Learning

Western versus non-Western learning approaches and the need to live as if schools do not exist

According to Merriam and Kim (2008), “most Westerners neither recognize nor value learning that is embedded in everyday life.  Most Westerners think of learning as that which occurs in a formal teacher-directed classroom with a prescribed curriculum” (Merriam and Kim, 2008, p. 75).  On the other hand “non-Western understandings of lifelong learning is that very little of it is lodged in formal institutional settings.  Lifelong learning in non-Western settings is community-based and informal” (Merriam and Kim, 2008, p. 75).

The kind of learning that is advocated in the Bible is much closer to the kind of learning that Merriam and Kim describe as non-Western.  This is why I have been writing about deschooling and unschooling.  The longer I am away from schools, the more firmly deschooled I am becoming, and the more convinced I am of the need for parents, who want to properly educate their children, to live life with their children as if schools do not exist (Priesnitz, 2012).    I firmly agree with Priesnitz when she writes: “I look forward to the day when school (at least in its compulsory form as we know it) doesn’t exist; …” (Priesnitz, 2012, p. 8).

The classical passage of Scripture that is used to justify Christian education is Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I have several books on my shelves that quote this passage in the context of their justification for ‘Christian Schools’ (Cummings, 1979, 1982; Johnson, 1980;  Kienel, 1978; and others).  However, on closer investigation, the passage speaks nothing of schools; nor do any of the other passages in the Bible, that address the issue of education.  Clearly, the modern concept of compulsory, state-financed, centralized curriculum-ed, state-licensed schooling just cannot be found in the Bible, and that is because the Scriptures teach learning principles that are more closely aligned to a non-Western approach.

References

Cummings, D. B. [ed.]. (1979). The Purpose of A Christian School. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Cummings, D. B. [ed.]. (1982). The Basis for a Christian School: A resource book with answers for the Christian parent. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Johnson, R. E. (1980). Under Tutors & Governors. Nashville, Tennessee: Accelerated Christian Education, Inc.

Kienel, P. A. [ed.].  (1978). The Philosophy of Christian School Education, Revised Edition. Whittier, California: Association of Christian Schools International.

Merriam, S. B. and Kim, Y. S. (2008). ‘Non-Western Perspectives on Learning and Knowing’ New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. No. 119, pp. 71-81.

Priesnitz, W. (2012). Beyond School: Living As If School Doesn’t Exist. Canada: The Alternate Press (an imprint of Life Media – http://www.LifeMedia.ca).

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deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Socialization, Teaching, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 22: Unschooling and a flexible learning web: the dangers of age-segregation in schools

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 93  “The inverse of school would be an institution which increased the chances that persons who at a given moment shared the same specific interest could meet–no matter what else they had in common.”

One of the important defining characteristics of school and schooling is age-grade segregation.  Age-grade segregation is justified on grounds of socialization and child-development theory.  It is argued that children need to be exposed to peer-relationships so that they can learn how to relate to a cohort of children their own age.  It is also argued that all children pass through development stages at the same time, and therefore they need to be related to, in an age-appropriate manner.

These two presuppositions are fallacious at several points.  Firstly, God placed children into families.  In most cases, families grow at the rate of one child at a time, with significant age intervals between each child.  God is wisdom personified.  The only wise God, our Saviour, would not ordain a process that is fundamentally flawed.  Therefore, I argue that the best learning environment is not age-segregated, but multi-generational, with a broad range of ages represented in the learning environment.  I have worked in schools for 25 years.  I can speak with a measure of authority.  I have worked in Christian schools, state schools, private schools, schools for Aboriginal children, and the common factor between all these schooling contexts is that age-segregated children degenerate to the lowest common denominator.  Children crave attention.  If they cannot get it from the overworked teacher, they will look for it in their peers, and the peer that they usually crave attention from is the coolest dude–the naughtiest kid in the class.  Their socialization is downwards through the pressure of wanting to conform to be accepted–even in the case of a good family, good kids are dragged down, in the school context, and many good families have lost their children to the pressures of socialization in schools.  In an inter-generational, multi-age learning setting, the child will look for attention from the strongest role model–their socialization is upwards, into the lifestyle of the patriarch of the learning environment.

