Free to Learn? Sure! But Are We FHREE?

SDE Understood as “Full Human-Rights-Experience Education” 

By Je’anna Clements

Human Rights can be “taught” as an academic subject. Humans can – and often do – have their rights disregarded as they sit, forced against their will, to parrot sequences of words such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, or “Freedom of thought and expression”. This teaches the dangerous lesson that “Rights” are an academic concept, without manifestation in reality. 

Alternatively, Human Rights can be Experienced. 

In a setting where there is true social justice and full equality of all human beings, every human in the space gets to Experience what Human Rights are, first-hand, whether they are able to articulate their experience, quote the internationally sanctioned phrases about it, or not.

Let us momentarily park any nuanced discussion around ‘human rights’ in general, and distinctions between ‘human rights’ and ‘children’s rights’ in particular. Let us start from a place of agreement that a lived Experience of Full Human Rights for everyone is an ideal we strive for.

Sadly, “SDE” is already joining the word “organic” as a wanna-be brandwagon. There are an increasing array of families and facilities offering children “Self-Directed Education”, granting varying degrees of self-directedness – ranging from allowing children to choose their own methods and timing (and sometimes even content) when completing mandatory learning tasks; to recognising that children are 100% in charge of their own learning. 

Do we paternalistically allow a high degree of ‘self-directedness’ as an autonomy-oriented pedagogic strategy intended to yield better educational ‘results’? Or is our support for self-directedness rooted in respect for the the full and equal human rights of the person doing the self-directing?

When we use the acronym FHREE, then we can differentiate exactly what we mean.

We might argue that children who are forced into a room they don’t want to be in, with people they don’t want to be with, who are given free choice between the ‘educational’ activities someone else decided to put on offer there, are ‘self-directing’ their education. But we can clearly see that this is not FHREE.

Only when a human being can live with full dignity, with genuine fulfilment of their rights to freedom of thought, belief and expression; physical liberty and freedom of association; social and political equality; the right to play to their heart’s content, and more, can we truly say that this is FHREE.

The very essence of the concept of Human Rights, is equality. Needs and circumstances can differ, but no human can have a right that other humans do not have, or it is not a “right”.

When it comes to education for children, FHREE means having exactly the same rights as adults have in educational settings.

The overarching importance of “The Right to Education” is almost universally used as an excuse when denying children full expression of a range of other rights. There is no research to support the custom of limiting and compromising children’s rights ‘in order’ for them to fully enjoy their right to education. 

FHREE children have been studied and their adult lives surveyed, and there is no evidence that they suffer any ill effect from having ‘missed out’ on coercive schooling.

It can only be concluded that we subject children to education that is not FHREE, merely due to habit and custom,  ignorance, prejudice, and political agendas.

Children are human. Education for children should be FHREE. 

BACKGROUND

During his Feb 2019 AEROx online session, David Marshak issued a call for memes for the promotion of alternative education that would express what it IS rather than what it IS NOT. ‘Alternative’ is ‘not mainstream’. ‘Unschooling’ is ‘not school’. ‘Democratic’ and ‘Free’, ‘natural’ and ‘choice’, and even ‘Sudbury’ and ‘consent-based’ are all open to varying interpretations many of which lose the essence of those terms.

The FHREE acronym was workshopped into being by a FHREE group consisting of three people over the age of 18 and four people under the age of 18. Every part of the process was collaborative. A significant number of other people of all ages in the same FHREE environment, demonstrated the veracity of the environment by choosing not to participate in the workshopping process.

Our group did not find value in promoting all alternative education, but specifically Self-Directed Education since that is what we treasure. Therefore we decided to tackle the specific problem we face: that many people don’t understand how much self-direction there truly is in our form of education. We have, for example, encountered facilities that claim to be ‘Self-Directed Learning Communities’ where children are forcibly and/or manipulatively held to their parent’s and/or government’s goals for them, without their true consent. We wanted a term that would easily and completely differentiate between the kind of education happening there, from what we do.

Rationale:

It was collaboratively decided that an effective meme for widespread public use must :

*Effectively Differentiate ours from other types of education;

*Accurately Explain the heart of this form of education;

*Be simple and memorable

*Be new, original, and hard to hijack

*Be helpful in defending us from political attack

Key differentiators were then collaboratively listed. We agreed that our kind of education is characterised by these elements:

Self-Directed

Freedom and Responsibility

Equality

Equal Empowerment

Horizontal

Democratic in a participatory rather than representative sense

Peer-to-peer

Human Rights/Children’s Rights

Social Justice

Non-punitive/restorative justice

Peace based

Comfortable

A list of ideas was then brainstormed, trimmed down, and finally workshopped into the acronym FHREE, which was tested against the initial criteria:

*Effectively Differentiate FHREE from other types of education – yes, no other kind of education fully embodies children’s rights including rights such as freedom of expression, association and the right to play.

* Accurately Explain the heart of this form of education – yes, it makes it clear that we mean 100% self-direction not some watered-down level; it is effective as a diagnostic term to determine whether it is being used accurately: one can simply start listing Rights and see whether any are not Fully Experienced in a given form of Education. Only when every human right is fully Enabled/Expressed/Empowered through actual Experience, then we are looking at FHREE. It’s not necessary to consult any ‘official authority’ as arbiter, or use any special list of criteria aside from the already widely accepted bills of rights.

*Be simple and memorable – yes, also because it means something that is central to the matter: ‘free’; plus it’s just a little odd.

*Be new, original, and hard to hijack – yes, nobody else has a reason to stick an ‘h’ into the word ‘free’, so it’s not likely to be co-opted in the same way as “free”, “democratic”, “self-directed” etc.

*Be helpful in defending FHREE from political attack – yes, it give us the moral high-ground in constitutional courts, something that we currently need in order to outweigh prejudice and current societal customs and norms.

What do you think?

Is what you do FHREE?

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