What if we were to structure society and our education systems to conform to human needs rather than the other way around? What if we let the individual direct their own educational activity? The sad reality is that before children go to school, they are alive, passionate, curious and creative, but years of coerced learning, of force-fed curricula leads to a deep inner alienation, a dulling of the mind and a ‘turning-off’ of the natural passion for learning. The person is not the problem, it is the system that creates the problem by violating one of the most fundamental laws of human nature: The desire for freedom.
The essence of our humanity lies in our freedom to choose, to become architects of our lives, authors of our own stories. Even very young children seek to assert their autonomy and independence. School, for most children, is a restriction, a strait jacket in which they struggle, which all too often leaves a lifelong legacy of negative attitudes towards learning.
Humans can only flourish in an environment of freedom and choice. The education system, particularly at school level, needs to evolve, to give learners more responsibility for their own learning. Prescribed curricula create a kind of learned helplessness in the individual, in which initiative and creativity become diminished.
Anthony De Mello tells the following story:
‘A man began to give large doses of cod-liver oil to his Doberman because he had been told that the stuff was good for dogs. Each day he would hold the head of the protesting dog between his knees, force its jaws open, and pour the liquid down its throat.
One day the dog broke loose and spilled the oil on the floor. Then to the man’s great surprise, it returned to lick the spoon. That is when he discovered that what the dog had been fighting was not the oil, but his method of administering it.’
This story holds an important truth about human nature: We resist whatever is forced upon us. At the core of our being is the need to have control, to exercise autonomy, to choose our actions and responses in life. When we are deprived of choice something within us shuts down or rebels. If we are serious about educating, that is ‘to draw or lead out’ the best that is within us, then we must move from a philosophy of imposition to one of invitation. Educators can only gently offer experiences that learners can choose to take up or to pass over. By providing supportive and stimulating environments we can trust that the natural imaginative capacity of the individual will come alive and seek to engage, because it is in our nature to want to explore, discover and know.