10. Not new or traditional learning
  While individual counsellors and organisations can determine for themselves if they are on course, there is a battle in the media about who is right. A polarising discussion enhances the oppositions. The hardworking midfield is under pressure of the polemic. I am not an advocate of that pressure-enhancing, useless battle.
No discussion, but linking in a renewing way
In December 2006 Pieter Hilhorst published an essay on The New Learning (TNL). The Department asked ‘the Argument factory’ in the persons of Pieter Hilhorst and Kees Kraaijveld to make an analysis of the debate about The New Learning. The essay gives without judgement a survey of the publications of the supporters and opponents of The New Learning. As well supporters as opponents fence with images that are caricatures. But exactly because of this magnification it becomes visible what the biggest fear is. Opponents of The New Learning fear lack of engagement, advocates of The New Learning are afraid of passivity. The educational image is determined by the statements of ‘the extremes’. Education is on show day after day. The polemic enhances the oppositions. Several images of mankind are at the basis of these utterances. Therefore in the discussion people hardly hit the target. And a dialogue between people who talk from a different paradigm seems also hardly possible. But what should happen?
The advocates and opponents
The advocates and opponents of The New Learning base their case on different characteristics and key issues of education. The advocates are difficult to mention in one name. The characteristic of TNL is that many different forms develop. At the moment the opponents seem to be clearly united in ‘Better Education the Netherlands.’ Hilhorst outlines a fascinating survey of the advocates and opponents in his essay. So it becomes clear that the supporters refer to the lack of motivation of the pupils with reference to the logical changes and think that they must understand why they have to learn something. The opponents wonder if the pupils were really all enthusiasm and determine that postponing the satisfaction of needs is good. The supporters see the burn-out complaints of teachers increase because pupils do not let themselves resign any longer to the traditional model while the opponents blame the complaints to the fact that the subject has been taken away from them. Both have difficulties with the defective connection of the higher education. The advocates are looking for the solution in the motivation and independence, the opponents in training the basis of knowledge. Supporters reproach the opponents with the fact that they idealise the inspiring teacher. The other way round questions are put tot the possibility to be able to have all children work independently.
The advocates and opponents of The New Learning describe crucial differences with regard to the starting-points and their consequences. The advocates depart from an ideology and put the pupil central. The opponents put the subject-matter central and blame a model of cuts and measures which are imposed from above. The supporters start from heterogeneity, diversity and reality. The opponents are striving for homogeneity and a direct model of instruction as most effective form of transfer. While the supporters are working on social skills the opponents try to teach forming of character. Advocates mainly work on the usefulness of knowledge from pedagogic and didactic principles. On the other hand the opponents work on the subject contents and worry about the fact that much knowledge cannot be simply looked up. The supporters want to combine theory and practice as much as possible but the opponents state that the difference between (mainly) theoretical and (mainly) practical studies has to be maintained or restored. There are also some striking differences between the way of communicating. The advocates provide many neologisms and are vulnerable, the opponents on the other hand use old-fashioned language and quite often express themselves sarcastically.
The parallels
About some three items the advocates and opponents of The New Learning seem to agree: ambitions, variety and commitment. Love of ease and lack of commitment may never prevail n education. Excelling may not be slowed down but must indeed be rewarded. If various schools get the freedom to develop their won education, there will be differences naturally. Not only between traditional and renewing schools but also between the various renewing schools. Agreement about importance of commitment is evident. Pupils do not only go to school because they are so interested in the subject-matter but because they feel linked to their fellow-students. Who wants to prevent school-leaving must take care that pupils do not only feel commitment towards each other but also to the school. A large-scale, anonymous bureaucratic organisation of education is disastrous for this commitment. Individual attention is necessary. This can happen in traditional as well as renewing education. The analysis lays bare what could be successful in every form of education. In my opinion the heart of the problem lies more in the language of the polemic itself. Supporters and opponents push each other away to be right in statements. But how can this political game be won with ‘being right’ when variety and commitment together are acknowledged key values?
Painful polemic
The polemic is not only polarising. The discussion puts forward people who want to show their personal suffering. But what commits those people to the ends of the ideological currents? In other words: how painful is it for those who took the initiative for Iederwijs to attract so many frustrated teachers and parents who do not have the key values of the renewal in their hearts but are embittered by situational traumas? How many initiatives have failed by expressing the intentions that really matter? Parents and teachers who are stuck want ‘the opposite’. And then the practice seems to be somewhat more unmanageable. Also among so called ‘people of the same mind’.
And how bitter it must be for BEN that sympathizers of their movement do not only consist of enthusiastic, passionate teachers of a subject. More often than not they use arguments that must conceal that they indeed have not been able to fascinate their pupils with their subject. And then the pain does not only consist of the fact that ‘their subject has been taken away’ from them but also in the failed interaction with their pupils. Highly trained teachers had the monopoly for a long time in the teachers’ room. And not only the changing systems have dethroned them. They have smarted very much for a stiff attitude and not being interested in what goes on in their students.

