I found my dog-eared, annotated copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed at my mother’s house. I hadn’t looked at it since I was a young teacher in the eighties. Again I understood Freire’s influence on my formation as a teacher and the foundation of the values that drive me to write about teacher education and evaluation in Mexico today. Freire worked with adults: peasants, urban workers, parents. Teacher evaluation is also adult education, but with huge consequences for the schooling of children.
How would a system for education and evaluation of teachers be if it were based on Friere’s thinking? Let’s imagine.
- “The banking concept of education” (making knowledge deposits in the supposedly empty minds of students) is generally evaluated through testing. Freire is against this, and in favor of problem-posing education involving social dialogue centered in praxis (action coupled with reflection). In today’s Mexico the most pressing problem to be explored by educators is how to engage students. This is rarely happening with traditional “banking-concept education”, and the result will continue to be that half of all students drop out of school before they graduate. Freire’s pedagogy stimulates intrinsic motivation through engagement of groups of students in solving problems which reflect their reality and “thematic universe”.
- Problem-based education and teacher evaluation require that teachers also be learners. “Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with student-teachers. 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.”
- Friere believed that we educate ourselves because we feel ourselves to be incomplete. A system for teacher evaluation must promote the formation of more complete and recursive educators who can work to close the gap between “what is” and “what should be” in the schools where they work. Using the imagination to visualize the school we want, and our hands, minds, and communicative capacities to learn together, with love, hopefully one day we can enjoy the school which today we can only imagine. Teachers should be valued in part for their contributions to the common effort to improve teaching and learning in their schools.
- Freire didn’t have today’s technology and social networks at his disposal. These facilitate access to problem-posing education for schools wherever there is Internet capability and sharing of problems and strategies among teachers in the same school and around the world.
What are the main barriers to this kind of “social evaluation” of teachers?
- Lack of resources for teacher education and professional development. Currently the government spends five times more on evaluation than on professional development, in spite of the fact that up to now evaluation has mostly been through multiple-choice testing, which is cheaper and easier than engaging educators in each school in groups for social learning (and paying for their time on task in the case of non-full-time teachers).
- Teachers feel they have to “cover the program”, which has become nearly impossible because the official curriculum has become unwieldy through regularly adding new objectives while rarely eliminating the out-of-date or merely trivial ones.
- Lack of teacher confidence in evaluators, colleagues, students, parents, themselves and, in truth, the entire political system. Social learning requires mutual trust.
In The Pedagogy of Hope, Freire refers to a lack of trust in the political system: “the democratization of shamelessness has taken over the country; impunity and the lack of respect for public service have deepened and become so generalized that the whole country has begun to stand up and protest.” He was talking about Brazil, not Mexico, but we recognize our reality in his words. However, Freire reaffirms his hope in the transformative power of educational dialogue: “without denying disillusion as something concrete and without denying the historical, economic and social causes which explain it, I cannot conceive of human existence and the necessary struggle to improve it without hope….”
In the end, we as educators don’t need anyone’s approval to start social learning through praxis (action and reflection). Neither teachers’ union nor education ministry officials can stop it. We educate ourselves, together with other learners, because it’s satisfying to learn together in order to help solve issues relevant to our physical and virtual communities. Of course we can invite the authorities to share and support our satisfactions. If they respond positively, we’ll be on the path to an authentic educational reform.