In most societies, school systems are main purveyors of ideas. Schools help determine the direction of cultures and can have a major impact on individual lives. They do this by representing and by presenting major frameworks of human knowledge.
When we examine schools, then, we soon discover another reason why the world is in its current state. We discover why most people have aged without valuing the importance of recognizing contradictions, a primary concern for organisms that survive by conceptual identification, integration, and evaluation. We also discover why so many individuals put so little thought into the ways that their dignity and quality of life are stripped from them on a daily basis.
The overwhelming majority of people who pass through today’s school systems tend to uphold and support the ideas they were taught. Most parents and teachers take it for granted that children should be “sociable,” “pledge allegiance to the flag,” sit quietly in class for several hours at a time, dedicate equal periods to dissimilar interests, move through the grade system and its classes (irrespective of individual desires, skills, and abilities), and diligently master as a group the course work provided to them.
Therefore, to recognize an objectively better education, we have to challenge many assumptions. We have to challenge the ideas we were taught and, as a result, most of what today’s authorities recommend. To question the nature of the educational system of course requires us to question the nature of our own education. We need to see how it has influenced, and may still be influencing, our behavior and psychology.
In order to discuss the state of modern education and its logical alternatives, we need to discuss in more detail the nature of childhood. Throughout this book we have noted that children’s experiences with parents and others are important factors in both individual and societal enlightenment. However, such factors can never be complete determiners of the lives of volitional organisms. We can always choose to reverse or spurn detrimental influences. The choice to act against these influences is an exceptional achievement, because it may mean standing alone—which, as we have seen, is not strongly encouraged or even accepted in a culture that espouses varieties of political and psychological dependence.
The idea of self-worth is essential for understanding psychology (be it child, adolescent, or adult). It is, after all, a central component of self-esteem. By virtue of being alive, every person has intrinsic worth. Every person deserves to live joyfully. Problems can arise, however, when we (or others) confuse our actions with our basic worth. If the way children merely behave, for example, is taken to be an indication of their existential competence and valuableness, then they and those around them may lose awareness of their fundamental self-worth.
Certainly, we can do things that affect our self-respect. This involves the issue of integrity. Simply put, if we do not fully respect ourselves, we may do disrespectful things. While it may initially seem somewhat paradoxical, the more we can distinguish our intrinsic worth from any of our particular actions and feelings at any given moment, the more we are able to appropriately serve our rational self-interest. Our basic self-worth is then no longer at the constant mercy of our specific feelings and actions. This enables us to trust ourselves to act in our best interests given what we know (and don’t know). Undoubtedly, if one lacks this basic self-trust and does not embrace one’s fundamental worth, then disrespectful or even destructive patterns of behavior may arise. Essentially, one’s behavior conforms to one’s expectations of it, given one’s view of self.
Of course, we can also do things that others may not value or respect us for. We can annoy others who have “better” or “proper” ideas about how we should express ourselves and live among them. Sometimes our autonomous actions arouse scorn in others. Others’ scorn may (if we buy into it) falsely indicate that we are wrong, not just in action, but also in person; thus we are seen as bad—as unworthy. In fact, the ridiculing of self-worth has been used habitually by people throughout the ages: the declaration, or more insidiously, the implication, that we are unworthy in principle, unworthy to think and live independently, as our person requires.
Employers, teachers, parents, loved ones, and even strangers can disparage or attack one’s worth. It can be an extremely powerful technique by which to manipulate, control, intimidate, or simply incense. Especially with a child, to label him or her with disparaging adjectives like “clumsy,” “stupid,” “dumb,” and so forth, is to invoke, in the words of psychologist Haim Ginott, “…reactions in his body and in his soul. There are resentment and anger and hate. There are fantasies of revenge. There is guilt about the fantasies, and anxiety stemming from the guilt. And there may be undesirable behavior and symptoms. In short, there is a chain of reactions that makes the child and his parents miserable.”33(p.47) All these reactions indicate that self-worth has been attacked, and the easiest—but by no means proper—way to deal with the situation is to attack the worth of the instigator.
