Freire and the Classroom


by David Malpica -

Whenever I read Freire I feel inspired. And then I think about the realities of the classroom... How to implement problem posing education so that it is omni-present in the school environment? Is that even something that he proposed and imagined? Is there a place on earth where this is happening? How do they do it? Whenever I think of this I almost always conclude it is a matter of numbers. How to engage in dialogue with the student when there are twenty to thirty (a half if you are lucky) minds all eager to do so? What is a good amount of dialogue in proportion to independent work?


I “teach” at a progressive school with good resources and I can only engage a few students before I have a line of hands waving waiting for their questions to be answered. Sadly and dehumanizing, I feel it’s a “game of numbers”. I think about homeschooling and a most excellent student I met who came from that environment. Maybe they know what they’re doing: One or a few adults with hopefully no more than a handful of “students” frequently engaged in dialogue. In problem posing education where “Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers” (Freire, p. 80) and “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach” (Ibid.) there needs to be a balancing of numbers. Perhaps a mathematical relationship could be posed: as consciousness grows in the child there is an increased need for focused dialogue with each student and therefore more teachers are needed.


Another reality I face has to do with the student’s attitude towards learning. Students of course aren’t always in the lab. They spend most of their time in a regular classroom with well intentioned teachers who instruct them, hopefully in the best of traditional ways. Sometimes I reach a student who says they need help having shown little progress or who has reached a stopping point. The student then kindly (or persuasively) requests to be given the answer. I can’t ignore the student but I also can’t ignore the increasing line of hands behind it. I try to scaffold it as best I can but it feels like I am giving away the answer and what should feel like cooperation feels like something else. The next time I encounter the student they will be heavily dependent on me. I haven’t found good strategies to deal with this, so I request to you, dear reader, to please comment below.

Another dimension of these two problems has to do with what is called “behavior management”. In almost every space in the school there is a clearly communicated hierarchy between the teacher and their troupe of students. Miss-behavior is not tolerated and children are expected to follow instructions. Even at a “free-er” space like the lab, having this encompassing systemic culture, it is very hard to be radically different. And even if you’ve done what your colleagues recommend -which is to build a system of rules with the students- incidents happen where things could very easily get out of control and be dangerous. Unity is very fragile and can be shattered through the actions of an individual. If you have tips on this matter as well, please comment below.

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