necessary to progress in their goals and use it in a way that benefits their environment. He advocates the use of complex dialogue and exposure to a great many viewpoints and beliefs. I see too many teachers that strive to implement Freire’s advice, but miss this critical notion. Students must be trusted with their education in order to fully take responsibility for it and create a critical dialogue. This idea is in direct opposition to the banking education that we so covet, because it involves making an investment without a guarantee. In a banking conceptualization we want measured returns on our version of society, but this may or may not be a version that suits our students. This leads to an inherent conflict that forces teachers to view students as possible nodes of failure that teachers must prevent. This is wrong. We cannot assume that our students are incompetent waiting to be made competent if we really mean to trust them with the future. Students must be seen as journeyman; they must be seen as people beginning a expedition that they are well equipped to handle. Freire’s vision is difficult for some to accept for this reason. There can be no large scale standardized testing in Freire’s concept, because standardized testing is inherently mistrustful of the learner. It is given to assure that transfer of specific knowledge has taken place, not to assess the future needs of the individual and their environment. Note that standardized tests are given with the purpose of determining which learners fall below a line of attrition; which products are not up to code. No one ever looks at the test results from a standardized test and says, “Gee, these students did really well in vocabulary. I wonder how we can use their immense vocabulary skills to assist in their understanding of history. How do we connect what they know to what they need to know?” Of course not. That would be a theory of connectedness and our current system is based on a theory of sufficiency.

Teachers who struggle with these concepts are often the teachers that complain that their students are cheating on their tests by looking at past answer keys. If they are learning the information, who cares how they learn it? And, if you believe that they are not learning the information by studying past exams, then your exams may need a second look. A good test should force students to construct new knowledge using the tools that you equip them with in class. Any examination of a past test should simply serve as a review before facing the new challenges that will be set before them. These students that are “cheating” in this manner are simply informing the teacher that the learning environment has stalled and needs retooling.

We as teachers and educators need to begin believing in our students again. We need to believe that they can reach the goals that we set for them and that they can do it without being force fed our education of the past. Students should be tested and allowed to converse with the results of the test. They should be included in every step of the educational process. This is their education and it is high time that we let them take the reins. If we believe in our student’s ability to reach a goal, then our only task remaining is to assist in their ability to accomplish it. Students that have this kind of encouragement will create a world that we want to live in.

They led me to the well…

There is a quote from Albert Einstein which came to mind after doing some of this week’s readings. His quote is: “I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they learn.”

In my early education experiences, I was fortunate enough to have teachers who allowed me to learn at the rapid rate at which I needed to consume it and truly created the conditions for me to learn. In Kindergarten, I was the only one reading when starting school (chalk this up to sibling rivalry as I have an older sister who had been going to school and got all the neat school books…so I learned to read early to swipe her stuff!). My public, city school teachers, worked with me independently to help me learn and challenge me. This continued in first grade with another wonderful teacher who worked with me independently, pushing me gently to reading at higher and higher levels and giving me individual spelling lists.

Second grade was a different story and I got lost in some bureaucratic stuff I did not understand at the time. Fortunately, I was having part of my days with a third grade class across the hall (for reading and English) and that teacher then was my advocate and champion. Because of the individualized needs I had and the willingness of the teachers to create fertile conditions for my learning, I was able to get to a place where I was matched intellectually. That happened in my second/third grade year.

As I said, I was very fortunate to have such excellent advocates and champions at that stage of my learning. Thankfully a lot of my desire for learning was fostered during this time, so when I did come across teachers who were there to impart what they were required to the student masses I was able to learn what I could while still maintaining my desire to learn; regardless of the teacher’s outlook on how they were teaching.

Reading some of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, when he describes some education like the knowledge was “a gift bestowed by those by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” made me recall those kinds of teachers with sadness. Because of my early education experiences, I felt valued and that I had this knowledge deep inside myself, only I did not know it yet. My teachers were the ones helping me discover it. When I encountered the teachers who poured out information in class like water and we, the students, were the cups.

