Real EducationReal Education: varieties of freedom

By David Gribble


Book of the week in the Times Educational Supplement, July 3rd 1998.


‘The book is readable and inspiring . . . In England, America, Japan, India, Germany and Ecuador Gribble finds the same essential recognition that no one can do children’s growing up for them.’

Chris Shute, Education Now, Autumn 1998.

 Out of print




Book Review by Virginia Makins, The Times Educational Supplement

David Gribble will irritate many by his scorn for the efforts of teachers in conventional schools to promote the well-being of their students, but it is still worth listening to the case for the prosecution.

There is the child at Sumavanum, a school for poor village children in India, who says: ‘We have learned we have to think what we are doing. Thinking is the main thing, more access to the brain.’ There are many students, ranging from privileged children in Massachusetts to students found ineducable by mainstream schools in Switzerland, who talk of the importance of taking responsibility for their own learning even when it means a year or two spending most of their time at a progressive school socialising and gaining confidence.

‘I have learned a lot of responsibility and discipline in achieving my own goals,’ says a boy who had buckled down to work at his state-sponsored progressive school in Israel in order to pass the school leaving exam after doing very little in the academic line for a couple of years. ’I see it with a lot of other people that they have less sense of responsibility because they were over-schooled in what to do.’

The students often contrast their experience of mainstream schools with progressive education. ‘I learned subjects in the local school. But I’ve been learning many, many other things at Kinokuni,’ says a Japanese boy.

A girl in New Delhi says: ‘Today’s kids, from class one, are so tensed up. Study, study, study. And parents forcing them; everything is studies and studies. From all sides the child is being pressurised . ’ Students keep returning to the importance of being given time, for relationships, for finding their own interests and goals, for doing nine-year-old maths even though they are 12.

Progressive schools are each progressive in their own way. Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts does not have any lessons at all unless students want them. Most of its students do perfectly well, using school to socialise and debate and invent and play games, and saving academic work for home. Other schools are more formal about lessons and assessments. Even so, their students recognise clear differences in attitudes and intentions from the mainstream schools they have experienced.

Some schools, such as King Alfred’s, remain authoritarian under the skin – the adults decide what is best for children, often calling on thinkers such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi or Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. Others are genuinely democratic. Rebecca Wild, founder of the much visited Pestalozzi school in Ecuador, is clear that her school is not a model than can be copied. ‘We did as well as we could, according to our ability, in our own specific situation. It is simply not transferable.’

Doing as well as they can, in their specific situation, is what many good teachers in England now feel unable to do.

ISBN 09513997 5 6


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