Liberating Education

Freedom to build a better world

More than two centuries ago, urged on by a deep sense of social justice, a successful businessman-turned-educator named Edmund Rice drew up a daring curriculum for his new school that would provide an education to liberate the young men of his town from the oppression of poverty. Centuries later, Edmund Rice schools around the globe still seek to provide liberating education to their young people, and while this may look vastly different to the brilliant scheme of the founder of the Christian Brothers, the mission remains as relevant as ever in our 21st century.

093_20210511_cbc_day3.jpgWhen you have a child at school, you naturally want them to achieve academic success, to be socially satisfied and, above all, be happy. However, at times it can seem that the fast pace and study load of high school education is designed to squeeze the joy out of learning, with assessments, daily homework schedules, and what may feel like an overload of information with little relevance to the real world.

So how do we get our children to engage in and enjoy the learning process, and come out the other end of their years of schooling prepared to live meaningful and purposeful lives?

At CBC Fremantle, the Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) Touchstone of Liberating Education addresses this perpetual challenge, highlighting the College's commitment to offer teaching and learning experiences that seek to develop students into young men capable of building a better world. A Liberating Education provides skills that allow students to distinguish between what is true and what is false. It is as much about character and citizenship as about careers and commerce. It aspires to teach our developing boys to be cultured global citizens with the capacity to understand the choices that await them throughout their adult life as employees, employers, parents, partners, consumers, leaders, voters and arbiters of ethical decisions. It aims to assist tomorrow's gentlemen to comprehend the past and build a future civilisation that is concerned with human dignity and the preciousness of our environment; where humane ethics transcend technology and democratic ideals overcome exclusivity and exploitation. These values inform the entire curriculum and draw on different analytical perspectives – history, ecology, science, art, technology, mathematics and faith.

At a speech in New York in 2002, Christian Brothers Congregation Leader Br Philip Pinto captured the essence of Liberating Education at an Edmund Rice school when he said: "Our schools exist to challenge popular beliefs and dominant cultural values, to ask the difficult questions, to look at life from the standpoint of the minority, the victim, the outcast and the stranger."

RULES OF FREEDOM160_20210422-23_cbc_fremantle.jpg

A Liberating Education promotes a curious and questioning culture that extends beyond the classroom and aims to develop lifelong learners who think critically and challenge assumptions. It functions differently to a 'transmission' style of learning, also known as the banking concept of education – where students absorb and store the information relayed to them by the teacher. A prevalence of transmission methods in the classroom is said to prevent students from having creative freedom, and can result in a 'cookie cutter' education with a one-size-fits-all approach.

According to the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Friere, "Liberating Education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information .... Problem-posing education, breaking the vertical patterns characteristic of banking education, can fulfil its function of being the practice of freedom. Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students of the teacher cease to exist ... the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is self-taught in dialogue with the students, who in their turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow."

The challenge for contemporary teachers is to meet authorised curriculum benchmarks while still providing space to build relationships, prioritise a positive emotional climate and engage students to be responsible and interested learners. As cited in the EREA 2020 Liberating Education Research Project Report, in a single Australian classroom students' level of learning achievement can be spread over five to eight year levels, leaving teachers with the complex task of adjusting their pedagogies and assessments to the needs of the students. There is also evidence to suggest that student engagement is reduced if learning opportunities are narrow and traditional.

At CBC, Deputy Principal of Teaching and Learning, Mr Scott McDonnell, along with the College Academic Board, support an academic behaviours program that develops strong study strategies for students that results in an increase in learning confidence. With this strong foundation of effective techniques, students feel encouraged to go out of their comfort zone in the classroom, asking questions, seeking feedback and tackling challenging topics. The Academic Board then further developed a learning program that is unrolled from Year 8, commencing with an inquiry-based project in collaboration with Notre Dame University. The students are invited to research and present a solution to a real-world problem of their own choice, with groups gravitating together depending on individual interests and passions. CBC teachers offer workshops on creative thinking and resilience on the path to success, but marks are notably absent during the five-week project. Rather, the groups are mentored by education students from Notre Dame University as 'guides on the side', and the final outcome is evaluated by the community, including the students' families. A presentation to parents, staff and other interested students allows a celebration of achievement in which the boys' engagement in their accomplishments can be visibly gauged as the young men unveil their projects.