I am so thankful for all of those teachers I had over the (so very many) years of my education who did not simply pour out the water; rather they led me to the well and showed me how to draw the water. What really stands out in my mind, as I look into my near future, when I am at the front of the class, is that I want to be like the teachers who inspired me to learn. I want to be the one to create the environmental conditions for my students to learn. I hope to lead them to the well and show them how to draw the water themselves. For I hope that they, like me, will become life-long learners. Learning because they want to, have the need to, and the know how to learn in formal and informal ways. Even on their own.

So, from that little girl who felt that it was fun, exciting, and special to be learning, even when it meant being kind of separate from my peers, a heart felt thank you. Because of that desire for them to teach in non-oppressive and non-traditional ways, I had excellent role models all these many years later.

A Rant on Graduate School!

Many times in life, we go into classes not knowing what to expect. Sometimes, after the first class, we learn to expect to master a list of requirements for the course. Those classes either have an engaging professor who can grab our attention… or they don’t. That’s usually the story of most classes.

*Unless* you go into a class, and you find the professor explaining to you WHAT this can do for the REAL WORLD. Many of us expect to have some type of a positive impact on the real world. So, let me ask this, how many of you got really really passionate about something you learned in a course just because of all the amazing applications for it? How often did you ever have classes that you looked forward to? How often did you not have classes you dreaded going to in undergrad? I know this is a rare occurrence and all, but sometimes, there are those rare professors who can get their students to look forward to being there. I think a lot of these people follow Freirean ideology on education. These people encourage their students to relate what they’re learning to the world. These people guide students to leave an amazing foot print. These people scaffold their students into always being curious. Freire was a true believer of pursuing curiously. This video is a wonderful idea of how he encouraged great curiosity.

Many times, graduate students get impatient sometimes because they don’t get the results they want in research. In fact, sometimes, advisers advise in certain directions, and request that work is done a certain way. However, if we set our curiosity free, and share our curious ideas with our advisers, maybe we’ll make great victories.

If I’m interpreting my world in Freire’s view as was in the presentation, risking is the backbone to reading the world in our research and our living. If we risk, try hard, risk, try hard, risk… And Embrace EVERY failure…. We’ll be on to the next Noble Prize. At least that’s how I see it.  Just gotta be patient!  :)

Narrative learning

The readings from this week reflected the need for students to experience learning as opposed to being given knowledge such as in the banking model as discussed in Paulo Freire’s, Chapter 2 from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I definitely understand the need to create students that are constantly questioning information and not just receptacles with which to fill, however, I feel like somewhere there needs to a “baseline” of facts that we all take at face value (at least initially) in order for us to later build our narrative and critical thinking.  Moreover, there seem to be different kinds of questions we can ask.  For example, in young children, the questions we can ask involve getting them curious about words, numbers, nature, etc. so that they learn to not necessarily question what they learn but ask questions to learn.  Whereas in older students (high school/college), these questions may be better spent questioning what they learned and from where the information came.  This is why I really like the idea of “narrative learning”.  This reflects teaching/learning as more of a facilitated discussion led by a “teacher” but participated in by all.  This is opposed to the “lecturing at” situation or the situation where students to learn to ask questions but have no basis on which to ask their questions.

I Cannot Play the Pianoforte
“There was a great emphasis on universal literacy in the early colonial era of the 17th century”

