What matters?

One think that should be remembered about trying to reform education is that members of institutions (every institution—but that would be another blog post) create both stated and unstated rules that seek to perpetuate the institution itself. Freire’s calling out of the concept of the “banking model” illustrates the way that model serves to reinforce sanctioned learning. When the instructors lecture, learning is received. This passive transfer actually does not endorse an education—instead it creates approved lines of “knowledge.”

English departments are a battleground for the idea of what is “acceptable” instruction via the “banking system.” Obviously, inclusion of works by non-white and non-dead authors threatens the bank. After all, we all know that the world will fall apart if students “never read a word of Chaucer” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304858104579264321265378790). Poor, struggling “English departments are now held so completely hostage to fashionable political and theoretical agendas that it is unlikely Shakespeare can qualify as an appropriate author” http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/29/us/at-colleges-sun-is-setting-on-shakespeare.html. Yes, yes, they all have value—Chaucer is funny and writes about real people. Shakespeare gave us a bazillion idioms, and Milton is epic, but so is Star Wars.
Freire writes that students must deal with “problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will fell increasingly challenges and obliged to respond to that challenge (81).” I don’t think traditional banking methods work anymore, and I don’t understand why the pushback is concentrated in the humanities. After all, if I taught a class on computer programming on Fortran, but I would not teach the language past 1966 (that should be considered ancient enough to equal Shakespeare), I would be derided.
Q1: Does the “banking” metaphor extend further? Are these ideas “owned” but the Institution of Culture? Are the ideas loaned out on credit to students? What if there is an intellectual bankruptcy? How can the institution get the ideas back?
Q2: What would a new “canon” look like? Who would you want “everyone” to read?

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One thought on “What matters?

  1. While you didn’t talk about it directly in this post, I see you also invoking the positions of the cultural studies theorists when you talk about such issues as canon and the tensions between poetics and rhetorics in English departments (not everywhere, but still in many spaces). But I do think the questions of content and active learning plague and shape higher education still. I can see this in my work with general education, as we try to convert people to thinking about orienting their courses toward outcomes (what the students would actually know or do when they leave) instead of toward coverage (what I present to the students over the 16 weeks, presuming they would learn it). I stand on the side of trying to provide or help students locate the information they need for tasks but that isn’t an abandonment of delivering knowledge to students. It’s more, in my estimation, about finding ways to have students read, interact with, question, and use the knowledge of the field. I appreciate the later clarifications of critical pedagogy that remind teachers that we can’t entirely shed our authority, but we can become more teacher-student student-teacher like in our dialogue and interactions.

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