Friday, April 11, 2008

'Banking system of education' outdated, obsolete

As an undergraduate student, I hated scantron exams. In hindsight, I had every right to - scantrons represent a detached system of education that may not give students the best possible education.

Recent technological innovations have given unprecedented access to information, but students are still educated in nearly the exact same manner as their parents - memorization and repetition.

This method - labeled the "banking system of education" by educational theorist Paulo Freire - has ruled our educational system since its inception, but challenges from new educational mediums and the failure of our system to prepare its students for the real world are leading many to question our educational system as a whole.

These questions may be unanswerable, given the structure and nature of the system - a system that seems to value numbers graduated more than the education and viability of its students.

Freire's concept of the banking system of education is fairly simple. As expressed in his 1970 work "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," the banking system treats students as an empty bank account. As empty accounts - or blank slates - students are instructed to open their minds and allow educators to fill them with relevant data and information.

The end result is passive learning - education without agency.

Freire rejects the banking approach to education. In his view, the banking system creates oppression of both the student and the instructor, inadequately preparing students to handle the outside world.

In place of the banking system, Freire advocates an education system that ignores the traditional student-teacher relationship and creates a reciprocal relationship between the two - the student also teaches, and the teacher also learns.

Freire believes in the idea of active education.

In our fast-paced world, this feels like a romantic notion calling back to the days of wise philosophers and their apprentices - a world that doesn't exist today.

One look at the structure of the University makes it clear the aforementioned romantic notion of a reciprocal student-teacher relationship may be long forgotten.

In my mind, the Cox Auditorium is a monument to the banking system of education and an outright rejection of active education.

Each morning, students cram themselves into a modern structure designed to pump their brains with as much knowledge as possible, while at the same time keeping interaction with their instructor as limited as possible.

Slideshow presentations blasted onto giant screens illuminate sleepy faces. The flashing bullet points drill home the important points of a lecture, telling students what they should write down and pay attention to.

In fact, students don't even have to raise their hands to give feedback - they have clickers.

I see students sitting in seats that have been manufactured to ensure maximum capacity, their eyes glazed as another bullet point slides across the screen and then leeches its way onto their spiral notebook. The students clasp a multi-buttoned clicker with their free hand, ready to pick the pre-fabricated answer to a multiple choice question.

If that's not the banking system of education, I don't know what is.

With all that said, I don't blame the instructors one bit. I find it hard to believe any professor or instructor at the University came into their job with the intention of turning students into zombies armed with remote controls.

Most graduate programs the instructors completed are designed as the antithesis of that mentality - graduate students often work with their professors. Unless grad school was a traumatic experience, the benefits of active education are remarkably clear.

Reliance on the banking system of education is a product of the administration and the nature of the American higher-educational system. Public universities are encouraged to graduate as many students as they can.

An educated populace is a successful one - or so it seems.

This places the administration in a tough position. They need state funding but must balance it with the educational needs of their students. Sadly, undergraduate students seem to lose out most often and - outside of a complete reboot of our education system - it seems unlikely active education will ever dominate our universities and schools.

There is hope though, and it resides in something the administration can't do anything about: student responsibility.

Students enter the University for a variety of reasons: some see it as a path to a future job, some as personal betterment and some see it as just something to do. Whatever the reason, students should take responsibility for their education.

At any University, the classroom experience is unavoidable and imminently valuable. Its nature has changed little in the past 50 years and is unlikely to undergo a revolution anytime soon. The difference-maker in our educational experience will be the work we students put into the subject matter - outside of our large classrooms.

Originally published in The Daily Reveille...

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