ejjercayshun my thots by charles sharpe aged 62

Date Posted: Monday, 26 October 2009


There seems to be an assumption that the way most youngsters are educated in western society – that is in formal groups in a classroom with a nominated teacher who has professional training – is the right way to ‘educate’ our young. Yet I don’t know of – and I may be missing something – any universal biological, or physiological law which states that children must be educated in this way or indeed if they should be educated at all.
One politically radical way of looking at this might be to say that schooling as we know it developed out of powerful families deciding that if their offspring were to sustain or build upon the dynasty’s wealth they must learn a thing or two about how to be on the right side of their kind of god and how to count and defend the money as well as all the other things which flow from that. It then became more economic and self-protective for ‘clan rich’ to carry out this ‘educating ‘in groups called schools which were eventually broken up into classes. This exclusive system also kept the little rascals out of their parents’ hair. Those who might suggest that education developed in this way would also say that schools are institutions which are used to protect the status quo so that youngsters are educated to protect and sustain the powerful. Even when ‘education for all’  was deemed not too dangerous to allow, the schools rich kids went to were different from the schools poor kids went to.  Know what I mean ? Over centuries those of a  socialist leaning may occasionally shout and wail about these things  but in the end nothing much changes.

Although to a measure I accept that the defence of the economic and political status quo is probably the principal reason for  how education comes to be the way it is in western society,  I am not certain that I can sympathise with it as a philosophy of education.  I can’t say for definite whether education in schools is better than education in the family home or indeed if it is superior  to  no education at all, but I do have a view about the way children learn best.  I trained as a teacher in the early 1960s when teacher training was influenced by educationalists such as AS Neill who suggested that if parents get the emotional upbringing right then intellectual development and learning will follow naturally. Neill also suggested that children learn best and become more imaginative and creative if they are helped to learn through their own natural curiousity and their own discoveries and not by having a narrow taught curriculum foisted upon them. The trouble with children educated in the A.S. Neill way is that they become inquisitive, they question things – particularly the status quo – and though society might have time for a few oddballs doing this, it can’t tolerate the majority questioning things like the distribution of power and wealth. This is why teachers trained in the 1960s were labelled permissive and have been condemned, certainly in England, as being solely responsible for damned near destroying the education system and thank goodness that Mrs. Thatcher came along and saved the nation from the fate we had in store for it.

As I said, I haven’t reached a stage where I think I’ve got a definite position on where and by whom children should be educated, but you will have guessed I do believe children learn better from a stable emotional base and OK, I’ll admit –  at the risk of being condemned for envy and not understanding just who it is that has created the quality of life I apparently enjoy  –  that I think children develop best when they are helped to learn through their own discoveries and  by being given a great deal of  responsibility in choosing their own learning path.

Charles Sharpe, 2007

Wider reading

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed   New York  :   Herder and Herder
Neill, A.S. (1962) Summerhill     London  :     Gollancz   1962

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