Secondly, children are not equal.  There may be general growth phases, but not all children reach the same milestones at the same time in all areas of growth.  To presuppose equality of development, will lead to holding back of those who are ready to move on in some areas, and forcing outcomes from those who are not ready in other areas, and generally trying to squeeze the cohort of children into a teacher-determined mediocrity.  In this context, none of the children are fully developed in any of their strong areas, many of the children are crushed because too much is expected of them in their weak areas (and as a result of the crushing they lose confidence to learn in their good areas) and every one has the desire to learn taught out of them.

Home-based education that is firmly grounded on unschooling principles, with a discipleship emphasis, is the best means of establishing individual learning needs in children.  If there were local Flexi-Learning Centres scattered around the country, then a register of learning opportunities could be kept so that children could be connected with an appropriate local custodian of specific knowledge sets, skills, and experiences.  Those who gather around this local expert will be there because they want to learn, not because they are of the same age.  Such learning contexts may include multi-generational learners, and a distribution of a wide range of ages.  No one should be excluded from learning simply on the basis of age.  Older learners will be there to help younger learners, and learners who teach other learners will enhance their own learning–a fresh look at peer tuition.

 

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Reflections on Illich 21: Schools militate against the reality that we are not all created equal

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 92  “At their worst, schools gather classmates into the same room and subject them to the same sequence of treatment in math, citizenship and spelling.  At their best, they permit each student to choose one of a limited number of courses.  In any case, groups of peers form around the goals of teachers.  A desirable educational system would let each person specify the activity for which they sought a peer.”

In his essay, ‘Human Variation and Individuality’, from the book, The Twelve Year Sentence, H. George Resch (1974) argues that there is no such thing as equality in the universe.  At every level, every human being, and every other created thing, has stamped upon it individuality.  The modern mantra of equality spits in the face of reality.  We are not created equal.  We should not be treated equally.  The expectation of equal outcome from equal opportunity is a hollow expectation.  It is demanding greater and greater resources for lesser and lesser result.

Those who espouse equality despise the Sovereignty of God; they despise the idea that God has fore-ordained and pre-determined all things–including our roles and functions in society.  It is true that some have used the idea of ordained roles and functions to suppress others and appoint them to positions of slavery.  This is a perversion of the doctrine of Sovereignty.  “For freedom Christ has set us free, … do be not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 teaches us.  No, God is an infinite God, and He has created  an infinite variety in expression of the roles that He has ordained.  This means that individuality needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and allowed to become an expression of expertise.  This means that each person requires an intimately individualized education track.  Sure, there will be core skills that many will share.  However, not everyone will need all of those core skills to be the best that they can be in whatever it is that God has created them to be excellent in.  Mandating core skills will inhibit the growth and development of some for whom such skills are not appropriate.

The educational paths of individuals should touch and part, mingle and separate, and trace a learning dance across the community.  Some will learn some things from this person, but then learn different things from a range of other people, in totally different contexts.  This dance of learning will be encouraged and facilitated by parents, but be tempered with a consideration of the interests, gifts, passions, calling, abilities and other marks of individuality within the student.  It cannot be centrally predetermined.  It cannot be centrally administrated.  It cannot be centrally certificated, regulated, and controlled.  It is an expression of the creativity and providence of the Infinite Triune God.

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Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 18: The thing that schools are best at is training up workers for the schooling industry and other total institutions

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 48  “School either keeps people for life or makes sure that they will fit into some institution.”

I have finally left school.  I am nearly 58 years of age.  The best years of my life were given to schools and schooling.  However, when I took small breaks from school, I found myself caught up in other total institutions, the most significant being four years serving in the Australian Army.  I am living evidence of Illich’s words.  Upon deep reflection, I have come to believe that schools are poisonous places, and many attendees of schools are wounded for life as a consequence of their schooling experience.  The only real survivors of schooling are those who are oriented to the schooling process, and therefore are easily groomed to perpetuate the institution at one of its many levels (child care, pre-school, primary/elementary school, high school, university, post-graduate school, trade school, Bible school, etc.).   But are these survivors really survivors at all.  There is something satisfying about sharing knowledge with others.  However, the total institution of school breeds workplace bullying, academic ladder-climbing, playground bullying, workload stress, and gives opportunity for despots to rise to the top of the bureaucratic pyramid.

