Gaining Independence Through Education
Each and every one of us has been through, or is going through some sort of an educational system. Whether it is public or private, dependent or independent, academic or trade, teachers have taught us something of educational value. Does an education experience affect us, and if so, how does the experience change and reshape us as students and teachers? In this essay I plan to compare and contrast different educational settings in pre-school, elementary school and high school. I will include how teachers and students communicate with each other while in certain educational environments, and determine the type of interaction that is needed to promote independent thinking. These comparisons will be the basis for why education, in my opinion, should promote independent thought.
According to Freire, "Education is the practice of freedom - as opposed to education as the practice of domination" (266). Our first educational experience is based on this theory of freedom. A pre-school has one of the most 'free' settings. It is a place where children are able to express creativity and ownership. The classroom is usually colorful and decorated with artifacts that the children have found or made and each child has a cubby to call his or her very own. And generally, there is soft music filtering the air. The teachers are dressed casually, which makes for a comfortable relationship not only between the children and teacher, but between the parent and teacher as well. The teachers are also patient, kind and attentive to the children's needs and requests, and have little problem handing out hugs and smiles.
Because of this inviting environment, these young students are able to express their individuality through a number of activities such as painting, singing, digging, eating, reading, counting, or napping. They have the choice to choose red or blue, big or small, one or two. It is through these different choices that they are able to create an identity for themselves and it identity that gives children personal strength, understanding, and self-respect. The pre-schoolers then graduate and move onto a primary school with a simple understanding of their newly found identity and freedom.
An elementary educational experience can either further enhance a student's sense of identity, or slowly demolish it. In order to increase the students' independence, the classroom needs to be inviting for everyone: the teacher, students and parents. If the classroom makes a student feel uncomfortable, say his or her work is not desplayed because it lacks perfection, the student will react in a negative way. But, if the classroom equally favors each child, the feeling of inferiority will subside, and the feeling of belonging will arise. Each student needs that sense of belonging in order to excel and to express him or herself.
In addition to the surroundings of the classroom, the teachers can also affect the students both negatively and positively. If the teachers promote a more conservative environment, they will do most of the talking and leave little time for class discussion or participation. This style of teaching will damage children's ability to think for themselves and put a constraint on the relationship between the teachers and their students. How can teachers really get to know their students if there is no or little time for interaction? In contrast, if teachers promote a more liberal environment the curriculum will include the students' personal opinions and may involve some critical thinking or "hands-on" activities. The teachers and students are then able to form a connection through communication and interaction, which in return allows for a less stressful environment that invites freethinking. Free thinking elementary students will have the ability to both listen to and question teachers as they move onto a secondary education.
Like an elementary education, a high school education can further push students to independence or pull them to dependence. High schools, in my opinion, have the most persuasive settings of all educational systems. Similar to primary teachers' backgrounds, secondary teachers' backgrounds have great importance when dealing with their students and the issue of independent thought. Teachers need to invite the voice of their students into class discussions, and recognize the different personalities and opinions that arise from the discussions. Secondary teachers are more likely to acknowledge just their favorite students, based solely on performance or personality, which may cause non-favorite students to react negatively. This subtle action on the teachers' part may be uplifting for the students getting all the attention, but for the others, a sense of exclusion can be formed. Students that feel secluded from the rest of the class may stop trying, and possibly stop attending class altogether. info
In theory, a high school student is expected to excel in academics, social position, economic status and athletic ability. Although the classroom plays some importance in a high school experience, non-related educational factors such as popularity, money, appearances, and sports have an immense impact on students and their ability to think for themselves. This pressure can be a lot to handle for high school students, especially if their prior educational experiences have been constricted. If the students are unable to think for themselves, they will be easily swayed into the competition of these non-related educational factors, which in return will force students into dependent thought. Dependent thinking high school students will not question authority, peers, or themselves and therefore are destined to suppression. But, if the students are able to think for themselves, they should be able to listen, question, and discuss with independent thought. These skills will better prepare students for college, and quite possibly the "real world." Or, as Freire would say, "The[se] students [...] are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher[s]" (266).
"A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character" (259). Sharing these narrating and auditory qualities will produce a positive, more independent person. However, if teachers do the narrating and students do the listening, the interaction between them is limited and reserved. This method of thinking will only produce dependent, more constricted people. Therefore, in my opinion, to fully understand independence and the importance of self-thought, education must promote free thought.
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