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The People and Subjects that Paulo Freire was Fighting For: Composition and Education, the Poor and Oppressed

 

I've been working on a paper that examines the effects of standardized testing on secondary students. I'm most interested in essay responses and how they interfere with an expressivist pedagogy. I'm trying to argue that even though an essay prompt might have good intentions, it still caters to what Freire would call "the banking model of education" because the test is more constructivist--it doesn't allow students to display the ability to write in an authentic genre because the test itself becomes a genre. 

For example, in the state of Texas, ninth grade writers are asked to compose an expository piece inside of a box on 26 lines. Teachers in schools with socioeconomic deficits really stress over this piece of writing, and it can be taught throughout the school year. While students are being forced to respond to a prompt in a 26 line essay "that explains something" they are missing out on the joys of composing authentic, expressivist writings that explore current events, inner peace, self-exploration, or other topics of interest. 

For example, in one extremely poor urban school students were given a state prompt that asked them to explore and explain why it is important to trust someone. Most of these students had never trusted anyone and with good reason. In fact, someone that was trusting was considered foolish. The neighborhood consisted of mostly public housing and crime was a part of every student's life. Asking them to write about "trust" was a completely inappropriate topic, a topic that was basically foreign to them.

If English teachers are cultural workers with a mission to humanize and teach empathy, then how did they become aligned with this form of oppression? Is the energy, effort, and time wasted on teaching students to write to a standardized test really an act of oppression?

I think that Paulo Freire would say that we have lost our way, and that we have become the oppressor. If "oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization" as Freire says they are, then does the modern English teacher fit this mold? Freire makes a distinction between "systemized education" and "educational projects." Projects involve the student, while systemized education is a top down form of management that disregards the problem with oppression. 

Typically, standardized tests are equated with power, both financial and political, as profits are made and student needs are ignored. The standardized test is a neoliberal and far right conservative manifestation that touts educator accountability but fails to allow the pursuit of a problem-solving style pedagogy. Freire teaches us that:

"In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people's historicity as their starting point."

Why not understand the origins of our students? When people become "aware of their incompletion" then education becomes an "ongoing activity." Standardized testing symbolizes an oppressive barricade, a box much like the one the students are forced to write in. The test becomes an education completed, or in some cases it becomes an education never accomplished. 

Either way, both outcomes send our students the wrong message. 

 

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