Integrated Learning - the forbidden Alternative

Abstract: This article describes that, although 'Integrated Learning' is forbidden by law, it can be a far superior alternative to school. From the perspective of optionality, children learn little at school, whereas 'Integrated Learning' opens up people's eyes for optionality.

School in the old days

School has changed quite dramatically over the past few decades. School used to be a place where children were drilled like soldiers, where children were made to recite times-tables and the alphabet, and where children were taught handwriting and mental arithmetic. School was a place where children were taught to obey the rules, both behavioural rules and the rules of maths, the laws of physics, etc.

This old method of teaching has received a lot of criticism for its focus on rules; people complained that all this discipline had a detrimental effect on children's creative talents; that instead of memorizing formulas, facts and details, they should learn how to cope with life in a rapidly changing world.

How school is today

School has changed in line with changes elsewhere in society. Today, some 80% of people who work, do so in the services sector. Instead of disciplining clients, they must try and understand their requests, communicate and act as human beings, rather than a as robots.

Today, schools like to think that they focus more on creativity, on social skills, on seeking solutions to problems, rather than on obeying the teacher by memorizing rules and facts. The result is that many schools now have abandoned the rigid regime of rules and discipline.

Teachers no longer demand that children all sit in rows and face the teacher; instead, children are allowed to join their tables together to form so-called working groups; children are encouraged to talk to other group members and work as a team.

Today, schools like to give children projects. The idea is that the children's interest is raised if they are presented with practical examples they can relate to; the idea is that children can stimulate each other and jointly arrive at a conclusion or solution; the idea is that active involvement with such projects leads to better understanding of the theoretical aspects.

But the reality is that children can spend months making dinosaurs from cardboard or coloring in pictures of persons dressed up in traditional costumes of a far-away country. There may be physical processes, chemical reactions or natural phenomena embedded in such projects, but in most cases, such projects are a convenient way for the teacher to keep the children busy and quiet.

It turns out that children learn very little from such projects. The disappointing conclusion is that such projects are, to a large extent, a waste of time and energy, if not an insult to the intelligence, talent and curiosity of the children.

A Return to the Past?

Many parents look back with nostalgia to the days when teachers still imposed a rigid regime of strict discipline and unbendable rules on boys and girls who went to separate schools. Many parents like schools to stop the social experiment and return to the basics of the three R's (reading, writing and arithmetic), to reintroduce civics lessons; to teach all children English with French as an option for those who can handle it; at higher levels, they want schools to return to teaching children the facts of history and geography, the rules of science, etc. Above all, they want school to be strict on discipline. In short, many parents like school to return to the way it was when they were still young.

But the old rules, truths and certainties of the past are gone, they have turned out to be illusions, if not errors, unacceptable in a modern, developed society. The way things were taught at school turned out to be inferior, if not wrong. As an example, to learn French, one is better off living and working a few months in France, than by following years of courses at a university. Similar examples became evident for music and other subjects. The problem was that school keeps its eyes closed for its own limitations.

In the past, school has taught children to write with chalk, feathers and pen-and-ink. The ballpen was long banned with the argument that it would result in untidy handwriting. And while schools were disputing the merits of the ballpen, they missed the introduction of the typewriter in offices. As a result, students had to learn how to type after school. By the time today's schoolchildren will start looking for work, the dominant way of text entry may well be by scanner or voice dictation. There may well be a widespread use of software for character recognition, voice recognition and translation from one language into the other. In other words, the computer may make most of the language skills children learn today at school obsolete, just like it has already made mental arithmetic obsolete.

Reverting to the old method of teaching is not going to do children much good. There are too many arguments against the old method of teaching. But the arguments against these new methods used at school are equally valid. All these projects may be a step away from the dull theoretical facts of the past. Children may get more actively involved in projects and may relate more to practical and interesting examples. But they learn little, if anything at all.

School is the Problem!

The problem is that school simply is not a good place to learn. All the practical examples presented to children in school today are artificial, the communication between children is fabricated; this team-work is not a real-life situation. There is little incentive for children to perform in an academic sense, instead peer pressure is focused on the social interaction between children, on control over each other.

As children are often bored and unhappy with their essentially captive situation, this peer pressure has a paralysing influence on the attitude of most children. Those who try to do well in such projects are regarded as show-offs, as nerds or as traitors who side with the teacher.

School creates social misfits, nurtures violence and mental paralysis, because of the very fact that school keeps children away from real-life situations, from the world outside school, from that world with all its practical examples, its incentives and opportunities, from a world in which events are not scheduled in rosters as pre-defined routines and where situations are not artificially set up like acts in a play.

The great Separation

In today's society, one can only get into certain occupations, when one first has been through the education system. Highly-paid positions in the public service, in the education system, in health care, in the legal professions, etc, are virtually closed off for those without educational qualifications.

The Government likes to create the impression that a professional job can only be done by someone who has reached a certain age and has the relevant qualifications. The Government restricts certain activities by regulation, or shapes them by tax privileges, subsidies, etc.

In doing so, the Government separates one activity from another and creates the impression that, say, a housekeeper cannot teach and that paid work by definition cannot be fun and is not done on a voluntary basis.

The Government wants a clear separation between these activities, it does not like them to be integrated. A combination of activities - such as house-keeping, caring for children and conducting business at home with a computer, a modem, a fax, etc. - does not fit in well with this strategy of separation of activities. It becomes even more complex if the person keeps the children out of school and involves them in the various activities. The law not only forbids people without certain qualifications to perform certain work, it forbids children to work at all, to operate bank accounts, it invalidates contracts signed by children, etc. But in many respects, such a situation is a better learning environment for children and a better preparation for the children's future career than school has to offer.

A forbidden Alternative

Although Integrated Learning can be a far superior alternative to school, it is a forbidden alternative, since the Government insists that certain activities must be separated.

The Government does not care much what children learn, as long as the outcome is that they will accept the Government and obey its rules. By contrast, Integrated Learning, even by merely presenting itself, opens up people's eyes for 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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