Unfortunately, I grew up in a culture that lacks critical thinking inherently. In the past, many sages told people how to adapt to the society which they don’t like and to be “happy” with a miserable living. Even at recent decade, I got to know the world “critical “after entering college. As a freshman, how I wish I can think independently and not take any information as given like a fool! So I asked one of my favorite professor: “professor, how can I be thoughtful and think independently?” She didn’t answer my question directly, but said:” when freedom of speech is protected by the Law, and when people are not afraid to doubt anything because their thoughts and pursue of truth won’t be punished. There are many wise people in the world, but they are afraid to make a different voice.” At that moment, I realized that critical thinking is much more complicated than I thought before. It not only depends on how we train ourselves and the next generation, but also is affected by culture, power, social status, etc. Let me focus on education in this post. When I read The Banking Concept of Education by Paulo Freire, Freire compares “banking” education with oppressive society. The general idea makes sense to me but I think the problem is over simplified. Based on my understanding, banking education means that the instructors treat students like objectives and fill knowledge into their brains. While Freire’s solution is problem-posing education–through dialogue, teachers and students learn from each other. However, before using this approach to achieve critical pedagogy, a few prerequisites should be carefully considered. Firstly, I don’t believe that simply change teaching method can achieve critical thinking from my learning experience. For example, if the instructor is not very open-minded, he or she tends to seek the answer closest to the “standard” one in his or her mind through dialogue. If the students realize this, they are likely to guess what the instructor wants to hear instead of thinking independently. Secondly, I think dialogue-based approach may be good for a teacher with rich experience, who is highly respected by students and has good control of the classroom and conversation. While a beginner instructor may need to take this approach with caution. Why it can be a problem? Critical thinking is very appreciated in academia. However, in some cases, people criticize other’s work not for the sake of pursuing truth but to show off themselves. For instance, some reviewers make every effort to criticize their assigned papers without providing any constructive comments. In a seminar, some “critical” participants focus on a few limitations of that study to show how smart they are, and make the presentation hard to continue. The same problem may happen in classroom. Therefore, instructors should be careful to develop a collaborative and respectful environment—a safety zone for critical thinking to grow.

Authoritarian pedagogy

Wikipedia defines authoritarianism as a form of government that is described by strong central power and limited political freedom. According to Freire, in authoritarian pedagogy, teaching was to deposits of information into the minds of the learners, which is similar to deposit money in a bank account or “banking education” and the identity of learners was not taken into account. The situation of learners and teachers is relatively fixed. Power is held by the teachers. The role of learners is to learn what is taught, memorize the information, and can produce the same information on exams. There is little room for deviation or questioning. This model of education places learners into a passive position and the learning process depends upon the teachers. The interests of students as well as the meaning of given information are negligible in authoritarian pedagogy. I read somewhere a nice comparison that learners in authoritarian pedagogy are seen as a blank paper to be written on rather than a book written in invisible ink that just needs the right light shone onto.

Freire argued that the goal of authoritarian pedagogy is to condition learners to accept the cultural, social, political status quo of the dominant culture, to view the practices and behaviors of the dominant groups as complete, whole, and correct, which prevent learners from knowing the world and seeing it as something which can be changed. Therefore, it limits the liberation and freedom of the oppressed.

In my own experiences, I can name some examples of an authoritarian education model. Students from every single school from remote areas to big cities are required to use one set of course books, whose content is pre-prescribed by the ministry of education. There is a fixed schedule (including which class to take, when to take it, how many hours per week) that the ministry of education has designed for students from elementary to colleges. Every student follows the same schedule despite their interests. Teachers often ask students to perform in certain ways (using method A for problem A, do not use method B, even the results are the same) and they might get angry if students do not follow their directions. Grades and punishments are announced publicly not only in schools but also in the students’ living community. When I was a kid, my teachers were my worse fear than my mom.

