Alexa Martinez’s interests cannot be put into a neat box. The Math and Statistics Major at Coastal Carolina University recently won second place in a school-wide competition for her essay on how the “banking model” of education, coined by Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire, impedes class consciousness— an idea that is spelled out in the popular book Pedagogy of the Oppressed . I sat down with the Sora alum to see what she’s up to now, how Math & Statistics relate to the humanities, and how Sora prepared her for college. Hi Alexa! It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to chat. First off, I’m curious about your Sora journey. How did you become a student at the school?
I joined Sora as a Senior in 2020 and graduated in 2021. My aunt is very active in conversations around education and found out about Sora. At the time, I was homeschooled and I was looking to add to what I was doing at home. Today, I’m a student at Coastal Carolina University and I work at Sora as an intern. I love the people and community at Sora. Through my internship, I work closely with Katie and Jane, [Sora’s community team], to support our students.
So your essay critiquing the “banking model” of education (which, for readers who don’t know, is the idea that learning happens by “depositing” knowledge into students — which contrasts with Sora’s view on democratizing education) recently won second place in a school-wide competition. How did you get interested in this subject?
I wrote this essay for my English 102 class, which is a core class. Our professor chose a few different pieces for us to read, and would assign a specific style– comparative, research, etc– of essay for us to write in response. One of the essays we read was “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education” by Paulo Freire. I’ve had an interest in reading about different political theories. I’m not interested in modern theory though, everything is a mess. I’m interested in older political theory because I enjoy the insights it provides around social structure and hierarchy. Class analysis is really interesting to me. Sora helped me be able to critically read different types of texts. Freire’s text was not a difficult read, but it’s not a light read. Being able to read critically is something I practiced a lot at Sora through reflecting with others and engaging in conversation.
This is a dense read. How do you approach analyzing texts and theory?
When I read something, I read through everything. I don’t need to understand it the first time. I am looking for basic concepts and the rough shape the idea is heading in. Then I go back and reread it in chunks to get a deeper understanding of what is going on. From there I focus on specific sentences and quotes and think through what it’s trying to say. Why did they choose these words to put together the piece? From there I can fine-tune the big picture of what the author is trying to say and get their point across. My most necessary component when forming my own opinion is being able to engage in discussion with others about the piece. Group discussion is so helpful in seeing as many angles as possible of an idea.
Why is it important to know and care about class analysis?
I described it in the essay. Class analysis is important because it helps us recognize oppression when it happens. If you only see things as individual issues, you won’t be able to conceptualize what’s required for class justice. You need to recognize the class. This is an issue in the United States because we are so individualistic. There are some classes that are easier to recognize, but even now they are becoming blurred: like the middle class is living paycheck to paycheck while the upper class is not really an upper class they are an oligarchy. Ask yourselves: why are certain individuals experiencing failure, and why are others having success? I quote a poem in the essay: and then they came for me and there was no one there to speak for me. Without recognition, you can’t have action.
How did Sora prepare you to engage with these ideas?
I took classes at Sora where I was able to have these discussions. I really enjoyed the humanities expeditions. Some examples of texts we read and discussed at Sora include a fiction book by a philosopher, a book about children who were raised so their organs could be harvested, and a book by a famous postmodernist philosopher. In fact, all of Michael’s expeditions had dense texts. We also read something about the history of science, we also did an expedition on Islam and read about the historic practices. We also looked into the differences between Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism.
It sounds like you were trained how to assess landscapes of ideas and to see how ideas were built. How does that fit in with the fields of Math and Statistics?
Listen, if I had the time and energy, I’d love to take on six more majors and five more minors because I genuinely love to learn. I enjoy learning and love critical thought and analysis.
There is a logic to math that you can find present in the humanities. Statistics is about getting as close to the truth as you can and being able to define material reality. Of course, defining material reality requires an understanding of the humanities in order to understand the framing of your questions.