I Have Never Let My Schooling Interfere with my Education | Mark Twain Quote
A new paradigm is emerging in education. The evidence can be seen in the increasing numbers of families choosing home education or virtual education as an alternative as well as the pressure on public boards to provide alternatives within the conventional system. Criticism of our education system is widespread, although the actual comments on what is wrong with our schools do not always concur.
The ideal of public education has always been to provide all children with equal opportunity as well as to provide basic life and job skills for a productive national work force. One of the reasons the paradigm is now shifting is because the actual results of public education fall short of the ideal. As a result, many parents are taking a close look at what schools provide and deciding they can do a better job themselves, often with excellent results.
Education faculties and school systems have done a lot of research on how to make the present system more productive and efficient. Public outcry about waste of educational dollars has put pressure on school boards to implement measures of accountability and universal standards. Counselors and special education teachers have been hired to help achieve the goals of schooling for all students. Unfortunately, we still have many teenagers who can't read or write well and we still have many students who have behavior problems, turn to drugs or drop out of school before graduating. Why?
The old paradigm of education rests on certain philosophical premises. By examining the roots of educational philosophy we may get a clearer view of why our systems are failing and what needs to be done to better meet our educational ideals. Certain core beliefs lie at the roots of our educational philosophy and examining them may be helpful in exposing the source of our frustrations.
Here are some of those core beliefs:
• Human beings are born
empty of knowledge and it is the job of parents and society to
• There is a basic body of knowledge that all students need to become productive members of our complex society.
• This knowledge needs to be taught; those that have the knowledge can convey it to those who do not in an orderly process called education. Experts do this better than ordinary people.
• Teaching is a skill that can be taught and teachers need to play a role within certain parameters. Teachers are not really supposed to let their students know they are
• Left to themselves, most children would choose to play or
waste time rather than engage in productive learning activities, therefore it is important to provide incentives (rewards or avoidance of punishment) for learning.
What if some of those core beliefs are inaccurate? Challenging those core beliefs is exactly what the new paradigm in education is about. It is no longer just a matter of improving the methodology or increasing the efficiency of teachers in schools. This has been tried, but it hasn't solved the basic problems. Innovative thinkers everywhere are starting to reexamine the belief structure that underlies Western education. They are the ones who are providing the impetus for the disruption of the status quo.
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One of the pioneers in this field was John Holt. His book
How Children Fail published in 1964 had a significant impact on educational thought in the past decades. He challenged the core belief that children need incentives to learn by showing how our schools in fact were giving many students incentives to fail. John Holt went on to write a number of other books as well as start a newsletter called
Growing Without Schooling. This has been the foundation of the
unschooling movement in North America.
Unschooling challenges many of the core beliefs that society has long held about education. Where home schooling is the decision by the parent to take education into his or her own hands, unschooling is the decision to put education in the hands of the students themselves. Where Western educational philosophy has always promoted the idea that knowledge is something that has to be efficiently programmed into the student, unschooling philosophy says that humans come
preprogrammed or uniquely predisposed to learn what they need to learn in order to fulfil their life purpose. The task of the
unschooling facilitator is to encourage this process and provide the necessary human and physical resources.
Fear is a common motivator in our society. Many of our institutions are built around it and our schools are no exception. Students in school are motivated by fear of failure and fear of ridicule. Parents are motivated to keep sending their children partly because they fear the children won't make it in the world without school. The old educational paradigm feeds this fear through its core beliefs. One of the most basic core beliefs, a heritage of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is that people are basically sinful and not to be trusted.
Creative Play the Steiner Waldorf Way: Expertise and toy projects
Unschooling parents of the new paradigm trust their children. These brave pioneers have chosen a new core belief (that children can be trusted to learn without incentives) and acted upon it by allowing their children the freedom to educate themselves. The results have been phenomenal if the articles in
Growing Without Schooling can be taken as proof. They provide evidence that moving away from a philosophy based on fear to a philosophy of trust has profound implications for education.
Rudolf Steiner, founder of the world wide Waldorf School movement in 1919, based his pedagogy on trust in the innate and emerging nature of the child. To Steiner, education was as much an art as it was a science. One aspect of his philosophy that educators might wish to examine closely is the idea that education takes place in relationship. It was important to Steiner that teachers move through the grades with a particular class of students so that the student/teacher relationship could grow throughout the formative years of the child. Perhaps one reason why so many of our teens feel alienated is because the relationships they form are superficial and temporary. There is no emotional continuity in the schools because of a core belief that students are primarily vessels in which information is to be poured.
The new paradigm in education sees human beings as unique entities with varied purposes, who exist in relationship to others. (For an in depth look at this point of view, see
The Soul's Code by James Hillman.) It does not assume that all students need to learn the same things or learn them at the same time. Parents and teachers of the new paradigm watch closely as the nature of each individual makes itself known within the parameters of relationship. They do not seek to impose their expectations on students but rather attempt to assist, through dialogue, as students explore potentials and possibilities in the world around them.
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In the new paradigm, learning is a two-way street. The student learns from the teacher, but the teacher also learns with and from the student. Learning becomes a mutually explored realm where two human beings can grow in knowledge and wisdom together. The boundaries traditionally set up between student and teacher become flexible and teachers are free to be themselves. Because they model enthusiastic learning behavior, these teachers are very effective in transmitting enthusiasm for learning to their students and no extrinsic motivators are necessary.
Many parents say they would find home education difficult because playing the role of teacher and parent can be in conflict. Under the old paradigm, this is probably true. A parent playing
teacher in the traditional sense of filling the vessel with information often causes friction between parent and child. The child instinctively knows that his/her real needs are not being met in that situation and may rebel. The families that are most successful as home educators under the old paradigm are those who are most authoritarian. They follow the same fear model of education that is found in our traditional schools. Very often authoritarian families also have a strong religious affiliation and use the Bible as their model for life.
Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is grown he will not depart from it. The basic assumption here is that parents and teachers do indeed know exactly what a child should be learning. In this rapidly changing world, that assumption may be erroneous.
This is not meant as a criticism of those home educating families who choose a traditional style of teaching. Parents are entitled to choose the method of education that best suits the family philosophy. However, the old paradigm of education works better in the authoritarian style home than it does in modern schools, and parents who use a more permissive style of child-rearing may find the old methodologies don't work well for them either.
Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling
Home education under the new paradigm has no set agenda other than enablement. Thus there is no real distinction between the roles of teacher and parent. Just as the parent trusts that the baby will eventually learn to walk and talk, he/she also trusts that the child will learn to read when ready and acquire all the necessary skills information for a productive life in society. Just as the baby learns to talk in relationship to the family, the child and teen explores life in relationship to the real world rather than in the artificial world of the classroom. Growth and learning take place in an atmosphere of love rather than one of fear.
It should be clear from the above paragraphs that unschoolers have undergone a fundamental philosophical paradigm shift. They are living examples of how things can be done differently if people change their thinking. Perhaps they are the forerunners of what education will become in the next millennium.
Is the paradigm shift compatible with public education as we know it? It will be interesting to see whether the institutions can evolve with the shift or whether schools as we know them will become obsolete. If they do, what can we devise to replace them for those parents who choose not to home educate? Not all parents are interested in being totally focused on their offspring so there will always be a need for educational centres of some sort.
It is up to administrators of today to recognise the fear-based underpinnings of our educational model and stretch their thinking beyond tradition, into the realm of possibility. What is needed is a revolution in ideology translated into innovative methodology. If our visionaries can provide that, and if administrators have the courage to follow them, the new paradigm will replace the old one and many problems in the schools that today seem unsolvable will simply disappear.
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Last updated - February 8, 2017