3. Across the educational ocean with the right compass
New vocabulary and old grammar
Everybody is talking about it: innovative ways, motivation policy, competence management, adaptive working….
We are waiting for the next container notion. And the question is who will welcome the new terminology. If there are many, it seems quite a lot will change. However, he who looks closer, knows better. The vocabulary is changing; the grammar remains more of less unchanged. In other words: our changing language makes the impression we are innovating but practice has shown little improvement and change for more than hundred years. We are talking with constructivist terms but meanwhile controlling, checking, accrediting, making things uniform, being aimed at results and products are the ruling parameters. Our systems have become standardized.

In this way the book ‘Experience Oriented Education; from orientation to implementation’ opens. It is the prologue of what will become a dismal story.
The terminology
I wonder what the guiding terminology has to do with the worlds of experience of counsellors and children. It does not seem necessary to dwell on the abuses with respect to educational settings. From the abuses in neighbourhood, sports and youth clubs to the untimely school leavers in secondary education and the increased amount of relapses of juvenile delinquents. There is no paper that does not report about it, no politician who has not got an opinion about it, no counsellor who speaks about it carelessly. But how are the counsellors and children really doing and how can you exercise influence on that?
Aristotle wrote in his Poetica in the 4th century B.C. : ‘Learning is a natural pleasure. It is not reserved for philosophers, but available for everybody.’ Unfortunately it was not possible to write a handbook together with that truth which supplied a way in which that natural pleasure could be tuned to unique individuals in the following ages.
In order to get a view on the new possibilities in counselling settings it is relevant to look at the developments in education. Education has been inspired by educationalists but particularly it has been institutionalised within standardized frames. Education throughout the years and a survey of inspiring educationalists gives more sight on ‘where we came from.’ The essence of the constructivist way of thinking gives insights to a meaningful.
Education throughout the years
From the moment we were going to counsel consciously in educational settings we j have experienced four domineering periods. In order to understand where our educational mechanisms are coming from it is important to survey education throughout the years in broad lines.
Agricultural education
The most primitive form of education is based on the principle ‘showing - imitating’. It has a hierarchical character. The farmer is sowing and his son imitates him. In that way he learns what the other already knows and he get grips on the world around him.
Profession division
In a later period there is a clear profession division. One person becomes a theologian, the other one a doctor or a carpenter. The differences in subjects become bigger every time and in that way do the trainings. A clear authoritarian relationship is characteristic.
Industrial education
A period follows in which peoples become technically productive. In that way economies develop. Education is arranged to produce as quickly as possible as much as possible in a uniform way. It is a very mass oriented form of education.
Knowledge society
And now we are in a new period of new people and new forms of education. Knowledge is everywhere. The world lies open. Everybody develops in his own way. To speak in a jargon: ‘ In educational landscapes learning communities, which work on self-chosen projects problem-steered, make use of partners who know more and who are coaching their participants in an adaptive way.’
Current education still has most characteristics of the industrial phase. Linked classrooms where children are sitting in rows, are given bite-sized chunks. The question that occupies education in this is if this is sufficient. The question that should occupy education is if it is useful. Education still has many characteristics of all ‘old forms’. A number of efficient achievements seem valuable but that it must be different also seems evident. What, how and in what pace is the topic
In From monastic class to primary school dr. Stilma pictures a fascinating survey of education throughout the years. The central place that children have in our society was not reserved for youth in the Middle Ages. The child as child had not been ‘discovered’. Children were usually seen as pocket-size adults. Via Renaissance, pedagogic realism, enlightenment ideals and Romanticism Stilma takes you to the previous century of ‘the traditional and contemporary renovators’.
The current renovators still owe much to the reform educationalists next to the exchanges of results which have become possible by internet and (international) conferences.
The traditional renovators have weakened the mediaeval convictions and have started the emancipation of the child. It wrongs the traditional renovators to put them away in a few sentences. Nevertheless it is good to recognize their insights and ways of working in the concepts of the current renovators.
