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We will all defend our basic first amendment rights with everything we’ve got – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly, and rightly so. As a society, we all value freedom, individual rights and independence from those trying to oppress our freedoms. Those are some of the most important and fundamental values our country has been established on. When it comes to education, though, it’s a whole other story. We insist that students need to learn what adults feel is important for them to know, in a way we approve of, and on a time schedule that has been pre-determined by bureaucracies far removed from the classrooms in America.
The learning process
Teachers are not free to instruct students in a way they feel will best fit their students. Often their hands are tied to teach in accordance with pre-determined criteria that will be tested and needs to be measurable. They are forced to only be concerned with the end product and not the process of learning.
The process of learning, therefore, can be very unpleasant, stressful, and pressured. Sadly, often that is what we feel is necessary to really learn something valuable. No pain, no gain, right? Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to education! Yes, sometimes there are spots where a student might have a little hump to get over in their understanding of a concept, which might not be as engaging, but overall learning should be joyful and is pretty natural to humans (young and old). If we just give them a chance to have the freedom to explore in education and not just be stuck with what bureaucrats feel is important for them to learn on their timetable, it all could look so different!
What can we do?
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate of our country’s independence and all our freedoms, I want to urge us all to embrace and encourage any actions that will promote freedom and independence (agency) in education. We all know as adults we learn more and retain better if we study something we have an interest in and if we are allowed to learn it in a fashion that fits our style of learning. Why would it be any different with children?!
When we go to the store, we expect a variety of products so we can pick the one we like best. Why do we not allow that in education?!
We are free to do so many amazing things. Why are children not allowed to learn what they’re interested in and in a way they enjoy, at a time when they’re ready for it?! Do all children walk exactly at the same age? Do they learn to read at exactly the same time? Never!
Why do we expect them all to understand the same things at the same time as everyone else when it comes to formal education?! If they don’t, we have them spend any free hours they might’ve had for play (a crucial part of learning that we so often neglect) to work on extra practice or tutoring so they can be “up to standard”. Who is setting the standards and why? I believe that often our own pride as parents are on the line when our child is “behind” so we want to get them “up to standard” so we will look like good upstanding parents with “smart” children.
Environment of consent
There are countless examples of people who were allowed to follow their own learning journey and who came out to be what we would label “geniuses”. All it took was for their base of knowledge to expand by exploring and poking around with what they found compelling and fulfilling. No significant discovery came about without a lot of trial and error. I’m not arguing for a complete absence of any guidance from adults. If children don’t have any input, they might not always know what there is to explore necessarily. However, if we can teach them in a relaxed and non-stressful environment to read, understand, and interact with what they read in a discerning way, can they not learn anything they set their heart on? That is how we, as adults, learn things. If we feed them with a rich environment of materials, books, videos, technology, and more than anything our attention, time, and love, they will set the pace and learn without coercion. We teach them about consent in every other part of their lives and we neglect that completely from our education process. Feel free to check out this excellent short video by Blake Boles.
Honor ALL our freedoms
The fact remains that our education system was set up on the Prussian model which was intended to create good soldiers and good factory workers, who work long hours on something they don’t necessarily enjoy day after day without complaining. We still do that in traditional schools and our world has completely changed! With the more rencent advances in AI, it is changing faster than we can keep up with. Are we surprised that we’re falling behind other countries? It is time to do better and honor and model the freedoms we have in every other part of our lives for our children in the education realm as well.
A place to start
If you don’t want to be solely in charge of all this change for your children, there are many options. One way would be to incorporate games into their curriculum (even video games) to make learning more engaging. Sit with your child, look through our catalog of classes, and let them pick some that interest them. Then, maybe you also pick a few that you feel might be helpful to them in the future, if you don’t want to teach all math and English yourself, and let go of the stressful expectations of a particular product at the end. Another way to enliven learning could be to watch some amazing documentaries together. Just enjoy a year of learning together and notice the difference! Let there be lots of choice! I am convinced that you will be amazed at the reciprocity of the learning between you and your children if you’re willing to also open yourself up to more joyful learning. We all have our own journey and the freedom to explore it. Let’s make freedom in education one of our valued freedoms as well!