If disrespecting others’ self-worth solidifies into a habit, then the issue of addressing one’s own self-worth in a rational and coherent fashion may be practically ruled out. Situations can develop in which grown individuals engage in all sorts of ranting, quibbling, bickering, hassling, and so on (as well as the more subtle games of deceit and vindictiveness and jealousy and envy, for instance). Like the characters in television soap operas, they conveniently avoid any focus on the source of their general complaints and problems with people; self-worth is neglected. Individuals simply have not nourished the practice of authentically and repeatedly validating their worth internally, by themselves.
Children can be significantly influenced by others. Children obviously have less developed cognitive functioning and less knowledge. Additionally, parental practices can promote emotional structures of dependence. Both of these factors may tend to diminish children’s internal validations of worth.
Subconscious thoughts concerning, for example, unmet needs and unfulfilled desires can impel a child to cling to others for approval and acceptance (regardless of their responses). The child may have the secret hope that he or she will be deemed “OK,” or “good enough.” Parents can counteract this situation by appealing to the child’s need to acquire intellectual and psychological independence. They can teach the child that, because one is good in principle, one’s self-worth need not be at the mercy of other’s responses.
Of course, the discouragement of a child’s own validation of self-worth has detrimental consequences. As parents or adults, we can choose to interact with children in a variety of ways. Naturally, we are responsible for these interactions. Children are quick to receive the messages we send to them, whether beneficial or harmful. Ginott stressed the issue of delivering sane communication:
What counts most in adult-child communication is the quality of the process. A child is entitled to sane messages from an adult. How parents and teachers talk tells a child how they feel about him. Their statements affect his self-esteem and self-worth. To a large extent, their language determines his destiny.
Parents and teachers need to eradicate the insanities so insidiously hidden in their everyday speech, the messages that tell a child to distrust his perception, disown his feelings, and doubt his worth. The prevalent, so-called “normal,” talk drives children crazy—the blaming and shaming, preaching and moralizing, ordering and bossing, admonishing and accusing, ridiculing and belittling, threatening and bribing, diagnosing and prognosing. These techniques brutalize, vulgarize, and dehumanize children. Sanity depends on trusting one’s inner reality. Such trust is engendered by processes that can be identified and applied.32(p.81)
When adults gain knowledge of how to treat themselves in an appropriate manner, they are better able to deal with the untarnished and joyous little beings known as children. The inner reality Ginott mentions is mainly that of the subconscious. Knowing the workings of one’s subconscious mind means becoming aware of integrations and evaluations that may be dysfunctional both for oneself and others. Awareness enables one to cultivate an enlightened state of consciousness for self and others.
By providing children with a healthy psychological model, adults also honor their volitional capacity. The so-called “normal” talk of which Ginott speaks, in contrast, denies children’s volition. Such talk may take the form of orders: “don’t do that”; “come here”; “don’t make me drag you”; “come play with the rest”; “share your toys”; “clean your room”; “be a good boy”; “be a good girl”; “don’t hate your daddy”; “be nice”; “you’d better behave”; “I expect you to…”—ad nauseum. These commands indicate a fundamental distrust in the child’s faculty of judgment and disrespect for the child’s ability to have and make choices.
Psychological freedom is acquired by dealing with reality—which includes one’s inner reality—in an independent way. Evolution has already granted children the capacity to focus and relate to the world in a conceptual fashion. And this capacity concerns the intrinsic motivation to be aware and to actively work to understand. As children, our cognitive/emotional mechanisms are structured so that these processes are not only easy, but also extremely enjoyable.
To thwart these processes is to discourage children and place blocks in the way of their self-actualization. If adults constantly impose directives on children, they can hinder the process by which children joyously learn to use their minds. It can interrupt and fragment development of self-discipline and self-mastery.
Children’s learning processes may need guidance and encouragement, but these should not be mixed with commands to abide by. Obedience is an inherently destructive trait for a thinking organism, which must guide itself by its own judgment. Demands for obedience can ultimately be traced to a lack of trust in one’s own volitional faculty (i.e., trust in making competent decisions). This leads inexorably to mistrusting others, especially children.
The demand for obedience, though, is usually masked in the idea that “It is for your own good,” implying that it is both necessary and proper. The rationalizations adults can use to negate the will of the child are nearly endless. For instance, adults may see children as inadequate persons, or as having incomplete personalities; hence, children may seem in need of orders.
