This is a terrific book, a tour-de-force, with quotable quotes on every page, indeed, almost every paragraph. Harrison thoroughly points out the abject and increasingly dangerous failures of the bulk of our present educational system (which terribly stresses out and disappoints most students, teachers and parents and weakens the real power of our economy), and also the tremendous *promise* of developing a system of true learning, true education--leading out of ignorance (such as Harrison and his colleagues have experimented with at The Living School in Boulder, Colorado, and which has been successfully developed by numerous other private schools and some public schools). This newer system, as Harrison sees it, invites and evokes the learning potential of both youngsters and adults, a shared learning situation in which "the educator is no where to be found" [i.e., as an outside agent imposing knowledge on youngsters] (p. 21).
Along the way, Harrison explores issues of discipline problems, the inherent problems of a fear-based approach, the intensifying testing mania, the natural way of promoting children's intrinsic curiosity, the soundness and beauty of non-coercive learning, the vast importance of a spirituality of inquiry, and the need for adults working with children to be "masters" of one or more areas of life so as to be inspiring exemplars and living invitations for the children's own growth in excellence.
Harrison asks all the right questions, scores of them, throughout this easily-read, always-engaging text. For instance, "Our educational system, like our economy, is set up to create a product. The product is a worker in industry. This is its historic purpose.... But is this system producing a worker for the post-modern information age or is it producing a vistigial, useless remainder from the past? Is an industrial worker what we need at this point, or does something else need to be engendered by our educational system? On a practical level, is a person who is taught not to think, but to jam information in and push information out, valued in our contemporary society? The children we are teaching today will be in their adulthood in a decade or two. In that world, the world of twenty years from now, will a child who has been filled with information--not even contemporary information, but information from a decade or two ago--be skilled, functional, prized?... Computers will be doing it better.... It is not information that will be useful, but the ability to understand how to utilize it.... [In the future,] [w]hat will be far more important than yesterday's factoids is the relationship our children will have to the then-existing systems of information. A child who is given the chance to explore and investigate the sources of information, the meaning of information, the utility of information, and the skills of manipulating and crafting information will be able to move fluidly into this future. The irony is obvious. Children explore information in this way naturally and are interrupted only by the harshest of measures: being taken to schools, made to sit still, made to stop talking, made to listen and remember bits of information.... Is it any wonder that children often feel disconnected?" (pp. 7-8)
"The essence of the learning community is the recognition that we can all, young and old, share the open investigation of our world in whatever way and with whatever capacity we have. That relationship of open learning also happens to be a relationship of great happiness." (pp. ix-x)
"We continue to teach information when that game is already over.... Education itself is obsolete but is ignorant of that fact. It needs to be educated. Meanwhile, the creativity, the exploration, the inquiry of our young are, like Socrates, being metaphorically executed by the powerful structures of our societal paradigm for asking too many questions." (p. 103)
"It is not that a child doesn't have something to learn from adults, but how that learning takes place is critical. It is practically enough if adults don't destroy the child; the rest is the child's to discover." (p. 107)
Throughout his book, Harrison provides persuasive arguments and examples of how this superior system of true learning can function in the real world of children and adults.
In the mid-1970s I was deeply moved by reading the works of J. Krishnamurti on authentic education to go get a teaching credential at San Francisco State Univ., but what i saw first hand in the public schools convinced me that there is a far better way to educate our children. Harrison's voice on children's authentic learning (and adults as companions in the learning process) is a worthy sequel to the voice of Krishnamurti (who has greatly influenced Harrison in his several books on spiritual inquiry).
Readers interested in this topic might also want to read of similarly revolutionary and successful approaches to learning explored in the early 19th century by the father of transcendentalism, Bronson Alcott.
Together, the voices of Alcott, Krishnamurti, Harrison and others (e.g., Rudolf Steiner of Anthroposophy, inspiration for the Waldorf schools) invite us to approach our educational relationship with children and ourselves in an entirely different and far more fruitful way.
Read Harrison's *The Happy Child* for an eloquent manifesto on the future of our children's learning, which in very real, pragmatic ways, is our future as well--for if we don't have passionate, dedicated workers and inventive creators functioning in our future economy, there will not be sufficient public revenues to fund Social Security or help maintain our society's institutions and infrastructure in the coming decades as we Baby Boomers and other adults grow older.