Learning by doing

Kennemer Dunes, today. Doing [ not 'education' ]

Above: This is our son Melle (2004) taking a break during family walk while a storm rages, shuddering the chestnut trees. Melle enjoys large freedom to discover the world outside of the school system. Non-testable according to standard IQ investigations¹ he was forced to move to a ZMLK school², a school for children with 'extreme learning difficulties'. To do exactly that: learn nothing. Degrading his morale. So we talked. And we found a way that much better suited his curiosity as the foundation to investigate, experience and learn. As parents we felt school did not contribute much to his development. His spontaneous, wilful, intuitive, emotional, sensitive, creative, qualities, on the other hand, run into danger of being pinched. This was not an angry condemnation from our side towards the school. We felt, most people, do their best, for Melle, though, the school, the pressure, led to negative stress and damaging results. Till one day, after a holiday-family-trip to Sicily, he refused to go to school. As he said, unwilling to go in on a voluntarily basis -- 10 minutes too late -- to receive punishment. Before going through the door, he turned around to cycle trough town, think things over -- to return home.

In the great (8/10) second hand store 'Het Pakuis' in Zandvoort I found a fantastic book by Arie de Geus, which will be discussed and quoted in the future on this website. In his book he re-introduces the thoughtful work of John Holt, which was a delight. Holt's book 'Instead of Education; ways to help people to do things better' is a feast of recognition. It talks about the stuff that we found out instinctively. He only went much further than we ever dared. Considering education, as we know it, trough schools, one of the worst inventions of mankind!

Min/max temperature: 14°C/18°C; humidity: 72%; visibility: 12.8 kilometres; precipitation: 2.0 mm; sea level pressure: 1006.70 hPa; clouds: mostly cloudy; wind: West 70 km/h. ; Moon: Waxing Gibbous, 96% illuminated

" [ Chapter I ] Doing, Not 'Education' […] This is a book in favour 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. […] You cannot have human liberty, and the sense of all persons' uniqueness, dignity, and worth on which it must rest, if you give to some people the right to tell other people what they must learn or know, or the right to say officially and 'objectively' that some people are more able and worthy than others. Let any who want to make such judgements make them privately, knowing that such judgements can only be personal and subjective. But do not give them any permanent or official sanction, or the liberty and dignity of your citizens will soon be gone. […]

Losers, […] can't make many choices; can't make plans for the future, can't do almost nothing to protect the security of their families, and have little or no control over their work, but must do what they are told. Eighty per cent of the jobs that will be filled during the next decade will be jobs for which a college degree is not needed. Most of those who will do these jobs will feel themselves losers, and even more so if (like many) they have first spent the time and money to get a college degree.

To be peaceful and stable, every society organised into winners and losers must persuade the losers that this state of affairs is necessary, and that its way of picking winners and losers is just, that the losers deserve to lose. At one time, winners and losers were picked by the accident of birth. Modern societies do this more and more with schools. But the people who control society naturally want schools to pick winners in such a way that the existing social order is not changed -- in short, so that most of the winners are children of winners, and the losers the children of losers. The schools, then, must run a race which mosty rich kids will run but which most poor people will accept as fair. On the whole they have done this very well.

Many educators will protest that ranking is not what grades and tests are for, but only to help children learn, and to help teachers help them to learn. No doubt many teachers sincerely believe it, as I did for many of my years as a T-eacher [ Holt differentiates between T-eachers and t-eachers, S-chools and s-chools, ed. ]. But it is not true. Any observant and thoughtful teacher soon learns in his work, as I did, that fear blocks learning. The skilful learner must trust the world, and himself to be able to cope with it. […] When they have lost confidence […] even 'bright' children […] instead of reaching out to new experience, they shrink back from it. Often they protect themselves from danger and shame of failure in the only way they can, by failing on purpose.

Not only does fear prevent children (and adults) from using their minds well, but it almost certainly, and at the most biological level, prevents the mind from working at all."