The five most famous types of the renewing schools developed at the beginning of the twentieth century are:
1) The Daltonschool, where one wants to have children work as independently as possible by using individual tasks. In 2005 it was 100 years ago that Helen Pankhurst (1887-1973) started experimenting with new forms of education in America. In 1922 she laid down her ideas. Characteristic for Dalton Education is that is adapts itself continually to changing demands and expectations from society. The principles: freedom in commitment, independence and cooperation are still standing but have got different utterances throughout the years.
2) The Freinetschool, where children are taught to produce ‘free texts’ themselves. The French teacher Célestin Freinet (1896-1966) start from what the child goes through and experiences. From there he developed his pedagogic. Education does not take place according to fixed methods but starts from experiences and perceptions of children. Learning is not absorbing what others have devised; you only really learn if you can search and discover experimentally while acting and are able to communicate about that with others. The teacher does not determine one-sidedly what is happening but the group and the teacher plan the work in democratic/cooperative consultation.
3) The Free school, which puts the anthroposophic idea of Rudolf Steiner (1861- 1925) into practice. In the beginning of the previous century Steiner launched the anthroposophy from where he gave directions for upbringing and education. Starting-point in this is the way in which a human being develops and how this should be guided. The counselling is aimed at the total human being, to body, soul and spirit by which he is given the possibility to develop in all directions. Every teacher must be free – within the frame of the general guidelines (the curriculum) – in the way in which he organizes the education for his pupils. De subject-matter is – as far as the subjects are concerned and as far as the way of acting is concerned - tuned to the phase of development and the age in which the child is.
4) The Montessorischool, where the developing material which is dealt with in a special way serves the principle: educating is self-educating. The highest ideal that can be attained according to Maria Montessori (1870-1952) is that the guide makes herself ‘superfluous’; that is why there is the famous slogan: help-to-self-help. The subjects of interest differ per child and differ in a number of phases. This means that children are accessible to certain areas of learning for shorter or longer periods. When a child is in such a ‘sensitive period’ it is able to develop a function very intensively at that moment. It is the task and the expertise of the teacher to react adequately to these sensitive periods by offering the right material in the right environment.
5) The Jenaplan School, as it was designed by Peter Petersen (1884-1952) at the university of Jena with a scientifically founded discourse about a school concept in which anthropology (democratising, humanising and socializing), pedagogic and the practice of education are related to each other in a logical way. A Jenaplanschool is a community which comprise children, teachers and parents. Teachers are professional educators there. Parents have handed over part of the upbringing of their children to the school but they play an important part in education at all kinds of levels. The education in the school is aimed at the upbringing of children and entails therefore much more than teaching scholastic knowledge and skills. They do that by taking part in the so-called basic activities: speaking, playing, working and celebrating. The starting-point of school is that children are very different. Because children differ so much form each other they can learn a lot from each other. Because of this reason they are placed in stem-groups which consist of children of different ages as is the case in a family.
There is now a field of education open; ready to be played on by all existing and new announcing parties. But which direction do you keep on the educational ocean? Where does the beautiful adventure take place and where are dangers lying in wait? Everybody who experiences life to the full knows that for this purpose Aristotle’s handbook which had never been written before will never be written. But in order to go travelling, yet two questions seem worth thinking about beforehand: which direction are you going and with which compass?
Direction and compass
In order to account for the direction and the compass I depart from the ultimate aim. That aim is as far as I am concerned: the emancipated human being. The view of man is aimed at striving for equality, independence and honest social relationships. It bears free and responsible people in mind. The teachers who used to teach us could not imagine what society which we now live in, would look like. Neither can we predict exactly how the next generation can be prepared best to cope with the problems and challenges of its time. But creating emancipated human beings demands counselling which is aimed at freedom and responsibility. It is crucial to get a view of good counselling.
How do people develop and what does that mean for counseling?
