We entered Science class and took our seats. The children squirmed expectantly. A PowerPoint presentation fired up in the background. The teacher began.
“We’re going to do some real learning today, not an interactive activity, because sometimes we have to actually learn some things in Science.”
I tried to keep my jaw from dropping at these words, and settled in for some slides about types of clouds, with one eye on my students. After their initial disappointment, they handled the presentation well — most of them were engaged, even offering examples of the types of clouds they had seen that week. I have no problem with the presentation; it was short, sweet, and prepared the kids to make their own clouds in class next week. But the preface continues to rankle me days later.
It is my steadfast belief that learning should be engaging and fun almost all the time. Interactive activities are one of the best ways to achieve this goal. I honestly believe that the Science teacher knows this, as at least 90% of her classes are chock-full of activities and experiments. But she, like many teachers, has been socialized to think learning isn’t fun: learning is accepting information. Paulo Freire, the inspiration for my love of education, explains this model:
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. (Chapter 2, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
Freire argues that not only is this education model ineffective, but that it hinders development and makes us less human by stifling our creativity and critical thinking. Instead, he proposes that we eliminate the false dichotomy of student/teacher and empower each other to think critically, recognizing that only through communication can human life hold meaning.
By telling our students, whether through our words or actions, that real learning only happens when they receive information from an instructor, we limit their potential and further the “school sucks” narrative. Worse, we insinuate that learning itself is boring and painful, paralyzing many children before they really even have a chance to engage in the learning process.