Discussing Freire With Friends at a Coffee Shop

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Discussing Freire

Discussing Freire With Friends at a Coffee Shop
A. D.: Hey William, hi bell, hi Jacqueline, thanks for meeting with me on such short notice, I need some help sorting out my thoughts on educational philosophy. Can I get any of you some coffee?

No? So as I told you all on the phone, I need some help constructing my philosophy of teaching and was hoping we could talk it through a little. When I began thinking about my developing teaching philosophy, I kept returning to the themes of inquiry, self-discovery and relationship building. To me, these ideas are central to human growth and will help my students become responsible, thoughtful human beings. With these topics in mind, I feel that my burgeoning teaching philosophy aligns with Paulo Freire’s work. In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire states, “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, men cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”1 To be human is to inquire and create. The purpose of teaching is to provide students the tools to unlock creativity and discover personal success at the local and/or global level. By teaching and espousing ideals of inquiry, self-discovery and relationship building, I hope to show my students how to contribute in the world through their passions – be it in business, the arts, education, politics, etc. – in a meaningful way. Students must feel confident in their abilities. Along these lines, it is my job as a teacher to prepare my students to be competent and self-sufficient in our increasingly changing world. This last bit certainly helps me get a clearer sense of what you value in regard to the purpose of education. William, what do you think the purpose of education is?

W. Bennett: First, teach our children how to speak, write, read, think, and count correctly; and second, help them to develop reliable standards of rights and wrong that will guide them through life.2

AD: I’m not sure I agree with everything you just said. What do you mean by “think correctly?”

WB: George Orwell somewhere said that often it is the first duty of intelligent men to restate the obvious. So let me aspire to suggest the shape of the obvious, starting with the humanities in our schools. It is important to know what justice is, what courage is. It is important to know what is noble and what is base. It is important to know what deserves to be defended…3

AD: Yes there are important qualities to help students discover such as kindness, compassion and respect for all people, but I think that there is a great cost to explicitly defining character. As a teacher, it is not my place to manufacture thought and character ideals like processed Twinkies for my students to gobble up. A nice metaphor! I feel that students learn best when they are provided with impetus to explore and search for understanding with one another, and within the complexities of this world. What do you think Jacqueline?

J. Brooks: Helping students or groups of students to clarify for themselves the nature of their own questions, to pose their questions in terms they can pursue, and to interpret the results in light of other knowledge they have generated is the teacher’s main task.4    

AD: Exactly! In my mind creating relevant curriculum is the impetus for students! That is one reason I am drawn to the workshop model for my language arts classes. The students’ choice inherent in the workshop model, such as choice for what book to read and what project to do helps foster learning. Including examples from your future classroom helps me see your philosophy taking shape. Making instructional material come to life in a tangible way is essential for helping students discover their passions – and that is the key to growing as a student and as a human. Passion jump-starts the process for students to develop a sense of self, a sense of place and a desire to learn because suddenly they have a stake in their education.

bell hooks: [Yet] teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.5

AD: It is important for both the teacher and students to grow together in understanding. There must be a strong sense of reciprocity between the teacher and students in class. Why do you think this is the case? Can you learn without reciprocity? How might the quality of learning be different in either case? In my Equity course, our textbook stated, “It is impossible, in fact, to understand other people without first understanding yourself and how your perspective shapes how you interpret others.”6 What I like about this approach and what you said, bell, is that student empowerment comes from a teacher’s ability to open themselves to new understanding and knowledge. A term Freire uses is, education as the practice of freedom, which I believe is apt in the context of teacher self-actualization.

bh: When education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess. Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.7

JB: When students work with adults who continue to view themselves as learners, who ask questions with which they themselves still grapple, who are willing and able to alter both content and practice in the pursuit of meaning, and who treat students and their endeavors as works in progress, not finished products, students are more likely to demonstrate these characteristics themselves.8

AD: What I hear you saying Jacqueline, is that teachers must be inquisitive and collaborate with their students throughout the learning process. I want to be a teacher who helps my students discover and grow as learners and as humans. I identify a great deal with constructivist teaching methods, and inquiry-based learning techniques. I also like Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and would like to integrate his teaching practices into my own instruction. I believe that I can develop successful and meaningful multiple intelligence and constructivist theory into the workshop model, especially because of my freedom to choose literature, but I want to understand more about how to motivate students and help them develop their own passions in my class. I agree that the workshop model is very compatible with these approaches.

