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Education for Freedom (1966)

In this article I am going to take the view that the aim of school is teach methods and attitudes rather than facts: to create ethical beings, not to teach obedience. Both these aims are realised in the task-centred method of teaching.

There are three basic types of teaching relation possible in a classroom. Schematically they may be characterised as Authoritarian, Paternalist-Authoritarian and Paternalist-Democratic or Authoritative. If we represent these by diagrams of arrows representing communicative interaction then in the first all arrows point out from the teacher, in the second all arrows point either from or to the teacher and in the third arrows point in both directions between any two individuals. In the authoritarian mode the lack of feedback or reciprocity means that the pupils are being taught as a de-personalised mass - this form of teaching is typified by rote learning, masses of problems from a book, insistence on silence and ritual, harsh punishment and poor results.

In the paternalist-authoritarian model the teacher communicates with pupils on an individual basis. The teacher tries to help individuals, is less insistent on ritual (except for silence) and really attempts an interesting individualised approach to the lessons. However pupil to pupil communication is disallowed - a typical comment being 'if you want to know ask me!' - and there is also a nervousness in the teacher about losing authority. (In the pure authoritarian case this nervousness becomes pathological).

Under the paternalist-democratic system the teacher does not have power, does not want it and does not need it. His only authority is intellectual and, as such, it can replaced on occasions by the authority of a pupil. Discipline is not a major issue since the teacher knows that the class itself will keep its noise level to one of efficient working. The teacher is just a member of the group, albeit at first a superior one. The aim of this method is to erase this initial distinction; to raise the pupil's intellectual level and self-discipline (and group-discipline) to the teacher's.

This latter model of teaching is revolutionary - it is little preached and less practised. For obvious reasons it is desirable and for equally obvious reasons not desired. By removing arbitrary power and externally enforced discipline it breeds adults who are self-reliant and self-disciplined, both more group-oriented and more individual. It is the despair of those who wish to exert power and authority, i.e. those who do so now. It may indeed be argued that the new adults would be anti-authority. For this reason, and also as it might-be thought impossible, it needs justification.

Although the general idea outlined above was advocated by free-thinkers and anti-authoritarians last century their thinking tended to be hampered by an almost completely authoritarian (and monistic) environment and upbringing and lacked theoretical and empirical justification. This century a number of practising educators and youth-workers have evolved similar ideas in their own work; the ideas can also be derived from mathematical models and psychology. Homer Lane, David Wills and A.S. Neil are the best known practitioners and exponents of these ideas in youth work and education although writers such as Paul Goodman, Herbert Read and Alex Comfort should also be mentioned.

If we consider learning as being a continuous process of overcoming problems of understanding then obviously that system which maximises communication and pooling of knowledge will be most efficient. Thus even if teaching is of traditional subjects in the traditional individual way the paternalistic-democratic system should still be most efficient of the three. (Of course if a joint task approach is adopted this can only be done through this system.) Approaching the matter somewhat differently we can distinguish between rote or simple stimulus, single stimulus and response and multiple stimulus and response systems. Unless the student's - or teacher's - processing facility becomes overloaded the latter obviously is a superior method of dealing with problems.

The next point returns us to the title of this article: this is that if education is education for a democracy - i.e. for a free social life - then the attitudes and skills of social relationships required for a free society must be acquired at school. Plainly it is only the paternalist - democratic mode of organisation that mirrors the relationships of a free society and it is only in this mode that the ethics of social responsibility can be learned through experience rather than taught by rote. Both the other forms are geared towards producing adults who will look to institutional leadership or authority figures rather than taking initiative and co-operating with their fellows. Finally only the paternalist-democratic mode of teaching abolishes the sharp break between school and life.

There are also some other points that can be made about the education appropriate to a free society. If task-entred teaching is to be used so that pupils learn as a group then there should he no screaming by ability but only by abilities. There should not however be separate schools for different sorts of interest patterns but rather where possible groups should be mixed together for tasks or subjects of common interest. Each person must be encouraged to develop his or her own particular excellence.

At present the tendency of the education system is to educate people too highly if the aim of education is taken to be economic. Everyone is being given extensive training for a race that a fixed proportion must lose. Not surprisingly then there is discontent; the masses are slightly overeducated for the jobs they are forced to do and the relative shortage of highly paid or high prestige jobs - and of course this is a necessary shortage - intensifies the race. Hence the whole aim of education must change from an economic one to a spiritual one. As the polarisation between the upper class of scientists and the lower class of button pushers increases there will be less and less need for better education (for economic survival). If however the aims of education are social and spiritual - intended to make a freer society and to produce individuals who can realise their potentialities - then the opposite conclusion follows.

Appendix: a note on lectures.

The paternalist-democratic mode of school instruction. will also ease the transition from school to university since the student will be able to make full use of tutorials and learn by him or herself from books. It might be wondered however how such a student would react to lectures, which seem on first sight to be classical examples of the authoritarian mode. The difference is that whereas a lecture is impersonal the lecturer does not necessarily have the same power relations to the student as the authoritarian teacher. (Thus, for instance, attendance may not be compulsory, other teaching methods are used as well, students can learn for themselves.) The main difference in fact between a lecture and a book is that in the latter case the student can vary the times and the rate at which he absorbs the information. Despite this relative inferiority of the lecture the difficulty of finding appropriate books or of reading those available may well justify the giving of lectures - at both school and university - as condensed books or papers. However to make sure that a lecture does function like a book it should be given to a mass audience removed from the normal teaching process and its content discussed afterwards by smaller groups.

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