‘What is education? It is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but from the whole movement of life.’ J Krishnamurti
Recently, when we were taking care of our two grandsons, the five year old decided to complain loudly about the fact he had to go to school. My wife, Maggie, asked him:
“What’s the matter with school? Why don’t you want to go?”
Through tears of protestation he said, “I don’t like the learning.”
Here is a boy who is fascinated by almost everything. He can spend hours with Lego; putting it together, taking it apart, and constructing imaginary games with figures of all descriptions. During the time that we were helping to look after our grandsons the weather was hot and the nights were such that air barely seemed to move so Maggie bought a pedestal electric fan, boxed and ready to put together; on his return from school this little boy was immediately fascinated by what the box contained. He persuaded her to unpack it then and there, and together they began to work out how to put it together; he excitedly provided solutions to the construction and actively worked together with his grandmother. He had never seen one of these fans before, so he was not employing memory…
‘I don’t like the learning.’!
Schools, as they are now, are dead and their lifeless forms are mouldering tumours in the belly of global society, filled with the shiny cancerous cells of modern life: competition, coercion, and conformity; creating a stratified, divided, contemptuous world, where the ultimate value is purely economic.
In the conclusion to her new edition of ‘Alternative Approaches to Education’, Fiona Carnie writes,
‘They [alternative schools and learning communities] are based on the values of a healthy society – of democracy, community, fairness, trust, tolerance, openness and support. Children who have experienced these values in an active way as an integral part of their education are more likely to reflect them in their own lives and work. Now more than ever we are aware of the need to create a world which is based on such values… schooling has to be more than a means of training children to contribute to economic growth regardless of the social and environmental costs.’.
So, what happens now? I would like to suggest that instead of looking at what might replace schools, we investigate learning: our assumptions about learning, how learning is organised and what learning really is. In a blog written by the psychologist, Peter Gray, he states that:
‘Throughout essentially all of human history, children educated themselves by exploring, playing, watching and listening to others, and figuring out and pursuing their own goals in life.’
‘Coercive schooling has been a blip in human history, designed to serve temporary ends that arose with industrialization and the need to suppress creativity and free will. Coercive schooling is in the process now of burning itself out, in a kind of final flaring up.’.
‘Coercive schooling’ reflects the dominant authoritarian view of life, that learning is the delivering and assimilation of a body of required knowledge in which the child will be tested/examined to ensure that a certain standard is reached. The roles of the teacher and the taught are clearly drawn up into one who knows and one who doesn’t, ensuring the continuation of division in human society.
‘As an educator you have no status; you are a human being with all the problems of life, like a student. The moment you speak from status, you are actually destroying human relationship.’ J Krishnamurti
Imperialism, nationalism, age related superiority, gender related superiority, race related superiority and species related superiority, reside deeply in the consciousness of the modern mind; to a great extent the organisation of learning continues to serve these world views and the vast machinery of education either overtly or inadvertently crystallises certain attitudes in its ‘learners’ (a term that appears to have replaced children or students). A central aspect of this approach is that learning is always towards an end, which begins at a certain pre-ordained point and then progresses incrementally towards an agreed conclusion – a body of knowledge consigned to memory; whoever is the learner in this process plays a passive, receiving role.
‘If you observe the world about you, you see how insane it all is: mothers sending their sons to war to kill or be killed; the divisions of religion and governments with their conflict and their corruption; the talk of peace while preparing for war; the endless breaking-up of human beings into categories, temperaments, with their gurus and analysts. This insanity has its own activity, which is contradictory. Imitative and divisive. Education as it is now exists to conform to the pattern of insanity.’ J Krishnamurti
When we collect our grandson from school, he runs and dances all the way to his house, delighting in the physical freedom, flinging his arms and legs in all directions as if he had just escaped from a straightjacket. He knows how to learn, he has interests he is developing on his own; he listens, most of the time; and he observes and asks questions. It is not that he wants to learn; it is that learning is in his very make up as human being. The other side of the coin from the adult point of view, is that I have had times as a teacher when I have felt frustrated and confined in the classroom through the tedium of my own lesson; restricted by the expectation to perform in an area which for me held little interest.
The ground from which all learning rises is the individual, the person through whom all perception of reality flows, therefore learning about life is inseparable from learning about oneself and this learning has no conclusion. Our propensity to separate our learning into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ severely limits our understanding of both the inner and outer world; relying all too often on the judgement of others. And learning about oneself is not a self-absorbing process as it is based upon the listening and observation that connects outer with the inner; freedom to breathe the pure air.
‘I don’t like the learning.’!
The Whole Movement of Life is Learning: J Krishnamurti; Krishnamurti Foundation Trust 2006
Alternative Approaches to Learning: Fiona Carnie; Second Edition; Routledge; 2017
Differences Between Self-Directed and Progressive Education: Peter Gray; Psychology Today(online); 2017