National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


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In: Place, Self, Community: City as Text™ in the Twenty-First Century, Edited by Bernice Braid and Sara E. Quay. National Collegiate Honors Council, 2021.


© 2021 NCHC.


[T]he world is not given, it is not simply ‘there.’ We constitute it by acts of interpretation. —Jonathan Z. Smith, 1988

In Nadine Gordimer’s 1970 novel A Guest of Honour, the central white figure, diplomat James Bray, is asked by a newly installed Black president to shift from the diplomatic sphere to organize educational structures for a newly minted Black national constituency. Intelligent, sensitive, and empathetic, Bray considers his own sophisticated background in the context of this semi-literate Southern African country and thinks: “What was needed was perhaps someone with a knowledge of the basic techniques of learning. Someone who could cut through the old assumptions that relied so heavily on a particular cultural background, and concentrate on the learning process itself ” (109). Although not himself an educator, he addresses his assignment with a deep respect for the mass of needy people around him—for their keen observational skills, capacity to survive in their unpredictable surround, untapped abilities, and genius at reading innuendo.

Bray’s attitudes and expectations are not so different from those of Paulo Freire. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues forcefully against the European educational model that has shaped education in the new world for more than a century, a system that results in what he calls “the banking concept.” This concept rests on a social structure that presumes student ignorance versus faculty knowledge; it presupposes a shared and self-validating or self-undermining cultural grounding in class, and it rests on “the assumption of a dichotomy between man and the world” (62). Freire argues that a pedagogy embodying so deep a hierarchical divide both expresses and enforces a power structure that militates against critical thinking. He advocates as a counteraction “the posing of the problems of [men] in their relations with the world.” “Problem-posing education, responding to the essence of consciousness—INTENTIONALITY—rejects communiqués and embodies communication. . . . Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information” (66–67). Problem- posing methodology, Freire says, shifts the student-teacher relationship, which in turn shifts the entire learning/teaching enterprise: “The students—no longer docile listeners—are more critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher” (68). For him “the form of action [men] adopt is to a large extent a function of how they see themselves in the world” (71). When I began working on City as Text™ (CAT) as an integrative strategy that would realign the classroom in order to build a problem-setting ambience for the kind of change Freire envisioned, the thinking of Parker J. Palmer was reaffirming.