When the Land is Safer than the Water

By Mirjam Maclean. Mirjam is a writer, she lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land” (Warsan Shire)

We have to understand, in the words of Warsan Shire, that nobody puts their children in a situation that is dangerous unless they have no other choice. The poet reminds those of ‘us’ who judge ‘them’ about the ethical humanity we all have in common, regardless of our ethnicity, race, gender, orientation or cultural differences, and regardless of which nation we belong to. She appeals to the understanding that we might each live in a different ‘home’, but we share a human instinct to protect our children.

That does not mean, however, that because no human would voluntarily endanger their children, all humans must be intrinsically identical. Caring for our babies is part of human nature, but we do not all do that in the same fashion, nor is this limited to humans. Having blue eyes or dark skin is part of being human, but not all people share those physical traits, and so, people have certain beliefs and behaviours in common, but that does not make us all psychological clones of each other. In other words, human nature does not imply the nature of all humans.

Yet, where it concerns education, this distinction tends to be forgotten. Article 26 of the UN Human Rights Declaration states that education is a right, that it is compulsory, and that it “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality”.

Implicit in this article are two assumptions: That that there is just one human personality and that education equals schooling.

However, just as our physical diversity is vital for the evolution of our species, so too is our psychological diversity vital for our intellectual progress. People are not inanimate objects that can be measured and compared according to strict criteria; people communicate and interact with their environment, and change and adapt accordingly.

To make that possible, we are each born with a set of filters (our personality) that direct the way we communicate and collect information. Those filters function a little differently in different types of people, which accounts for our different natural talents and skills, the way we notice and value different things, learn in different ways, have different emotions, a different sense of justice, a different relationship with authority and a different sense of community. Nevertheless, we all need respect, like we all need a safe home because, although nurture cannot overrule nature, it can influence how happy we learn to be with our inborn Self.

Negative judgment comes from our inability to understand these inborn differences in others; we assume that they could react, feel, sense, understand, believe, listen or learn the way we do “if they only tried”. Such judgment that underlies all conflict between in-groups, has been institutionalized in most ‘education systems’, and it is that judgment that causes so many people to ‘fail’ at learning, at learning beyond mere knowledge, at learning to value themselves.

The Human Rights declaration was written because of a situation like the one Shire paints for us; a situation that forced millions to abandon their homes. It was written to eliminate discrimination against people based on their superficial differences, and to give all people equal rights and chances in life. One of those rights is that of an education; we must educate children everywhere, regardless of gender or where they live, a message that is often accompanied by showing refugee children in make-shift schools. They have no home, but education is the ‘ship’ that leads to a better future.

However, the UN decree that education must be made compulsory – thus that it must equal schooling – has led to a dire situation exactly there where the land is still safer than the water. Education is a process undertaken by the learner with the goal of developing their latent (inborn) capabilities: thus, their personality-directed talents and skills. Schooling is an undertaking of the state with the goal of creating citizens that will fit in and acquire its knowledge, beliefs and values. This makes education and schooling almost complete opposites.

Governments and schools set standards of behaviour, belief and resilience based on the assumption that all people have an identical “human personality”, according to which they test children, and if a child fails at this, they are ‘cast overboard’: they either drop out of school (and out of their chance of a better future) or they are no longer considered mentally healthy.

In name of democracy, children are taught that uniformity means equality, and conformity means being smart. Teachers subconsciously give better grades to children who are like them, based on the assumption that beliefs and values are knowledge that can be learned and that teaching is about right and wrong, so that understanding the teacher is a measure of intelligence.

Some types of children (and adults) perfectly fit in this system, where the teacher directs their learning in both daily routine and subject matter, where dress codes tell them who is who, and grades what is what. But most others get bored, either with the repetition, with the routine, the theory or the lack of variety, or they cannot deal with the lack of autonomy and individuality, or the competition. This results in the majority of children suffering through their school years, developing low self-esteem, or having to accept labels like ADHD or autism, often in combination with dangerous tranquillizers, while nobody seems to question whether it could be the system that needs to change.

However, the opposite is also true: Those children that fit nicely in traditional schools might feel utterly lost in those forms of alternative education that give students total freedom. Therefore, it is not the case that one type of education is better than another, but that different children are better suited for different approaches.

Parents, who have a vested interest in the happiness of their children, and who know them as individuals, naturally help each child learn in their own way, but schools do exactly what their name suggests, they ‘school’ children, but they do not educate them.

Additionally, because schools, like nations, appeal to a sense of identity, signified by what clothing to wear, they play into the tendency of social animals to use aggression when in competition (for grades or belonging), which makes schools the perfect environment for bullying – and, because those natural differences are subliminally picked up and not objectively observed, the same types of people end up the victim. Such unintentional “personality type discrimination” is detrimental, because there is no in-group these children can identify with. Even their parents, afraid they will get judged, often accept that the blame for being different lies with the child. They accept the labels and medications, and keep sending their children out to sea, believing the school system to be an unsinkable Titanic.

But we need to understand that, although nobody deliberately puts their children in harm’s way, “compulsory education” is putting children in boats that cannot reach the other shore; boats that are more dangerous than their home. No parent should be forced to send their children into such a system.

The upside is, that unlike all those superficial differences, psychological type differences are consistent across all races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, ages and societies. Therefore, if we want to succeed as a group; if we wish to create communities that have the greatest variety of natural skills and the greatest amount of happy people, we need to celebrate not only our superficial differences, but also our innate personality differences.

All people start out wanting to learn; education is a process of communication between learner and educator, each contributing their different talents, so they might share them and enrich each other.

The system I envision, and which can be implemented without the need for a revolution, is one of guided self-study, where adults help direct individual projects and give those who need it structure, thus helping each individual to develop their inborn potential with the understanding that beliefs, values, creativity, insights and natural talents cannot be tested or compared.

But the first thing each person needs to learn is that we do not need to be identical to be of equal value; that our differences help us build communities that are adaptable and that, although it is okay to feel connected to a group, we need not fear others, because they are like us in being human. If we want to create a tolerant world, we need to start with a safe place to educate our children.

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