First, Some Thoughts about Education

'All education, however provided, is essentially about relationships, and it is essentially subjective.'

In The Courage To Teach, Parker Palmer argues that education is the process by which students learn about relationships.  This learning can take place informally or formally.

Informal education ranges from solitary learning by observation and by experimentation, to learning in the company of peers (children who are more or less the same age) to learning from older mentors and coaches.

Public school education is one of many kinds of what we generally call formal education.  Separate schools, private and parochial schools, charter schools and home schooling also provide formal education.

The term ‘formal education’ doesn’t mean that the students wear uniforms, or have to sit in rows to receive their education.  ‘Formal’ means that the education proceeds according to a plan, under the supervision of a skilled teacher/mentor/coach, and with a focus on the capacity to use what is learned in order to learn more.

In formal and informal education, the focus is on drawing students into numerous, diverse, strong, and healthy relationships, while at the same time making the process of relationship building and tending and mending and ending substantially conscious, self-controlled and creative (that is, both imaginative and inventive).  This is true of all education, whether in China or in Canada, whether in a public school or a private school, whether in a classroom of 27 pupils or with 1-to-1 tutoring, whether we follow Piaget or Barbara Coloroso or Montessori or Steiner.

From the first day of grade one, any educator wants to draw students into relationships – and draw them into understanding the nature of relationships -- with peers, with elders, with ideas, knowledge, tools, time, virtues and attitudes.  We want them to know how to avoid exploitation and also how to avoid being exploiters. 

Healthy relationships will generate a bonding if not passion.  We want students to have a positive relationship with math, or history, or dance, or auto mechanics, or law, or critical thinking.

Healthy relationships will generate a positive attitude toward the prospect of new relationships, including adult education and life-long learning.  Healthy relationships promote hope rather than fear, participation rather than spectating, and generative activity rather than passivity.

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  • Peter Ratcliff
    Last paragraph “relationship” should be “relationships” – like it so far!