“In all stages of education the influence of superstition is disastrous. A certain percentage of children have the habit of thinking; one of the aims of education is to cure them of this habit. Inconvenient questions are met with ‘hush, hush’, or with punishment. Collective emotion is used to instill certain kinds of belief, more particularly nationalistic kinds. Capitalists, militarists, and ecclesiastics co-operate in education, because all depend for their power upon the prevalence of emotionalism and the rarity of critical judgment. With the aid of human nature, education succeeds in increasing and intensifying these propensities of the average man.”Bertrand Russel – What I Believe, 1925
“Uniformity in the opinions expressed by teachers is not only not to be sought, but is, if possible, to be avoided, since diversity of opinion among preceptors is essential to any sound education. No man can pass as educated who has heard only one side on questions as to which the public is divided. One of the most important things to teach in educational establishments of a democracy is the power of weighing arguments, and the open mind which is prepared in advance to accept whichever side appears the more reasonable.”Bertrand Russel (philosopher and Nobel Prize winner) – in an essay called “Freedom and the Colleges”, 1940.
#education #pluralism #freedom #opinion
My daughter (10), elated that she got into the class she wanted and avoided the all-girls class: ‘All-girls classes suck!’
Me, naively: ‘Why?’
My studious 10-year-old: ‘Because they’d be all prissy and there’d be no boys to fall in love with.’
Ladies and gentlemen, the main purpose of public schooling, right there… in case there was ever any doubt.
(And I say this sarcastically, of course, because when the knowledge content has been thinned out and dumbed down beyond recognition, what else is left but socialization…)
Once upon a time there was a badger. We’ll call him Podge, because that’s what his friends called him. Podge was an intrepid and adamant little badger and he liked to roam the neighborhood at length, looking for fellow creatures to pester – or to snack on.
On one of his nocturnal foraging trips, Podge went a little further than usual and pretty soon came across an animal he had never seen before. An animal so different from himself.
‘What a strange animal… !’ Podge thought and drew closer. ‘Too large to eat and very funny-looking.’
In fact, this animal was so bizarre that, in the dark, Podge couldn’t really tell which end was the head.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’
At first there was no answer, so he tried again.
‘Hi,’ he repeated. ‘My name is Podge and I’m a badger. What are you?’
The strange animal stirred.
‘Why are you talking to my tail?’
‘Oh, sorry,’ Podge said and came trotting around to the other end.
And indeed, upon closer inspection, he was now able to make out a long, thin snout and a pair of ears.
‘I have never seen an animal like you. What are you, exactly?’ Podge asked.
‘What do you mean? I am me. I am who I am. Do you want to be friends?’
‘I guess, but… what are you?’ he insisted.
‘I don’t understand. Why do I have to be something in particular?’
‘Well, we’re all something. We all have to be something.’
‘Just to know what we are. To know where we belong.’
‘ Well, I may not know what I am, but I still know who I am. I’m me. Isn’t that enough?’
‘But… but all the creatures in the world need to know what they are!’ Podge spluttered.
‘I’m not exactly sure, but I am very pleased to know what I am and what everything around me is. I know what is food, friend, or foe. It’s easier to play with things when you know what they are.’
‘Hm,’ the other creature said incredulously and walked on, snout to the ground.
‘Aren’t you curious what I am?’
‘You’re someone who calls his friends thing names.’
But Podge didn’t hear.
‘I’m a badger,’ he pronounced proudly and confidently.
‘Everyone I know.’
‘Badger,’ muttered the creature. ‘That’s just a sound. It means nothing to me. But if you’re fond of this sound, so be it, you will be the Badger.’
‘And you? What are you?’
‘I already told you. I’m me. Why are you so obsessed with categories?’
Podge went home and found it extremely hard to fall asleep. It bothered him. He did not know where to place this creature he had met. And what should he call it? The following night he went back determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. He packed his sacred book and a flashlight. For hours on end he looked at the creature, looked at himself, then leafed back and forth through his book. It was morning already. The sun was up. He was getting tired. Finally, he exclaimed:
‘I know! I know what you are! You’re an aardvark!’ He was so relieved.
‘You think so?’
‘I know so!’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because my book says so, look!’ he said and pointed to a picture on a page that said “Aardvarks”.
‘And how does the book know I’m an aardvark? Maybe they just had to come up with a name and didn’t know any better.’
‘Oh, no, no, no. Not a chance. This book knows everything there is to know. It’s a magical book. And it’s always right.’
‘Really? How do you know that?’ the aardvark asked again.
‘Well, because this book came to us directly from the sky!’
‘Yes, yes. I found it myself one morning on the forest floor. There was nobody else around, and it’s too heavy for our birds to carry. So, it must have fallen from the sky!’
‘Hm,’ the creature muttered again and tried to sniff out some ants.
‘You eat ants! Perfect, that’s perfect. You’re a good aardvark!’
‘How do you know I’m a good aardvark?’
‘Because that’s just what my book says you’re supposed to eat!’
‘I also eat cucumber,’ the aardvark replied.
‘Oh no, you really shouldn’t!’ Podge retorted with a worried look on his face.
