Thursday, May 20, 2010

Read Radio Free School: Excerpt from the Aaron Falbel interview

"Rather than being an equalizer, school is the great discriminator, the great sorting mechanism." Aaron Falbel

Aaron Falbel of Thunder land, Massachusetts is an organic farmer, writer and works part time in a public library. Falbel had the great privilege of having known and befriended the late John Holt, who many people might have read his books as an educational and social critic, as well as the late Ivan Illich- who was a friend of Holt’s and “one who might have been one of the few people who influence Holt.”

The idea of education hasn’t always been around. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with it-what’s wrong with education?

Well, education has many functions aside from anything that has to do with learning or anything that has to do with the welfare of children. It has functions an I suspect that a lot of these functions have to do with the fixation that the authorities in any country have and that is a means of sorting people into winners and losers because most of us live in a hierarchal society- with very few good jobs, winner slots at the top and many more loser positions- bad or menial jobs at the bottom.

So society needs some mechanisms, if it’s shaped that way of deciding who gets into the high places and who doesn’t.

And education is the way in most industrial societies that we use to do that. Prior to that, it had to do with inheritance or lineage but now education does the job. And of course, we know that it doesn’t do so in a fair or meritocractic manner but in every society where such things are measured, educational achievement correlates almost perfectly with social- economic status.

In other words, the people who already have those scarce “winner” slots make sure that their children are the ones who succeed in school and sort of have a leg up to succeed in school and so they get into the good schools and get into those good slots.

Of course, there are some few exceptions where a poor kid gets into Yale or Harvard but that’s an exception-there may be 1 in 10,000. So education is necessary to work in the way it does- in other words, to distribute privilege unequally.

Education thus upholds a systematic injustice that our society needs in order to keep functioning smoothly. If everyone were to be winners, if everyone did all the work that schools says that their trying to get them to do, society would fall apart because society needs winners and losers and more losers than winners.

And the reason that kids are being forced back to school is because they want to make sure that this idea of winning and losing is stamped on them like an indelible mark and that they internalize that indelible mark- stigma so that they then blame themselves for not having made it.

That’s one of the reasons Ivan Illich saw the educational process as so pernicious because not only did it enforce this systematic injustice but it was a way, I think he called it self inflicted discrimination where you internalize the process to such an extent that you blame yourself. For not having made it; for not having been a successful at school.

You’ve written about education as a scarce resource. Can you talk a bit more on that?

Why do we have the idea of education to begin with? Why do we have to make special arrangements for learning if learning is biological process that happens in every human being? What Illich does, he defines education as learning under the assumption of scarcity.

In other words that valuable learning is scarce in society. Not something that happens readily. Because if we just left it up to chance or up to the personal initiative of the learner well they would not learn those things. So education is institutional arrangements wherein scarce knowledge is imparted.

It’s basically an institution that says we don’t trust you to learn, we want to make sure that you learn. We have to compel you to learn, coerce you to learn and if you don’t learn then it’s your own fault. We gave you our best shot. Today it’s almost second nature to believe that people have educational needs or learning needs. That they are born with learning needs.

Illich created a Latin phrase to describe this type of human being; he calls it homo educantus; the human being born  in need of educational treatment. And this is a fundamental believe of most people today: that just like we have a need for food and shelter, we have a need for education and if we don’t acquire this treatment then we are deeply deprived stigmatized and disadvantaged.

Illich calls this whole enterprise into question saying,"No we don’t have educational needs." That in fact we are natively equipped with all the resources to learn. We have eyes ears mouth, brains that are curious! Look at babies and young children- they hunger to be involved in everything that is going on around them. You try to stop a baby probably for safety reasons etc and they scream with rage, "NO. Let me do it!" They are upset if they are stopped from trying to do things.

This is a very powerful biological urge and the clearest evidence that we don’t have educational needs, but learning desires that are built into the essence of our beings and rather than being homo educantus we are human beings that are good at learning, at finding things out, innately curious.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"we are natively equipped with all the resources to learn. We have eyes ears mouth, brains that are curious!"

love that :)

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