Sunday, May 9, 2010

Liberating Education

Liberating Education
"Education is a constant process for the liberation of human beings.”- Paulo Freire (1921–1997) Brazilian educator and activist.

In Cambodia, each student has a different educational background and in general, most students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do, study, learn, and act. Many teachers have tendency to take the curriculum from other countries and just copy them, having the students study whatever is listed in those course books without really engaging them in critical thinking. In the big picture, most people wait for a leader to tell them what to do. They all wait for the master to tell them what to do and follow. This approach is teacher centered instead of focusing on the development and nurturing of each student unique capacities and personal characteristics to help them attain authenticity and self-actualization. This approach as a whole also creates intellectual dependency and lack of innovative ideas as well freedom to think creatively. It encourages hard work, but oppresses creativity and innovative thoughts. Teacher holds the key to learning. Students are passive. They act as the recipients to knowledge, skills, and understandings.

Many of our religious, political, social and moral beliefs are beliefs that we are accepted as children before we could question them, and understand the reasons behind them. The aim here is not to reject but to understand and to learn good reasons to continue holding after personal observation and analysis. Furthermore, Cambodian culture believes in authority, hierarchy and tradition. People all grow up in the narrow world of our parents and friends, a small place where their views, beliefs, and values become ours through the process sociologists call primary socialization. I believe only education gives us the opportunity to free ourselves from the accident of our birth in a particular time, place, environment, and family. It broadens our horizons and helps us to become productive members of the humankind. Education is then freedom and liberation.

Is education a form of indoctrination? Why do we go through the struggle to be educated? Is it merely in order to pass the exam and get a job? Or is it the function of education to prepare us while we are young to understand the whole process of life? In developed nations, we teach people that it’s all right to question, to challenge authority on logical, moral, or other reasonable grounds. Freedom is not only being allowed to do that, it is also learning the skills needed to do it well. Learning to be a critical thinker is what a liberal education should be about. Then we can determine by ourselves truth and falsity, good and evil, and not behave like unthinking sheep in a herd. That something is our belief in reason, in having good evidence for our claims, in open-mindset, and in critical thinking.

I advocate a liberating education where knowledge leads to reflection, introspection and action where school is a place for learning, making mistakes, growing and creating memories, but not worrying. Liberating education is based in acts of cognition, not transfers of information. It encourages critical and creative thinking, debate and dialogues on real issues, even controversial ones, so that people can stand or take sides. Conflicts are resolved not by imposing the majority will upon all people, but by genuine dialogues between groups. Participants are encouraged to take stand on issues. The purpose of such fundamental change in the social order is to achieve justice and peace. I believe “right knowledge is power.” It enables people to overcome injustice, poverty, and fear and to handle all of the daily decisions they face that have a direct impact on their quality of life. The knowledge they impart may result in a new awareness of their social situation with its exploitation and oppression. In this case, new knowledge is not simply added to the existing body of knowledge but rather transforming the persons and culture by the use of knowledge. Education is then the transformation of self through possessing knowledge. It relates learning to practice, thus bringing theory and actions.

Students learn through experience and construct their reality based on their experiences. They are encouraged to seek the truth by asking more why rather than how’s to do it. In this sense, education invites students and teachers to put their learning and teaching into action for social development and justice. The curriculum is based more on the learner or student center. What does the student want to learn versus what does the teacher wants to teach? In the liberating education curriculum, students learn best by reflection and experience and least by copying and imitating.

As teachers, we can teach more than the subject. We can even cover much more than the rigor of critical thinking; we can cover life and how to live life with dignity, respect and honor. We can teach the students to believe in their own abilities and to have faith in what they could achieve with hard work and dedication to learning. Students learn to accept responsibility for their own life. They know that it is them who will get where they want to go, no one else. They need to investigate life. Where they are today, what they’ve accomplished in their life, and who they will become in the future is determined by one person; their own self! Once they grasp that concept, they take the first steps toward empowering themselves to become the person they’ve always longed to be. They understand the whole process of life. They are free to pursue their own vision of good life by accepting their own responsibility

Parker Palmer, an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change, expresses eloquently in the Aim of Education Revisited: "If higher education is to serve human purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize that we know and take responsibility for it."

I argue the only lasting education is one that promotes higher modes of thoughts and moral actions not just storage of facts. In my view, the kinds of minds we will need to cultivate in the future are:
1. The disciplined mind masters bodies of knowledge and skill.
2. The synthesizing mind decides what most important and puts knowledge together in useful ways.
3. The creative mind ventures regularly into new, unexploited territory.
4. The respectful mind prizes diversity and tries to work effectively with individuals of all background.
5. The ethical mind proceeds from principles. It seeks to act in ways that serve the wider and just society.

May the next generation of Khmer people grow up to become a well-rounded, knowledgeable and moral human being through liberating education.