Artifact 6

Banking the Past, Posing for the Future

“Your next word is ‘caricature’,” my dad said to me. “Why in the hell am I doing this?” a fifth grade me thought to myself. “C-a-r-a-c-a-t-u-r-e, caricature,” I said. “Oooh so close; ok since you got that one wrong, that’s 10 more words,” my dad responded. “#@$%!” This is how I spent my December evenings from the ages nine to twelve. I was preparing for the school Spelling Bee, and I hated every minute of it; it was boring, and at that time in my life I would have much rather spent my time piercing my eardrums with q-tips, or at least playing outside with my friends. What’s worse is I wasn’t really learning anything. I was attempting to memorize a massive list of words to regurgitate at a later date and time. Perhaps there is a better explanation of the banking system of education in practice, but I can think of no better example than how my school, and parents, prepared me for the Spelling Bee.

In Paulo Friere’s mentally exhausting Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he describes the banking system as a system that “regards men as adaptable, manageable beings” and “The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world” (73). Essentially, the student is a drone-like empty vessel which passively absorbs information and spits it out later when the educator tells them to. The student is being groomed to embrace a passive and subservient role Much like the Spelling Bee I spent countless hours memorizing obscure words for, my education was spent in a chair absorbing what the teacher told me with little to no interaction, participation, or true understanding on my part. Like Freire states, I was essentially a spectator of my own education, rather than an active participant. This curriculum that was somehow best fit for the masses, did not mesh with me. For years I thought I was stupid. Sure, I got good grades, made my parents and teachers proud, but I did not feel like I was actually learning anything. I was simply good at repeating things I had been told. It wasn’t until entering college and learning that there are multiple learning styles, something I fear I was supposed to know all along, that I realized this ‘shut up and listen’ style of education was at odds with how I learned best.

I have always been one with questions. I am extremely curious by nature and when I am truly interested in a topic, the questions fly out of my mouth. My curiosity has led to new hobbies, interests, and even a career. Asking questions quite literally shaped who I am. That said, it also got me in some trouble growing up. I was often kept after class and told by my teachers that my questions were slowing everything down and I needed to stop asking questions so they could get through the lesson. Ironically, many years later I would walk into a classroom as a professor wrote the following on the board, “You are a scholar. You have the right and responsibility to question everything and everyone - especially your professors - for it is not enough to just learn to answer the questions, but more importantly to question the answers” (Dortch). Now I understand there is a fine line between curious and obnoxious, and I am sure there was the occasional dumpster fire of a question, but as I grew up and really began to think about it, it seemed like some of my teachers were more interested in “just getting through the lesson,” than actually engaging with us and making sure we understood what was being taught. This is what the banking system means to me. Rather than allow me to be an active participant in my own education, I was nothing more than an ATM machine getting beat to hell when I was incapable of accepting a foreign currency.

Unfortunately, despite many advances in education and our understanding of the growing brain, the banking system remains prevalent today. We have all this new technology, and a deeper understanding into the human psyche, yet rather than let these things guide, shape, and mold the education system, educators often try to integrate them into an archaic system with which they aren’t always compatible. The banking system does not allow for true exploration, and since students are not in an environment that allows them to explore and/or experiment, their growth has no freedom to branch out, it is guided in the direction society has dictated is acceptable. As Richard Shaull states, Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom (34).

Fortunately, not every teacher I had adopted this system. The teachers I remember most, and learned the most from, were teachers that believed the student needed to be an active participant in their education. They challenged me to find a method that worked for me and run with it. I wasn’t being told ‘do it this way and show your work,’ I was being told, ‘I don’t care how you accomplish the task, show me what you come up with. Maybe I’ve never seen it done that way and you’ll teach me something.’ I once had a teacher say to me “I don’t care if you find a method in your book, or find a method etched in stone in a forgotten language, use whatever works best for you.” These teachers allowed me to explore and experiment with what was being taught and essentially find the knowledge within myself. This, I believe, is in essence Friere’s problem-posing system, where “...people develop their own power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves...” (83).

In recent years new systems have been developed, such as Common Core, which allow for students to actively engage in their education and discover new things “their” way. I believe this can make it easier for an educator to incorporate problem-posing education. Look at how mathematics is being taught in some schools. Students are still taught Common Core methods and standards, of course, but they are also often challenged to solve a problem using whatever method they can come up with, and some of those methods are new and creative that eventually make their way into a textbook designed for future educators. That said, educators must be vigilant in their work, so as not to fall back into the easier banking system. I believe educators can facilitate problem-posing education by developing lessons that, allow students to be active participants along with the teacher, so both the student and teacher are learning from each other, engage in critical thinking or creative problem-solving techniques, and allow the student the freedom to explore ideas and discover themselves.

While many schools seem to be set in their ways, I have learned about some schools that are challenging the norms. The Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy in Gainesville, Georgia is one such example. This school teaches in a way I think we all wish we could have experienced as children, at least I know I do. In addition to utilizing Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the school houses a small town in its walls called Smartville. Children are active participants in this town, taking on jobs that teach math, science, reading, writing, economics, etc., and learn how to apply what they are learning to real world situations (Thrive in Smartville, 4:52 – 7:00). Watching a video of this Smartville in action, one can really see what the problem- posing method does for a classroom, a Friere described it, “the teacher is no longer merely the one who teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach” (80). At this school knowledge is not simply deposited into students, instead teachers and students work together, almost as equals, in a learning environment where everyone benefits and learns.

Now my first thought with Smartville was ‘ok that’s awesome, but it’s next to impossible to accomplish without the entire school being on board,’ and that is true, but educators do not need an entire school’s resources to use the problem-posing method. Kay Toliver, a teacher in Harlem, has her own method and it does not require an entire school’s worth of resources. Kay takes students out into the streets with a lesson in mind and uses everyday objects to teach (Toliver, 4:02 – 8:53). Students use park benches and sidewalks as tools to do mathematics and in the process are teaching Kay about the city or showing methods they came up with for solving things that Kay had not considered. Like Smartville, an environment is being created that allows students to explore an experiment with ideas, and in some cases, teach the teacher new things. While I may not be lucky enough to work at a school that has a Smartville, I can adopt some of the ideas Kay Toliver has employed in her classrooms. Ideas that reflect, at least in part, Friere’s problem-posing method.

Since returning to college a few years ago with the goal of becoming an educator, I have been attending classes and in addition to learning, I am observing my professors and noting teaching techniques that work and teaching techniques that suck. Now I understand educating an adult is different from educating a child, but there are methods, styles, rules, and beliefs that transcend age. I have sat through classes where I sit down and just take in information and I have had classes where the professor challenged students to be engaged. In some of the latter classes, the professor did not simply stand at the front of the classroom and throw information at us, they sat with us, picked our brain, and learned from us. These are the classes in which I learned the most. Some of them occurred more than two years ago and I have retained far more learned information than more recent classes that simply had a ‘shut up and listen’ approach. I want to be the teacher that had a lasting effect on students, like the teachers that stuck with me, or a Kay Toliver. The one whose lessons remain long after the student has left the classroom, and one who is constantly learning from students. The things I learn from one classroom or student may help me teach future students.

Works Cited

Dortch, Kelly. “You Are a Scholar.” CAL 2970. CAL 2970, 23 Aug. 2021, San Bernardino, California State University, San Bernardino.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 50th Anniversary ed., Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Toliver, Kay, director. Teacher Talk: Math Trail. YouTube, Teacher Talk, 1996,

“Thrive in Smartville.” YouTube,, ZW4cYyI&ab_channel=SFCCNM.