In any effort to promote literacy, there is another question that comes up.  Whose literacy?   Who gets to define it?  As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who first described critical pedagogy said, “Who says that this accent or that this way of thinking is the cultivated one?  If there is one which is cultivated this is because there is one which is not.  Do you see it’s impossible to think of language without thinking of ideology and power?”  Ideology matters when we define literacy.  This hit home for me seeing an extreme example in a recent NPR history article titled “18 Rules of Behavior for young ladies in 1831.”  Charles Varle wrote in 1831 that his list came in part from “the most celebrated books on Ladies education.”   Here are a few: “Consult only your own relations,” “form no friendship with men,” “trust no female acquaintance, i.e, make no confidant of any one,” “Be not too often seen in public,” and “never be afraid of blushing.”  I don’t really think I need to make any commentary of what I think of these “rules.”  (Take a wild guess on that one.)  The open question is would I be considered literate under this system?  I don’t speak Latin or French.  I don’t paint or play “pianoforte.”  I study biology, but I don’t use that much gross anatomy or species identification which would have been the basics in the natural sciences of the day.  And I don’t exactly stay home with no friends either.  Under this ideology would people like me (read women…) be able to prove ourselves?  As Paulo Freire put it, could we “articulate [our] voices and [our] speech in the struggle against injustice”?  I think the answer is, and was, no.  Not really.  Putting it in this oversimplified context helps me tackle it for myself.  What would enable a teacher living under this norm support my voice?   At the heart of critical pedagogy is an idea – give me the power to question this “norm.”  Again to quote Paulo Freire, “No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to begin to question: Why?”  The idea is to let people talk and teach who may not be literate by a given standard (like most of us by the 1830s standard), but highly literate in another.  In the case of women in the 1800s, I imagine this began to happen when school became mandatory and more women were hired as teachers in response to the advocacy of Catharine Beecher.

Basically there are two approaches to trying to help people out.  The first to help directly, and the second to ask real and legitimate questions about a person’s priorities and the primary barriers to these.   There are times and places for both of these (For example, I am thinking of the International Justice Mission which works to free modern slaves and prosecute modern human traffickers.  There comes a point where a victim of human trafficking doesn’t need someone to ask them about the barriers to freedom.  Prosecuting a human trafficker is a really good first step.  You can’t stop there, but you do need to start there.)  One group that I think needs a strong support system in the U.S. is ex-prisoners.  I love way the one writing professor, Stephanie Bower at the University of Southern California, lead her class.  Instead of having students get online and research statistics about ex-prisoners, or feed a superiority complex by asking students to write about how they “made a difference” after some three-hour service project, she invited a panel of people recently released from the prison system to come and tell their stories.  I would love to get to sit in on that class.

I can think of times I have tried so hard to do something I forgot to listen.  I’m sure Charles Varle, the man who wrote the “Rules of behavior for young ladies,” thought he was being helpful.  Maybe we shouldn’t to hard on him.  Sometimes we think we are being helpful too.

Critical Pedagogy

This week’s readings shed light on my bewilderment with the previous reading “Evidence-based logic and the abandonment of non-assessable learning outcomes by Donna Riley.  In my post on that paper, I argued that the author does not understand what logical positivism is and falsely associated it with evidence-based practice.  She mentioned alternative epistemologies, but provided no examples.  I suspected we were wading into postmodernism waters, but after this week’s readings, I think we’re in danger of drowning.  At the core, this weeks readings and Critical Pedagogy make valid points.  Institutional power can be reinforced through a “banking model” of pedagogy and many recommendations by Paulo Freire should help counter the power structure and even lead to better learning outcomes for the students.  I don’t really have any complaints about the Freire readings other than the fact that they were painfully repetitive–I think the entire message could be condensed into 3-4 paragraphs!

Now on to Critical Pedagogy by Joe Kincheloe.  Let’s start with logical positivism–roughly, the idea that only statements that can be logically or empirically verified can be cognitively meaningful.  In a book edited by Joe Kincheloe, logical positivism is used as a boogeyman referred to with frequent pejoratives (seriously, look at the list!) that is oppressing their methods of Critical Pedagogy.  Only in the second to last chapter is logical positivism actually defined.  The problem is that logical positivism has been dead since the 1960s because it was realized that logical positivism cannot be justified based on the rules of logical positivism and it has nothing to do with their critique of evidence-based methods which can be justified on several positions in the Philosophy of Science.  In the previous link, logical positivism would fit within the “Naive Realism” camp (but isn’t exactly the same) and postmodernist are mostly in the “Relativism” camp, but may retreat into the instrumentalist camp when pressed.  However, some don’t.  Smart people actually believe things like “the validity of theoretical propositions in the sciences is in no way affected by the factual evidence” or “the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge”.  All you really need to justify trusting the results of evidence-based practice is a Reliabilist epistemology and recognizing that social factors do have some influence on our scientific theories doesn’t invalidate the Scientific Method or introduce the need for “other ways of knowing” or “alternative epistemologies”.

