Authoritarian Schooling: A Catalogue of Damage compiled by David Gribble




The wrong kind of humanism








Gert Biesta, a professor of educational theory, author of Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future, considers the underlying fault of traditional education to be a particular kind of humanism, a humanism that has to be condemned because it is not human enough. This humanism specifies what a child should become before considering what the child is.

Humanism thus seems to be unable to open to the possibility that newcomers might radically alter our understanding of what it means to be human. Humanism seems to foreclose the possibility that the newborn child might be a new Ghandi, that the student in our classroom might be a new Mother Teresa, or that the newcomer might be a new Nelson Mandela. This indicates that at a fundamental level humanism can only think of education as socialization, as a process of the insertion of newcomers into a preexisting 'order' of humanity . . . It can only think of each newcomer as an instance of a human essence that has already been specified and is already known in advance.

Beyond Learning, pp 6 -7

This means that newcomers, even if they are only five years old, are often found wanting, and if they cannot soon conform to the expected pattern, they will be considered to be failures.

'The language of education,' says Biesta, 'has largely been replaced by a language of learning.' We have forgotten that the major reason for engaging in education is not in order to learn a curriculum that has already been decided, but to find out for oneself what one wants or needs.

Traditional education makes this impossible.

That is not the only fault of this humanist approach. Even more damaging is the assumption that everyone must be trained to accept the existing social order, because it is the best possible way for things to be. If you do not accept it, you make yourself into an outcast. Yet the existing social order is not a preordained moral excellence. Nobody knows what the ideal society would be like. To teach children what is merely custom as if it were absolute truth is to deny them the chance of discovering better ways for themselves.

It is no good preaching generally accepted moral values in school assemblies or chapel services. You cannot educate a child in order to produce a good human being, because no one knows exactly what a good human being is. What most children want to do is to learn from experience how to get on with other people. Most schools offer them very little opportunity to do so.

Almost all present-day schools embrace the negative humanism described by Biesta. They damage children by deliberately limiting their opportunities for social exploration and teaching them that the only way to lead a satisfying life is to conform to irrational standards imposed on them by somebody else.