Nineteenth century sociologist Herbert Spencer noted the following: “Uncover its roots, and the theory of coercive education will be found to grow not out of man’s love of his offspring but out of his love of dominion. Let any one who doubts this listen to that common reprimand—‘How dare you disobey me?’ and then consider what the emphasis means.”97(p.90)
Self-doubt, guilt, and shame, often mixed with anger, resentment, contempt, arrogance, boastfulness, are the detrimental emotional consequences for children when their volition and worth are not respected. Children can form a variety of inferiority and superiority complexes, from which comparison contests become the conscious or subconscious norms. Naughtiness, unruliness, hostile possessiveness, laziness, futile fantasy play, shyness, and so forth, are the detrimental behavioral consequences.
Much of the irrational behavior that children display is a result of how adults have treated them. Misbehavior usually does not emanate naturally from the child. Children learn a great deal from adults. By the time the typical child enters school, for instance, he or she may have a plentiful arsenal of psychological games acquired from interactions with adults (and children of these adults).
So, adults need to search deeper into a child’s motivations for acting “crazy.” Otherwise they risk responding in nonhealing ways. The temper tantrums of children, for instance, which daily try the patience of adults, are direct indicators that important needs have not been, or are not being, met.66 More often than not, children do not want to be spiteful and cause problems. Their anger or upset is usually symptomatic of a larger problem that needs respectful nurturing.
Maria Montessori noted that children have a natural desire to independently learn and work.65 She questioned the common assumption that being directed or, in contrast, being idle with other idle minds or just engaging in purposeless, unthinking play, should be a natural part of childhood. Montessori took a scientificapproach to pedagogy and sought to be an objective observer of children. She noted that pedagogy cannot be properly structured without understanding child psychology.
The exceptional, critically important observation she drew from her work was this: The child has a teacher within.67 Children, as well as adults, do not need to be “taught” in the strict sense of the term; they do not need to be given lectures in order to learn. This may only hamper an initially eager young mind’s quest for knowledge.
Montessori noted that, after being provided the appropriate learning environment, “spontaneous manifestations” of children develop and flourish on their own. Children naturally respond to interesting and unknown things. They seek to learn through their own relentless curiosity. In fact, this is the wonderful life force within all of us.
Montessori’s first school for preschool-age children began in Italy in 1907. It was soon able to develop the true humanity in a group of deprived children, many of whom were discouraged and unruly. After achieving extraordinary success with her new pedagogical ideas and methods, she wrote:
One of the most interesting and unexpected discoveries in our schools was the love and diligence with which children who acted on their own carried out their tasks. A child who is free to act not only seeks to gather sensible impressions from his environment but he also shows a love for exactitude in the carrying out of his actions. His spirit then seems to be suspended between existence and self-realization. A child is a discoverer. He is an amorphous splendid being in search of his own proper form.(p.99)
These poised little children, full of charm and dignity, were always ready to receive visitors. They had lost their former timidity. There was no obstacle lying between their souls and their surroundings. Their lives were unfolding naturally like the lotus that spreads out its white petals to receive the rays of the sun as it sends forth a fragrant odor. The important thing was that the children found no obstacles in the way to their development. They had nothing to hide, nothing to fear, nothing to shun. It was as simple as that. Their self-possession could be attributed to their immediate and perfect adaptation to their environment.66(p.128)
The environment these children had adapted to was reality. The children could proceed at their own pace, by their own volition; their minds were in their own possession. They did not have to submit to the orders of an authority—to obey teacher.
Notice from the description that the children in Montessori’s school displayed neither inhibition nor inappropriateness. Children who have their needs consistently and genuinely met apprehend their world sensibly. As a result of learning in a free, spontaneous, and self-directed fashion—in a mentally and physically invigorating environment (which incidentally is the teacher’s task to provide)—all essentially useless behavior falls by the wayside. No longer do children feel the need to fight against the wills of others, or doubt their own wills; both battles of the wills and surrenders of them disappear. Life and happiness flourish because nothing blocks the way to great, open expanses of knowledge and refreshing, stimulating experiences.