3/22 – Critical Pedagogy

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2Paulo Freire distinguishes between the banking education and problem-education. He says: “Banking education … attempts, by mythicizing reality, to conceal certain facts which explain the way human beings exist in the world; problem-posing education sets itself the task of demythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation. In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity as their starting point.” Freire is relentlessly critical of banking education, and this is problematic. Allow me to explain. Imagine a young child, a toddler. A toddler, as the name implies, is learning how to perambulate, how to make their way in the world. At around the same age, they are also learning how to talk. One might wonder: what form of education is most conducive to language acquisition? Those that have served their time in the toddler trenches know that language acquisition is largely the result of training. “This is red.” “That is a tree.” “No, that is a leaf, not a tree.” “This is a tree.” These god-like proclamations are often accompanied by an ostension, that is, pointing a finger at the christened object. Training is necessary because as everyone knows, ostensive definition is inherently ambiguous; for how can the child know that “red” refers to the color of the object and not the shape or the name of the object itself? It is only by training that a child comes to distinguish colors from shapes and both of these properties from objects. What type of education does this more closely resemble: banking or problem-posing? Despite my sincere admiration for Freire’s polemic, I would have to say, banking; and contrary to what Freire argues, this isn’t a bad thing! Without language, the world would be, to quote William James, just a “blooming, buzzing, confusion.” In more academically rigorous jargon, nothing would be phenomenologically available. Without language, without the ability to distinguish one thing from another, we simply don’t have anything resembling a word. However, when parents decide to teach their offspring how to speak, they are indoctrinating them. Even before they are born, as Althusser has observed, they are interpolated, that is, named. Moreover, it is through language that we conceptualize the world – change the language and you change the world. Problem-posing education is extremely valuable for the creation of critical humans, however, it’s important to recognize that this kind of learning is logically contingent and ancillary to banking education. Heidegger once noted that we don’t speak language, language speaks us. Consider what would transpire, if parents suddenly ceased to train their children to use language? When we acquire a language, we, by and large, acquire a conceptual apparatus that we never question. Indeed, critical inquiry stops here. pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy1    

