I keep reflecting on Teemu’s recent comment…
The aim of reaching everyone is immoral. It seems to be a project of expanding the banking concept of education where “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.”
Going back several blog posts to the original statement, it seems that much of the stir was caused by my (perhaps unfortunate) use of the word “education.” Some will say that “education” is evil because it is traditionally forced on people who don’t want it by people who feel like they need it.
I want to look at the components of the statement “the aim of reaching everyone is immoral” in this context.
Aiming: striving, working toward, trying, goal orientation. For me, this embodies what I have called the “moral imperative” of instructional designers; the responsibility I believe we all have. We are empowered to an almost ridiculous degree. Of course, the quesiton is – empowered to do what? Responsible to do what? To help.
Reach: This word implies an effort on my part – not that I wait until someone who needs a hand shows up on my doorstep, but that I actively seek people who need help and ways to help them. Now, I expect that some may take issue with my use of the word “help.” They’ll say that it implies that I am in a position of power in “giving” the help and that the “receiver” is in a position of weakness; they will say that this is banking education.
To this criticism of helping as banking, I first say, YES. That is the definition of help – that one needs it, and another gives it. Everyone of us frequently find ourselves in situations where we need to rely on other people. This includes everything from moving a piece of furniture too heavy for a certain individual to carry, to mastering complex concepts in pure mathematics that are just plain beyond a certain individual’s capacity to grasp alone. We all need help occasionally – physical, mental, emotional, and otherwise. Anyone who denies this would have to be kidding themself. From the moment we are born (and especially in that moment) we rely on Others. I don’t think that I act immorally when I cut my neighbor’s yard when his ankle is sprained. Just the opposite.
How are we to receive help if an Other will not provide it? “Oh, I can see that you’re struggling terribly to move water from one side of your village to the other. However, because I would find it immoral to place myself in a position of power relative to you, I will not offer to ‘help’, even though I have been doing this for 20 years.” Can you imagine?
To the criticism of helping as banking, I secondly say, NO. It has been my experience (both in everyday life and in multi-year service opportunities overseas) that the one who “gives help” always receives greatly in return, and the one who “receives help” always gives greatly in return. Envisioning true help as a one way power relation and “deposit” mechanism seems wrong to me.
Everyone: Can wanting to help everyone be immoral? If it is, then a moral path might be to systematically ignore some group of individuals and refuse to help them when they are in need.
Another perspective on this might be that wanting to help everyone, all the time, even when they do not perceive themselves as being in need of help, is immoral. Above I’ve claimed that everyone is need of help sometimes. However, for a vareity of reasons, various people don’t perceive themselves as needing help at various times (either because they actually don’t need help, or are for some reason unwilling to admit that they do). Now, if we were to force ourselves on to these people, that would be bad.
But this is not an excuse that allows us to avoid gearing up to be ready to reach everyone. Just because everyone does not need help at the same time doesn’t mean that they won’t need help at some time. We should be ready.
Immoral: Wrong. Something we shouldn’t do. I’m not going to take this one any further. =)
In summary, I disagree with the disdain with which the word “gift” is used in the quote from Freire. If help, given when truly needed, is not a gift than nothing is. And yes, there are people who need help from time to time. And yes, there are people who are capable of giving it from time to time. Why should we embarassed by this? I am not.
Sometimes I need the help, sometimes I hear the need for help and can give it, and sometimes I hear the need for help but can’t give it. The thing that crushes the human spirit, the thing that destroys hope, the thing that leads to fear, anger, hate, and suffering (as Yoda would say), is when people need help and no one gives it – again, and again, and again. As instructional technologists our job is to figure out ways to provide that help when it is needed.
* I believe that the wrongness of this approach is very much spread along a continuum and is by no means absolute. For example, when I was young, I had no interest in learning to read or play the piano, but someone “forced” me to do these things. Were they wrong in doing so? There’s never been a day I was sorry that they did (but there have been plenty when I was sorry they let me quit piano lessons as early as they did).