WB: Surely one of our highest charges in teaching is to teach what we ourselves have loved…If we remove this kind of content from our courses, we take away the very things that make students love to be students.9

bh: When we bring our passion to the classroom our collective passion comes together, and there is often an emotional response, one that can overwhelm.10

AD: Passion I can see is extremely important, but even passionate teachers fall into the “trap” of teaching through what Freire terms The Banking System of Education. The commoditization of students can be very dangerous as Freire attests, so how do I teach passionately and show students that I value their ideas, passions and aspirations, especially in the constricting contexts of excessive standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind Act? I think it is especially important to work towards that goal as testing and NCLB can certainly drain the life out of education.

bh: I enter the classroom with the assumption that we must build “community” in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual rigor…I think that a feeling of community creates a sense that there is shared commitment and a common good that binds us. What we all ideally share is the desire to learn – to receive actively knowledge that enhances our intellectual development and our capacity to live more fully in the world.11 The vast majority of [my] professors lacked basic communication skills, they were not self-actualized, and they often used the classroom to enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power.12

AD: Community is very important to me in my class. Freire states that teachers, “often turn students “into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge”.13 I think that my students could benefit greatly from a community approach to education. Community espouses important life-long qualities such as teamwork, compassion and respect. I know that community in the class is sometimes difficult to create. However, I feel that through creating positive relationships with my students, and doing things like inviting students to eat lunch with me, going to school events such as concerts and sports games, and being open with my students, will build a sense of community in my classroom. I think the greatest challenge will not be between you and students but between students themselves. How do you get them to feel that they are connected and valuable to each other?

bh: [but] how deeply ingrained is the student perception that professors can be and should be dictators... The habit of repression is the norm.14

AD: As a teacher, that is a cycle I wish to break. I know that “traditional” modes of teaching are inescapable to a degree, but I feel the need to address issues of equity and diversity in my classroom through building a strong sense of community. I believe that students benefit from community in their education because it gives them a sense that they are not alone, that their teacher and classmates are “in it” with them. Additionally, as an English Language Arts teacher, I will have freedom to chose literature that provides multiple points of view, that espouses diversity and that gives my students a structural foundation to deal with our exponentially globalizing world, especially when teaching through the workshop model. In Landscapes of Learning, Maxine Greene writes of her own choices of literature stating, “I would approach my choices in philosophy, criticism, and psychology in the same fashion: those works that engage people in posing questions with respect to their own projects, their own life situations.”15 I consider such titles as Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Beloved by Toni Morrison as seminal works integral to my goals as a teacher and the diversity of my students. In the workshop model, I could also introduce a wide range of books that fit my students’ reading levels and interests; from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer to Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut; I could use choice to engage my students in the lessons and help make the material come alive. With choice, students are often more invested in their learning. Yet, I am concerned about students being apathetic; I want my students to gain knowledge and grow both as learners and as humans. How do I enable that growth?

bh: The professor must genuinely value everyone’s presence. There must be an ongoing recognition that everyone influences the classroom dynamic, that everyone contributes. These contributions are resources. Used constructively they enhance the capacity of any class to create an open learning environment.16

AD: I hadn’t thought of students’ input in this way, but I understand how important it is in both the learning process and in developing community in the classroom. So often I feel that teachers do not truly listen to their students. I can see how learners are empowered through recognition of their voice, it gives them a reason to learn and to connect with the material taught and discussed.

JB: We are all responsible for our own learning. The teacher’s responsibility is to create educational environments that permit students to assume the responsibility that is rightfully and naturally theirs.17

bh: The bottom-line assumption has to be that everyone in the classroom is able to act responsibly. That has to be the starting point – that we are able to act responsibly together to create a learning environment… All too often we have been trained as professors to assume students are not capable of acting responsibly, that if we don’t exert control over them, then there’s just going to be mayhem.18  

AD: I like your concept of responsibility because by valuing student voice, students feel that they have a say in their learning, they are given the power to be in control of their education. When I consider student responsibility, it appears to be a long road toward the ideal community-based, responsible classroom. I feel like I would need to construct an effective classroom management strategy to help guide my students toward a community-directed, successful learning environment. For instance, if I had a student that constantly acted out, or was disrespectful, or who did not “buy in” to the class community, I would need a plan to address the student. I identify with the classroom management theorist Haim Ginott primarily because of his constructivist tendencies. His focus on communication and the importance of positive relationships is central to my philosophies of classroom management and teaching. I would employ his practices of communication and consistent expectations of respect and accountability to help engage students who acted out or were disengaged in my class. As you note here, it is important to consider all aspects of your teaching, including the management, as factors in creating community and a positive learning environment.

