La Inmaculada, Freire, and Dewey: Kelsie Lamb

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Kelsie Lamb

Therefore, the lesson required input from the students based on their experiences. Underlying this lesson was the belief that students have knowledge and experience that are valuable and useful to their learning.

I ended my last blog post by talking a little bit about Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how his beliefs regarding the goals and methods of education relate to the marginalized areas we visited last week: Pamplona Alta and El Agustino. In contrast to these communities, our field placement for this week is at La Inmaculada, a Jesuit-run private school neighboring the Pamplona Alta. Despite this clear example of disparity and social inequality, I was excited by La Inmaculada. When we first entered the school’s gates, I thought we had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a zoo. However, our professor informed us that the deer, alligators, bears, jaguars, and other creatures all belonged to the school! In addition to the zoo, La Inmaculada has multiple fields and gymnasiums, playground equipment, well-decorated classrooms, and computer labs. La Inmaculada is a private school run by Jesuits. From our first two days at La Inmaculada, I can see how their goals and practices compare to the ideas of the seminal writings of both Paolo Freire and John Dewey.

Freire emphasizes the humanizing and liberating characteristics of a problem-posing education in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. La Inmaculada tuition is not cheap, which would indicate that many of its students come from privileged families and may not be included among Freire’s idea of “oppressed.” Still, I think that Freire would approve of some of the methodology and philosophy behind La Inmaculada. For example, when discussing education’s importance in the humanization of the oppressed, Freire writes, “The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity.” The mission of La Inmaculada includes “building bridges” between their students and students from the surrounding communities. Through student exchanges, service opportunities, and program planning, Inmaculada students are brought “face-to-face” with realities that look radically different from their own. Underlying these interactions is the promotion of love and solidarity and the hope that Inmaculada students will use their resources to become “men and women for others” — a truly Jesuit ideal.

Beyond La Inmaculada’s mission and goals, the actual educational practices I have observed also align with some of Freire’s ideas. For example, he strongly renounces the “banking model” of education, in which teacher simply deposit information into students. Instead, the curriculum should be a problem-based collaboration between students and teachers. The fourth grade English lessons I observed, while not problem-based, did mark a shift away from the banking, authoritarian model of education. The students were learning how to conjugate verbs in the simple past tense. Instead of dictating a list of regular and irregular verbs and drilling students, as would be typical in a banking model of education, my cooperating teacher framed this grammar concept around a discussion of what life and technology was like in the past. Therefore, the lesson required input from the students based on their experiences. Underlying this lesson was the belief that students have knowledge and experience that are valuable and useful to their learning. Further, my cooperating teacher is moving away from the authoritarian approach to teaching by developing personal relationships with his students: the students call him by his first name, they are comfortable asking questions, and he and his colleagues have lunch with their students. My cooperating teacher maintains respect and order, but also emphasizes learning as a partnership between the students and teacher. While I think Freire himself would have liked to see more authentic problem-based lessons that emphasize social structures, these are some examples of how Freirean ideas can be put into practice.

Like Freire, John Dewey, another influential educational writer, emphasizes the importance of children’s input. In his book School and Society, Dewey says that education in which students simply listen is not beneficial to the development of the child — studying lessons out of a book “marks dependency of one mind upon another,” he says. Like Freire, Dewey disapproves of the authoritarian model of education and emphasizes the importance of students’ input and experience. I think Dewey would be excited by the mission and practices of La Inmaculada. For example, the on-site zoo provides students with opportunities to have first-hand experiences with animals and important discussions surrounding preservation and animal rights. In addition, the zoo and other physical spaces on La Inmaculada’s campus provide students with the space to engage in different types of activities and experiences, which Dewey says is important. Further the English lessons I observed build upon students’ natural curiosity and prior knowledge, using the big question “How does life in the past compare to today?” to teach the past tense through discussions about evolving technology and the differing roles of boys and girls in the past. In Experience and Education, Dewey is careful to emphasize that experiences that promote individual, moral, and social growth are the experiences worth having. It is the job of the teacher to curate experiences that help students grow in these areas. Throughout their education, Inmaculada students have opportunities to engage in social-emotional learning. In addition, Dewey believes education should emphasize the human experience and build on it to help students understand their role in society. La Inmaculada does this by exposing students to the poverty that surrounds their schools and motivating them to become “agents of change.”

La Inmaculada’s beliefs about education reflect the growing movement away from traditional lecture, workbook-based curriculum towards curriculum that is more child-centered and inquiry-based. La Inmaculada places emphasis on the social, emotional, creative, and physical development of their students, showing that their ideas regarding the goals of education go beyond simply the traditional subjects of reading, writing, and math. Further, despite being a well-resourced school, La Inmaculada’s vision does not ignore the social disparities and economic inequalities that surround the school’s walls. Instead, they both expose their students to this reality and actively encourage them to get involved and bring about positive change. Beyond simply educating students who will go on to university and get good jobs, La Inmaculada hopes to promote socially-aware students that will use their advantages to help those around them.

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