In such environments, children become confident that they can shape their own destinies. They feel that they are in control of their actions. They also realize that the pursuit of objective values is worthwhile and that happiness comes naturally. And, they understand that conflicts with others should be rare and dignified interactions the norm.
However, when the essential psychological and educational needs of children are not provided for, we ought to expect the aftermath. When following authoritarian orders is applied to the classroom, problems only exacerbate. Rather than encouraged to be independent, children are placed in a group of equally confused and misguided peers.
Though socialization may be the educational goal, the outcome is far from socially beneficial. In spite of their psychic needs to grasp reality and to acquire new skills independently, children are required to adjust to the behavior of an irrational group. Rand discussed this in her powerful critique of modern education, The Comprachicos:
Adjust to what? To anything. To cruelty, to injustice, to blindness, to silliness, to pretentiousness, to snubs, to mockery, to treachery, to lies, to incomprehensible demands, to unwanted favors, to nagging affections, to unprovoked hostilities—and to the overwhelming, overpowering presence of Whim as the ruler of everything. (Why these and nothing better? Because these are the protective devices of helpless, frightened, unformed children who are left without guidance and are ordered to act as a mob. The better kinds of actions require thought.)83(p.198)
Clearly, this educational environment tells us that something is terribly wrong. Yet the feelings of frustration and resentment so typical in today’s schools (among students and teachers alike) often go unnoticed as being indicators of flawed methodology. In all the required assignments and requiredactivities—in all the hints and admonishments to conform to the group and comply with teachers’ demands and impositions—we find a significant amount of emotional repression.
Clearly, such feelings need to be treated with respect. Rather than being repressed, they need to be examined. Introspection would no doubt enable educators to question the nature of current pedagogy. But without introspection, certain psychological attitudes will continue. Montessori remarked about the “camouflages” of adults, which help conceal true feelings:
One of the most remarkable camouflages is the hypocrisy with which an adult treats a child. An adult sacrifices a child’s needs to his own, but he refuses to recognize the fact, since this would be intolerable. He persuades himself that he is exercising a natural right and acting for the future good of the child. When the child defends himself, the adult does not advert to what is really happening but judges whatever the child does to save himself as disobedience and the result of evil tendencies. The feeble voice of truth and justice within the adult grows weak and is replaced by the false conviction that one is acting prudently, according to one’s right and duty, and so forth. The heart is hardened. It becomes like ice and gleams like crystal. Everything is broken against it.66(p.176)
One of the many things that break may be the love of learning. When learning is controlled or directed by others, passion for it usually fades. When school becomes a continuous process of following assignments and performing lessons that teachers require of students, the process of self-motivated integration can be severely debilitated. Teachers now must focus primarily on “classroom management,” trying to keep order and proper behavior among their students.
The schooling process continues like a juggernaut that unapologetically consumes its victims. Its coercive nature is seldom held accountable for the troubling outcomes. Myriad problems are instead attributed to lazy students, lack of discipline, poor teacher pay, dumb administration, insufficient funding, and the like.
At present, nearly all schools—elementary, high school, undergraduate, graduate school—require students to abide by someone else’s notions of what should be learned (and when and how). Such outside directives often take the will out of individuals striving to gain knowledge, skills, and abilities. Additionally, they encourage a dependent learning perspective. In the words of educator Alfie Kohn:
The signs of such dependence are questions such as ‘Do we have to know this?’ or ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ Every educator ought to recognize these questions for what they are: distress calls. The student who offers them is saying, ‘My love of learning has been kicked out of me by well-meaning people who used bribes or threats to get me to do schoolwork. Now all I want to know is whether I have to do it—and what you’ll give me if I do.’…The teacher’s distress call—which can sometimes sound more smug than distressed—is the insistence that students won’t bother to learn anything that isn’t going to be graded.48 (p. 200)
In concert with the procedure of required learning, modern education “grades” students. Grading is actually implementation of the psychological theory of operant conditioning. In simple terms, this theory holds that behavior can be modified by manipulating rewards and punishments for a person. Needless to say, another person is doing the manipulating and desiring particular behavior. However efficacious rewards and punishments are thought to be for the short-term, they are clearly destructive in the long-term—and they do not say much for believing in competent, self-motivated human functioning.
