In Mary Louise Pratt s Arts of the Contact Zone she speaks of a course at the school at which she works entitled Cultures, Ideas, Values. This course used, what is in ways, a radical new approach to teaching the schools Western-culture requirement. The course was designed to function as a contact zone.
I use this term to refer to social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today.More simply, a contact zone is the convergence of two or more parties in which differing ideas and opinions are conveyed and considered by all sides. Throughout history, the classroom environment would not be considered an ideal contact zone. The most commonly used method of teaching has been what Paulo Freire wrote of as banking education.
Freire describes this concept as follows: Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. (Freire 348) Banking education, in other words, is a process in which the teacher spouts out information and the students quietly learn that information without bringing into the mix their own ideas and opinions on whatever it may be that is being taught. Freire, however has a solution to the problem that he sees banking education to be.
This solution is problem-posing education, an approach to teaching that is very similar to a contact zone.The problem-posing method does not dichotomize the activity of the teacher-student: she is not cognitive at one point and narrative at another. She is always cognitive, whether preparing a project or engaging in dialogue with the students. (Freire 354) The problem-posing approach to teaching allows the students to express their own ideas and opinions.
The teacher no longer deposites information into the students brains but rather becomes one side of a contact zone in which both teacher and student input are of equal importance.It is because of the similarities between the contact zone method of teaching applied to the teaching of the Cultures, Ideas, Values class and the concept of problem-posing that Feire would most likely appreciate the structure, or lack thereof, of this class. It is my opinion that the solutions that Pratt and Freire verbalize as contact zones and problem-posing encourage critical thinking. This encouragement of critical thinking is a very important and positive step that modern education seems to be taking in the schooling of a more conscious breed of students and teachers.
Critical thinking has not always been a major part of education. It has, in fact, been neglected throughout history in the form of banking education. Banking education, a problem recognized by both Freire and Pratt, makes automatons out of individuals. It attempts to teach students as if they are a homogeneous group.
It attempts to program them to be the same model robot. What Pratt experienced in being involved in the problem-posing course Cultures, Ideas, Values was the successful application of the concept of a contact zone to a classroom environment.The classroom functioned not like a homogeneous community or a horizontal alliance but like a contact zone. (Pratt 594) The class became ground zero for the bombs of ideas and opinions that students of various cultural origin and background would drop.
It was the most exciting teaching we had ever done, and also the hardest. We were struck, for example, at how anomalous the formal lecture became in a contact zone (Pratt 594) As it would be expected, when a teacher has to take into consideration the input of an entire class of students, his or her job becomes more difficult.The achievement of a more conscious student is not an easy task for student or teacher. It is for this reason I believe that the oppressive methods of teaching used throughout history (although intentional in some cases) have been used for the most part simply because they are the easiest ways to give the masses some kind of education.
Teachers throughout history have followed guidelines that make there job fairly easy. In Matt Groening s cartoon Life in Hell a student asks such questions of himself as Why is school run like a jail? and Why are there so many stupid rules?The answer to both of these questions is: because it s easier for the teacher. The task of schooling a more conscious breed of student is by no means a simple one. That is, perhaps, why it hasn t been done on any great scale in the past.
The problem that Freire sees as banking education has been kept alive by the fact that it is easy. Educators are just now beginning to see that the price to be paid for their laziness is an unconscious breed of student: incapable of critical thinking and robbed of their individuality. Pratt, among other educators, is beginning to recognize this problem.Furthermore, they have applied an alternative method of teaching that encourages critical thinking and individuality.
This method, whether called problem-posing or the contact zone encourages students to take more of a role in their own education then ever before. The class with which Pratt was involved, Cultures, Ideas, Values, proves that problem-posing and the contact zone can work in education. It proves that with more effort on the part of educators students can begin to gain a consciousness that throughout history has been denied to them.