I want to talk a little bit about different approaches to learning things. This is actually incredibly important and makes all the difference to how education unfolds for you. What I’m going to say to you is difficult for most people to absorb thoroughly because our conditioning is so strong in another direction. So if you absorb what we are talking about right now even just a little bit, it will make all the difference.
Broadly speaking, there are two different models for learning anything. Of course there’s a gray zone in between, but I’m going to polarize them into two different models.
One model you could call the big bird/ little bird approach. The baby birds wait in the nest with their little beaks wide open, and then the big bird comes along and drops little bits of worm into the little birds’ mouths. For most of us, that is the traditional system of learning that we grew up with. This means that you went to school and opened your beak, and the teacher would drop in “Two times two is four. Two times three is six. Two times four is eight.” And so on. I’m sure you’re familiar with this system. It’s called “learning by rote.” Basically, it works on the assumption that a child is an empty bucket that has to be filled up with the knowledge the teacher has. The teacher has knowledge, the student has nothing, and the teacher fills the student up with knowledge so that the student can, basically, duplicate that knowledge in the world of commerce. The whole system of education is to teach you to perform a function like a machine in a system that is commercial. You’re being prepared to perform your role.
This traditional system of education also works through a series of tests, so there’s a constant fear of failing a test, or the ambition to pass a test. So it’s all based upon the need for approval and the disempowerment of the individual who is seeking approval. If you work hard and try hard, you pass the test, and then you go to the next level. The whole things works in terms of levels. You start in kindergarten, which you have to actually graduate from these days, and then you go to first grade and you have to pass a series of tests to get into second grade, and so on. There’s always somewhere to graduate into. You make it into high school, and there’s a series of tests there, and then there’s university.
I’ve watched my kids getting caught in this system. It’s quite a job to take them out of it, and convince them that education could actually be about something else. They’re being taught that it’s all about making your way through in order to be able to participate in the commercial world and to make money. And the question never really gets asked, “What are we doing all this for?” What is the purpose of graduating from first grade to second grade, and then second grade to third grade? What is the purpose of graduating university? So you can earn money? For what? What is the final purpose? Is there actually a purpose outside of the system itself?
So that is a hierarchical system of education, where the assumption is that the learner is empty and ready to be filled by somebody who has information and knowledge and wisdom. There are, of course, some benefits to this system of education, but in many cases there are better ways to learn.
Instead of a big bird and a little bird, the other system of education works more on the analogy of a seed in a garden. The educator is like the gardener that plants the seed. The gardener doesn’t give the sunflower to the seed. The seed contains the sunflower already. The gardener supplies the right soil, the right nourishment, and the right amount of sunlight so that the seed can be allowed to flourish and grow and turn into the sunflower, which is already latent within the seed. This model recognizes that everything that the students will become is already in themselves. It can’t be given from the teacher. The teacher simply provides the right environment, where the student is allowed to be curious, and discover, and find things out. Through discovering and inquiry and exploration and making mistakes, the student can actually flourish into the person they were destined to become.
What these students are being prepared for is not to participate in an existing system of commerce. They’re actually being prepared to create a more evolved system. The system that the teacher grew up in will be redundant by the time the student matures, so therefore the student is always going to be growing into creating something more magnificent that the teacher ever knew. This system recognizes that we are constantly evolving, so what the student is being prepared to create and participate in is something the teacher never knew. It recognizes that we are, collectively, in a process of discovery.
The big bird/little bird model of education is more like the educational system of the 1950s and 1960s, and is still “learn by wrote.” Since then, it’s evolved into a system of education that works in terms of the second model, which would be like Waldorf education, started by Rudolf Steiner. This is an example of an education which provides discovery opportunities for the student, but assumes that what the student is going to discover is beyond what the teacher has even known in their lives. It recognizes that we are constantly pushing back the boundaries.