Poisonous Pedagogy- Learning Prohibited

Sibte Hasan

Poisonous pedagogy meanders silently through the social weft of a society and it produces people. This is supported by a curriculum introduced for formal education in schools. In the oppressed societies, curricula are still promoting pedagogies which were used in political system during medieval times. In these curriculum, not life but order and obedience are the highest values. These curricula promote a universal system of dogmatic teachings. According to this system the world is not perennially in the process of becoming but pre-ordained to become as such. In this way, the role of humankind in the development of its world is denied to nullify its capacity of critical thinking and creativity. This is the denial of the essence of being a human.

According to these curricula, as one cannot alter the pre-ordained world, students have to follow the pedagogy without raising any questions. This system is minutely elaborated and encompasses every sphere or level of the life of a person. He/she can interpret ‘truths’ but cannot change their fundamentals. In this perspective, children cannot relate with subject matter and concrete life. They would not be allowed to raise any questions. This is fundamentally a scholastic mode of knowledge and at a larger scale promotes polarization on sectarian beliefs. Education promoted through these curricula are dangerously irrelevant and hence, poisonous to life itself.

According to a living Italian philosopher, Agamben, humankind has no innate essence, it has potentiality for becoming. This potentiality can be transformed into actuality. This very potentiality actually differentiates humankind from animals. It is the learning which is instrumental in transforming potentiality into actuality. Becoming child, woman, and man and their gender is nothing but what one learns to be.

Learning process is like a ladder. It upgrades itself from lower (simple) to higher (complex) levels. This process culminates when someone acquires the capability of creating new ideas. From the initial stage of understanding to the ultimate level of creating, learning meanders through the stages of applying ideas in new situation, analysing a concept by breaking it into parts and critically evaluating a phenomenon on a given criterion. Only through pitching pertinent questions, we climb from lower to higher levels of learning.

According to Freire, cramming facts is not learning at all. In this process, child’s mind is used as a container. He explains that cramming is like depositing facts in the minds of children like depositing money in a bank. He describes this mode of ‘learning’ as banking system of education. Children reproduce memorized facts in examinations as we draw money from a bank through a cheque.

After this process, student’s mind remains empty, devoid of any learning. This ‘learning process’ is restricted to cramming or to the stage of comprehension at the optimum. Besides, students are discouraged to strive for higher level of learning. A student having competence of analysis or creativity is far better than the one who simply crams or understands. Generally, the examination bodies do not ask questions pertaining to the higher levels of learning. By asking such questions, brilliant students are discouraged and for that matter higher levels of learning are not sought after.

In non- prescriptive systems of education, students are encouraged to answer variety of questions pertaining to all levels of questions. Students, who answer higher levels of questions, get better credit than the ones who attempt questions pertaining to lower levels of learning.

In the ‘banking method of teaching’, information or any issue does not become problematic for children. They are just spectators or are supposed to abide by what has been prescribed to them to act upon. This is obedience. Raising questions is considered disobedience. Prescription demands unflinching loyalty to the rules and traditions set in that culture.

Freire pronounces this culture as the culture of oppression and silence. In such cultures, possibility of transforming the innate potentiality of becoming human being is denied and potential humans have been taught to become oppressor or the oppressed. Oppressor and the oppressed, both create a situation of oppression together. In the situation of oppression, oppressor and the oppressed both have been dehumanized.

This may be emphasised that humanity is not something a man born with; this has to be learned. So, the consciousness based upon universal dogmatic truths creates individuals suitable for authoritarian political systems in which a group of a few people is the ultimate beneficiary of the state resources and the majority is at their service.

Learning is a process which upgrades itself from known to unknown. This is a measureable process. Through assessment, learning is measured so that the smooth progression of individual students is ensured. Assessing students is basically an instrument to know what exactly children know and at what level of learning they stand at that the time of assessment. This is an on-going process to facilitate learning by providing feedback to educators and teachers. If the outcome of an assessment indicates that children do not know the way they should know, then remedial measures are taken.


Poisonous pedagogy promotes competition among children, learning is judged in comparison with other child / children. Development of individual interests or abilities of students are ignored. This is a way of generic mass production of people. This competitive system develops a deep sense of fear of failure. Individual is sacrificed at the altar of collectivity.

Nobody can claim that she/he knows everything. If someone does so then there is no need for education. Not knowing something does not provide a reason to humiliate or punish a child. This is a normal process of learning. In poisonous pedagogy, a specific fear of failure is created. While taking examinations, children face the fear of the unknown. Students are not judged what they know but on what they do not or should know. The examiners become perpetrators of fear which culminates in humiliation and sense of disappointment in the children in case of not getting through the examination or expected results. Some students are so disappointed that they commit suicide to evade humiliation.

Every religion has set a specific mode of reckoning as the ultimate goal of its believers. The success or failure in this reckoning determines individual salvation. Some religions profess the idea of transmigration; deeds of one life ultimately affect the coming life. However, through certain rituals under the guidance of priesthood class, redemption can be obtained. In Judeo-Christian religions, ultimate reckoning depends upon good deeds as defined by the clergy. After this, believers would go to hell or to paradise. However, under the guidance of the clergy, possibilities of favourable outcomes can be ensured. In either case, fear of reckoning is the ultimate strategy to control the believers.

This scheme of fear is a part of religious systems. In these religious systems, believers are supposed to follow the universal systems of values. For human beings, it is impossible to adhere to the universal values. This is beyond the human faculties and its social scope. If a person believes in these universal values but cannot fulfil their ideals, she/he feels guilty and sinful. According to Agamben, this feeling is the origin of Original Sin in Christianity. This means that as human beings are handicapped to attain these moral ideals, therefore they are perennially sinful. Only through the blessings of God, His Son and Holy Spirit, mediated by the clergy, salvation can be achieved. So human beings remain sinful whether they commit sin or not.

In totalitarian societies similar systems of values create high moral standards. These moral standards are representations of invisible crowd. They can be heroes, sages or saints. To detach people from their concrete lives and also to estrange them from themselves, strategies are developed by the oppressors in a close collaboration with the orthodox religious groups. Heroes and their heroism are constructed irrespective of their historical identities or truth. They are larger than life images in anachronistic standards of human endurance or other faculties. They are fictive and hence, create a fictive sensibility. This fact is known to everybody still; these values are pursued unsuccessfully to blame the believers. A human being is considered an eternal sinner. This is a strategy to keep people mentally captives. This breeds lack of self-assurance. One hesitates to undertake any uncustomary venture.

Moral law is an imperative; it has no other effect, no other finality than obedience. This is always the transcendent instance that determines the opposition of values (good-evil). On the contrary, true knowledge growing from the concrete life is always the imminent power that determines the qualitative difference of the mode of existence (good-bad). In societies where moral standards set by authorities cannot be met, behaviours are reduced to verbalism or just to the spectacle created on the fictive standards of piety.

This ensues moral policing and intolerance for any deviation. The human frailty before this high morality is not recognized. Human beings are seen in the perspective of high moral abstraction and hence rendered abstract entities in the larger scheme of things. This is the reason people living at the lower stratum of oppression for example; children, women and subordinates have to endure the oppression of high morality. Aligning behaviour with expected high moral values is not possible.

To reinforce moralism, fictitious stories are told. This creates a sense of guilt among the people who are unable to show such behaviour. Individually, everybody fully understands his/her incapacity to perform under the high moral standards. Therefore, they inverse their role from practitioner to a policeman at the public level to assert their fictitious social image. This is the origin of social hypocrisy leading towards the fossilization of a society.

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