Excerpted from W. Priesnitz. 2000. Challenging Assumptions in Education. Ontario, Canada: Alternate Press.


"Towards a Learning Society"

Wendy Priesnitz


“How could youth better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”                                   - Henry David Thoreau


Never before in history have we faced problems that more urgently require effective, publicly funded educational opportunities. But we must not allow our assumptions to confuse equal educational opportuni­ties with compulsory schooling. That would be like confusing spirituality with organized religion, or wellness with a hospital. One does not necessarily result from the other. Processing people through schools like sausages does not guarantee educated sausages!


The choice is in our hands. We can continue the 19th century-style sausage factory method of educa­tion, which stifles learning. Or we can tear down the institutionalized barriers that impede learning and cre­ate 21st century-style learning opportunities — opportunities that do not require huge amounts of real estate and bureaucracy. This new 'public education system' will be diverse enough to accommodate learners of all ages, interests, abilities and styles. It will put individu­als in charge of their own learning agendas. It will help those who want to share their knowledge to find those who want to learn. It will provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives.


And most importantly, it will allow children and young people to participate fully in the lives of their communities. The emphasis on respect for and trust in the learner is key to creating a learning society. To truly respect children and their place in our society, we must put an end to coerced learning.


As a business owner, I see the choice as an eco­nomic one. Why continue to pour money into a clearly outmoded system that most people admit is not work­ing? If we truly challenge the assumptions that educa­tion is done to people, and that adult 'expert' should be in control of what children learn, we cannot con­tinue to spend ever-increasing amounts of money training and licensing teachers to deliver pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum.


As a mother, I see the choice as one that helps me fulfill my responsibility to my children. I know I can’t predict the future, and that the challenges of the next century will have to be met by those living it. My job as a parent is to be sure my children are equipped to deal with those challenges.


As a citizen, I see the choice as being about solving social justice and environmental problems. It is also about the need to reverse the sense of disconnection from public life that the majority of citizens are cur­rently feeling. I believe that we can take matters into our own hands, provide real leadership and make genuine progress with respect to the issues that affect our communities and the Earth. I believe it is feasible to create an atmosphere in which people of all ages, with different backgrounds, traits and talents, work to­gether to develop a positive vision of the future, and form the partnerships necessary to make that vision a reality.


If enough people lose their faith in schooling — and act on that loss of faith — we will, I believe, be able to make the transformation from institutionalized educa­tion to a learning society. We are going to have to de­cide what we want: sausages or independent thinkers. And as I have learned with my own children, if we choose to nurture independent thinkers, we have to be willing to accept the consequences!