Learning by Choice

Abstract: This article discusses Integrated Learning, a way of life that rejects the government-imposed separation of education from work, travel, leisure, housekeeping and other daily-life activities.

By isolating children from society, school destroys essential ingredients for learning, such as building up practical experience, developing interest along the lines of personal preferences and having an open-minded, creative and independent personality. School mainly concentrates on routines taught by repetition and imitation, on memorizing 'facts', and on keeping discipline.

By contrast, Integrated Learning promotes learning by personal experience and learning by choice as the keys to personal development, recognizing that interest in the respective subject matter and a desire to learn more about it both precede understanding. Integrated Learning integrates education with practice in a pleasant way, i.e. not by imposing a 'master-slave' relationship, but by offering and expecting options, from the perspective that the catalyst to learning is not discipline, but optionality.

A. How do people learn?

Many people believe that to learn, all they have to do is sit back and observe and listen to a teacher, who has all the knowledge and skills that they aspire. Many people believe that the teacher is the key element in a 'learning process' that works like a chemical reaction, as if the teacher pours in knowledge and skills into a passive recipient.

People believe this because this is how the education system works that has shaped their ideas about leaming. The education system isolates people from daily life by putting them into the paralysis of the classroom, presuming that information and skills can be 'poured' into students, whether they like that or not. School treats children as empty containers that are to be filled with knowledge and skills, but that otherwise need to remain passive.

School makes pupils memorize 'facts' and recite times tables. Pupils are taught discipline, they imitate each other and adjust to routines. But is this really learning? All this may turn a pupil into a disciplined observer, an obedient servant or a 'walking book', who will repeat at command what is memorized. But does school teach anything of substance that one cannot easily look up in books when needed? Do children learn anything at school that helps them in their personal development?

Children may repeat what the teacher says, they may recite difficult words and may amaze their parents with the tricks they have 'learned', but all that does not make them any wiser, any more creative or any better in most respects.

The key to learning is an open-minded, creative and independent personality which is not something a teacher can 'pour' into a child. If successful, a teacher may play the role of an assistant or a catelyst in the learning process. But the most important role is preserved for oneself, the person who is after all supposed to do the learning.

A passive attitude is not the best attitude for learning. To learn, one must be interested in the matter, one must be eager to learn, have an open mind, be willing to let go prejudices and false presumptions. To learn, one must be willing to change as a persson, since new ideas have thc potential to reshape one's personality. Personal development goes hand in hand with learning. Just like school is a bad place to learn, attending school is not very beneficial for one's personal development either. The greatest barrier both for learning and for personal development is the passive attitude cultivated by school.

How to learn is the key to one's personal development and the school method of learning can clearly not be recommended. Personal development can hardly be gained by remaining a passive observer. For the sake of personal development, it is better to learn by personal experience, rather than to try and absorb knowledge and skills gained by somebody else.

B. Learning by Choice

Choice is important in learning by personal experience. Learning by choice means that one must make up one's mind that one wants to learn and thus open one's mind to situations that may change the way one used to look at things.

In another way, one must also have a number of things to choose from. In a situation in which one does not have any choice, people tend to become stubborn and obstinate, as a protest against what they perceive as dictatorship; they may even develop regressive behaviour, claiming they are forced into a situation they do not like. Compulsory school is bad in two ways, in that it forces children to attend school, but also in that it puts children in a boring environment in which children are not left any choice as to what they are supposed to learn.

For adults who become interested in personal development after many years of schooling, the biggest step is to accept that it is they themselves that may want to change, rather than that they are being instructed by their work to attend a course as an observer. People must realise that there are choices and that it is up to them to take decisions.

C. Optionality is superior

Choice may be regarded as the key word in learning. But many people are afraid to take decisions. They do not want to make choices all the time, especially not regarding things they never thought they had any choice. What they need is not so much choice but optionality, which will give them the opportunity to choose, without forcing them to choose.

Optionality is the key word behind Integrated Learning. Optionality rejects not only compulsory school, but also the many other ways in which the Government makes people believe they are useless, stupid nobodies. Children are not allowed to work, not allowed to vote, not allowed to sign a contract or judge people as a member of a jury. Mind you, Integrated Learning does not want to force children to do all these things. Optionality merely implies that children should not be restricted by law as participants in society, especially if there is no valid reason to do this.

The fact that society denies children opportunities to do something productive is the very reason that they later turn into incompetent adults. What children are denied is to gain personal experience in situations that they may have to deal with in their later life. School isolates children from society, falsely pretending that it can teach children the 'life skills' they need. By contrast, Integrated Learning encourages children to participate in society as integrated persons, be it under supervision of preferably their parents.

D. Integrated Learning

Integrated Learning is more than a method of 'homeschooling', more than a view how to raise children. Integrated Learning also is a powerful method for adults to work on their personal development. As mentioned before, the many years of schooling have blinded many people to accept this passive, servile cloak the Government wants them to wear. This is one of the reasons why many people regard personal development as a lot of psychological nonsense, a lot of smooth talk out to make a fast buck.

At seminars on Integrated Learning many people have such prejudices; at first, Integrated Learning may look to them like just another case of smooth talk and no substance. But then they are asked to move to the front seats or to do something else that makes them more aware of the choices they have. When, as usual, people remain seated at the same places, they are told that this too is an option and perhaps is their conscious choice. Using such practical examples to make a point is characteristic for Integrated Learning. People need to realize that they have choices, that they have a say in their own future. Many people are sucked into predefined behavioral patterns, without realizing they are, without realizing there are alternatives to choose from.

Integrated Learning encourages people to plan their future and to step into situations by choice, so that there are no excuses not to change when the situation clearly calls for initiatives and, more importantly, for changes in the way one normally handles things.

Integrated Learning integrates education with practice without imposing a 'master-slave' relationship. People with practical experience have little problem when facing a theory or model that applies to their field of experience. What school does, is to present theories and models, while the students have little or no practical experience to relate those theories and models to. This also applies to many work situations; people with only practical duties may not understand the implications and meaning of what they are doing; management, on the other hand, may come up with plans that look great to accountants, but that do not work out in practice.

Integrated Learning increases awareness and encourages people to look for alternatives if they do not feel comfortable in a situation. Integrated Learning rejects coercion or forced conformity in the name of 'learning'; instead, the answer to problems and the key to learning and personal development is optionality.

Appendix: The Integrated Learning Foundation

The Integrated Learning Foundation was set up in 1994 by Quintessence to analyze, document and promote "Integrated Learning" as a method of learning. Integrated Learning does not separate education from leisure, work, travel, housekeeping and other daily-life activities. For more information, see the Integrated Learning group at MSN.

Names, logos and trademarks associated with Integrated Learning, the Integrated Learning Foundation and Optionality are each owned by their respective proprietors.

Editorial Postscript: The Integrated Learning Foundation stopped giving presentations and distributing articles in 1995, after a mixed reception. Some regarded the ILF as too radical. Some others found that the word learning was too much associated with school and the conventional education system, thus defying the idea of integration as the message behind the foundation.

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