Teaching as an Ethical and Political Process: A Freirean Perspective
Teaching is often conceived in terms of methods and skills. When different approaches to teaching are discussed, the focus is commonly on teaching techniques; on the methods believed to be most effective in enabling students to learn. It is not always clear what students are expected to learn, but hopes of improved performance on standardised tests of student achievement usually figure prominently in such discussions. Considerable resources are devoted to researching and implementing schemes for producing better methods and better teaching. The hope is that not only individual test scores but national performances in surveys of international educational achievement (e.g., comparisons between OECD countries) will be boosted as a result of this investment of time, money and effort. The assumption is that if we change the methods, or ‘fix’ the teacher, or increase the funding, some of our most important educational problems will be solved. Teaching, on this view, becomes a largely technical process. It is taken as given that if we ‘get the methods right’ – and these may be not only methods of teaching, but also of training teachers – all will be well. This chapter offers an alternative view – one based on the work of the Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire. Freire was one of the most influential educationists of twentieth century, and his work continues to attract attention across the globe today. Freire argued that teaching is never merely about skills and methods. From a Freirean perspective, both teaching and learning are always non-neutral, political and ethical processes. For Freire, methods and skills are not unimportant, but their role in teaching must be considered in relation to a broader understanding of human beings and the world. The first part of this chapter outlines key elements of Freire’s educational philosophy, while the second considers some of the implications of Freirean theory for teacher education and teaching practice. The chapter concludes with brief reflections on strengths and weaknesses in Freire’s work, and with some final comments on the significance of teaching in changing lives.