The clearer all participants in an institution bear in mind a vision which they endorse together the more unambiguous the approach and the language can be. That does not mean that we are on our way back to industrial education. On the contrary, the leading thought of all educational innovations are based on the constructivist way of thinking: on the uniqueness of man and the diversity in approach.
Constructivist founders
Two appealing founders of the constructivist way of thinking are Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotski
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) studied biology and developed interest in philosophy. The part of knowledge theory (where does knowledge come from) interested him more than average. In order to lose himself in it he decided to study the development of knowledge in children. At first he thought he would need a couple of years for this but it haunted him for the rest of his life.
One of the contributions to the psychology is among others that the potential to learn and to experience certain events consciously develops with age (cognitive development theory). During the first half year for example a baby does not realize that his parents still exist when they have left the room or that a toy still exists after he does not see it anymore. Only after the children have formed certain schemes about this person continuity or object continuity develops. And later it lastly till about the fifth year before a child realizes that milk still contains the same amount when it is poured from a narrow, high glass into a broad, low glass in spite of different proportions (notion of conservation).
According to Piaget knowledge consists of structures (schemes). A structure can take up another structure: assimilation: the assimilating structures up the assimilated structure. The adaptation or accommodation is the change of a structure because of assimilating. Both these mechanisms should be in balance for a healthy development: equilibration.
Because of assimilation and accommodation more and more complex structures develop during the development. Piaget was convinced that fundamental characteristics of knowledge take care that development is manifest in different (usually four) levels. According to Piaget there are qualitative differences between children that are on different levels. Piaget know how to establish rather accurate age barriers for these levels although other scientists have never confirmed if they really exist.
The Russian psychologist, philosopher and artist Lev Vygotski (1896-1934) was strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx. His work was not appreciated in the Soviet Union because of which it only became known in the western world in 1958. Vygotski has especially been known by his activities in linguistics. In this he was mainly occupied with the relationship between thinking and language, something which had not been systematically investigated in psychology till then. Before this the starting-point was that speaking was the outer expression of thinking. Despite the intuitively plausible character of this Vygotski thought that it was not completely right conceptually. He did think that thinking is restructured when it is expressed in language (or “completed” as he said).
Vygotski also became known because of his research with children. In this respect he called the child a dependent individual that cannot live isolated. While Jean Piaget put emphasis especially on the interaction of the child with the physical world, Vygotski regarded it rather the interaction with the social world. The child learns from a social environment en learns the language in the first place to speak with others. It starts learning the language by pronouncing the words loudly. When the child grows further, it learns to internalise the words which means that the language is happening inside the head in a very simplified way (not to be recognised as language) Furthermore Vygotsky is know because of his notion ‘zone of nearest development’. This notion represents Vygotski’s view on human development: a child has reached a certain cognitive development and can close a gap to the zone of nearest development with the help of a counsellor. The counsellor has to take care, if the learning is to be successful, that the child makes use of the ‘tools’ of the actual cognitive level.
Constructivism in a nutshell
For most people seeing these signs a melody starts playing in their heads. In mine nothing happens.
In three clear steps the essence of constructivism can be shown:
1) Reality is ‘constructed’ at the mental level
Every human being literally has a different view of reality because reality is constructed from your own perception. And a every human being has a different perception. Sometimes that is clear: if somebody is (colour)blind or deaf. But mostly the differences are so shaded that a general observation shows little difference. That difference in perception has big consequences for our interactions. When we say to children: “Have a better look”, then the question remains if that is possible (‘having a better look’) and if they will see what you see when they (‘are having a better look’). Or what did you think of remarks as: “Pay more attention” , “If you look well, you will see it”, “You can do it….” These remarks have a great impact on children’s self-esteem. They continually get random judgements on their actions.

You must wonder what you demand from children if you want them ‘to explain it to the other’. We know that children can sometimes do this better because they would understand each other so well. The question is what they understand so well. Perhaps it is that children do not understand anything wrongly in any case so that children do not have to guess every time what you mean.

