“The Apple and the Arrow” – Freedom and Schooling Pt.2

Different People Enjoy Different Things

In the second chapter, Walter points out something to his father William. “Walter pointed to a cave in the hillside where lived a monk well-loved by the people of the land of Uri. He said, ‘Father, it must be lonely for Brother Klaus to live all by himself in that dark place of a cave and just pray all the time.’
‘Perhaps it would be for you, Son,’ replied his father, ‘but Klaus seems happy. When any one of the mountain folk is ill or without bread, Klaus comes to comfort him. When a woman loses her husband or a mother her child, Klaus is there to pray for her. All men, Walter, do not like the same thing. Some like to hunt, others to fight, and still others to till the soil. Klaus is a man of God and I’m sure he is happy even if he lives in that dark cave yonder.'”

This segment is one of the main things proponents of alternative education speak about. Everyone is different and has different talents and goals. Not everyone needs to go to the same place or do the same things. Traditional schooling doesn’t want to live up to this truth and instead finds more methods of standardization and uniformity rather than trusting in an individual’s (or collective’s) own desires and disciplines. Different models and different goals help different communities and individuals. This also ties in to the numerous ways of seeking education, be it through free online resources, libraries, local neighborhood learning groups, museums, or anything else beyond a physical building.

The Bear in the Cage – Learned Helplessness

Walter and his father arrive in the village of Altdorf where he meets his grandfather. They enter an inn to talk and they let Walter go play with other village children in the inn. He goes up to them and they are around a caged bear.

“The bear was prancing up and down his cage in a never-ending trot, swinging his great head from side to side. He must hate that cage, Walter thought. Village children were teasing the bear. They stuck branches of trees through the bars, hoping the wild animal might tear the branches with his wicked looking claws, and thus frighten them. But the unhappy bear was used to children and paced his cage, thinking his own gloomy thoughts.”

In an Intro to Psychology class I was taught about the concept of “learned helplessness.” It is a psychological condition in which despite being in unbearable conditions, animals over time learn to accept their treatment as normal and give up. This was demonstrated in a well known experiment about a dog in a cage. The dog was put in a cage with a small gate. Then it was shocked (imagine receiving a hard unexpected pinch). The dog jumped over the gate every time this happened. Then a higher gate was introduced and the dog tried to do the same thing, but it couldn’t jump over that gate. After a while of no success it gave up. Soon the dog would just lie there whenever it was shocked.

The same thing happens to humans. Examples of this learned helplessness are in slavery where the slaves accept their situation and do the best they can to live in denial for the sake of some sanity. Another example is schooling. Many of my peers have faced constant rearing toward strict obedience. Many peers are faced with brutality from their fellow students and programs to heal the issue are slow to be enacted. Students face severe consequences for not complying with the demands of their teachers or schools. If a teacher disagrees with the schools practices, they may risk certain consequences with the power hungry administration.  After being in the schooling system for so long without a voice, without a true choice or way to stave off injustice, student, parents and even teachers learn to take whatever stressful situations are put upon them by those above them.

Treating Others as You Are Treated

Likewise, the bear and the cage highlights learned behavior. As the villagers grew used to their oppression, they re-enacted it by caging the bear. As students and others involved in traditional education grow used to their forced pressures, they re-enact it with other people – friends, family, those with less power.

The Perched Eagle

I have one last quote to illustrate the detriments that come through lack of freedom.

“Then Walter watched a captured eagle in another cage. He was perched on dead branches of a tree. His eyes were shut and his tail feathers were falling out. He looked so sad and so old that Walter felt sorry for him. For often, as he was herding in the mountains, the boy had watched great handsome eagles floating high in the heavens, carried ever upward by strong air currents. This old fellow must be dreaming of mountaintops, thought Walter sadly.”

The “great handsome eagles” are those who have taken charge of their education and their lives to a greater extent than most people. They are the “unschoolers” who learn by living, doing and exploring. They are the students in democratic schools who have equal say in the operations of their school along with teachers and other staff. While the rest of us can only dream about the “great mountaintops” on which our goals and personal interests will be sought out and lived out, the great eagles are out there taking charge and living their dreams out. They make mistakes and get things they don’t want, but they are pushed upward by their will, ingenuity and courage.


Posted on May 29, 2010, in Bureaucracy, Education, School and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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