The freedom of education revisited

For decades, our frustration with education has driven us to be infested by reforms. Some deal with transforming the learning space, others speak of innovative pedagogy, some place their bets entirely on technology and many support developing that one special element in each child. But we are still frustrated, probably because future education requires a far more complex answer. The Mastery of “Future Education” isn’t about implementing another reform, as advanced as it may be. It’s about changing the core paradigm of education itself: leaving the comfort zone that we are unsuccessfuly trying to balance and redesigning the core building blocks of education.

  • Defining the Four Freedoms of Education

On January. 6, 1941, FDR delivered a famous, groundbreaking speech, known as ‘the four freedoms” speech. He defined the four fundamental human rights that people everywhere in the world should enjoy if we are to develop sustainable, pluralistic and democratic societies[2]. Using this address as a baseline, we should first identify the four freedoms of education — the basic rights that every single person in the education system, student and teacher alike, should enjoy, if the goal of our education systems is to develop tolerant, empathic, liberal and intellectual individuals, regardless of nationality.

Freedom from coverage — the worst enemy of education is the need to cover the curriculum. But in the era of information, where curricula are becoming outdated by the hour, this seems rediculous. Moreover: our technological abilities allow us to study whenever we like, wherever we like, whatever we like. Instead of “covering subjects”, we need to focus on the skills they allow us to develop.

Freedom from standardization — we are slaves of the standards we have defined, running from test to test, comparing narrow and strict performances on both national and international levels. Over-standardization kills creativity, destroys individuality and represses any attempt of wonder and exploration, But that’s exactly what we claim we want our children to develop.

It also enhances another enemy of education, leading us to the 3rd freedom;

Freedom to fail — if you don’t have doubts, curiousity and the courage to try, you won’t fail — but you will not succeed, either. failure is a crucial experience of life, one that when cultivated correctly is an essential building block of growth. Harnessed failure is a wonderful tool for developing imagination, thought and information-processing skills that enable us to try again and again untill we work it out. It is also a powerful psychological tool that teaches us humility, a quality that is necessary for understanding our true place in the world and acting in a respectful and sustainable manner.

Freedom to Imagine  We are THE story-telling, symbolizing and product-creating organism on the planet. From the day we are born, we love to listen to good stories, fantasy and reality alike. It is the kingdom of imagination, simulation, poetic doing, emotions and wonder, enabling us to clarify values, understand who we are and develop both our individual and social characters. A good story sparks our imagination, igniting our curiousity and sending us on a journey of discovery which involves multidisciplinary learning of both knowledge and methodologies. Yet, we hardly harness this extremely powerful tool in our education systems. The inseperable interaction between our imagination and its implementation is what leads human development. If school is a tool for educating, we must welcome imagination into the classrooms.

  • Developing the methodologies of education

Each of the four freedoms should be expressed in the classrooms through the development of three arts, creating a system of education very different from the one we know.

Active knowledge — learning how to effectively and responsibly use the extreme mass of information available in flexible, sometimes unexpected, circumstances.

Storyytelling — Every subject you can think of, has a story infused with human adventure and wonder — how it developed, who its main heroes and vilians were, why and how they did what they did and how it is related to us. Story-telling, from fantasy to documentary, is the best teacher in the world.

Socialization — we are a social species, thinking within the framework of our beliefs, values and norms. These enabe us to build the boundaries necessary to construct a sustainable society. Too easily, these frameworks can become destructive indoctrination, creating a homogenized process that is rigid and defies innovation and creativity. Balancing the exact process of constructive socialization is a jugglers art that cannot be ignored.

  • WH questions re-asked

Finally, we need to ask the five basic wh-questions through the prism of honesty and doubt:

What is worthy of learning; Who are our students and teachers; Where and When does education occur most effectively, and Why are we teaching whatever we decide to teach.

After more than 200 years of complaining about education, it’s time to move from viewing education as teaching the world as if it were an encyclopedia, to teaching it as it deserves to be taught: the greatest human adventure on earth.

[1] Based on the talk given in TEDx Eilat, March 2017; Dr. Ben David is currently CEO of the Wolf Foundation, and the incoming CEO of the Davidson Center for Science Education at the Weizmann Institute of Science (April 2017).

[2] The “four freedoms” FDR defined were: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear and freedom from want.

About the Author
Dr. Liat Ben David is an experienced professional in the field of education. Since completion of her PhD in molecular biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1991, she has been involved in STEM-education, including the establishment of knowledge and learning centers, curriculum development and implementation, leadership development etc., both in Israel and the USA. Between 2011 and 2017 she served as CEO of the internationally-acclaimed Wolf Foundation, and is currently beginning her job as CEO of the Davidson Institute for Science Education at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Liat lectures and teaches regularly in various spheres, including academia and TEDx. She is an accomplished author who has published numerous articles and books, fiction and non-fiction alike, in Hebrew and English.
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