The present educational system confesses its ineffectiveness by upholding the belief that tests and grades are necessary to keep students studying and mastering the material. “What is even more appalling,” Kohn stated, “many teachers hold out the possibility of more academic work as a punishment (or the possibility of less work as a reward), which drives home the lesson that learning is something a student should want to avoid.48(p. 151)
Certainly many students today would rather skip class and spend time with friends instead of study. In fact this is one of the greatest laments of teachers. Yet we need to realize that the present system has contributed to such student yearnings. Low student motivation for learning is probably the worst of the harmful repercussions of coercive education. Students can hardly be blamed for not wanting to sit for seemingly endless hours in classrooms.
Coercing people to study is really the reversal of cause and effect. People should study because they want to, not because they are forced to. To label students as inherently apathetic or undisciplined is to not question the nature of the coercive system. Such labeling only fulfills prophecies.
Nearly all of us, teachers included, were educated in a coercive educational environment. Thus, to accept the status quo may seem quite natural. Most of us were taught that drudgery and obedience to authority are often intrinsic components to the learning process. Grading and testing, of course, were used as main tools.
Some believe tests challenge the learner and indicate the amount of learning that has occurred. This perhaps is true—in a certain context. The way in which tests are used is key. In the context of modern education, they are normally used for grading. Consequently, students forget most of what they try to memorize for tests in a relatively short amount of time. This is a well-established fact.
Basically, grades and tests misplace the emphasis of education. They make students focus on rote memorization rather than thinking (e.g., making distinctions and integrations). When the exalted end is grades, learning mostly withers. As psychiatrist and educational reformer William Glasser noted: A student can either “concentrate on grades and give up thinking; or concentrate on thinking and give up grades.” Some give up both. They see little joy in doing either in this context. Glasser continued: “If we failed those who did C or D work, the system would be exposed and soon abandoned, but we don’t; we just place them in a position where, correctly sensing our attitude, they feel they are failures.”34(p.63)
Testing and subsequent grading also bolster a teacher’s status as an “authority” in the realm of judging student academic efficacy and worth. This neglects a supreme pedagogical fact: a student should be the judge of his or her own competence. Any test a student chooses to take should be a reflection of his or her desire to assess educational progress. “What grades offer,” in the words of Kohn, “is spurious precision, a subjective rating masquerading as an objective assessment.”48(p.201) Another writer described grading in the following way: “A grade can be regarded only as an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of material.”28(p.6)
Since tests are regularly administered in opposition to the desires of the learner, they serve poorly as measures of capability. Main examples of this are college entrance examinations (and other standardized tests). These exams tend to view intelligence as primarily an innate, rather than an acquired, trait. Multitudes of statisticians and psychologists (or their hybrid, psychometric psychologists) have intricately designed and meticulously evaluated each type of test for validity and reliability. The tests are constructed to accurately measure what the creators want them to measure—”intelligence,” “achievement,” or “aptitude”—which in this case involves the ability to answer carefully timed question sets. On the reliability side, scores need to be replicable across time and places; they are usually compared to norms and gauged in percentile ranks of populations.
Though this testing process sounds very scientific, it has little to do with education. Those who do not score high enough on tests such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, may be denied higher levels of study or professional fields of work. These “objective” assessments are thought to spare potential students future hardship, wasted effort, and money.
So, even though students desire to learn and are willing to pay for it, others must judge whether they are capable or worthy of being in certain disciplines. Students cannot pursue their interests unless others—those in positions of authority—say they may proceed. All this is done supposedly for the good of everyone.
However, even if students are admitted to their desired colleges and universities, they are subjected to a very curious process. Educator John Holt related some of his thoughts about students in universities and colleges and their extended transition process into the workforce:
Most of them were on campus to get a piece of paper that (they thought) would enable them to do whatever they were going to do next, when they got out of school. Most of them, if given the piece of paper, would leave immediately and do that next thing. Most of them, if they left right away with paper in hand to do that next thing, would do it about as well as they will do it after many more years on this or some other campus. Others of the students are here because they don’t know what to do next, or because they want to put off, for as long as they can, whatever they will do next.
