Human energy needs freedom

by Carl Bossard

Those who accompany young people on their learning and life paths need freedom. This is often forgotten in reforms, including the most recent KV (Commercial Trainee) restructuring. A plea for the renaissance of a buried concept.

“They who fear the use of freedom are its secret opponent.” So wrote Hans Saner, philosopher and personal assistant to Karl Jaspers.1 It is an impressive sentence. And Saner added: “Many would like to grant freedom, if they only knew that no one makes use of it.”

Switching to “output control”

If you look at the school landscape and consider the many reforms of recent years, you quickly realise what has radically changed: Schools are no longer told what to teach in terms of content. Today, it is decreed in detail and precisely regulated what the pupils must be able to do in the end - and in some cases also prescribed how this is to be achieved. (Individual-) competencies are stipulated, and in an extraordinarily small-parcelled way. In music, for example, a child is required to “be able to sensorimotorly perceive his or her body and to react in a music-related way”.
  This means, according to science, a paradigm shift: the state strategy is switching from “input” to “output” control. Thus, the efficiency of school educational work is to be increased and teaching is to be measured by operationalised output. Now, kindergarten children as young as five are tested for letters and reviewed on numbers.

Everyday pedagogical life is obsessed with regulation

Teachers therefore note the loss of professional freedom and the advance of a regulatory administration; it wants to be assured and achieve the qualification goals with a multitude of rules and regulations. This exactly is only possible with extensive regulations. Let us recall the voluminous Curriculum 21, which is 470 pages long and comprises 363 competencies, divided into more than 2300 competency levels. But too many directives paralyse the mind and inhibit spontaneity and creativity. The rule of thumb: the thicker and denser the set of rules, the more restricted and limited the freedom.

In the tentacles of administrative shackles

The many requirements demand agreements and coordination within the team; they lead to structurally induced extra work – this with increasingly heterogeneous and demanding classes. It is therefore not surprising that “many teachers are reducing their workload to protect themselves from overload”, as Christian Hugi, President of the Zurich Teachers’ Association, soberly states.2 In the Canton of Zurich, for example, this leads to the fact that at the moment around 550 positions are still unfilled for the new school year.
  Many feel trapped in the tentacles of administrative shackles with their paralysing effect. They complain about the corset of artificially constructed complexity of today’s school worlds. “Everything is so tightly structured,” explains a 31-year-old dropout.3 And an experienced teacher sums up his years of teaching with “school in chains”: it was becoming more and more strictly standardised.4 It is therefore not surprising that every sixth teacher quits already in the first year and half of the new teachers leave the classroom again after five years at the latest, as a study showed. The teacher shortage is coming to a head.

Freedom has a correlate: responsibility

Freedom is “the first and indispensable condition” for education, wrote the reformer of the Prussian education system and theorist of freedom, Wilhelm von Humboldt.5 Presumably, the great educational reformer knew that anyone who is on the road with pupils needs freedom. He does need it to teach like he needs a morning coffee to wake up. Freedom as an elixir! But it is not the unbound, uncontrolled freedom, but the freedom from unnecessary pro forma regulations and formal requirements, from norms and shackles. It is not the freedom for pedagogical dolcefarniente, even for casualness or minimalism, no, it is the freedom to choose the “méthodos”, the way to the goal.
  What is meant is the freedom of shaping the school’s mission and to work pedagogically with the children and young people – for the benefit of the class for which a teacher is responsible. And this last point contains the decisive correlate to freedom: responsibility. Freedom and responsibility form a junction – they are something like two important pillars of good teaching and good schools. They must not decouple, because without personal responsibility, freedom degenerates into arbitrariness.

The humane cannot be forced with regulations

Taking responsibility requires freedom. That is why freedom must not be muzzled in schools. You have to dig it out of the sand again and again, otherwise it will remain nothing but a missed reality. For most teachers, freedom is a basic condition. In freedom lies the core of all pedagogical work.
  Only in this way teachers can react correctly to the situation, respond spontaneously to the children and allow creative things to emerge from the moment. Humour and wit, imagination and fantasy do not blossom in the narrow dress of regulations; they need a humus of freedom. But the humane cannot be forced by rules. What appeals to us as humanly cannot be outsourced to the numerical or controlled by bureaucratic shackles.

Human energy comes from freedom

An effective education policy should believe more in people and less in systems and structures. Good teachers with empathy and professional passion are the be-all and end-all of schools. But they need freedom – not primarily regulations. They need trust – not pressure through decrees. Human energy comes from freedom, not from directives on teaching methods and operationally narrow guidelines, as imposed by current education policy.
  Politicians and administrators must therefore allow teachers more freedom and encourage them at the same time to make use of it. This requires courage, because freedom can also always be abused. In this case, school administrators must intervene. Quickly and relentlessly. To engage in a conflict of freedom is still better than teachers peacefully withering away in conformity, as the philosopher Hans Saner once expressed.6 

1 Saner, Hans. Die Anarchie der Stille. (The Anarchy of Silence.) Basel: Lenos Verlag, 1996, p. 154.
2 Donzé, René. «Zürcher Lehrer sollen mehr arbeiten.” (Zurich teachers should work more.) In: NZZ am Sonntag of 23 May 2021, p. 12.
3 Sigg, Pascal; Kuster, Sabine. “Drang nach Freiheit: Warum viele junge Lehrer wieder aussteigen. (The urge for freedom: Why many young teachers drop out again.) In: St. Galler Tagblatt of 21 June 2016.
4 Meier, Walter. Schule in Ketten. Sachroman (School in chains. Non-fiction novel.) Muri b. Bern: Eigenverlag (self-published), 2015
5 von Humboldt, Wilhelm. Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Grenzen der Wirksamkeit des Staats zu bestimmen. (Ideas on an attempt to determine the limits of the effectiveness of the state.) Stuttgart: Reclam, 2006, p. 22
6 Saner, Hans. Zwischen Politik und Getto. Über das Verhältnis des Lehrers zur Gesellschaft. (Between Politics and the Ghetto. On the relationship of the teacher to society.) Basel: Lenos and Z-Verlag, 1979, p. 27

Source: Journal 21 from 12 June 2021

(Translation Current Concerns)

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