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Freedom for Growth

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The education system in general either meekly accepts its role of producing docile members of that thriving system, or actively attempts to kill their imaginative and free spirits. This is criminal neglect of our children and the Planet’s future, if there is to be any.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society”, say Edward Bernays. Surprise, surprise, he said in a democratic society.  Do we really think that in a democracy we are not manipulated? It is well known that different ways of knowing and learning create different kinds of human beings. Vandana Shiva has it very clear that in the 21st century “we have moved from wisdom to knowledge and from knowledge to information, and that information is so partial that we are creating INCOMPLETE human beings”.(As seen in Schooling the World video) We no longer feel intimately and intrinsically part of the entire web of life. Fukushima, the most immense nuclear disaster in history is belching thousands of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific and we, incompletely  informed by the Media, couldn’t care less. Why? Because the Media have not picked  it up and made it as interesting as the Air Malaysia crashes. We, the educated! We, the incomplete! What’s worth knowing? This is perhaps the key question when talking about designing a school where the children are “free to grow”. Most curricula are firmly based on what we, the adults, want the children to know. They should, in fact, be based on what we know ABOUT LEARNERS. For, as the cliché goes, there can be no learning without a learner ( I didn’t say teacher). Think about the classic remark often heard in staff rooms from exasperated teachers of  bolshy teenagers: “I have taught it to them again and again and they simply haven’t learnt it”. This absurd statement is on a par with a shopkeeper saying “I sold them the earrings but they didn’t buy them”!!

Learning is a transaction, a process, not a one way putting of a thing into some empty heads. It all comes down to what we think takes place when a learner “learns”. According to the eminent and neglected educational psychologist Ames (in Knowing and the Known) “the ability to learn can be seen as the ability to relinquish inappropriate perceptions and to develop new and more workable ones”. For we perceive what we want or need to perceive, and this is largely a function of our previous experiences, assumptions and needs. Furthermore, in his view perception is intimately linked to the language system, meaning that in a way we “see with our language”. So a uniform and standardised curriculum of content to be “taught” is likely to be a predestined failure. Perceptions vary so widely that for example, when it rains, some run for cover, others run out and enjoy it. Learners, similarly, vary widely. If teachers acted as if they knew this, then they would see students NOT as receivers of “subject matter” but as MEANING MAKERS, and realise that  “what is important is what the student makes of what we tell him, not what we intended” (Kelley) Clearly we need to rethink everything about how we teach. Whose perceptions should we give validity to? On what basis? What knowledge is relevant to which student? As one 5th grader in a New York slum put it, when asked by the science teacher “How many legs does a grasshopper have?”: “Oh man, I sure wish I had your problems”!! If we start from the individual learner (a student centred curriculum) we might come closer to enabling real learning to take place.

If we remember always that knowledge is what we know after we have learned something. A question based curriculum:  What is the difference between the question (to which the teacher already knows the answer) Who discovered America?

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