Meanwhile, one might say that all those students are learning something. Perhaps they are. But they will not long remember more than a small part of it, or use or benefit from more than a small part of that. They are learning this stuff to pass exams. Most of them could not pass the same exam even a year later, to say nothing of ten years later. And, if some of what they learn should someday prove useful, they would probably have learned it ten times faster when they needed to use it and thus had a reason for learning it.39(p.200)
What keeps this system afloat? The educational establishment does, in concert with government. Most of the educational establishment is owned and operated by government; the rest is controlled by it (through grants, accreditation, required curricula and testing, etc.). This coercive system restricts the supply of students for various professional fields (law and medicine are two main examples). Many professionals are subsequently required to become and stay “certified” by state governments via a variety of licensing processes; individuals are declared criminals for “practicing without a license.”
Such rights-infringing regulations are based on the premise that individuals have no right to function for their own sake and in their own interests. University or college job tickets (diplomas) and stamps of approval by the State (licenses) are, by this standard, what makes one a reputable professional—not one’s own effort and achievement. Clearly, little trust exists in people’s capacity for discrimination, judgment, and self-regulation; consequently, the “experts” place scant trust in students to make competent decisions for themselves.
Modern education errs in its presupposition that others, not individuals themselves, know and can best determine personal ability. One primary statement about a free society (and about reality in general) is this: Every person must stand or fall by his or her own judgment. If one happens to fall, then one will learn from this and know better next time. Essentially, this is part of the learning process. It cannot be circumvented; it can only be unacknowledged.
A society that values respect for truth values honesty as a supreme virtue. Being honest—not only to others but also to oneself—is best fostered in a society that relies on and trusts the judgment of individuals to make appropriate assessments of themselves. The market of consumers will make their own judgments accordingly.
Even though individuals might want assistance (e.g., in the form of informational feedback) to more accurately assess their skills or accomplishments, the nature of self-assessment does not change. Gaining knowledge, learning skills, and developing understanding are self-regulated processes. They cannot be directed, dictated, or evaluated by others.
A coercive system basically ensures that teachers remain frustrated with the slowness and lethargy of most students, and that most students continue to see every new assignment as a burden. This is the dead end of a bankrupt pedagogy. By doubting the self-directing capability of people in principle, it proceeds to create many of the same unmotivated mentalities it expected from the outset.
And what about the individuals who fall through the cracks? The ones who are deemed not good enough academically somewhere along their anxious, burdensome, and frustrating journey? What happens to them? What conclusions do they draw about life and the power of their mind? How do they go about gaining desired knowledge, and how long does it take for that desire to subside, and then to vanish? How do they go about seeking happiness and enlightenment, when their first few attempts proved futile? Self-respecting educators must address questions of this kind.
In order for the educational system to cultivate enthusiasm for learning, it has to be responsive to the needs of learners. Learning flourishes with a self-directed and independent attitude. Regardless of how enjoyable, helpful, or necessary it may be to learn from and along with others, only single minds can integrate information and deal with it.
Individual students need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their learning processes. A self-chosen and self-motivated pursuit of values needs to be fostered. Schools, teachers, tutors, workshops, field trips, and so on, should exist to expand the range of possibilities of student choices—to, in a real sense, open new worlds for learners.
So, the primary job of educators is basically to provide the appropriate facilities, guidance, and feedback for learning. They should offer help when it is wanted, and should cater to the interests of the student.40 In doing so, students maintain a desire to discover the new and previously unknown.
Within a benevolent and voluntary educational system, the connotation of the word “student” would likely change. At present, it oftentimes implies a subordinate relationship to another, the so-called expert—the teacher. It may conjure images of being told what to do and what to learn in spite of one’s interests, of being instructed and evaluated by an authority, and of having to sit for long periods and listen to someone lecture. Perhaps worst of all, “student” may imply having not just a lack of knowledge, but strangely, a lack of competence in acquiring it—hence the longstanding rationalization for external direction and control of student learning activities.
Of course primarily coercive education has tended to foster these connotations. Many educational institutes and teachers outside of this context can facilitate respectful relationships with students. They maintain genuine authority because students (of all ages) actively choose their services and both need and want particular amounts of guided instruction.39
Therefore, for clarity’s sake, student ought to mean anyone in the process of acquiring knowledge and skills—regardless of any and all authorities who posture as superior. Accordingly, teacher ought to mean any individual emotionally secure enough to see him or herself as a student who encourages and facilitates learning.