John Holt in 'Instead of Education; ways to help people to do things better' , page 7, 12, 13, 162, 163, first published in 1976 by Penguin Books, USA


¹ IQ testing merely measures cognitive intelligence. Compare that to a light meter. This is a useful device to measure light, not sound or -- for example -- temperature. Does that make sound inferior to light? Does that make a soundrecordist less valuable than a cinematographer? If you are training cinematographers only, at a workshop exlusively aimed at cinematographers, maybe. But a film school, which educates filmprofessionals, soundpersons and editors and directors and screenwriters and cinematographers, etcetera, would it select its students on the basis of their ability to read and interprete light with a meter only? I don't hope so and it is not what I remember, going trough those selections myself. As Ken Wilber has written, 'Human beings have a variety of intelligences, such as cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical intelligence, kinaesthetic intelligence, aesthetic intelligence and so on. Most people excel in one or two of those, but do poorly in the others. This is not necessarily or even usually a bad thing; part of Integral wisdom is finding where one excels and thus where one can best offer the world one’s deepest gifts.' If it -- everything ouside the measurable cognitive intelligence curve -- is not acknowledged, measured, to begin with, it will not be used to work with -- it will be unknown and maybe even turn out to be a disadvantage for the person who has it, leading to isolation. The good news is, with proper support this ignorance actualy can turn out to become an advantage...The present educational system with its worshipping of testing ('Thou shalt be tested') and the circumstances, the offices and factories it prepares people for, seem to equalize the input so the outcome is measured in productional value within economic terms. The (higher) diploma eventually is the ticket to (higher) education and (higher) salary and (higher) management positions. If you fail in IQ tests, you will be bummed in life! Convicted to work in a (social-) workplace, "shovelling shit in Louisiana", with some appointed supervisor telling you: " ... you are too late, again!" and punish you for that, with whatever means are available to them -- just as they are punished themselves by whatever means are available to their supervisiors... And for what? Because you failed fitting in measurable curves. So, if you have the advantage of being good at something, all opposition met along the way, is nothing but opportunity to get better! Nobody has the right to take it away, no matter how hard they believe in the justification to do that! As the Buddhists say, 'your biggest enemy is your greatest teacher.' If you take that attitude, you will be bend, gaining flexibility and endurance. Not broken trough infectious, devastating shame, fear and anger and its resulting preconceived stiffness!

² A hierarchical structured school -- as is seen so often, grown under healthy (public) leadership over the years, now part of an efficient umbrella organization, ruled like an empire, by kings and servants, by 'managers'  -- with an authoritarian board, governed from top down by dictation. Though and most importantly some of the people 'on the work-floor' we have dealt with, actually are remarkably open minded, experienced, social, clear thinking, collaborative and willing to co-organize change for the wellbeing of the children. In a communicative, daring, constructive, courageous and relaxed, professional manner. Through an open discussion. Structured -- there is a reason to come together -- but not one where the outcome is preconceived by personal interests -- jobs, career, status, stupidity, power -- which is so often the case! (I am sure these people know how to deal with reprimands from 'their' stubborn board(s) -- including those formed by power-hungry parents, who seem to operate in the same tenacious spirit -- when 'their number is up' to appear in front of them to receive a dose of 'scare' during a so called 'performance interview power play'; always 2, 3, or 4 of 'them' -- and always very friendly, "... you understand we mean only the best for you and all of us....you do understand that, don't you?" ). This has an effect upon the 'corporate identity', the atmosphere among the teachers and staff. Only the strongest know how to deal with stubborn 'bosses'. The weaker people, will get even more stressed out! Overall it leads to confusion, charging the daily atmosphere with fear, even cruelty, contradictions, frustrations and weariness. Sounds like the average organisation, doesn't it? But this is about schools, where children are forced to spent their childhood. At the bottom the children will pay the price! Is the purpose of schools to keep the board(s) happy, create employment for the teachers and staff and keep the children off the street so the parents can go to their work? (see also: 'Loin du 16e'). School(s) seem not to fully realise this (or somehow believe in the justice of it) as the law forces children to appear at school. The children have no choice! The children are punished when they don't obey the rules, but who 'corrects' the power hungry boards and the 'morale' they have forced upon the environment? The children, for sure, they don't stand a chance! Them -- the former -- are -- like politicians -- out for them selves and that daily free lunch. Unprocurable in their ivory tower. Puppeteers and puppets at the same time.