The Devil is in the Details

There exists a sort of idealism that emerges when one solves only the theoretical flaws in a system, leaving the practical concerns unaddressed. When discussing education reform, it is all too easy to get wrapped up in the apparent conceptual brilliance of a given plan, while failing to fully consider or describe the actual implementation. This issue seems to crop up in the writings of both Freire and Hooks, who expound at length about the problems with current student-teacher dichotomous learning but do not discuss the physical manifestation of their proposed solutions. Given that I have only read small sections of their works, I do not claim that the authors never address these problems. My concern instead lies with those who read about and seek to emulate their ideas. Engrossed in the theoretical appeal, readers may fail to consider the practical implications.

For example, the idealized educational systems proposed by Freire and Hooks seems to falter when applied to fields of objective knowledge. While consideration of personal values and spiritual significance may be of great importance when exploring disciplines like philosophy and social justice, it seems harder to apply these practices to areas such as chemistry and mathematics. Can we honestly claim that students are capable of significantly teaching their professors about calculus or solubility? Interesting tidbits of information could probably be shared, but rarely will the instructor be offered comprehensive insights or understanding by their pupils. And yet the fields of science and mathematics are almost certainly the worst perpetrators of “banking-system” education; the proposed solution, it seems, is least applicable to that which is most burdened.

If we are to address the issue of “oppression” in education–at least as described by Freire–then science and mathematics are the most oppressive domains of study. I would contend that this results from the overall irrelevance of the students’ personal values and opinions. It does not matter what you believe about calculus, the fundamental theorem will always hold true. Hooks speaks of spiritual fulfillment, but a science professor cannot (or at least should not) distort or omit facts to appease personal desires. If one wishes to become an engineer or researcher, then one must know the facts of reality–information that must often be memorized. This is not to say that these fields of study must be taught in a traditional lecture format, rather it’s that the students will need to be receptacles of their professor’s knowledge, oppressive or otherwise.

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