True reform comes from implementation of new educational methods. A logically integrated philosophical and psychological approach to pedagogy from the beginning would provide the mental tools to reverse present counterproductive practices. Be it in preschool, elementary, or high school, all would be united in stressing the importance of self-evolution, autonomy, and enlightenment.
Following the lead of genuine Montessori pedagogy, school would not be a place where students are required to learn certain subjects at specified times against their will and interests. Schools in which education is learner-driven would be the norm (in fact, some of these so-called “free schools” already exist presently).
Learning is not a job in which one gets paid for doing certain tasks. It is a self-actualizing process. Learning services should be geared for the benefit of students, not for fulfillment of various preconceived notions of what constitutes proper education. Consequently, students would be able to get what they want from a learning service. This, of course, would be reflected in their record of participation and accompanying portfolio of work and experiences.
Under capitalism, as was implied in the foregoing discussion, government would no longer run the schools. Since no State would exist, there would be no ties between State and education. Aspects of mainstream education that fail at the task of inspiring self-motivation in learning would be abolished. Things that are contradictory and thus impractical are of no use to anyone.
When the education of children as well as adults is left totally to the free market, the best methods, types, and formats of teaching will soon be offered. Not only the best methods but also the best ideas would surface and become predominant. The most effective and uplifting means of education would no longer be restricted by governmental policies (be they city or county, state or federal).
The fact that government now curtails the flow of ideas is an essential part of the collective scheme of things. The use of biased administrators, teachers, and the influence of teacher unions and associations (huge lobbyists who rigorously defend current pedagogy) are main examples. The impositions of laws that regulate, dictate, and create barriers to entry for genuine competition are other examples. There are always definite motives at work, be they just defending subjective interests in the design of one’s profession, or the connected and deeper issues of maintaining power and control. That most private schools mimic the curricula and general structure of public schools is not just coincidence. The reasons are both psychological and political.
Only a free market and logical ideas will show the way to enlightenment. Enlightened psychologies are able to create effective and inspiring learning environments. How well teachers facilitate learning and encourage understanding in all who seek their services is a central part of this. How well students can take notes, memorize (frequently unrelated and ungrounded) material, and recite an arbitrary amount of it on examinations is not. As psychologist Carl Rogers noted, being a facilitator of learning is a very different occupation than being a teacher and evaluator. He knew that trust and respect are essential for authentic human relationships, and that the psychology of the facilitator is a crucial element in the success of education.
Here is Rogers’ view of what the attitude of education should be: “To free curiosity; to permit individuals to go charging off in new directions dictated by their own interests; to unleash the sense of inquiry; to open everything to questioning and exploration; to recognize that everything is in process of change—here is an experience I can never forget.”87(p.120)
In future learning environments, the time spent in school could be greatly reduced and left totally to the individual. Undoubtedly, newly transformed businesses and economies would want to incorporate adolescents in educational work environments designed to profit all the participants.
Schools would offer an assortment of learning environments, and they would respect students’ decisions and diverse interests. These systems likely would incorporate such things as: interactions with peers of different ages; varied and extensive reading lists; informative and guided group discussions; useful feedback on individual and group projects; detailed reviews of students’ writings; and the continued multifaceted use of computers. General programs and curricula would be chosen by students and tracked by students and teachers. This would result in unique documented lists of experiences and cognitive/emotional accomplishments; such portfolios would ensure objective evidence of participation in particular programs.
Incidentally, the educational idea of creating “well-rounded” students would be reexamined. Schools, in their intention to foster this type of person, typically have disregarded personal interests. Without interest, of course, not much learning occurs. Little is retained, and little is used in contexts outside of school. The educational material tends to go in one ear and out the other, touching few meaningful mental areas.
Concerns about creating inept “one-dimensional” students would fade away. Educators would realize that in depth study of any specific subject typically entails a great deal of tangential material. Because all knowledge is interconnected, a master of one trade will acquire knowledge of others (even inadvertently). Scholars of certain fields become well versed in at least the surface information of other fields.