Against the Neocons: Industrial Knowledge Production and the New Workforce

I start every semester, regardless of the class I’m facilitating with an announcement. The reason I teach is to help produce people capable of handling the responsibilities of democratic citizenship. Democracy is based on notions of self-rule, the citizen as the reservoir of sovereignty, and egalitarian principles of equality balanced by liberty. Citizens must be capable of critically reflecting on their environment (informational, social, political, cultural, and etc.,.) in order to flesh out demands ideally reflective of their desires that then populate a deliberative process aimed at creating a community bound by the rule of law. The deliberative process is critical in creating a just society and is an extension of the deliberative capacities of  the parties involved. The United States has a long history of excluding groups from the deliberative arena. Some tactics have been a denial of voting rights, Jim Crow voting regulations, poll taxes, exclusive spaces in which political discussions took place, and the regulation and control of education. The most recent example of the latter is a discourse advanced by the American right that higher education should be responsible for workforce training and only workforce training as the country transitions into the new informational economy. The information economy requires knowledge workers – people who are technically trained in producing and handling information products such as patents, and infrastructural technicians who can further and optimize the expanding technical infrastructure necessary for the dissemination and de-centralized production of knowledge products. Subsequently, this shift from the industrial production of physical products (such as cars) to the industrial production of knowledge products requires an expansion of higher education and an influx of students who will serve in emerging industries associated with knowledge production. The millennial generation is now the most highly educated (in terms of years spent in formal education) generation in US history because of the demands for knowledge workers in the new economy. This scares the hell out of top ranking neoconservatives. The neocon ideology emerged out of the tumultuous student demonstrations of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Many of it’s founding members, such as Irving Kristol, were disturbed by the flurry of student action resisting the Vietnam War. The US “defeat” in Vietnam was not determined by personnel losses or even tactical military mistakes but by a defeat suffered at home. Vietnam Syndrome  as a fear, has haunted neoconservative circles since the realization that the US suffered its first major military loss since the war of 1812 because the American public was not willing to engage in strong, imperial military interventionism. Lefty-commie sympathizers bore the blame for spreading seditious ideology through university campuses that mobilized students to fight against the imperial ambitions of hawkish politicians, and for the civil rights of African-Americans and women. The memory of the defeat at home has had such lingering effects that George H.W. Bush, at the threshold of the first Gulf War assured his audience that “this will not be another Vietnam.” Bush spoke to both the neocon architects of that war and to an American public who had since seen no direct military commitment against a foreign nation apart from the discourse of Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and the subsequent campaigns against Colombia, Nicaragua and Chile. Between Vietnam and the Gulf War neoconservative ideology hit its stride and crystallized from diffuse network of like-minded scholars, to a fully articulated and politically enfranchised movement. Neoconservative thinkers founded think-tanks and educational apparatuses parallel to places of higher learning while also assuming positions within prestigious private universities.  Leo Strauss is one of the more enigmatic contributors to neoconservative ideology and helped train cadre after cadre of powerful apparatchiks who advanced neoconservative agendas through the Republican party (Paul Wolfowitz being one of his more illustrious students). Part of the neoconservative ideology calls for the training of elite, well-to-do young men in the fine arts of government while harboring a general distrust for mass political enfranchisement. Part of the necon mission is to guide the nation in a paternalistic (ideally benevolent) fashion that molds both economy and civic morality. Above all, the public are not to be informed of matters of state, especially foreign policy, unless absolutely necessary for maintaining social control. The wisdom of the neoconservative disciple is derived from their specialization in the higher truths of government through a robust liberal arts education while supported through elite networks that assure their seat at the table. Elitism is a foundational element of neoconservative thought. In a rare slip-up, the Texas Republican party announced in 2012 that critical thinking should not be included within the public school curriculum. More recently, GOP lawmakers have linked higher education to a discourse of workforce development while pundits, activists and talking heads have repeatedly attacked higher education as fake and universities as controlled by social justice warriors who indoctrinate students under the guise of offering an education. Vocational training has become part of the discourse around higher education as the nation looks to universities for the American dream of upward social mobility. This discursive shift has deep affinities with neoconservative ideology as workforce training narrowly focuses the mission of higher education away from producing democratic citizens broadly educated in the liberal arts to a labor market demanding specialized workers capable of producing and sustaining industrialized knowledge production.  Shifts away from producing democratic citizens capable of critically handling information to workers capable of handling critical information furthers the neocon ideological project by industrializing the production of human capital almost exclusively concerned with competing in a labor market. University doors are now things one passes through to receive workforce accreditation and the educational process has been trivialized as a credentialing performance. Viewing education merely as something one goes through on the way to a job harms the body politic as easily quantifiable markers dominate administrative metrics of student success and return on investment. Uni-dimensional visions of what a “successful” student is reinforce the banking theory of education as measurement is dominated by GPA and post-graduation income. The banking theory of pedagogy offers an easy view of the student as an empty vessel receptive to knowledge rather than an active participant in its construction. The construction of knowledge requires a critical and innovative handling of information similar to the ideal deliberative process of mass democracy. The environment that conditions the demands placed on higher education, with its narrow focus on productivity and immediate workplace application of technical skills, myopically defines knowledge in terms of usefulness to a given industrial purpose. Industrial interests and trends within markets thus direct the development and dissemination of knowledge without recognizing the democratic potential of education in the fullest sense of fostering the development of citizens. Freire’s recognition that the banking theory reinforces an existing and unquestioned ontology of knowledge about the relationship of knower to known is repeated in the discourse of workforce training and higher education as the student is alienated further from the process of handling information. The relationships of student-to-teacher, teacher-to-information and information-to-student within the banking model impose an understanding of how to handle information that casts the student as receiver and teacher as transmitter. The call and response evaluative metrics of standardized testing and closed right-and-wrong questions frame information as dead and in need of careful preservation thus promoting an inflexible relationship between the student and knowledge. Credentialing grounded in rote memorization of facts echos industrial applications of knowledge in terms of problem-and-answer mentalities that rarely question the system in which the problem arises. The uni-dimensional view of education advanced by the banking theory promotes neither innovative thinking about technical problems, nor advanced critical thinking about the broader informational ecology of democratic society.  As the US transitions from an industrial economy to modes of decentralized industrial knowledge production, we cannot sacrifice the democratic identity of higher education for the uni-dimensional mentality of the market. The banking theory of pedagogy must be dispensed with – even if it upsets the apple cart of some still stuck in mentalities of centralized industrial society. Above all, we must worry about what a society populated by automota that serve only their machines can become when democratic identity is lost.

