Systematic constraints as “structure” for learning

Foucault said that the ideas we think are benign are often the most dangerous. If students accept and believe that the constraints we build around them (i.e. the curriculum) are beneficial for scaffolding their learning they will always be passive. Freire might say that we are oppressing – as opposed to liberating – them by providing this structure.

The structured system convinces students that the structure is “right” and that they have a place within it. Success is determined by the student’s ability to navigate through the structure. However, this doesn’t lead to questioning of the system, or even questioning within the system. For example, we build a course that “supports self-directed learning” but we structure the course so that all engagement happens within an LMS. When we say “self-directed” we actually mean “the content is here for students to browse independently”.

If we really mean to liberate students by enabling self-directed learning we would remove the constraints entirely and encourage students to find their own content by asking their own questions.

Action research as liberation

"Paulo Freire" by Slobodan Dimitrov - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Kemmis & Mctaggert’s (1990) definition of action research is that it is about improving the lives of people through transformation. It is an emancipatory approach to the research process that does as much for the participants as for the researchers. I’m busy reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, so the idea of a research process in the educational context as being a form of emancipation for students stands out. The idea that, through trying to learn more about learning and teaching, we can improve both, sits well with me.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)