Freire and Foucault on the Classroom Dynamic

In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison, Foucault analyzes the oppressive classroom dynamic that resembles that of a military infrastructure in which the authoritarian leaders “discipline” the young. This dynamic proposed in Foucault’s piece is similar to that of  Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 

Foucault frames this type of oppression through what he describes as “enclosure,” or isolation, which is simply a means of separating the students from the rest of society to ensure that they are under total control, a tactic that is accomplished through schools (141). “Enclosure” not only provides authorities and educators with a means of maintaining total control over the students, but it also establishes an environment dedicated to a specific type of work, thus increasing the overall productivity of the students.

This idea of isolating students as a means of control and productivity is furthered through the use of “rank[s]: the place one occupies in a classification,” which are essentially a more microscopic version of enclosure (145). By ranking kids and placing them into different classes, the teachers are able to target the students and further patrol them to ensure that they are being productive and following all of the rules. This is the ultimate form of oppression because it doesn’t allow the students any choice, it forces the student into different categories based on performance and that student is forever isolated in that group.

This format of education is similar to the “banking” style of education Freire presents in which the students are not in control of their education, but rather they are simply receptacles for the material presented by their teachers. In the “banking” style of education the students are enclosed in an environment where they are force-fed information that others deem important and there is almost nothing they can do to stop it.

By reading Foucault and Freire in symphony one is truly able to garner a more holistic understanding of the oppressive education system that so many authors critique. Foucault establishes a sound understanding of what the environment the students are taught in looks like, while Freire discusses what the learning process itself looks like. Absent one of the authors, one’s ability to understand the dynamics of the education system would certainly suffer. Do you think that the education system depicted by Freire and Foucault closely resembles what schools actually look like? I personally find their depiction a bit extreme because while I think teachers are certainly in control of what students learn, I don’t think of school as a prison, which is largely what Freire and Foucault depict it as.

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