17 Feb 2013

The Rope over the Abyss

Category: Alternative Education,LearningAdmin @ 1:43 pm

Most news about education these days seems to focus on subject-area content or else on violence in the schools, with little said about how people learn and develop optimally. It is as if all that really matters can be determined apart from who we are as human beings and boiled down to a combination of the right knowledge, the right skills, and the right behavior, all of which can be taught by having teachers deliver the right lessons.

I would like to share an excerpt from Yacov Hecht, one of my favorite authors, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak last summer and who has started a number of public democratic schools in Israel:

Life, to most people in western society, resembles walking on a rope stretched over an abyss. Being able to walk the rope from beginning to end means great success, and so people focus mainly on the danger of falling into the abyss.

The rope of our culture begins on the day of our birth… and this rope has many stations along the way. Reading and writing in first grade, for example, matriculation exams between the ages of 16-18, university…, marriage, children, professional success… and so on… But I call upon people to open their eyes and see that there is no abyss under the rope, and that in fact there actually is no rope!

… some technical details:

  1. Because it is very crowded on the rope, many unnecessary falling disasters happen.
  2. The stations of the rope are designed in a way that will not allow everyone to pass through. These traffic jams lead to the fall of almost every one at one stage or another.
  3. Professional frighteners are spread along the rope and remind everyone of the danger of falling into the abyss.

And here are some reminders and recommendations for you:

  1. There is plenty of space for everyone outside the rope.
  2. We can always find or create interesting stations that will allow us to experience fulfillment and success.
  3. To reach those stations we need the courage to search beyond the rope.

– Yacov Hecht, “Pluralist Learning as the Core of Democratic Education,” in The Directory of Democratic Education: Inaugural Edition, ed. Dana M. Bennis & Isaac R. Graves (Alternative Educational Resource Organization, 2006), 29.

How do we learn courage? How do we learn to get along with each other? How do we learn what gives us fulfillment? Can it be delivered in a learning package that treats us all as the same, as if we have the same coordination, the same prior experiences, the same passions?

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