As it turned out, ‘progressive’ education was nothing new. It wasn’t a hippy fantasy, not even a postmodern fad. It was as old as that other education we all know, that of handwriting booklets and textbooks, of school desks, of timetables and lessons, of homework, of discipline and teachers-judges-prisonwardens, that is, the ‘official version’ of education.
Progressive pedagogy was that old precisely because there had always been people who believed that humans do not need shackles in order to learn, and that what is not learnt pleasurably is not learnt at all, but only memorized. That the best way to learn is by doing, discovering for oneself. That a good teacher does not judge, but accompanies. That tests direct a pupil’s efforts towards the goal of passing, not of understanding. That pure nature is the best of laboratories, the best of libraries. And, above all, that what drives knowledge is not stuffing children up with subjects, but absolute trust, faith, in human beings, in their innate curiosity and their vital need to understand all that surrounds them.
This thinking is partly enshrined in ‘modern’ curricula and the laws which inspire them. But it has been turned into an icon, a dried-up and lustreless image. How else can we understand the monotony and boredom children and youngsters experience in school, the feeling that you’re not learning anything, at least nothing of importance? How can we understand teachers’ lack of spirit, their impotence? Who decides what should be studied, when and how? Is that the way to boost curiosity, that personal and non-transferable virtue without which no real learning can take place?
How inconstant is the memory of the human heart! This toy Platero seems to me today more Platero than you yourself, Platero...
(Platero and I, Juan Ramón Jiménez)