Knowledge, for Freire, is the result of a constant process of questioning the world. However, the “banking” model conceives of knowledge as something that teachers have and students lack. This approach is closely tied to oppression, because it presumes that the people who don’t have power are ignorant. Freire then asserts that his pedagogy, which aims to help oppressed people become free, must change the contradictory relationship between teachers and students. In this relationship, teachers have absolute authority and control over their students.
According to Freire, oppressors often claim that some kinds of knowledge are only possessed by authority figures. From this premise, oppressors can then claim that hierarchies are the best way to organize society—not only governments, but schools and families as well. If only some people have knowledge, then only some people can be in a position to lead others.
The “banking” model molds the attitudes of students: it teaches them to adapt to the world as it is, instead of questioning it or trying to change it. This helps oppressors, who want to prevent oppressed people from understanding the true nature of oppression.
Freireargues that oppressors combine “banking” education with institutions like welfare, which treats oppressed people as if they exist outside of normal, “healthy” society. To liberate themselves, oppressed people cannot become “integrated” into oppressive society; rather, they must transform society entirely. “Banking” education combats this transformation by turning people into “automatons.”
In the oppressors’ narrative, oppressed people live on the margins of good, traditional, society because of their own faults. But Freire urges oppressed people to see traditional society as inherently bad because it marginalizes them. This is why Freire often critiques people who attempt to reform oppressive institutions: to him, reform is ultimately futile because it assumes that those institutions are not oppressive by default.