Kincheloe argues for other modes of knowledge.  What exactly does he mean?  First, let’s define knowledge: well-justified true belief.  That’s a reasonable, if not 100% philosophically defensible, definition.  Kincheloe lays out several proposed forms of knowledge.  First is normative knowledge, which “concerns what should be”.  This is by no reasonable definition “knowledge”, it is a moral theory or your values.  Second is empirical knowledge–knowledge from data or observations  derived from the senses– which Kincheloe thinks you should at least be acquainted with.  How much weight it should be given relative to other “forms of knowing” is unclear.  Third is political knowledge.  This isn’t really defined, but it “focuses on the power-related aspects of teacher education and teaching”.  How you acquire this without data and observations from your senses is beyond me.  Fourth is ontological knowledge.  Again, not defined, but “has to do with what it means to be a teacher”.  Fifth is experiential knowledge which “involves information and insight about practice”.  OK, I think we’re talking about knowledge about different categories of things, not different types of knowledge or ways of knowing.  Sixth is reflective-synthetic knowledge-“bringing all of your knowledges of teaching together so they can be employed in the critical pedagogical act”.  Putting knowledge about different things together is a new type of knowledge?

Kincheloe further argues that some knowledge forms have been previously excluded.  Some are just areas of study such as African American studies, but others seem to imply they provide alternative ways of knowing, such as psychoanalysis and indigenous knowledges.  Psychoanalysis and many forms of indigenous knowledge (e.g. acupuncture, chinese herbal medicine) have been demonstrated to be pseudoscience when evaluated by the imperialist western Scientific method.  In what sense does something that is false constitute knowledge?  Further, how does the “epistemic plurality” of Critical Pedagogy not leave the door open to all sorts of dangerous psuedoscience and conspiracy theories?

I do think the core ideas of Critical Pedagogy have merit–I just think they would be much more compelling and understandable if they were not dressed up in postmodernism which Noam Chomsky once described as a combination of over-inflated polysyllabic truisms and nonsense.  If you’re bored, here is a postmodernist random essay generator if you want to check it out.  Refresh for a new essay!

Critical Pedagogy in Standardized Courses


“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

Before this week, I had never heard about the Critical Pedagogy and Paulo Freire. The reading materials and the movie were very interesting. I am so glad I learned about the critical pedagogy.

My undergrad program was more like the Banking Model. However, my master degree courses were project based and were very similar to critical pedagogy model. I feel I learned a lot more in my master and what I learned in those courses I will never forget. Now, after reading about critical pedagogy, I have a better insight about my experiences and why I liked my master program more than the undergraduate one.

Overall, I think the critical pedagogy is a great model to use in teaching, especially at the present time that the business organizations need innovative people. However, I am not sure about applying it in all types of courses.

I feel applying critical pedagogy in a graduate level course is much easier than applying it in an undergraduate level course.  For example, in a course such as undergraduate Quantitative Methods for Decision Making (what I should teach the next year) the methods and concepts are very basic and solid. We expect all students learn the basics methods because they are the foundations for the next courses. Of course, there are some critical issues in the methods, but the topics are far beyond of an undergrad course.

The instructor in this course should make sure that the students learn the basics, considering that time is limited. I like using connected learning techniques in this course and increase critical thinking using the problem-based learning technique. But, I am not yet convinced that “raising awareness of critical issues” about some basics concepts, which are beyond an undergraduate course, will help students in that undergrad course.  Actually, with current settings, applying critical pedagogy in some standardized courses seems almost impossible to me.

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