Don't Get Caught with an Open Container Violation

In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire reveals and criticizes the “banking concept of education”.   When describing the “banking concept of education”, Freire metaphorically defines students as receptacles, or open containers of information. With regard to a female teacher, Freire writes, “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” [1]. In other words, Freire suggests that teachers make deposits of information, which the students obeyingly receive, memorize, and repeat. The more students regurgitate what has been deposited in them, the more successful they are. This is what I refer to as the "Open Container Violation" in education.

Unfortunately, this is the way that most public schools operate due to policies that enforce standardized testing of specific content knowledge as the only determining factor of measuring student achievement. The effect of this type of “drill and kill” instruction is when students are stuck in the middle of a problem, they don't try and figure out what makes sense to do next, rather, they try to remember what they are suppose to do.

This model for education is the complete opposite of how we should be facilitating learning in our classrooms. However, the transition to move away from this model is difficult for teachers because research shows that this type of instruction yields high test scores on the standardized tests. This is a problem because teachers are currently being evaluated on how well their students perform on these tests, so naturally most teachers are defaulting back to this type of instruction.

I agree with Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) in their pursuit of transforming teaching in every school.  They argue that achievement matters and so does evidence, but the relentlessly serious pursuit of increases in the basic comprehension skills that can be demonstrated on standardized tests should never overshadow what gives teaching its mystery and majesty, what brings children joyfully into classrooms, what introduces them to interests that will absorb them for the rest of their lives and what lifts them back up when their lives have taken a tumble. [2]

So, how can we as teachers reverse this “banking concept of education”? We need to provide our students with opportunities to ask their own questions, research their own answers, construct their own meaning, and apply their own learning and understanding.  In short, shift from a teacher-centered classroom, to a student-centered classroom.

And don't get caught with an Open Container Violation!

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  1. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. 
  2. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press, New York, NY 2012.