‘Because my book says nothing about cucumbers. That means you’re probably not allowed to eat them. Oh boy, why do you have to eat cucumbers? What is wrong with you? It’s so unnatural.. You should eat termites!’
‘Hm,’ the aardvark said. ‘I had no idea there was something wrong with me until just now. But I do eat termites rather frequently,’ he apologized.
‘I’m curious,’ the aardvark inquired. ‘Do you always do what the book says?’
‘Oh yes, always!’
‘And what does your book say about badgers?’
‘A badger is a short-legged nocturnal omnivore,’ Podge read solemnly.
‘Nocturnal, huh? Then how come you are up and about after daybreak?’ the aardvark wanted to know.
Podge blushed, felt guilty and fell silent. He picked up his things and scurried home to sleep on it.
‘What a strange animal… !’ the aardvark thought. ‘He walks around at night with only one book and a tiny flashlight, yet claims to know what everything is…’
“Education, in the sense in which I mean it, may be defined as the formation, by means of instruction, of certain mental habits and a certain outlook on life and the world. (…)
The search for an outside meaning that can compel an inner response must always be disappointed: all “meaning” must be at bottom related to our primary desires, and when they are extinct no miracle can restore to the world the value which they reflected upon it.
The purpose of education, therefore, cannot be to create any primary impulse which is lacking in the uneducated; the purpose can be only to enlarge the scope of those that human nature provides, by increasing the number and variety of attendant thoughts and showing where the most permanent satisfaction is to be found.”Bertrand Russel – Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1910)
Setting: Catholic religion class at school.
Characters: New teacher – a man. A bunch of 9-year-olds.
Open discussion about covenants. (Based loosely on recollection, don’t shoot the messenger!)
Girl in my daughter’s class, with genuine curiosity: Why are all the priests men? Why are there no women priests?
Teacher, gently: Well, you see, Jesus was a man, and his apostles were men, and…
Several girls in my daughter’s class: But his mother was a woman!
Teacher, full of kindness: Yes, but she could not have brought Jesus into the world without a heavenly Father…
Red-haired girl: He couldn’t have been born without a mother, either.
Teacher, softly: Yes, you’re right… but, maybe, you know, if some priests were women, then the men in church would stop paying attention to God and stare at the pretty priest…
My daughter, mumbling to herself: But the same can be true the other way around. If the priest is handsome…
Boy seated next to my daughter, searching for a solution: Maybe men are just uglier than women!
Red-haired girl: But if the women were really ugly, could they be priests then?
My daughter, musing after class: What if all the priests were women? Then there wouldn’t be any male priests to tempt… 🙂
(Ah, the dilemmas, quandaries and predicaments that arise when children are allowed to think freely. 🙂 Which, thankfully, they are.)
Motto: “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn – and change.” (Carl Rogers)
I’m a structured learner. I admit it. I like engorging information, reflecting upon it, and structuring it mentally or on paper. But it is only when I manage to enrich that information with something new, with an additional original thought, to move forward and share/discuss/debate that new understanding with others, that I feel real learning has taken place. And I get a kick out of that.
I did very good in formal education until I became an adult and realized there are so many more ways to learn and move forward. Now I enjoy handpicking my classes, without necessarily pursuing a degree, challenging myself to face new situations, looking at things and people from different perspectives. I guess I’m constructing my own meaning and purpose for learning now. My children have taught me to learn and think about learning in different ways.
There are four types and four theories of learning: cognitive, behavioral, social, humanist. Four reasons why we learn. We learn to know, we learn to do, we learn to live together and we learn to be.
And there are many styles of learning, too. We learn by memorizing and reflecting (abstract learning), we learn by observing (seeing, hearing, touching), we learn by doing and applying, we learn through emotional experiences sometimes. We learn skills, but we also learn wisdom, critical thinking, a better understanding – of ourselves, of others, of the world at large.
I believe in lifelong learning. In this constant moving forward. Not as a compulsory course of formal education, but as a kind of openness to growth and a willingness to open up to new things. Learning is change, the willingness and the ability to understand more and perhaps even overhaul one’s convictions. I believe that is both the present and the future of education.
As I’ve just read in a great book, “what if, in our universe, there is a possibility of becoming that which we aren’t yet…”? (Muriel Barbery – L’élégance du hérisson).
“His conclusion was that things were not always what they appeared to be. The cub’s fear of the unknown was an inherited distrust, and it had now been strengthened by experience. Thenceforth, in the nature of things, he would possess an abiding distrust of appearances. He would have to learn the reality of a thing before he could put his faith into it.”
Jack London – White Fang, Part II, Chapter IV – The wall of the world.
I have aborted myself to feed my children.
my love, my thoughts, my writing – all of them, aborted fetuses,
because my children needed to eat regular
but behold! –
my children are not necrophagous.
they do not thrive on the smell of death and destruction.
theirs are the souls
enraptured by the seed of light
theirs are the hands
that carry the torch.
3. More sleep
6. More cartoons
7. Sun, sand, water, ice cream
8. Sun, rocks, water, ice cream
9. Sun, grass, water, ice cream
10. Reading, LEGO, board games, trees, voyages of discovery, pebbles and insects (except mosquitoes!).