In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire paints a picture of the kind of learning that most radical learners are striving for.  “Knowledge emerges,” Freire writes, “only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men [and women] pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

Freire also paints a picture of education that is the opposite: Education that does not inspire “the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry” of students.  This he calls banking education.

During banking education, the teacher talks and the students listen.  Usually, the teacher talks about content that is “completely alien to the existential experience” of the students.  According to the tenets of banking education, the teacher’s job is to “fill” students with whatever he or she is teaching.

Banking education turns students

into “containers” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher.  The more completely he fills the receptacles, the better a teacher he is.  The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.  This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. ….

Banking education is tempting because it is easier than creatively exploring each task every day and tweaking instruction to meet students’ needs.  Banking education is also, unfortunately, rewarded in some systems, making it more tempting.

Complicating matters a bit, there are times in a school year when students need to understand and remember content that is precisely explained, just as there are times when students should be let loose on a creative activity. Other posts at this site describe both precise teacher-directed instruction and more constructivist teacher-led learning and when each approach is appropriate.  But Freire’s description of banking education is a powerful check for all of us, whether we teacher kindergarten or graduate school.

What to Do

Freire’s description of banking education suggests a question we can all ask: Am I rewarding students for being passive receptacles, or am I am freeing them to pursue knowledge “in the world, with the world, and with each other?” By asking such questions, we move closer to designing the kind of learning we want for our students.