All of this is just not necessary for an education.  It is necessary to keep an industry flooded with public money to fund: mortgage payments, extended paid leave, sabbaticals, superannuation, textbook writing, seminars, tenured university positions, research projects, education journals, etc.  However, an education does not cost any where near the cost of funding public-financed schooling.

A truly educated person is not institutionalized.  An educated person knows how to live life to its fullest, is productive, creative, and knows how to think outside the school-set boundaries–an entrepreneur, an inventor, a pioneer.  A schooled person thinks narrowly, and is trained to believe that there is only one answer–the answer required by the teacher on the test that is coming up.  A schooled person is politically correct. A schooled person is passive, and expects others to provide for them–the well-trained dole recipient, or compliant worker in the top-down corporation.

It is said that it takes at least one month of deschooling to counter each year that a person has been schooled.  I have been deschooling for 15 months as of this post.  I only have three years of deschooling to go, and hopefully then I can start becoming a useful person in my community.  What a waste of a life!

A deschooled society will save the community an enormous amount of wasted money, and provide a much better educated community, as well.

 

 

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Schooling, Schools, State Schools

It’s not just the children who suffer in schools: schools are poison for everyone

Peter Doulis, a teacher in the state of Victoria, Australia, has recently been awarded $770,000 in damages following a major psychological breakdown caused by teaching in a Victorian state school.  The Victorian Supreme Court awarded the damages against the Victorian Government because of the government’s negligence in not removing Doulis from teaching in dysfunctional classes.  The students were described as ‘feral’, and were reported to have been “virtually crawling up the wall”. Doulis has been suffering a “chronic severe major depressive condition”.

The Victorian President of the Australian Education Union warned that this is a re-ocurring problem because government’s “aren’t prepared to support our schools in the important work that they do in educating our young people.”

Education Unions have a vested interest in schools and schooling, so their solution to the problem is to throw more government money at the issue.  This will not solve the problem, it will only expand the institution that is the root cause.

So, here is evidence of another situation where attending a school is hazardous to health.  The behaviour of the students that is identified as contributive to Doulis’s breakdown is the kind of behaviour that would be expected in a mental institution.  And why should this be surprising?  Both mental institutions and schools are total institutions, as defined by Goffman (1961).

The Secular, Free and Compulsory Schooling experiment has failed dismally, and needs to be scrapped.  It will not happen over night, and who knows how many more teachers, principals and students will be afflicted with breakdowns before the lesson is learned.  Government-funded schools are not places of education, they are prisons and places that inflict enormous pain on a very large number of people subjected to them.

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates.  New York: Doubleday Anchor.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-05/teacher-awarded-770k-for-dealing-with-feral-students/5722678

 

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Ivan Illich, Schools, State Schools

Reflections on Illich 11: Schools are ancient and modern, and perpetuate childhood

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 28  “The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces.”

School as we know it in our era has only appeared once before in history, and that was in the Ancient community of Sparta.  According to Flaceliere (1965) at the age of 7 a young boy was taken from his family, schooled in a state-controlled total institution, where he was indoctrinated to give allegiance and unquestioning obedience to the state until his death.  Spartan girls were raised to be on equal footing with the boys, but the objective was with a militaristic end in view – breeders of strong Spartan boys for the Army.  Schools and schooling were designed to create total dependence upon the state, and to form the citizens into military units that responded to the states martial objectives.

In the case of modern schools, their original raison d’etre was also militaristic.  The German Kaisers wanted to created a powerful war machine in Europe, and saw state-compulsory schooling as a means of achieving this objective.  When the concept of state-controlled education reached England, America and Australia, it was seen as a means of creating a large workforce of factory workers.  In the words of Reynolds (2014):

“… the traditional public school: like a factory, … runs by a bell.  Like machines in a factory, desks and students are lined up in orderly rows.  When shifts (classes) change, the bell rings again, and students go on to the next class.  And within each class, the subjects are the same, the assignments are the same, and the examinations are the same, regardless of the characteristics of individual students. … A teacher in a modern industiral-era school was like a factory worker, performing standardized operations on standardized parts.  And the standardized parts–the students–were taught along the way how to fit into a larger machine. … the modern school system provided far less scope for individuality on the part of both its producers and its products.  But the trade-off was seen as worthwhile: the modern assembly-line approach, in both settings, produced more of what society wanted, and it did so at a lower cost.  If standard parts are what you want, an assembly line is better than a blacksmith” (Reynolds, 2014, Standardized Parts and Mass Production).

