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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Emancipated Learning and the Self-Empowered Student. 93

It is a new school-term and the beginning of a new year in the world of teachers and students. In our world it is not New Years Eve that marks the most prominent transition from the old to the new, but the end of summer and the progression into yet another grade in, what for many students feels like the never-ending hamster wheel we call school. For teachers, the beginning of a new term gives us the opportunity to reflect on our teaching methods and curricular and to start over, with new students and new material and sometimes, with an entirely different perspective on life and learning.

Since I started working as a teacher, I noticed how demotivated the older students were and how the ‘spark of life’ that is so prominent in them when they are younger, slowly but surely starts dying out until what is left is the apathetic, withdrawn, passive aggressive and illusive human being that we call an adult. School is an artificial construction based on abstract simulations of reality, but it is not a part of reality itself – at least not the students´. An educational philosopher, whose name escapes me at the moment, once said that school is the only place in the world where what you do doesn’t’ matter or has any significant purpose in the world. What is produced in school is for the school – and that includes the student. Obviously we can come up with all sorts of existential and evolutionary explanations for why children have to go to school, but I assure you that the burden of the survival and advancement of our species is the farthest thing on children’s minds – at least on a conscious level.

To them, they go to school because their parents tell them to, because the teacher’s says so and because society is built that way. School becomes a place that children are forced to go to every day where they learn things that they do not see as having any connection to their reality. Obviously they understand that they have no choice and it is not like they are singlehandedly going to start a revolution in the classroom, so they do their homework, reluctantly and they sit still and pretend to listen to the teacher, reluctantly. This is perhaps the worst possible environment when it comes to the scientifically proven best conditions a human has to be in to learn, and yet we manage to shove just enough information into their heads so that they can advance to the next grade and the next. Many of the things students care about are considered irrelevant and obstructive to adults just as the questions kids ask are seen as interruptions and sabotage. From the age of seven the downward spiral begins, where the sprightly, curious child with a lust for life is forced into the sharp industrial cookie-cutter of the school system and as a someone who teaches students throughout all the grades, I see this devolution taking place on a daily level.

So I decided to do something about it and I realized that one of the reasons students become so demotivated and why they lose their passion for life, is because school is not their own. I realized that for children to be engaged on a genuine level school has to be meaningful to them and it has to be something they decide to do for themselves. This is not an easy task, because obviously there is no way to get around the fact that school is mandatory and that the children has little to no say in the matter. So I looked at how I could support the students to rather change their perspective on going to school, so that school becomes something they do for themselves.

As I was discussing this with a grade student I used the example of doing dishes, which is something everyone has to do, but not many would volunteer to if they had a choice. But even with doing the dishes that is a chore many of us disdain, we can change our perspective – and through that, we can make dishes something supportive that we do for ourselves and even enjoy and have fun doing.

So I asked the students to write down their academic and personal goals. The assignment was divided in two parts. In the first part the students had to write their academic and personal goals and before starting with the assignment we discussed (especially with the younger students) the different definitions of what a ‘goal’ is and what it means to set goals for oneself. I very explicitly point out that it had to be THEIR goals, not their parents goals, not their teachers goals and that they shouldn’t write something just for my sake. In the second part of the assignment the students had to write what they were going to do to reach their goals and how their parents/teachers could help them to reach their goals. I deliberately wrote, “What am I going to do to reach my goal” rather than “What can I do to reach my goal” so as to emphasize the commitment the students were making to themselves. I was very curious to see, especially how the older students would approach the assignment and I expected that they might be oppositional towards it. To my surprise most of the students took the assignment seriously, especially when I said that the goals were to be their own goals and that they should rather not write anything instead of writing something insincere just to please their teachers and parents.

However I did also gain some insights that I had never expected to come out of this exercise. I’ll share two examples here that further emphasize the grave problems we are facing in our school systems when children have no ownership what so ever over what they learn.

A 7-year-old student in the 1th Grade had as her personal goal to get a cat. She couldn’t come up with any academic goals so we agreed that an academic goal she could set for herself would be to study and learn about cats. She was satisfied with that. It made me realize that academic goals cannot be separate from the personal goals if they are truly to be goals the children set for themselves, for their own sake. Consider it for a second, how absurd and meaningless does school not seem when we don’t even know why doing it or how meaningless life seem when we are told to go to school just so that we can grow up to survive? In bringing academic and personal goals together, the students learn that they can utilize the situation of going to school that is forced upon them, to actually support their true potential – and in turn embrace education as something they do for themselves and not for anyone else.

Secondly, a 13-year-old 7th grader said something profound when I discussed his goals with him. He said: “I don’t have any goals for myself. My teachers and parents decide all my goals. They set all the goals for me, so I don’t have to have any.” I asked him: “Okay, but how about simply setting a goal for yourself that is entirely your own?” He then said: “what if I said that my goal is playing computer games?” I said: “well, what’s wrong with that?” He said: “my mom wouldn’t like that.” I told him about a young man I know who’s only passion it was to play computer games and who now has embarked on a degree to become a computer game designer.

What was cool about this conversation was that through opening up the possibility of playing computer as a goal, as opposed to something he does that he knows his mother and teachers don’t approve of, he could for the first time start considering the point for himself. So as he reflected on it, he realized that playing computer isn’t really a goal he has. He said that, not me. Eventually we agreed that he would look at finding goals for himself that are his own to next week.

When students have no say or ownership over their education, it is no wonder that they become demotivated and apathetic, let alone that they don’t learn to take responsibility for their own lives and seeing their own potential. So this is what we will work with this term: makings education something that is real, relevant and meaningful in the students lives; something they do for themselves – so that they can take their life into their own hands at a substantial level. Isn’t that what we would all like for our children, let alone ourselves?

For more information on how you can become a catalyst of change, investigate the Living Income Guaranteed proposal.

More articles about parenting and education in a Guaranteed Living Income System:

Watch the hangout about Education for a New World in Order:

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