When handicaps and abnormities are clear we do not make a mistake easily. We do not tell a deaf child to listen better. We do not tell a blind child it has to look better .But we do tell ’normal’ children these things while everybody is deaf or blind in a certain way. It is often difficult to find out for what and to what extent. An electrician can see wiring through the walls and the ceiling which are actually not perceptible. He ‘sees’ them because he knows where they are and what they look like. You do not see them (not even if he asks you to look better.) A teacher can give an instruction about multiplication supposing children have followed and understood him. He ‘sees’ the calculation, has references with regard to relevant structures and understands the context. Some children do not ’see’ that. The professional question is not: “How do you teach children to understand what you understand?” but “Are you capable to see through the structures of the child and come to useful interventions from there?”
Some counsellors keep asking children to show what they (still) cannot do. Children like to show what they can do. The professional then exactly knows what could be the next step.
From the developmental psychology a number of stages can be distinguished. As long as the stages and the and the behavior that is linked to these are recognizable and explicable for yourself, the counselling is usually based on the acceptance of the other one. This becomes more difficult when you expect the other one to be further in his development and to be attuned to your pattern (“You may expect eleven-year olds to……”)

A known developmental psychological phenomenon with babies is the lack of object continuity. We see babies are challenged by objects which occur within their field of vision. If the objects are gone, they do not exist anymore. The baby does not ‘ask’ for the ball or the cuddly toy. We think that is self-evident. But if a colleague does not stick to his word (we clearly agreed in the meeting that everyone would hand it in this week…) we can hardly imagine the regression.
Piaget model
2) Leaving no remainder and adapting: assimilation and accommodation
The pattern in relation to ‘constructing’ reality from one’s own perceptions
The fact that every human being builds up his reality from his own perception cannot be misunderstood. That uniqueness has big consequences for the differentiated approach in a counselling setting. Because of that complexity it is important to consider the systematics of ‘constructing reality.’ Development and gathering of knowledge always happen because of assimilation and accommodation. The organism takes up something and attunes it. The assimilation is determined by the environment and the possibilities of assimilation of the individual. The attuning is a self-regulating process.
If you want to get further, you must have a constant willingness to realize that you can see it wrongly.
3) The dynamics of development
Every human being constructs his own reality. That happens because of assimilation and accommodation. From this knowledge a phenomenon becomes visible that explains the dynamics of development. The principle that every perceived difference between scheme (representation of reality) and reality is acceptable for the mental system, starts a process of adaptation. In other words: the environment presents itself differently from what was in your head. But it makes your view of reality questionable. And you want your view of reality to be right. So you have distilled a question from the environment which you want to be answered. Thus intrinsic motivation and involvement come up. You see kids being fascinated by alternating interactions: kicking a ball, pushing a car, sticking paper, talking with a doll…. Also with adults the process of adaptation often is really visible. Somebody is reading the paper and calls: “How is it possible that…” There it happens. The view of reality of the reader is not in accordance with the rendering in the paper. In the report the question comes up. We know how motivated we can get to solve our problems but we also know how demotivated we can get from dull, monotonous work.
Artist Olaf Mooij designed two bikes which symbolize growth and make ‘adaptation to the level’ visible.
I asked one of the pupils in group 3/4 why he had not cleared the arithmetic cupboard. For his name was with this task on the clearing up list. He asked me: “What is the arithmetic cupboard?”
The structure of one person is not self-evidently the structure of the other one.
I used to tell the children sometimes that I did not bring the contract letters (on which they planned their weekly tasks) with me and asked them to draw the scheme themselves and fill it in. You then saw immediately which children had got the structure and which had not.
And what about the compass?
You do not have to look for the compass. As long as the counsellor is in interaction he has the compass within reach. The compass that indicates if the direction is the right one, is sharp, clear and inescapable. The children are the compass! Who or what else? If they are feeling well and doing well, you are on course. And that is visible in the extent of wellbeing and involvement.
The child belongs to itself and others can help it becoming that.
