Today, class, we will be discussing Paulo Freire’s “The Banking Concept of Education.” I will tell you what I know about this essay over the next hour or so, you will write it down, and then soon I will test you on what I know about this essay. We only have 60 minutes to talk about Freire’s work and his complex, revolutionary ideas, so ask your questions if you have them over the next hour. After this time, I will be moving on to other topics with or without you. Oh, and also note that over the next hour, I will be teaching in a way that meets the needs of the student with average abilities. If you are above average, you will likely be bored. If you are struggling, you will likely fall behind, become frustrated, and end up thinking this is all a stupid waste of time anyway–or maybe you’ll just end up feeling bad about yourself; either way, it is what it is. We’ve got stuff to cover and a schedule to keep.

And that’s how it often goes. I am a college teacher and have spent the past 30 years in a classroom of one form or another, as either a student, a teacher, or both. The model above is not an unfamiliar one. It is deeply rooted in tradition. In fairness, there are plenty of variations on this theme–some are far better than others–but, by and large, they amount to little more than variations. Even the most innovative teacher is limited in what he or she can do by an institutional system that operates under rigid time constraints, the pressures of meeting established “standards” or “learner outcomes” decided by the state, textbooks and syllabi that tell us what a class needs to learn and how quickly it needs to be learned (or, more accurately, “covered”) before advancing to the next grade or level.

“Daddy, why do birds make music? Can we go outside on a nature walk? No, no, I have a good idea. Let’s have a dance party? I’ll play the piano while you dance. I want to go back to the Children’s Garden and play with the outdoor instruments. They sound like birds. Can we go, Daddy? Can we?”

Our four-year-old son has a natural and insatiable curiosity that keeps him moving throughout the day with Mom and Dad trailing behind. His drive to know, to understand, to play with what is around him, to test his guesses about the world, and have a good time while doing it is natural. We don’t start each day with a lecture on the virtues of curiosity, of learning, of having and asking questions, of being interested. As a child, he just follows his whimsy, and he learns, he learns, he learns. He soaks it all in, and the connections he makes between all that he experiences, reads, and does are amazing. There is nothing more natural than a desire to learn. It’s only when learning becomes institutionalized that it becomes a chore–and schooling takes over learning. It is in school that children become bored, lazy, disinterested, or where they begin to define learning in terms of external validation. “Good boy, Johnny, you earn an A, and as a reward we will end class early. No more learning for today.”

Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” For our family, education is about living life. Learning is natural. We want to keep it that way–even if it means taking a break some Tuesday afternoon on a school day to lay on the grass in the backyard and wonder why butterflies flutter, clouds roll, and wind blows. We’ll have our work cut out for us on Wednesday, naturally, but we can take our time.

Some Musical Inspiration