This is the second post in a series about freedom.
Is there any freedom in education? Would it be easily identifiable, as if through some sort of standardized test?
Could there be a way to quantify freedom? What about qualitative data to define freedom instead? Just ask some students and they’ll be happy to give you a piece of their mind.
As I shared in my previous post, I am wrestling with the idea of freedom. Here are some questions that have been flying around my mind: How about the sunflower in the header photo? How does it dare to defy its surroundings to stand out above the choking crowd of corn? Are we really giving students the freedom in their educations to rise above the systems as they learn?
I want the answer to be yes, but am well aware that freedom comes with costs. Costs to identity, creativity, and in many cases joy of learning. Think of how Sir Ken laments this is, to no small part, in Changing Education Paradigms (RSA version).
That got me thinking about how much real freedom exists in our world of education? We want students to come through our doors everyday with smiles on their faces and boundless energy to pay attention, sit still and answer all questions asked. Frighteningly enough, this also implies that students will not be asking any questions themselves. Students are being asked to perform more like programmable robots, akin to a follow up generation from Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, let’s call them the Stepford Students who are programmed to conform rather than thinking and (inter)acting?
Another way of seeing this is very much like a new computer. It is given an operating system(education), a number of pre-programmed executable files(curriculum) and a hard drive to fill with personalized content. What the learner doesn’t realize is that the OS and the programs consume most of the hard drive and limit the computer’s potential to function at optimum speed and or intention.
Where’s the freedom in education when everything is prescribed rather than inspired? (With thanks to Ursula Franklin’s Real World of Technology) Are we risking future freedoms in education for the sake of perfunctory outcomes? Will students be allowed to learn on their terms?
Much of education seems counter-intuitive to freedom. Schedules are set by bus companies, unions, school boards and governments. Don’t forget the publishing industry too. Curriculum is established top down with little consideration of student input or their various interests. Students who excel then, are usually still kept in the same learning line based on their year of birth rather than strength of abilities. In many cases learning seems to be in compartments with human management as the top priority. As I reflect through all of this it must be mentioned that these first world problems of freedom hold little weight compared to the global fight for equality and freedom to learn for over 100 million students.
It seems that there are lots of great causes for freedom in the area of education. None more prevalent, in my mind, than the #HeforShe movement and UNESCO’s Literacy for All. On a macro scale, gender equality and access to literacy for all are arguably crucial to reversing many of our global socio-economic problems. So how would freedom make the difference? Our youth must see a place for themselves at the table of the future. That means our youth need their freedom to be heard as they safely share their voices, hopes, dreams and needs without fear of violence, reprisal or loss.
Giving freedom to students around the world will not cost our economy, but rather allow it to grow. Plain and simple – education changes lives. Providing ALL learners opportunities and freedom(s) to alter the course of their futures will be the greatest legacy we can endow to our students.