Critical Pedagogy

The department of sociology tends to attract diverse groups of students from varying backgrounds, especially in the 1000 and 2000 level courses. This is likely because all disciplines are required to fulfill a social science unit. Interaction with students from different disciplines opens  an excellent opportunity to introduce them to racial, gendered, socioeconomic etc. inequalities in their varying career paths and in the social world in general.

Part of teaching students about, for example, race and racial inequalities, is in helping them to conceptualize race as a social structure – a systematic ordering system with empirical effects, locating racialized power dynamics and recognizing the role their own intersectional privileges play in their individual and group trajectories. This can be a difficult task as 18 and 19 year old often students come into the classroom without an open mind, largely reflecting the socio-political views of their parents and not yet having scratched the surface of disenfranchisement. The necessary conversations surrounding power and privilege can create a sort of resistance (to the material presented) on behalf of the students instead of intended engagement.

I enjoyed Fowler’s approach to teaching power dynamics – through Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capitalism.”  This offers students a starting point; a reference to critically arrive at conclusions that are less interpersonal. It also gives students the tools to think through difficult concepts in an intellectual and thoughtful manner. Such an approach has the ability to be both critical and self-critiquing.

Even with Fowler in mind, I cringe at having to teach about power dynamics in the classroom. I am a black woman. My visible racial classification has a noticeable impact on how students receive social fact. I have been undermined numerous times as a TA with students suggesting that statements I make and supplemental material offered are a reflection of “my feelings” as a “black woman.” Given that I work hard to present empirical facts, teaching such a topic can be frustrating and draining at best.

I wonder any ideas regarding how to engage in critical teaching, especially for new professors who are from minority groups (including women, international persons, disabled persons etc.)?


From Tired, to Hopeful, to Mad, to Empowered

There was so much goodness in this week’s readings. There was a whole lot of this going on during my reading.
Everything has just tied in perfectly to things going on in my life and world right now. If you didn’t read my blog last week I posted about how tired I was last week. I was exhausted from the pressure I feel to be a leader for my people and represent us well to the rest of the world. That was the beginning of the roller coaster of last week. We then had an amazing Tribal Leader’s Summit here on campus Wednesday & Thursday which was just amazing. It was incredible, moving, and also emotional. Then Thursday morning… This happened.