So, the 19th Century objects of schooling were to create a ready supply of “punctual, obedient factory workers; orderly citizens; and loyal soldiers” (Reynolds, 2014).

Between Sparta and the experiment of the German Kaisers, education was a family and marketplace activity, and was not delivered in schools as we know them today.  In that sense, the school system is a modern phenomenon.  And since factories have shifted from the West to Asia, at least some of the reasons for schools and schooling have disappeared–training of piece-workers with no jobs at the end of the training process.

I remember the first thing that I was told by my platoon sergeant, when I got off the bus and commenced my military training: “Don’t think, soldier! You are not paid to think, that is what officers are paid to do.  You are paid to do as you are told.”  Military training militates against maturity and responsibility.  As a soldier, others make decisions about what you will wear, where you will live, what you will eat, whether you will sleep (or not), how you will behave, and so forth.  Schooling that is based on a militaristic and factory model prevents responsible thinking, the essential prerequisite to maturity.  Growing up requires real opportunities to make significant decisions, with actual consequences.  Schools perpetuate childhood;  particularly in the context of age-segregated cohorts, with age-oriented learning materials.

Education for maturity, education for responsibility and productivity in life requires education in life under the guidance of loving parents, and in the company of supportive siblings.  True education orients a child to the twin objectives: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself.  This cannot be achieved in the context of a school, and is not the by-product of schooling; it is the fruit of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.

 

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Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Schools

Reflections on Illich 10: The characteristics of schools

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

pp. 26-27  “… I shall define ‘school’ as the age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum.”

The characteristics that Illich refers to as being defining characteristics of schools are:

1.   age-specific (and age-segregated) learning contexts;

2.   teacher-related (teacher-centred) processes;

3.   full-time attendance (compulsory attendance); and

4.   obligatory curriculum (centrally determined, and obligatory for all to complete).

Each of these characteristics militates against efficient and effective learning on the part of the students. 

Firstly, age-specific and age-segregated learning ensures that learning will be pitched at the mediocre, with very little attention to the needs of those students at either extreme of learning capacity.  Age-specific and age-segregated cohorts are created on the assumption that all children pass through the same stages of development at the same times, which is not true in all areas for all children.  There are developmental differences that enable many children to be at different stages at different times in different areas of their lives.  This assumption of equal development suppresses individuality, and creativity, and ultimately prevents most children from becoming excellent at anything.

Secondly, teacher-related/teacher-centred processes focus on the interests, strengths and abilities of the teacher.  Effective learning takes place when the student has a particular interest or passion that is being catered for.  Learning should not be totally child-centred and child-focused, however, the individuality of the student needs to be taken into consideration, including favoured learning styles, previous learning, orientation, interests and passion of the child.  All these need to be taken into consideration when facilitating learning opportunities.

Thirdly, full-time, compulsory attendance does not take into consideration the powerful learning that takes place when spontaneous opportunities in the context of living life present themselves.  It is important to have the time and the flexibility to respond to these learning opportunities.

Finally, a centrally determined, obligatory curriculum does not take into consideration the myriad of variations of learning needs that are spread across families, communities, regions and so forth.  No one person can learn everything there is to learn.  And no one person or group of people can choose from the full range of possible things that can be learned, which are to be the universally required core learnings.  These are local decisions.

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Reflections on Illich 07: Drill and education are not in competition but are complementary

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

pp. 17-18  “… (the) two-faced nature of learning: drill and an education.  School does both tasks badly, partly because it does not distinguish between them.”

This is a critically important distinction that needs to be embraced in the context of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.  Schools are very bad at distinguishing between drill and education, and very often swing to either extreme; i.e. fill the school day with drill and call it education, or fill the day with ‘education’, but neglect the importance of drill at critical times in the educational life of the child.

Both drill and education are required.  Both have their place, and one cannot substitute for the other.

What then is meant by education, and what is meant by drill?  How are they different, and how are they complementary?

