Fragments of Thoughts on Paulo Freire

Banking on Humanity: How to Apply a Natural Praxis in the Teaching of Writing

“Teachers must recognize how schools unite knowledge and power and through this function can work to influence or thwart the formation of critically thinking and socially active individuals” (Darder, 329).

In the quote from above, critical scholar Antonia Darder is responding to the influence Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire has had upon critical pedagogy, most specifically praxis. In the process of naming and changing reality, one in which Freire breaks down into the two dimensions of discourse called praxis, many invisible lines are crossed that involve the very highlighting of, and even disregard for the longstanding merits of rhetorical delineation. Unfortunately, just in an attempt to combine the two forces of reality, that of reflection and action—critics, teachers, and even students are forced to try and appropriate a common rhetoric ground that everyone can build from. With this is mind, the sole purpose of this investigation will be to better understand praxis as it applies to the teaching of writing, with the use of Paulo Freire’s work as a methodology which can elucidate the social interactions of the classroom.

First of all, I shall work with the terms praxis and critical pedagogy here defined from view:

“Critical pedagogy views all education theory as intimately linked to ideologies shaped by power, politics, history, and culture. Given this view, schooling functions as a terrain of ongoing struggle over what will be accepted as legitimate knowledge and culture” (Darder, 329).

Most specifically, I am intrigued by this “terrain of struggle” Darder speaks of and will therefore attempt to draw from its cultural connectivity. The role of critical pedagogy Darder speaks of has a direct correlation to the idea of “problem-posing education,” which we will come back to later, but has as its pulse the idea to open up into an active classroom, devoid of tool kits and didactic drivel. Similarly, praxis can be defined as the application of knowledge, be it known before the ‘now,’ or obtained in the ‘now,’ toward the solving of problems presented in correlation with what that knowledge might do for a greater good. Praxis can even be as simply defined as the taking of a reflection into an action to change the world, yet to keep focus upon praxis and its relationship to the teaching of writing, we must apply it from a critical standpoint.

Acquiring a critical praxis involves what Freire calls conscientization, “the process by which students, as empowered subjects, achieve a deepening awareness of the social realities which shape their lives and discover their own capacities to recreate them” (333). Yet how is this deeper awareness achieved? It is clear that Freire places a large emphasis on how students become empowered, and more specifically that in the act of praxis the full arch of human activity comes into play. Since praxis is “self-creating and self-generating free human activity (330),” it carries with it rather indefinable structure, something vast enough to be warranted unteachable. Yet the transformation itself is a new naming, and not until the new naming arrives can one be ensconced in the true advancement of discourse.

C.H. Knoblauch, in his essay “Rhetorical Constructions: Dialogue and Commitment,” uses Freire’s praxis as a tipping point; he branches from its definition to probe with it the philosophical elements of teaching. Stemming from his explanations of reflection and action, which he labels “intellectual argument” and “teaching practice,” Knoblauch further hones in on the separations of dialogue and commitment, his springboard for examination being the domain of rhetorical theory, defined “simply as a field of statements pertaining to language, knowledge, and discourse.” As not to stray from the point at hand, I will employ both the definition of praxis above in relation to Knoblauch’s definition of rhetorical theory, which is quite inextricably linked to Freire’s critical pedagogy.

There is an immense diversity of pulse within the existing definition of rhetorical theory. Its boundaries are beyond the horizon, yet has at is core an intention to be informative. However, and despite this perceived dichotomy, the majority of the active mind—say that of a freshman collegiate student—is heavily involved in the whirling apertures of rhetoric. Students are introduced to required courses stemming from set curriculum: Composition, Public Speaking, Interpretation, etc. Since these are often introductory courses, they tend to set the academic mood of a student’s general approach toward successful writing. Already arriving in the “required” field of courses a student must take, one born with a draining sense of you must do this to succeed, these courses are teeter tottering in both importance and intent for those students. They serve as the new foundation, but also one that is created aside a student’s will. The first commitment, in this sense, must come from the teacher; a guidance of action, whether or not having directly arrived from the preexisting conditions of a student’s reflection, must be center-point. Additionally, it is through this guidance that the student will allow their action to embody qualities beyond reflection. And by commitment, let us examine the role of the engaged student. Freire’ passage deserves to be quoted in full, and explicated therefrom:

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the 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.” (Freire, 2:5).

The complications of the banking theory are hard to argue with. Not only does it make sense as an accessible metaphor, but it also fully supports Freire’s overarching emphasis on being human and the banking concept as one that disallows that humanity. Referring go it recalls the importance of critical pedagogy and its highlighting of education as a cultural attribute. Since the trait of reflection is inherent, yet sparked by something more objective, reflection is always on the cusp of becoming more than singularly active. Just in hearing another person speak to the point of interior provocation, one is acting toward the tangible action, yet if a teacher views this in the banking lens, the humanity is robbed and a mechanically supplemented form of instruction takes over, having as its aim the fulfillment of some set and entirely non-humanly charged intent. Theory becomes mere verbalism, and practice, as Freire notes, then becomes blind activism. Freire also labels dialogue as the instrument for transformation. Furthermore, Knoblauch adds a managing factor to successful dialogue, that of “living dialectically, recognizing our involvement in social reality while resisting wherever necessary the tendency of that reality to make us or to make others less than fully human.” (56)

Coincidentally, this concept of being fully human is what Freire focused the majority his work around—transformation as the ultimate motive for being fully human. Without delving into the fullness of humanity, I’d like to note that transformation is the ultimate opening into the acknowledgment of the active mind. Once one is capable or reflecting enough to open the gates of discourse and actively engage in commentary they are asserting the relevancy of praxis. Praxis becomes, as in essence of Freire’s examination, “a consciousness, manifested in action, which preserves at once the teacher’s free exercise of choice and the teacher’s responsiveness to the demands of school reality.” (KN). What works best in this notion is its strict adherence to the advancement of humanity, and the idea of being human. Because Freire believes praxis to be a self-generating form of our free humanity, he sheds light on how a teacher can relate to their student’s through writing, because that too is a human act. This is what Freire calls the “problem-posing approach to education: an approach in which the relationship of students to teacher is, without question, dialogical—students learn from the teacher; teachers learn from the students” (Darder, 333). This approach is monumental in its universality, for it takes the linked experiences of two forces (student and teacher) which have for so long remained dichotomous, and propels them into something that cannot be ignored, something that goes beyond the hindrances of a vacuous and undialectical medium of instruction.

Moreover, the student, even more so than the teacher, is allotted a more free and naturally advanced sense of choice when praxis is exercised, and the difficulty of teaching lies directly in the teacher’s ability to administer the segue between reflection and action. In fact, note how specifically Knoblauch defines the academic modes of praxis. In delivering reflection he speaks of intellectual argument, and not even to the extent that it is within the minds of the students, but that even after having bolted into the open room of discourse, still remains reflection. It is not until the exercises of an active teaching practicum arrive that this form of intellectual argument is relieved into the transformation that will allow praxis. Viewing the transformation this way makes it clear that praxis is an invisible meeting place for the student and the teacher, it is the consciousness of an entire classroom, a committed dialogue. And since it is also such a strong attribute of being human, its ability to be described and fully employed by the minds of every teacher is constantly weakened by structures that present themselves as easier to inhabit, such as the baking model. Praxis is very helpful as a model, and with the addition of a critical pedagogy that brings classroom terms into human traits, it can serve as a helpful reminder for how teaching writing must be reexamined and brought into more human terms.

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