“Phoning Wilders is ordering ratings”
The political parties have lost their self-evident electorate because of the de-compartmentalization. The public as well as the commercial broadcastings are driven by ratings. So the political parties become more extreme to display the differences and the media have to pick up the extremes to fetter the people to their channel. So much sound is produced but often without any underlying clear vision and without constructive perspective.

Only supporters
If higher ambitions can be attained by creating linkedness and offering variety then room must be created for supporters of systems. In other words: a school community should not consist all the time of supporters and opponents of the system but of advocates of the collectively formulated values. That hardly happens because people talk almost exclusively about standards. Values are ethical, esthetical or personal confessions of something. Standards are the ways of acting according to which a certain category of people can or must direct themselves. The values make the most important intentions explicit that teachers want to achieve in their education.
For the authentic teacher it is still possible to make the talents of pupils reach maximum growth. That is possible in many different ways. It is important that the teacher cannot only justify his style of preference but also at the other side of the spectrum. The teacher that is more focussed on a classic transfer cannot only justify himself with the test results that were produced shortly after the transfer. He will also have to be interested in ‘what goes on inside the pupil’. The teacher that gives more autonomy to his pupils cannot only justify himself on his feeling for working together, solving ability etc. He will have to have an idea of the output of the learning.
Surpassing key values
What is needed then to know if the values which were endorsed collectively are reached in that new differentiated educational landscape? Or when do we make use of every talent? The Experience Oriented Education has developed for over thirty years as a non-political concept. It has worked out key values that are not for discussion (and that is why they do not often reach the media) but which are deepened in a permanent dialogue. Next to competences Experience Oriented Education has made the key values well-being, involvement and linkedness understandable. The well-being of pupils must be visible and must be influenced positively to take care that factors that might restrain that development are made minimal. This has nothing to do with wanting to prevent frustrations or conflicts. The involvement of pupils guarantees real development. We know that children can work for a six in order to forget things again, in which they were not already really interested. The involvement that children have themselves can be used and teachers can learn to enhance the chance of involvement during their activities. That is possible during project work but also during instructions. Finally the final aim of all educational activities is that pupil are linked with themselves, each other, the activities and the school community. That is visible and palpable in the atmosphere. Linked school communities are populated by teachers and pupils that endorse the same intentions; where people may be different but they appreciate each other for their contribution and dedication.
Not disposing of
You can influence the key values well-being, involvement an linkedness but you cannot dispose of them. A teacher does not determine if a pupil can acquire the subject-matter or if he becomes happy. Yet the authentic teacher with passion for his subject and sincere interest in his pupils can enhance the chance of realising these values strongly. But when do we know if we are on the right track with renewing or reversing the introduced changes? It can be told especially by the level of well-being, involvement and linkedness if a school community succeeds in realizing its aims. When the values and intentions are expressed and endorsed by ‘all supporters’ then there is still one ultimate test. The pupils will have to express the same intentions in their behaviour and stories. In school that are conceptualised like that way, pupil and teacher can develop maximally and pleasantly. And in that way conflicts and frustrations are not evaded.
No discussion and no dialogue
The polemic between advocates and opponents of The New Learning is largely pointless. The level of argumentation is of a different level. Better Education the Netherlands has many highly educated followers from the exact sciences. The argumentation of BEN is generally not based on developmental and motivational psychology. And that library has been filled considerably during the past hundred years. The school-time that the people of BEN look back on so satisfactorily relates badly to the lower levels of contemporary education. The supporters of The New Learning base their case mainly on the continually developing insights into the human development. The school-time they look back on has revealed frustrations. In the discussion views become dogmas and principles and you cannot discuss with principles. A principle has set. For a dialogue a basis of knowledge is required; a context within which each other’s views of mankind and developmental psychological views are understood. That is not the case in the verbal educational warfare. Advocates and opponents keep each other politically active. That is why the discussion becomes pointless, the dialogue impossible. The solution seems evident but is frustrating for everybody who would like to convince the whole world he is right. The solution is going on. All going on to form the systems which you believe in. That means that you are clear about your view of mankind, your thoughts about ‘how people develop’ and about the forms that will support this maximally. Then ‘proofs’ are related to the context school organisations choose for and then something can be chosen. That cannot be standardized. That has to happen with high ambitions, much variety and a great linkedness of all those involved in that organisation. And yet those were the corresponding starting-points. We need renewing connectors that will not start the discussion with each other but who will proceed in the conversation that will advance real developments. I would not know who we do not need.

