Creating Change-makers Through Inquiry

Paolo Freire’s influential text, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” still holds the same truth and applicability to our modern education system as it did at its time of writing. This article explores the new relevance and urgency Freire’s work has taken within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, and begs the question, “How can education be used to enforce equity, rather than uphold systems of injustice?”

Written by Ishani Kejriwal, Curriculum Consultant at Packback

“Awaken and fuel lifelong curiosity in every student.”

These nine words have been a guiding principle for everything done at Packback. Packback strives to center curiosity in the classroom through inquiry-driven student discussion while making sure that professors also are able to efficiently manage their time. 

But why curiosity? 

There’s been a lot of research done on the importance of students asking questions in the classroom. Asking questions is considered a key aspect of increasing engagement in the class and a way to empower students to take ownership of their own learning, eventually leading to better learning outcomes.

But the power of asking questions and being curious is of even greater importance than just improved student outcomes and better student engagement; in fact, inquiry is the key factor to make sure that education is not used as a tool to ensure conformity but rather one that encourages transformation, both within the student and in the society in which the student learns and lives.

After the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in the media and the abundance of anti-racism resources being shared on social media, there is no better time to critically analyze the way that education has been a tool of conformity and a tool for liberation throughout history. One text that has been particularly impactful in exploring this issue has been Paolo Freire’s, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

In particular, Freire criticizes a form of pedagogy that he calls the “banking model of education.” In this form of education, knowledge is a one-way delivery in which the teacher is essentially “depositing” information into students, who are considered to be empty vessels. This model of education leaves no room for questions. Freire goes a step further to apply the microcosm of this classroom to the way that society as a whole is built: those in power create a dominant narrative that everyone just learns to accept. The oppressors are able to keep the oppressed complacent in the system by ensuring that the oppressed never learn that there may be another way and never question why things are how they are.

By contrast, Freire believes both society and the classroom should resemble something closer to what he calls the “problem-posing model.” This model functions because it centers curiosity. Rather than accept that the facts are the facts, students want to know why things are the way they are and ask the questions that critically analyze the dominant narrative of the class. The problem-posing model of education gives the students who may have traditionally been left out of the dominant narrative a voice in their education, and then they are able to become empowered to question the power structures in their daily lives and society around them.

If we want to enable the students of today to become the change-makers of tomorrow, we have to give them a voice in their own education. We have to let them realize that their curiosity and their questions are as deeply important as the content they are learning, and we need to give power to what each student can teach their peers and their professor. It is essential in making sure that students don’t defend the status quo, and it is necessary to create students who are able to say “Wait! It doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been” and truly transform the world as we see it. 

Centering student curiosity may be uncomfortable and will require the professor to give up some of the control over their classroom. However, the stakes for creating space for students to practice inquiry have never been higher. 

About the author: Ishani Kejriwal is currently a Curriculum Consultant at Packback. Her current role involves consulting professors on pedagogy-driven implementation of online discussions in their courses. Before starting at Packback, she studied Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, which brought her into contact with many foundational texts of critical pedagogy. 

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