As a teacher, I want to be there to help my students creatively build their own knowledge and desire to learn. I want to be a collaborative instructor who gives my students choice in their learning, and who values their individual voice. Community is also very important to me and I will strive to foster a strong sense of teamwork, respect and compassion in my learning environment. My teaching philosophy is centered upon inquiry, self-discovery and building relationships. I believe that if I actively nurture and strengthen these themes, my students will be able to grow, engage more fully in their learning, and approach self-actualization. Thank you all so much for talking with me, I feel a lot better about the paper I have to write for Dr. Rhine. Do any of you need a ride home?


Bennett, William J. (1989). Our Children and Our Country. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Brooks, Jacqueline G. and Martin G. Brooks. (2001). The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pretence-Hall Inc.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Grant, Carl A. and Christine E. Sleeter. (2011). Doing Multicultural Education For Achievement and Equity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Greene, Maxine. (1978). Landscapes of Learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.
Scoring Guide




Completely addresses each of the three (or four) questions. Considers implications of answers to the questions on their teaching and upon their students. Addresses issues that extend beyond the ideas incorporated in the questions.

(Exceeds expectations)

You address each question thoughtfully and communicate your philosophy in a very creative way. I appreciate how you explore multiple facets of each question through your conversational style.

Completely addresses each of the three questions and addresses implications of answers to the questions on their teaching and upon their students. The paper demonstrates understanding of major concepts, assumptions, debates, processes of inquiry, and ways of knowing that are central to the discipline (s) he or she teaches (1.11). The candidate understands that students' physical, social, emotional, moral and cognitive development may be individually variable. They know how this may influence learning and how to address these factors when making instructional decisions (2.12). The paper demonstrates a disposition towards flexibility and reciprocity in the teaching process as necessary for adapting instruction to student responses, ideas, and needs (4.22). The candidate understands how factors in the students’ environment outside of school may influence students’ life and learning. (10.12).

(Meets expectations)

Partially addresses some or all of the questions. Discusses some implications of answers to the questions on their teaching and upon their students.

(Needs development)




Compares and contrasts own theories of education with those of at least three other educational philosophers. Integrates readings from theorists throughout each of the four questions. Provides thoughtful examples which support each of their comparisons. Includes outside sources that are relevant to the paper.

(Exceeds expectations)

You use the readings from class as well as some outside of class to explore your philosophy with insight and thoughtful analysis. I loved the conversational approach as a means of examining multiple perspectives on your vision for your students.

Compares and contrasts own theories of education with some other educational philosophers on most of the questions. Provides examples which support their comparisons. The paper demonstrates an understanding of how learning occurs--how students construct knowledge, acquire skills, and develop habits of mind. The paper discusses instructional strategies that promote student learning. The candidate understands how students' learning is influenced by individual experiences, talents, and prior learning, as well as language, culture, family, economic conditions, and community values (3.14). The candidate understands the cognitive processes associated with various kinds of learning and how these processes can be stimulated through various instructional strategies (e.g. cooperative learning, direct instruction, discovery learning, inquiry, and interdisciplinary instruction)(4.11).

(Meets expectations)

Provides own theories of education and occasionally includes or doesn’t include reference to the ideas of an educational philosopher.

(Needs development)




Typed paper is proof-read for spelling, typographical, and grammatical errors. Thought is presented logically and makes a cohesive argument for their perspective of education. Logic and presentation exceeds expectations.

(Exceeds expectations)

Well done! You certainly exceeded expectations on this paper.

Minor errors exist. Thought is presented logically and makes a cohesive argument for their perspective of education.

(Meets expectations)

Minor to major errors exist in spelling and grammar. A number of typographical errors. Thought is difficult to follow.

(Needs development)

*Numbers refer to INTASC Principles identified on the Educational Psychology syllabus

15/15: A 12/15: B 9/15: C Below: Not passing
GRADE: 15/15 A


Thanks for taking a bit of a risk and going outside the box on this paper. It turned into an enjoyable and thoughtful exploration of your hopes and dreams for your students. I wish you all the best in trying to bring it to life over the course of the next year and beyond. I’d be interested in using your paper as a model in the future. Please let me know if that is okay. I’ll look forward to seeing you put this philosophy into action!

1 Freire, 1970, p.58

2 Bennett, 1989 p.9

3 Bennett, 1989 p.16

4 Brooks, 2001, p.30

5 hooks, 1994, p.9

6 Grant, 2011, p.10

7 hooks, 1994, p.21

8 Brooks, 2001, p.10

9 Bennett, 1989 p.16

10 hooks, 1994, p.155

11 hooks, 1994, p.40

12 hooks, 1994, p.5

13 Freire, 1970, p.58

14 hooks 1994, p.147

15 Greene, 1978, p.277

16 hooks, 1994, p.8

17 Brooks, 2001 p.49

18 hooks, 1994, p.152

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