Freedom And Education - Bill Ellis's Openting Statement For A Forum


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Subject: Opening Statement by Bill Ellis

Date: 02, January 1970 9:28:45 AM EST I start my input where I left off in my input to the forum on Education and Democracy. My concern then, and now, is that our terms are contradictory. The word “education", the process of instilling knowledge into people's minds, connotes a person or persons acting on others. It is being GIVEN knowledge, usually not of one's own choosing. It is not searching for and TAKING knowledge one wants hirself. Education limits the ability to learn to topics, techniques, and times set by others. Freedom, particularly freedom to learn, connotes and recognizes that one can only learn what one chooses to learn. The teach/educate/school is in opposition to freedom and democracy.

I would like for this forum to take the argument to a more fundamental level. I suggest that if we want to promote freedom and democracy we have to recognize the mindset, worldview, and culture in which they are set. Many listservs, blogs, and websites dwell on our EuroAmerican cultures’ values of self-interest, materialism, competition - - that is, greed and violence. But few have analyzed how we have reached this state of our culture. It is rooted in a long history of cultural evolution. I suggest below that we look at this history as well as suggest future actions we might take to move toward a more humane one.

The earliest worldviews, as well as the evolving human mind, were set by the nature that surrounded the first humanoids 5 million years ago when they first came down from the trees weak and unprotected. They were the prey and food for larger, stronger carnivorous animals. A few had only their larger brains and their proclivity for community to provide a niche for survival. Humanoids evolved to become thinking homo sapiens with tools and fire, some 600,000 to 150,000 years ago. Their earliest cultures evolved and were governed within the awe, majesty, mystery and cycles of nature. There we no human rights. Humans were governed by nature. Their lives, allegiances and gratitude, were to family, tribes, the sun, the animals, the forces of nature, and the unknowable. Their obligations, duties, and responsibilities were to those natural powers that permitted and governed their lives.

The cultures that grew from this natural beginning were ‘dharmocracies. ’ They recognized, honored, and worshipped the natural order. They were naturecentric rather than anthropocentric. They acknowledge that only by cooperation and interdependence with nature, including with one another, could they, and their world, exist and evolve. This acknowledgment led each individual to work for the good of all. Production and distribution of goods and services was naturally by reciprocity, not economics. Each produced, and gave what they produced, for the good of all. They honored their responsibilities to the well being of Gaia (the Earth and all of its life forms) with no concept of rights of the individual. Two third of the world population still does not have a concept of human rights, Words for rights, as well as ownership, money, or exchange, do not even exist in the majority of languages.

In a few of the evolving cultures the mystery of the unknowable gave room for a belief in powerful human-like creators - gods. In one culture, at least, the concept of one all powerful God was born. This was a second major mindshift for humanity. The dharmic view of the world was replaced by theocratic beliefs. The world controlled nature was transformed to a world controlled by a supernatural power. That power was was transmitted to humans through priestly orders, holy books, and divinely sanctioned governments.

The Renaissance and Reformation brought a new element to the Age of Faith. Control of the world shifted from the priests to the banks, the politicians, and the moneyed class. An oligarchy, still claiming divine sanction, ruled the world. Only slowly did the power of the Church loose control as science and the Age of Reason strengthened the hands of the owners of the tools of production. It was this EuroAmerican culture that became the most powerful and with its sword (technology), flag (nationalism), and cross (religion) Its social paradigm soon dominated the whole world.

A fourth major paradigm shift came in 1776 when political democracy was born in America. The social paradigm was little changed from the dominator paradigm that had been growing since humans were first taught that the Earth was made for them. And that man (and I do mean “man") was created to dominate the earth and all of its life forms including women, children, other races, . This democratic political paradigm adopted the moral code of self-interest, competition and materialism which led to material wealth as well as to the destruction of the natural habitat. But it also eliminated the divine-right-of-kings, and gave some power and responsibility to we-the-people. Or at least to representatives of the people. Technologies and techniques of the day did not make direct democracy possible. This glitch kept political and social control in the hands of a monied elite that continued to own the tools of production and distribution.

Today we are involved in a fifth paradigm shift. Chaos, Complexity, and Gaian theories are revealing a radically different world view. The are showing that individual unfettered freedom is neither economically nor scientifically sound. The Cosmos is shown to be a single, unit or holon, composed of tightly interlocked and interdependent holons. The dominator paradigm of the past is being replaced by a Gaian paradigm. All entities in the cosmos are no longer seen as free and autonomous. The well being and freedom of each is subject to the well being and freedom of all. Humans are part of Gaia and are controlled by, as they control, the Gaian paradigm. Separate research on human evolution and human nature reveal that cooperation and interdependence is social necessity as well as human nature and cosmic law.

This new understanding suggests that the mix of dharmocracy, theocracy, oligarchy, and democracy may be followed by new social/political systems. We might call this new system ‘cosmocracy. ’ It could be a more fruitful form of human control. Individuals empowered by new scientific knowledge and new technologies, can cooperate directly with one another, at the community level in the production and distribution of goods and services. Community cooperatives could exchange with one another on a global level. Cosmocracy would not be bound, as are oligarchy and democracy, by the space/time limits. Today we can know what's going on in any part of the world in real time. No matter where we are we can converse with anyone in Uganda, Iraq, or Nepal on our cell phone. Our reliance on any bosses, governments, corporations, or boundaries is ephemeral. We have the ability to form communities with others to control our own lives and to have an effective voice in our own governance. The question is now only one of will and wisdom.

Whether we can take advantage of the possibilities is the crux of this forum - Freedom and Education. When material production was the primary need of society it was important to train willing workers for service and factories. In the 1840s the compulsory state school system was established to transform an agrarian society into a industrial one. The influx of immigrants searching for industrial jobs extended the value of the system. Authoritarian hierarchal, competitive schools locked young people in the most formative years of their lives away from family, society and nature. It trained them to obey authority, to work by the bell, to learn what was determined by others, and in general to fit into an authoritarian, hierarchal, competitive, materialistic society.

For years social scholars like Froebel, Goodman, Illich, Holt, Godwin and others have promoted deschooling society. But the time, space and technologies prevented the fruition of their ideas. Today cyberlearning, learning cooperatives, unschooling, homeschooling, charter schools, independent study programs, Learning centers and many other personalized learning programs are laying the ground work for Cosmocracy. Life-long self-learning has many parents. The mainstream society is still captured by the educate/teach/school syndrome of a passing age. Its call to fix-the-schools is a march to folly perpetuated by the system itself.

The task for this Forum should be “What can we DO to help promote a deschooled future?"

In my humble opinion Bill Ellis


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