Compass   Reading the compass
Professor Ferre Laevers, founder of the Experience Oriented Education added to the constructivist way of thinking very important components. With wellbeing and involvement he gave criteria to get a view on ‘fundamental development’. By getting grips on the process-side of developments interventions could be taken more directly. ‘Imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation’ became the entry code! In order to be able to read the unique compass of every child it is important that counsellors can tell from the wellbeing and involvement how children are really doing and how they are really developing.
Experience Oriented Developing
Experience Oriented Developing is being interested in the ‘experience current’ of the other person. It is a form of counseling that challenges people to grow and to remain fascinated in themselves, in others, in their environment ant life as a whole, in which one tries to feel and attune to what lives in others and in themselves, with wellbeing and involvement as criteria..
In that body there is a human being that thinks and feels: the upper seven centimeters of a human being are interesting. But do you also take into account genes, intestines, longings, prejudices, memories, talents, traumas, gastric juices, mourning processes, examples. white blood-cells, failures, causes of anger, causes of happiness, capacities, sweat-glands, preferences, sensitivities, causes of dreams, nervous traits, needs and neurotransmitters?
Leavers   Professor Ferre Laevers: “In Experience Oriented Education respect for the child and his rights have been a strong motive for innovation: the recognition of the rich, inner life of children, giving the right to determine together in which activities they engage, the breaking down of moralizing interventions and pleading for a ‘natural’ and non-infantilising way of getting about are indications for this.”
Increasing wellbeing and involvement is not always a matter of giving more autonomy, more freedom and making more space. It is constantly attuning to what children need in a particular context.

And now without ‘fun’
A teacher of group 3 invites me in her class. Her children have not been involved in the ‘weekend circle’ for some time. I join a sociable class.
Children that want to tell their experiences are seated on a beautiful, big chair. When they have finished telling their story, children may ask questions. I listen to a few ‘rounds’. Indeed the children are not really involved. I have the impression that the story about the visit to grandmother and about the football match are not told for the first time, but I guess, that I cannot change that as a visitor. It struck me that the questions are asked from a strong analogy. Almost every question has as keyword ‘fun’. “Was the match fun?” “Did the others think it was fun?”
Fun does not seem fun enough here. When the fourth child tells a story about gymnastics I tell the children they may ask questions again but now without the word ‘fun’. It is getting noisy. A question without ‘fun’ is not self-evident. Some children are thinking visibly, others are deliberating with each other. Bart raises his finger. “Did you do gymnastics beautifully?”
His question was answered affirmatively.
“And now you may not say ‘fun’ or ‘beautiful’ anymore is my assignment. Involvement has got a face. Children are extremely attentive. This is really hard. But Amir has got one: “Were you standing on your hands? ”
After the next stories questions have to be made up without ‘fun’, ‘beautiful’ and ’standing on one’s hands’. Some children immediately hear in the following questions which word may not be used again and they remember the total row. The weekend circle has become a game. The stories are subject-matter of tuition and the children correct each other with fun.

The teacher was surprised about the simplicity of the intervention. She told me later that day that she had been focused especially on increasing freedom with reference to increasing involvement. Now she has seen the opposite. Later she indicated that the children had been highly involved during the weekend-circles when ‘this game was being played’. And after that….. you had to think again of new interventions. But now from the idea that increasing space and limiting space can both lead tot involvement.
Boat   The ship or the ferry?
There are counsellors who do not want to join on the big ocean because they ‘want more security’. Secure means literally ‘out of or without danger’ and certainty is a ‘matter that is a fact’. Now I do know that not every counsellor is an outspoken enterprising type or needs to be one. For a commuter on a little boat which sails to and fro between two banks in order to take across persons and goods, the banks, persons and goods will be known within a very short time. The new era is looking for adventurers who are secure with themselves, are challenged to learn to read special compasses and who like the open sea.
At the moment the insight of an expert seems to have become the norm.
But speaking about boats: you know that Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic by experts.
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Next: Chapter 4