Needless to say, I moved from tired, to hopeful, to just plain mad. (I won’t rehash that transition here but it’s on my twitter if you’re looking for it. Haha.) I think I called my parents more last week just emotionally exhausted from it all then I have in a long time…
To then go from that to reading about Freire’s concepts and thoughts on Critical Pedagogy –
Every time I opened a new reading, I was like “YES! That’s me! That’s what I’ve been looking for! There’s actually research & practice that supports what I’ve been thinking about!”
I found this, “Liberation is akin to a painful childbirth that never completely ends, as oppression continuously mutates and morphs into unprecedented forms in new epochs. Thus, liberation is not merely a psychological change where an individual comes to feel better about herself. Freirean liberation is a social dynamic that involves working with and engaging other people in a power-conscious process.”
It’s never over.  Every day I have to put on my armor, rejoin the fight, and defend my existence not only to my oppressors but to myself. One of the readings explained “the oppressed, Freire frequently reminds his readers, have many times been so inundated by the ideologies of their oppressors that they have come to see the world and themselves through the oppressor’s eyes. “I’m just a peasant, or a hillbilly, or a black kid from the ghetto, or a woman, or a man from the Third World, or a student with a low IQ; I have no business in higher education.” This is actually part of what I was struggling with last week. Thoughts like “I have no business talking about this”, “I am not a leader”, “Is this really my place?”, etc., etc., etc…. So it’s not just outside influences that I am fighting against. It’s not just ignorance. It’s not just racism. It’s this internal inundation of what the world, centuries of assimilation, and generational trauma has told me what I’m suppose to be, do, or act like as a Native woman. I am reminded of something I heard Sherman Alexie tell me and fellow indigenous students here at VT when he visited – “Don’t give a shit about what other Indians think. If you can’t rebel against your own people, how can you rebel against the dominant culture?” So maybe the whole reason I don’t feel like a leader for my people is actually what makes me a leader?? Maybe the fact that I can leave my people, my traditional homeland, and pursue an advanced degree, that my ideas are a little different and a mix of contemporary and tradition, is actually what my people need of me?
So what does this look like in a classroom? It’s a classroom that doesn’t ignore, negate, or hide from the surroundings of the world. No matter what the subject, discipline, or setting. Too many times, engineering professors, at least in my experience, ignore what’s going on in the outside world for fear of it conflicting with the content or the “integrity” of the science/work. I have seen this for myself in the aftermath of the election in November. I had a graduate level, engineering class in my department at 9am Wednesday morning. A female classmate who I know identifies with the LGBT community quietly cried almost the entire class period and our professor just continued with class like all was normal, never acknowledging anything. This attitude has also been seen in the March for Science in their assertion that the march is NOT political and that these discussions – particularly in the area of diversity, inclusion, and the experiences of underrepresented scientists – are dismissed as taking away from the science itself. As I am not an expert on these topics and am just coming to the MFS game, I would direct you to Katherine Crocker, Isabel Ott, and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos. They discuss these issues with the MFS at great length eloquently and I really appreciate their voices. Freire’s ideas of Critical Pedagogy explain how these attitudes can actually hurt the “science” and the learning process. Freire argues that “education is always political and teachers are unavoidably political operatives. Teaching is a political act—there’s no way around it.”
To ignore the outside world, we are just “depositing” tons of information into our students and perpetuating the idea that this knowledge is static, unchanging, and that their role as students is merely passive vessels, meant only to memorize the content we’re sharing. We’re missing out on showing them how dynamic the world really is, the knowledge really is, and what it all means for society. One of the paper’s I’m reading for my engineering education class this week talks about how first-year engineering students report “enjoying engineering less and viewed it as less important and useful than they did at the beginning of that first year” (Jones, et al., 2010). Could this be tied to our ignorance of the world outside our engineering classrooms? to our not tied these engineering concepts to current events and scenarios? to just dumping information or wanting them to just memorize things?

Teaching and Learning as a Mutual Process

Paulo Freire is one of the most inspiring individuals. He was a philosopher and an educator who advocated for a Critical Pedagogy. For any aspring instructor or any person interested in the fields of education, I would highly recommend reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire in investigating Critical Pedagogy talks about the relationship between learning and teaching, and the relationship between instructors and students.
In this sense teaching is not about transferring knowledge or contents. Nor is it an act whereby a creator- subject gives shape, style, or soul to an indecisive and complacent body. There is, in fact, no teaching without learning. One requires the other. (Freire)
To learn, then, logically precedes to teach, according to Freire. I like to think of myself as learning at the same time as my students, even as an Instructor. Teaching is a mutual learning experience.
I teach because I search, because I question, and because I submit myself to questioning. I research because I notice things, take cognizance of them. And in so doing, I intervene. And intervening, I educate and educate myself. I do research so as to know what I do not yet know and to communicate and proclaim what I discover (Freire)

Do humans learn differently than animals?

This week’s posts made me wonder, are humans unique in their learning/teaching abilities, or do most (if not all) species exhibit some form of learning/teaching. This question kind of threw me through a loop, and I decided to dig into the literature to see what kinds of animal learning exists, and if there are any relevant examples that link back to our readings this week.

The field of ethology (the study of animal behavior and learning) reaches across many academic disciplines, including but not limited to psychology, computer science, and education. This field has the power to inform how we educate each other. To ensure successful evolution and survival, many animal species, including humans, must exhibit various levels of learning abilities. There seems to be three main animal learning mechanisms: Non-associative learning, associative learning, and social learning.

Non-Associative Learning

Adaptation is one of the most prevalent signs of an organism’s intelligence, and non-associative learning is a form of adaptation. This is the simplest, most natural form of learning, and is found in virtually every variety of organisms. It is considered a “low-level” learning mechanism, and often leads to other learning mechanisms such as associative learning. The two main types of non-associative learning are habituation and sensitization.

