EDUCERE - to lead out...
There are few things about which I am passionately certain, but one is that my experience of school saved me from a sort of oblivion. I have written elsewhere about my childhood school phobia and my parents’ decision to take me out of mainstream schooling for an education at a couple of small independent progressive schools. In that account I describe how, as a result of the provision of ‘freedoms from and freedoms to’, a very vulnerable mind and soul were given that most rare of opportunities, the time and the space within which to develop at child-speed.
Everything of importance and value that has come my way since has had upon it the imprint of those 10 years. My love for music, my joy in language, my striving towards good fellowship alongside personal autonomy, my hatred of institutional cant and hypocrisy, my conviction that a synthesis of self-determination and social responsibility is the prime personal goal. And, although rather than responding to some clarion call, I seemed initially to drift into the profession, my teaching was infected with the same viral drives for over 40 years. Whilst I have at different times in life embraced – well, held hands with - various quasi-political causes, it’s been education that has contained my revolutionary creed throughout. Whatever picturesque diversions I may have explored through the years, I have known with quiet but unswerving conviction that insomuch as there really are answers, they are to be found in a community of adults and children working and playing together in mutual respect.
I retired from teaching four years ago. The school at which I taught (and at which my partner still teaches and which my three children attend) has been committed for the past 98 years to such a notion of community. It has survived the economic hardships of two world wars and the major recession between them and it’s currently shooting the rapids of our ongoing tough financial times.
These threats to its survival in a consistently unsympathetic educational environment have been external. In a community with an unassailable sense of common purpose and solidarity they merely provoked a sort of Churchillian determination to prevail at all costs. But now I am seriously concerned that the school may be facing the only kind of threat that could bring about its demise – the dead hand of a dispensation that despises the spirit of freedom; that cannot – or will not - acknowledge that we flourish most when we fear least, when we share responsibility for the routines of day-to-day living, when our mutual goals are shared fulfilment, creative satisfaction, empirical discovery. Whether the quotidian evidence of the fact that success in these territories creates the conditions within which authentic learning can take place across the board will continue to convince parents of prospective students remains to be seen.
At present this seems to be very much the case. But prejudice, wilful ignorance and a finely tuned socio-economic agenda for education are powerful forces when backed up by the media and the rising flood tide of fear and confusion amongst parents is being fed directly by them. In my 40-plus years of teaching I haven’t known times like these. There appears to be a near total absence of ideological resistance to the implacable didacticism that drives the current reactionary changes being wrought. And as is characteristic of all vacuums, the space around it is filled by what prevails.
It won’t always be this way. The wisest amongst us throughout the ages have recognised that what systematises education also stabs it in the heart. So we should draw some comfort from the gritty wisdom of some our greatest thinkers…
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.
School-days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn’t take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one really cares very much whether he learns it or not.
The chief reason for going to school is to get the impression fixed for life that there is a book side for everything.
My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but
understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more
educated and more intelligent than college professors.
Most executives, many scientists, and almost all business school graduates believe that if you analyze data, this will give you new ideas. Unfortunately, this belief is totally wrong. The mind can only see what it is prepared to see.
Edward de Bono
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
Wiliam Butler Yeats
The well-meaning people who talk about education as if it were a substance distributable by coupon in large or small quantities never exhibit any understanding of the truth that you cannot teach anybody anything that he does not want to learn.
Our principal writers have nearly all been fortunate in escaping regular education.
A teacher should have maximal authority and minimal power.
Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
What we call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real.
George Bernard Shaw
We should take care not to make the intellect our God; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
to be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
e. e. cummings
From The Prophet
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth…
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness...
“I learned something at school today. I signed up for folk guitar, computer programming, stained glass art, shoemaking, and a natural foods workshop. I got spelling, history, arithmetic and two stuffy periods”
“So what did you learn?”
“I learned that what you sign up for and what you get are two different things”.
Peanuts by Schultz