Ultimately, people become functional and adept because they desire, seek, and use particular knowledge. Learners need to be interested in learning. Information that is imposed on them will usually be shrugged off as personally meaningless.
Educational services basically need to treat students as human beings, instead of inferior beings. Any service that did not cater to the interests of self-respecting individuals would never survive on the free market. Seeing learning services from a business management perspective exposes some relevant psychological issues.
In the formulation of his “Quality Schools,” William Glasser compared students with employees. He noted the differences between the old, traditional management style and the new style. He outlined four basic elements in each style:
[Boss Managing (old style)]
1. The boss sets the task and the standards for what the workers (students) are to do, usually without consulting the workers. Bosses do not compromise; the worker has to adjust to the job as the boss defines it.
2. The boss usually tells, rather than shows, the workers how the work is to be done and rarely asks for their input as to how it might possibly be done better.
3. The boss, or someone the boss designates, inspects (or grades) the work. Because the boss does not involve the workers in this evaluation, they tend to settle for just enough quality to get by.
4. When workers resist, the boss uses coercion (usually punishment) almost exclusively to try to make them do as they are told and, in so doing, creates a workplace in which the workers and manager are adversaries.(p.24)
[Lead Managing (new style)]
1. The leader engages the workers in a discussion of the quality of the work to be done and the time needed to do it so that they have a chance to add their input. The leader makes a constant effort to fit the job to the skills and the needs of the workers.
2. The leader (or worker designated by the leader) shows or models the job so that the worker who is to perform the job can see exactly what the manager expects. At the same time, the workers are continually asked for their input as to what they believe may be a better way.
3. The leader asks the workers to inspect or evaluate their own work for quality, with the understanding that the leader accepts that they know a great deal about how to produce high-quality work and will therefore listen to what they say.
4. The leader is a facilitator in that he shows the workers that he has done everything possible to provide them with the best tools and workplace as well as a noncoercive, nonadversarial atmosphere in which to do the job.(p.31)35
The new style of managing honors dignity in the workplace. It empowers individuals by allowing them to make crucial decisions. Glasser noted that a large part of the new style of managing stems from the ideas of W. Edwards Deming, a major management consultant and theorist of the twentieth century. Deming’s theories and practices of managing have contributed to the tremendous increases in productivity and quality found, for example, in Japanese companies. These companies, unlike many companies in the U.S. (at least initially), embraced the notion that workers know their work best. A free environment in which to make decisions also increases quality, efficiency, and profits.
The boss managing techniques are symbolic of basic mistrust in human ability. Although in today’s economy it is utilized less than in previous decades, this management style can still be found. Inherent distrust of workers as well as managers’ fears of losing control of operations if they become facilitators instead of commanders permeates many businesses. Like individuals in teaching, individuals in management can reserve the option to tenaciously maintain positions of power. They can refuse to delegate authority to others who require it in order to be autonomous, self-motivated, and quality-oriented.
While some twisted rationalization may make the use of command and control tactics on workers appear reasonable, such tactics can be quite degrading. And they are no less degrading for students. When educators use such tactics on their paying customers, they dispense with any semblance of respectful business relations. From a customer’s point of view, it is equivalent to paying someone to rule over oneself. In a free market, no one in his or her right mind would purchase an educational service that worked to destroy the most important aspects of that very purchase—namely, personal fulfillment and self-actualization.
Thus, what we would see in the marketplace of ideas is much needed reform. Rationalizations that once allowed so many institutions to be so powerful would be seen as dreadful wasters of time and destroyers of individual growth. Doubtless a great awakening would occur among those who had been constrained by illogical ideas of the “proper” methods of teaching (and managing).
As in many things in life, change is inevitable. To ignore this obvious fact, or to try to forestall or retard it, is asking for existential and psychological trouble. Discarding the useless and the improper is a natural part of adapting to change and meeting new challenges.
The uninhibited free market would encourage change ideologically and, in doing so, could and would open new avenues for psychological transformation. Free markets foster free and uninhibited minds. And because we are capable of contemplating our whole life and seeing its brevity, nothing could be more invigorating than seeking out change for the better in education—for it can only amplify our quality of life.