The primary type of non-associative learning is habituation, which is a decrease in response from a repeated stimulus. For example, if you hear loud bangs coming from a nearby building, you might initially wonder what the noise is for. If the banging persists over a span of a week, you will likely eventually tune out the sounds. Since the banging repeated over an extended amount of time, your response decreased during that time, and you have become habitualized to the noise. Habituation can last for an extended amount of time, or just a few minutes. Sensitization is the opposite of habituation, when irregularly repeated stimuli causes an increase in response. If during a thunderstorm the thunderclaps are at random intervals or have long gaps of time between them, you will be more prone to be startled by the noise.

Example: A relevant example of non-associative learning, specifically habituation, is continually using human presence to neutralize a wild animal’s natural response to escape or flee. When wild gorillas native to the mountains of Rwanda were continuously exposed to humans and over a period of time, they became tolerant of human presence, and learned that humans were not predators. Thus, these gorillas were used for primatological research where the gorillas could be observed at close quarters. This learning mechanism has been used as a method to domesticate animals, observe them for research purposes, and introduce them to captivity in zoos.

Human Context: Non-associative learning could be applied in a classroom focused on learning about construction by holding the class in a workspace where construction methods are actively being applied, such as a community makerspace focused on building construction. By repeatedly being exposed to members of a community who are practicing professionals, students would be habituated to this type of learning environment, breaking down the traditional barriers between the learners and the learnt. Through constant contact with such a space, students could observe basic construction methods and realize that they are attainable. This could have a domino effect, instilling a sense of self-efficacy and purpose for the students, aiding in their drive to be successful.

Associative Learning

This type of learning is considered mindless and does not enable a species to learn complex behaviors such as migration or foraging. It is commonly a result of two main types of conditioning: classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a basic learning behavior that teaches an animal to learn a new behavior through association. This type of conditioning contributes to animal adaptation by enabling them to anticipate events, by associating an unconditional stimulus with a conditional stimulus. The most well-known example of associative learning is Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered the concept of classical conditioning. In his experiment with dogs, he used a repetitive tone and the natural response of salivating when presented with food. He then connected these two stimuli (tone and food) and observed that the tone alone could initiate a natural salivating response. The dog would eventually associate the tone with a reward, and would learn to perform specific behaviors with the purpose of hearing the tone.

Operant conditioning is a more complicated process than classical conditioning. It is the concept of strengthening behaviors through reinforcement from a desired response. Therefore, operant behavior is reflexive; there is both positive and negative reinforcement that affects behavior. This concept was first observed by B.F. Skinner in 1937, shortly following Pavlov’s discovery of classical conditioning. Skinner described operant conditioning as behavior “controlled by its consequences”. He put rats in a box that contained a lever, and as they moved around the box, they accidentally hit into the level, at which point a food pellet would be dispensed into a container next to the lever. Quickly, the rats learned to use the lever to receive food, and repeated this action whenever they were hungry.

Example: Endemic to southern Africa, pied-babblers are an avian species that exhibit associative teaching patterns. When a mother or father arrives at the nest, they make a “purr” call to their offspring. The offspring learn to associate this call with the arrival of food, and learn to be weary when the call is not made. This simple classical conditioning method helps ensures the survival of the offspring. 

Human Context: Associative learning is important in human culture by enabling humans to associate certain feelings with certain stimulus, such as positive feelings in response to learning environments. In a classroom setting, associative learning pertains more to the specific student and skill performance rather than the learning content itself. To create a healthy learning environment, especially in a classroom setting related to the built environment, positive reinforcement is key. Students can receive encouragement and approval, thus enabling their positive learning behaviors. Positive reinforcement can lead to a more open and collaborative learning environment.

Social Learning

To guide their learning, many species have adopted the ability to learn from others, which is the complex learning mechanism of social learning. The most commonly used definition of social learning is “learning that is influenced by observation of, or interaction with, another animal”. Social learning is an umbrella term that encompasses many types of learning. Social learning includes, but is not limited to, imitation, observational conditioning, social facilitation, emulation, and inadvertent coaching. Animal behaviorists, dating back to Charles Darwin, have long focused on the ability of an animal to learn valuable life skills by observing and imitating others. Typically, young members of a species learn from more experienced members– most often their parents. Most adult species interact with their offspring in the early stages of life, where their learning is most critical to achieve independence. Examples of behaviors in which young members could learn from more experienced members include foraging for food, learning to fly or swim, and creating shelter. Learned behaviors such as these are central to ensuring a species’ survival.

