Education and Democracy

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Written By RobertMaxfield

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“Education and Freedom,” oxymoron that it is, is probably the most important issue
of the day. The world we inhabit, and the one that will be inhabited by the next
generation, is shaped by what future citizens learn during their most formative
years. The school/teach/educate system exemplifies, and brainwashes young
people, by being authoritarian, hierarchal, and undemocratic. The inherent values
of the education system are self-interest, competition, and materialism. Freedom to
learn is repressed. If we want a different social system, one including freedom,
then we must expose young people to freedom from their birth.

Prof. Roland Meighan of England has emphasized the fact that the word “education”
denotes “to be conditioned, to believe, to perform and to act in a given way.” He
suggests that “learning” is a radically different activity. Charles Hayes, a proponent
for autodidactism, suggests education is something given you , while Learning is
something you take. Ivan Illich in “Deschooling Society” illuminated the difference
and concluded that society would not improve as long a schooling brainwashed
students with the staus quo. Paulo Friere in “Education for the Oppressed” urged
the end of traditional schooling and the development of open minds. John Holt,
after a long life of trying to fix the schools, recognized that that was the wrong road
and proposed we “Teach Our Own.” Manish Jain of India promotes “unlearning,”
that is overriding the brainwashing of schools, and critical thinking. Even those who
are most involved with the education system recognize that education today doesn’t
fit today’s needs, but few move beyond the “fix the schools” syndrome. The issue of
the day is to think out of the box, and go to the roots of why we learn, how we
learn, when we learn and, a secondary concern, what we learn. We need to think in
terms of “learning” not “educating.”

This suggests that the mantra for every individual and every organization should be:

This mantra demands a radical transformation of not only how we learn but of how
we live and of how we govern. It outlines a basic human right and a responsibility.
It does not give that right and responsibility to the government, to the parents, to
the churches, or to any other social entity. It is the right of every individual. It is
the responsibility of every social organization. Libraries, museum, parks, health
centers, farms, factories, churches, city halls, legislatures and every other
corporation and civil organization has the responsibility to provide learning
opportunities for ctiizens.

This is an expression of individual freedom. Every person is free to learn, and to
learn what freedom is by being free. It transforms teaching institution to learning
centers or learning communities. It transforms teachers and parents into mentors
used at the will of the learners. It creates a world of critical thinkers best able to
participate in world affairs. It transfers the money wasted in prison like schools, to
tax breaks for organizations providing learning opportunities selected by the
learners. It pus the hierarchy of individual, family, community, society, and world in
a more human oriented chain of command. It replaces self-interest, competition
and materialism with life-long learning as the purpose of life.

It gives the people of this forum a target to develop (or not).

I had intended to add some words of support to my opening statement. but I found
that Evely Lawrentce in her 1952 summary of what Frederick Froebel said in the
1979s so much better than Icould say it , that I add her piece below.

the great Froebelian revolution
by Evelyn Lawrence 1952

In effect, what is essential, if we are to be capable of the freedom which on any
adequate social theory we need, is a philosophy of education for freedom from the
start. That is the great Froebelian revolution. Capacity for freedom is something
which, step by step, must be built up in us. It must represent a progressive and
cumulative achievement carried forward by growth itself. Education in freedom and
by freedom are essential for it, but they are simply means. The end is that education
from within, by the child’s many sided experience and activity continually integrated
into harmonious development, which will carry him into adulthood as fully master of
himself and an autonomous and responsible member of a free society.

Such an educational philosophy is then simply the carrying to completion of the
freely elected common philosophy of freedom which is our most urgent social need.
It no longer depends on any particular set of ultimate metaphysical beliefs (whether
Froebel’s or any other), but provides the fundamental platform on which the most
diverse ultimate beliefs, so long only as they are compatible with tolerance of one
another, can meet. And once we assume the shared value of freedom, we can
confine our concern, if we wish, to the pragmatic minimum of the contrast between
those conditions which will effectively safeguard it and those which, whatever
nominal homage we pay to it, leave it precarious and insecure. At the best, freedom
from coercion and interference in adult life comes, as we have said, too late; after
living through most of our formative period from infancy to adolescence under
conditions of coercion and interference, too few of us come out inwardly capable of
being free.

What is even more fatal perhaps than positive educational impositions from without
is the habitual disregard, in our conventional traditions of upbringing, of the
demands of inward integration and growth; the lack of access to wide ranges of
human experience; the lack of exercise in methods of judgement and decision; the
failure to provide equipment for freedom and choice. Those who have been left
through their plastic period to the fortuitous interplay of coercion and neglect,
disregard, privation and frustration, and every sort of unregulated force within and
without, will be only too apt to emerge at the mercy of every further strong current
they may meet. This is in fact demonstrated by the ease with which even the
external freedom that is one’s adult “birthright” is surrendered or lost under the play
of one or another form of propaganda or mass movement or mob appeal. That is
the soil in which power ideologies or creeds flourish, though in the end they may
destroy even !

most of those who embrace them.

However, the positive conditions of freedom amount to something very much larger
than any mere sum of avoidances of failures or mistakes. And the inspiration to a
philosophy of education for freedom lies for most of us deeper than the mere need
to make our freedom secure in later life, vital though that may be. Both this need
and those deeper demands are perhaps most satisfyingly met by Froebel’s own
fundamental principle: full respect for the integrity and individuality of every child.
That most searching of moralists, Immanual Kant saw the supreme ethical law in the
principle: treat every human being as an end in himself. But most if not all ethics is
pivoted on the so-called “moral subject”, either taken for granted or formally
declared to be the responsible adult. We may, I think, account it Froebel’s greatest
revolution that he extended and deepened and transformed this principle by
insisting that we must treat not merely every adult but every child as an end in

. And every youngest child, every infant practically from the start. In this way, and
in this way only, respect for the integrity and individuality of every human person
can be built into all relations of adults to him and into the whole planning and
process of education from the outset; and the requisite range of opportunity, the
equipment and the capacity and power for freedom will then be seen as part of the
very birthright of every child.