While I learned to memorize and recite the information deposited in my mind in grade school, it wasn’t really an education in any sense of the word. I hadn’t been taught to establish any kind of authority of my own in the classroom or within anything written for class. I did what Janet did, according to Penrose and Geisler and relied on the “information-transfer model” which “leaves little room for provisional or hypothetical thinking” (516). Everything I wrote was summary or agreeing with something the teacher had said in class – students weren’t encouraged to think in grade school, but rather to memorize and recite.
My rebellion against absolute classroom authority, or the “banking” system of teaching I was buying into stopped in the sixth grade when I learned to stop thinking of teachers as unquestionable in their authority and found that they were human and, in fact, were fallible. Andrea A. Lunsford, in “Refiguring Classroom Authority,” recognizes that students “with almost no exceptions….associated the word authority with…police, principals, parents, teachers, bosses, government officials, dictators (one student said flatly, ‘authority is Adolf Hitler’), [and] fathers” and that “authority calls up the image of a ‘high strung man giving me directions,” or “a man who tells you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it” (71). My teacher in the sixth grade as an extreme example of that fearful form of authority and embodied Freire’s teacher in his description of the banking system of education in which “a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students)” creates a “lifeless and petrified” classroom (243).
Mrs. Gee, my sixth grade teacher, was stern, mean, talked down to students, and didn’t foster a sense that any of her students were there to “be listened to and heard,” as Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs state is imperative in creating authority (578). Instead, I was exposed to a “banking approach…teacher who [did] not realize that [she was] serving only to dehumanize” her students (Freire 246). Questions about stories read for assignments, questions on book reports, and questions on graded papers were shot down automatically with a “because I am the teacher and I say so,” or “you wouldn’t understand so don’t ask.”
Instead of sitting with the class and answering any questions that may have popped up while we watched Bill Nye the Science Guy videos in class, she would be outside on the phone to her boyfriend. Instead of leading our classroom to the lunch line, as was customary for all teachers in the school, she let the teacher next door do it while she went off campus for lunch. Instead of encouraging students to be passionate and playful, she often hushed us at recess and told us to play away from her because she always had a headache. She never justified a grade on a paper nor did she tell us ways in which we could improve.
This made me angry. Why weren’t my questions valid? Why didn’t I deserve an answer? Why did this teacher meet inquiry with such a negative reaction? Why wasn’t she the tender kind of absolute authority I had known with my other teachers? While this approach may work with younger kids, I was no longer interested in a “just because I say so” type of answer. I wanted to know why and I wanted someone who treated my thoughts and opinions as valid. I wanted someone who cared and listened.
Maybe it was because the teachers I had had before Mrs. Gee were kind and motherly and she was not, or perhaps it was because she was particularly crass in her replies to her students and made her students feel as if they weren’t deserving of her attention, but, whatever the reason, I didn’t listen to her and questioned things she taught us all the time – which earned me multiple trips to the principal’s office for being a disruptive student. Freire predicted this reaction in his article when he wrote, “sooner or later, these contradictions may lead formerly passive students to turn against their domestication and the attempts to domesticate reality” (246).
I had gone from a domesticated student to one that no longer trusted the authority before me to be absolute, and there was no turning back.
– Amanda Riggle
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.