As previous studies have suggested, social learning “depends on social dynamics that govern the relationships among individuals”. Most often, the young learn from their parents. However, there are other instances of social learning, where the young learn from the successful (regardless of age), where the young learn from others because they are dissatisfied with their own performance, where the young copy another that is behaving more efficiently than they are, etc. If two members of the same species share the same environment, it is beneficial to the young and experienced to learn from another. These alternative approaches to the conventional offspring-parent social learning techniques help shape a more resilient and adaptable species.

Example: There are many of relevant biological examples that include the concept of social learning. Social learning methods have been found in a diverse number of animal species: mammals, insects, amphibians, birds, fish, and more. A noteworthy and proven example of social learning is the resilient learning methods of wild Norway rats. Ecologist Fritz Steiniger discovered that Norway rats taught their young what to eat, after his attempt to improve a rodent control poison. Steiniger repeatedly introduced poison bait to a single colony of rats, and although their numbers decreased at first, they eventually returned to their initial size after a few months. It turns out that the rats who survived the first few rounds of attempted pest control learned to associate the poison bait with illness and death. These survivors taught their young to avoid the poison bait, and eventually every rat in the colony rejected the poison bait. 

Human Context: An obvious and effective way to teach students about the built environment would be to bring a professional from industry in the classroom for a guest lecture or demonstration. Students could learn from the experiences of the professional, and share an open communication between them. Encounters like these are invaluable in educational environments.


This post isn’t completely relevant to our readings this week, but I think learning about these common animal behaviors is helpful to remember when discussing human learning and teaching mechanisms. There are many types of learning, and maybe it is worthwhile to further look at animal learning mechanisms and how they can inform our teaching methods. Afterall, we exhibit the same learning/teaching mechanisms as animals, so why not learn from them?

I think I have been to the bank too much

See below for my word vomit.

I was introduced to  Paulo Freire this week. Interesting dude. Freire is who we have to thank for the concept of critical pedagogy where basically students are finally seen as something other than trash cans for rote knowledge.

As I was reading through the course materials, one quote kept popping up that just felt like a lightning rod to my academic soul.

“Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end . . .fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if  they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community.  They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of  personal value.”

This quote about sums up a large bit of my undergraduate and graduate experience. I wish this were not the case, but it feels that way. This is also the very thing I am trying to combat now as I am shaping myself up to become a teacher. Man, is it challenging. After so many years of being in the back seat of the car (not even the passenger seat), it takes a lot of energy and willpower to muster up the courage to teach applying a critical pedagogical style. I fortunately function in an academic-verse where critical pedagogy is a bit more tangible then perhaps the “real sciences” might be.

In Freire’s work, he discusses how teachers have often applied the “banking approach” wherein teachers dictate knowledge as fact and students accept it as verse. I can safely say that has been my experience for a number of classes, but I also ashamedly admit that sometimes I just wanted to accept the deposit as a student and move on with my daily life. I try not to be that way, but sometimes it is an unchangeable feeling. I also grew up in a world where my teacher was my authoritarian figure, but then as I aged I knew it had to be challenge and changed. I can see why Freire is considered an empowering force for teachers and students alike. His pedagogy opens doors not previously accessible to everyone, especially marginalized populations. That is all rather exciting, and, I feel, in spirit with what education is meant to be: freeing.

It sounds like Freire is trying to change the world’s mind that instead of programming our tiny human robots, that we should be fighting this. Freeing this mind. I can only think of a handful of my teachers that even attempted this approach with us students. I think most are generally going through the motions either because they have taught the class 900 times before, or it is a material they do not feel can be taught in any other way but in a banking approach, or that they think the students are just there to be told information and move on.

I must admit that I am not fully sure how I can properly incorporate this pedagogical style into my classes, and I would welcome some guidance on that. Given my area of expertise is tourism and events, I think I am meant for this pedagogical style.

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