By education is meant the living of life for the purpose of learning how to live life richly and fully.  An education needs to be liberal, in the older sense of being exposed to a very broad range of experiences and cultural expressions, and being able to engage in social intercourse around around such cultural life.  An education includes exposure to good music, beautiful works of art, great accomplishments in architecture, reading of excellent samples of literature from a range of historical periods, and so forth.

On the other hand, being able to live life requires the mastery of specific skills.  Skills mastery often requires repetition, so that there are mental and physical stimulus-response tracks created in the brain and muscle fibres.  Such drill could include the learning of algorithmic facts (i.e. times tables, addition/subtraction facts), phonics coding and decoding cues, geographical features such as rivers and mountains, and names of states and capital cities, lines of Presidents and Prime Ministers and Kings and Queens to create historical pegs upon which can be hung other historical facts, sport and athletic disciplines, and so forth.

Mastery of such skills is not an education, but neither can an education be complete without the mastery of such skills.  The two must be understood, their part in the unschooling process embraced, and their complementary nature fully appreciated.

This just does not happen in most school contexts.

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Reflections on Illich 06: The fuzzy state funding of schools vs self-funding of unschooling

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 17  “… discrimination in favour of schools which dominates … discussion on refinancing education could discredit one of the most critically needed principles for educational reform: the return of initiative and accountability for learning to the learner or his most immediate tutor.”

I served as an Educational Leader in a school, and was instructed by my superior to round up records of attendance, because in Australia schools are paid government money according to attendance statistics.  The attendance figures generated on one day in the year, determined the level of funding that was received for the following year.  If the period from which the snapshot was taken reflected poorly for some reason, even if it wasn’t a true reflection of attendance at other times in the year, then funding was reduced.  So, I was required to round up, when checking attendance figures, so that the best possible attendance picture could be presented.

It happens in many schools, and particularly schools with transitory populations.

On the other hand, unschooling does not cost the public anything; it is self-funded education, and you don’t have to round up attendance figures to ensure that an education can take place.  When learning decisions are made at the level of student and immediate tutor, they can be made realistically, and without having to fudge the books.

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Reflections on Illich 01: Home-based education is education in community, not in isolation

The 1970s work of Ivan Illich has been an important point of reference in my PhD dissertation.  In many respects, Illich understood a Biblical Christian approach to the education process.  I am hoping to comment on a series of quotes that are recorded elsewhere in this blog (Illich quotes) .  This is the first of the quotes.  The full text can be obtained:

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. xix  “Universal education through schooling is not feasible.  It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools.  Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.  The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

Here, as in other parts of Deschooling Society, Illich identifies that schools and schooling, because of their very essence, are unable to deliver true education.  Reformation of schools will not bring about the changes that are necessary to enable education to be accomplished.  Schools are, fundamentally, anti-education.  The thing that schools do best is school its attendees.

No amount of reformation, according to Illich — adjustments to the ways schools are constructed and run, changes in teachers’ attitudes to students, the use of technology in the classroom, and even a change in how students are engaged — will alter the outcomes of schooling.  Schools can only school.  And they can only school, and not educate, because they are total institutions that are designed to control every participant and process within them towards a stated end: egalitarianism and unquestioning submission to the state or some other dominating institution, i.e. an organized religion.  This is not an education, it is indoctrination.  It breeds narrow-mindedness, and an incapacity to think independently.

Schools are not to be reformed, they are to be abandoned altogether, and the vast resources that are taken from families and businesses (through taxation) to fund the schooling industry, should remain with the families and the businesses to fund home-based education and more financially viable private enterprise.

The proper context for education to take place, according to Illich, is living life: “the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”  And the support structures for a thorough education are “educational webs.”  Education must be in a context greater than the family.  The family is an essential base from which children move in and out.  Parents are important gate-keepers, who must vet and monitor the kinds of influences that their children are exposed to in the marketplace.  However, no parent is able to provide everything that the child needs for a well-rounded, reality-grounded education. 

There are three essential agents in an education, from a Biblical perspective.  The three agents are: the family, the church and the marketplace.  And the family needs to engage both the church and the marketplace as important sources of educational moments and experiences, not just lock their children away in a family fortress, as some (a small minority) home schooling families do.

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