The Five Temptations of Teachers, Temptation Five: Banking Education
Written by Jim Knight.

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.


  1. Jeenie Rengers

    Jim-you have just described the basic trend in our high schools today. Teachers are the ‘sage on the stage’ and it is the student’s responsibility to learn (translation: memorize) all the information being lectured. In our diverse population, so many students do not have the background experience that even allows them to understand what is being discussed, let alone be able to participate and retain information. It is our job as forward-thinking educators to work towards asking co-workers those questions in order to get everyone thinking of what is best for learners.

  2. Maria

    And really, isn’t content relative? Who decides, in a society, what is important or critical content? Usually not the students. Wouldn’t it be something if we had parents and students sitting in on Ministry of Education committees to decide whether “space” or “rap music” is the content to be examined? After all, the students live and participate in the world. As radical teachers we need to live and participate in that world also, alongside our students – not in some preconceived idea of what that world is or should be. Teaching is a political act.

  3. Jenny

    Great post! There are times when we just have to know things by rote, but when the whole system is based on the banking education practice rather than individualized, meaningful actions each day, we certainly have a problem. High stakes testing is making loads of money and gaining lots of power from the knowledge-banking paradigm. It definitely weighs on my heart.

  4. Jennifer Sikes

    I recently wrote an article for my newsletter about lesson structure. Key questions teachers need to ask themselves as they design lessons are: what will the students be doing? What will teacher be doing? So often teacher is the focus, when actually students should be actively engaging with concepts both mentally and physically!

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Jennifer, if the article is online, we’d love to see the link.

  5. Jennifer Sikes

    I will try to get it online this week. I quoted you from the ACLO pdf I have. You are coaching me as a coach from a distance–thanks for all you do.


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