Not for or against. BEN has a function (otherwise it would not exist)
A German teacher told me that the most interesting items of his subject had been skipped. He was allowed to teach his subject in ‘a stripped form’. When I said that that should be terrible for him, he reacted: “That has been like this for years. I have 120 colleagues and you are first one who says so.” I sincerely wish this man will find recognition at BEN


Not for or against. Iederwijs has a function (otherwise it would not exist)
A parent who had been bullied in the past and who experienced that that happened to her children was desperate. The school ignored her story she told me. She found ‘heaven on earth’. I sincerely wish her a terrific time at Iederwijs.

For me personally there is another important reason – in spite of all uncertainties – to incline to the renewers: uncertainty, vulnerability and enthusiasm attract people ‘who feel like it.’ That is much more attractive than sarcasm.
During all the travels that I have made around the world it has struck me that backpackers tell each other stories about where it is good and beautiful but also about what they have experienced all. The ‘organized traveller’ is sooner inclined to complain about waiting times, disappointing meals, a not desired view etc. on the basis of beforehand bought expectations. I like travelling; on the way with people who do not know for sure but who do know for sure that they are developing because they feel like it.

What does a roll cost?
After a consultation I want to get rolls for a few participants. Because the catering is sold out I am asked to get my lunch in the canteen of a polytechnic in the neighbourhood. I put three hard rolls and 3 slices of cheese on a tray and I queue up at the cash-desk. When it is my turn the cashier asks for my pass. I do not have a pass. But you cannot buy anything without a pass. They have not given me a pass. The cashier is about 20 and indicates in a customer-friendly way that her boss could help me. The boss guides me to a machine where I can draw a pass for 8 euros security. I have to revalue that pass at another machine. And of course I can cash the money - after I have withdrawn money – that I have revalued too much and the security.

In order to know how much money I have to put on the pass I walk back to the cashier and ask her what the rolls cost.
“I do not know, there are no prices there.”
“But is € 5 sufficient?”

I see that she is staring at my tray and does not really know.
“Or should I withdraw € 10?”
“ Or € 20 or € 30?”
‘I do not know.’
‘”But do you think the amount will be closer to € 5 or closer to € 30? ”
She looks one more time at the 3 rolls and the 3 slices of cheese, looks at me and says:
“I really do not know, sorry. I have not worked here for a long time.”

Technical progress has served convenience. But let us use that progress and that convenience to keep feeling with ‘’normal relations’.

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Next: Chapter 11