The students' effective exercise of freedom in their learning calls for qualities such as honesty,
self-discipline, courage, determination and responsibility.

Such a program must be intentionally designed. The students' effective exercise of freedom in their learning calls for qualities such as honesty, self-discipline, courage, determination and responsibility. The freedom is not unprincipled and without regard for the consequences. There are 'commitments' rather than 'rules' . In this, the notion of responsibility is central – both to oneself and to others.

There are two sides to responsibility. Firstly, behaving responsibly is when you are acting with regard for the consequences of your actions – whether they affect you or others. Secondly, you have responsibility for something if you are in charge of and make decisions that affect it, which therefore relates to the freedom of choice. The first influences the second, calling for awareness of social responsibility, which is a key factor that distinguishes freedom from unconstraint.

Socially responsible behaviour develops awareness of other people's needs and feelings, and calls for these rights to be equitable with our own. Decision-making then takes this into account, resulting in the celebration and acceptance of a diverse range of talents. It promotes mutual respect and tolerance for all ways of life and thought, and may require that we be prepared to see people make choices that we disagree with.


087_20210511_cbc_day3.jpgA significant part of the learning experience in the Year 8 inquiry-based project is coming to know first-hand the power of resilience. Making a mistake, hitting a wall and being unable to come up with a solution are all a part of the journey, and compassion and imagination become an intrinsic part of the process of recovering from the set-back. Students rally together to commiserate as they scrap their approach and go back to the drawing board. They become fully engaged in listening, comprehending and analysing, drawing on higher thinking skills of logic, reasoning, problem-solving, examining patterns and forecasting direction. Their creative thinking is sharpened, their communication skills increase and they rise to the challenge.

Further inquiry-based and creative thinking approaches are explored in a subsequent Year 9 program, in which boys collaborate with students from Iona Presentation College. The ability to communicate in an academic capacity with their peers from CBC's sister school provides an added dimension to the boys' learning, with all students being able to benefit from the diverse approaches general to their gender.

The projects are defined by real-life situations provided by alumni from both Colleges, and so the students' learning is exposed to relevant professional critique that elevates both their endeavour and understanding . Following on from their Year 8 experience, the Year 9 project is subject to a more widespread community exposure on a custom website, which further highlights the use of technology and digital platforms in the collaborative process.

Building on this with a global focus in Year 10 aligns with the boys' growing awareness of their future aspirations and goals, and stands them in good stead for responsible study as they transition into their senior College years. Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders provides a gateway for the maturing students to be able to communicate with their peers around the world, examine how other nations and communities are addressing issues and deepen their understandings of cultural diversity as they explore common concerns including climate change, pollution, resource consumption, education and healthcare.

It is not a method of learning that comes naturally to everybody. Some students are overwhelmed with the freedom of choice, and elect to take a back seat in the team. Part of the peer-assessment procedure at the end of the Year 8 project is to reflect on the engagement within the group and provides opportunities for honest evaluation, which can result in deeper self-awareness. In a student's own personal journey, with support to fully exploit this self-discovery in the following years, it can be pure gold and authentically add to his own character development as a servant leader.

Taking responsibility for their own learning journey is also part of the impetus for a restructure of the elective program in Years 7 and 8 at CBC, with future plans to incorporate a far broader and diverse choice of topics due to be adopted in 2022. Breaking out of the 'cookie cutter' education, new electives will provide a far more inclusive approach to appeal to students with more diverse interests, and develop a deeper accountability for their study choices that will continue through to their senior years.

In his 2002 speech, Br Pinto went on to share his vision of the future, reflecting the teachings of Jesus and what could be seen as the profits of a Liberating Education: "We show wisdom by trusting people; we handle leadership by serving, we tackle offenders by forgiving, we deal with money by sharing, we relate to strangers and enemies by loving, we handle violence by suffering, we live life by choosing. And we repent for any sins of the past not by feeling bad, but by thinking differently."