Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where living is doing is loving is learning – Part 1

I have a proposal to make. But before that, I’d like to quote from John Holt’s book ‘Instead of Education’ that presents a compelling argument for why we need to stop thinking in terms of “educating our children”, and hence stop thinking in terms of “creating schools and learning centres, however alternative”.  

The book’s opening paragraph:This is a book in favor of doing - self-directed, purposeful, meaningful life and work - and against “education” - learning cut off from active life and done under pressure of bribe or threat, greed and fear..”

This paragraph summarises Gandhiji’s idea of Swaraj:The best and only really good place for do-ers would be a society that does not yet exist. In that society all people, of whatever age, sex, race, etc., could have work to do which was varied and interesting, which challenged and rewarded their skill and intelligence, which they could do well - and take pride in doing well, over which they could exercise some control, and whose ends and purposes they could understand and respect. Today, very few people feel this way about their work - only a small number of artists, artisans, skilled craftsmen, specialists, professionals, and a few others. Beyond this, all people would feel—as very few people do now - that what they thought, wanted, said, and did would make a real difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. Their politics, like their work, would be meaningful. Their elected officials would be public servants, not petty kings and emperors. They would shape and control the society they lived in, instead of being shaped and controlled by it. In such a society no one would worry about “education.” People would be busy doing interesting things that mattered, and they would grow more informed, competent, and wise in doing them. They would learn about the world from living in it, working in it, and changing it, and from knowing a wide variety of people who were doing the same. But nowhere in the world does such a society exist, nor is there one in the making. Except perhaps in societies too small and primitive to be helpful, we have no models to go on; we must invent and design such a society for ourselves. Neither in the United States, nor any other countries I know of, are there more than a handful of people thinking and talking seriously about what such a society might be like, or how we might make it. What people talk and argue about instead is growth, efficiency, and progress, and how human beings may best be selected and shaped (“educated”) and used for those ends.”

Doing is learning:Some may wonder why I speak of “doing,” or “doing things better,” instead of “learning”. For one thing, the word “learning” implies (as most people now seem to believe) that learning is separate from the rest of life, that we only do it or do it best when we are not doing anything else, and best of all in a place where nothing else is done.”

Three beliefs of school-goers: “Almost everyone who goes through S-chools comes out believing (1) if I want to learn anything important, I have to go to a place called a school and get someone called a teacher to teach it to me; (2) the process will be boring and painful; and (3) I probably won’t learn it.”

Do we really learn in school? “The idea that everything important must be learned in school is very new. Until quite recently, most people understood very well that while some things might be learned best in school, others could be learned as well or better out of school, and many could not be learned in school at all. They would have laughed at the idea that all knowledge and wisdom could be found or put in classrooms and books. Even now, most of the people who think everything must be learned in school did not themselves learn there most of what they know.”

What are learning situations? “Not only did I not learn in school most of what I know, but I did not learn it in what people call “learning situations,” that is, from experiences that I went into in order to learn something. I do not do any of the things I do “in order to learn something.” I have learned much about music and music-making by going to rehearsals and concerts. But I do not go to them to “learn about” music, but because I love what I see and hear there. In my short visits to other countries, or other parts of my own country, I have learned many things about those places. But I did not go there “to learn,” but to see people and do things. In the last year or two I have done some work with other citizens in my home town of Boston to defeat or at least delay a bad and crooked so-called urban-development scheme. From this I have learned much about the law, politics, and economics of the city, and about the workings of the state and city governments. But I did not go into the work to learn all this, but to try to prevent my city from being robbed and ruined. I read many magazines and books, not to “learn” what is in them, but because I think they may be interesting, or helpful, or exciting. I may now and then read to find out something, but whether I learn, i.e., remember it, depends on whether it helps me to do my work and live and enjoy my life.”

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