Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, posited the “Problem-posing education” model as the antidote to the “banking” concept of education in his seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (first published in English in 1970). Freire was highly critical of the banking model of education whereby learning “becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.”
Solutions to such forms of rote learning have been proposed from within the fields of philosophy, education and beyond since the publication of Freire’s text. Public and private education alike has been vastly influenced by his critique of a system of learning where only agreement with the stated orthodoxy is acceptable. However, despite Freire’s critique and the advances made to pedagogy in the west, we are currently in the throes of banking model of education as imposed by those inside and outside of academic centers of learning. More specifically, we are living in an era where online culture has helped to give birth to the rise of a new form of banking education where only agreement with the symbolic master of wokeness is acceptable. Paradoxically, there is never a discussion about what “wokedom” means to any of this core’s participants.
We have all seen them in the form of memorized one-off, witty responses to anyone who questions the stated orthodoxy of the moment. Whether on Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, we are living in an era where a growing culture of ad hominem takedowns on social media is now an acceptable form of debate. And such interactions are the contemporary embodiment of the classroom where memorized, pre-canned answers is now the backbone of much social discourse. Long gone is the stodgy schoolmaster and standardized tests for these have been replaced by the latest woke preachers of civil and political righteousness. Who needs a church when the high priests and priestesses today are the wokest of the woke ready to call out anyone who might have possibly said something or thought something different from them today, yesterday or even a decade ago. Hell, just do a deep search on any social media platform to find your “gotcha” moment and you can call out just about anyone: “But you liked a comment in 2014 that you now disagree with…Ha!”
There are real societal and cultural questions to be raised here beginning with why we adopt such models for educating and dialoguing with each other? We do, after all, have options. Where ecological issues are at stake, we can protest and make direct actions with governments and companies in addition to letter writing, art installations, performances, and even talking with friends and community members. In fact, this was the stuff of American activism for ages and seems to still be a viable option. After all, this kind of online culture is simply not to be found in all countries. In terms of environmental debates in Asia, for instance, in Hong Kong eco-artists have joined the discussion on climate change through action as have other activists in India currently critiquing the country’s love of plastic.
The links between education models and culture are not negligible. There are direct influences between how today’s woke culture has been educated as opposed to other cultures in the world. In East Asia, for instance, teaching is a highly respected profession where teachers often have a far lower workload than in North America and where learning is highly prized. In Latin America, the effects of Freire’s work while not felt across all levels of education, do effect changes in how grassroots educational and cultural practices take place. One example is the Nicaraguan poetry and painting workshops which flourished through the country in the 1980s. Conversely, in the west, education in elite schools, the birthplace of woke culture, has focussed upon the importance of the child, making every child feel that their view is paramount. While perhaps an ideal model for the parenting of small children, one must wonder if pedagogy ought to take the subjective opinion of a student with the same weight of learned materials.
In the west, people wanting to expand their educational outreach can take online courses offered by the likes of Harvard University and MITand the need for wokeism would seem to be diminished by the access to such free forums which enable both the poor and wealthy to have a voice in continuing cultural debates. For those who have money to throw at education, there are obviously university programs and the more recent phenomenon of online tutoring for everything from course supplemental education to personal enrichment. This in addition to the internet which has proven useful for many to access powerful cultural debates. Given all these resources and various cultural models to learning and dialogue, it would seem that we have all the tools to navigate difficult discussions, to speak our mind to those with whom we disagree. Still, wokeism has emerged amidst new technology despite Freire’s illuminative dissection of old-world learning models and the various examples we have from political protest to dialogue. Having spawned call-out and safety pin culture, internet giants like Facebook and Twitter pose a hegemonic danger to free speech given the recent wave of criticism of these companies after having expelled and censored users who have unpopular—albeit perfectly legal—points of view.
Amidst the discussions on the overwhelming power and political force of social media giants, there are voices emerging to counter what many characterize as the monopoly by Facebook and Twitter of the public square. Thomas Wos, an advertising/marketing expert and Swiss entrepreneur, is one of these voices. Approaching this issue from the point of the free market, Wos claims that the digital advertising/marketing industry may face a bleak future because of tech titans like Facebook and Twitter: “With the constantly increasing power of Google, Facebook, etc, large online corporations will continuously put smaller agencies out of business.” Just as these tech giants are monopolizing the social media advertising industry, they are also homogenizing democratic thought and public debate. From a commercial perspective, smaller marketing businesses are necessary to maintain a lively free market arena for everyone to participate in which will paradoxically keep democratic forums alive, potentially staving off or even ending the ongoing censorship very much alive today on social media.
I recently watched Aziz Ansari’s Right Now on Netflix and I was not only pleasantly surprised, but I am rather blown away by the levels of critique that Ansari lays out. This show is thoughtful, sentient, and funny—but most of all it is a deeply trenchant political commentary on that which touches all of us: woke culture today. Filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Ansari dissects how there is seemingly no escape from woke culture today and how the cobweb that ostensibly well-intended white people have spun to check privileges and push back on the nasty history of racism, homophobia, and sexism of centuries past, is at best ineffectual. At worse, however, Ansari demonstrates how wokeism is both self-serving and self-perpetuating by simply acting as a vehicle for the privileged to “outwoke” each other while really doing nothing at all to change the reality which creates various forms of social inequality. Or as Ansari states after thanking white people for trying so much to be politically aware of others: “But sometimes I am a little suspicious…Doesn’t it seem a little weird sometimes? Doesn’t it seem a little strange? Almost like some people are playing a game where they’re, like, tallying up points for doing nice stuff. Like, is there some sort of secret, progressive Candy Crush we don’t know about?”
What we must figure out as a society is why we have taken so many educational luxuries that much of the planet simply does not have access to and instead of using these tools to open up genuine platforms of discussion, we have turned dialogue into a game of “gotcha’” largely played out on social media. Where the innovators of the internet foresaw a future of the democratization of learning and dialogue just as Freire did with democratic educational models, the reality today is that the internet has become a schoolyard for bullies where all anyone has to do to win an argument is to construct an entirely solipsistic logical fallacy that goes something like this: “So if you disagree with this article, it’s on you because you come from a place of white, heterosexist, cis-normative history. Go educate yourself better before clicking on the link.” Snap.