Learning Unlimited prides itself on a track record of success in enabling our students to realise their academic dreams.

In the September Newsletter I expressed the view that education cannot be limited to mere exam results and academic achievements and that the qualities of care and compassion are as important, if not more so.

We want our children to succeed in the world. Because of that we pride ourselves on their achievements and accomplishments, measured in terms of publicly available criteria such as grades awarded, and on an educational environment based on a brutal system of competition.

Quota systems which cause students to compete for limited places in tertiary institutions place inhumane burdens on our children and they get the impression that the world is a hostile place where they must compete against other children for their place in the sun.

The mainstream schooling system encourages competition and sport and cultural clubs that compete against each other. In the classroom competition is encouraged through a system of rewards and punishments. By and large the mode of transmission is rote learning and memorization of “facts” with little meaningful learning that engages the whole person of the child. The authority of the teacher is entrenched through a system of rewards and punishments.

Priority is given to the “gate keeper” subjects such as mathematics. Virtually no attention is paid to the unique attributes and abilities of the individual child.

Over time, this process of social conditioning leads to a deadening of the mind and soul of the individual.

Universities are replete with students who are depressed and demotivated; they are not excited about their course of studies and recognize they are on a treadmill.

How did it come to this?

The definition of success noted above, high marks based on parrot-like memorization, is actually at variance with our commonplace understanding of “intelligence,” defined by the dictionary as “to have the ability to read between the lines, reading the hidden meaning and gathering information in order to hold certain ideas and opinions.”

If intelligence is understood in this dictionary sense, it can be seen that the CAIE curriculum is superior to the NSC in that it rewards this type of “intelligence”. It requires a greater engagement of the child with the subject, and the understanding and application of concepts.

This emphasis has enabled Learning Unlimited tutors to package the key ideas and concepts in accelerated programs which are customised to each learner’s ability and motivation. Our results over the past decades speak for themselves. Our tutors are experienced CAIE specialists and understand the system and the exam requirements.

But they are more than this…

Learning can only occur in an atmosphere that is free of fear, thus enabling both teacher and students to explore and question the world outside and within themselves. Where there is this freedom, trust and care, students are enabled to enquire, ask questions, both in class and outside. The teacher is as much a learner as the student.

Our Learning Unlimited tutors are educators in the true sense of the word; understanding the intricacies and nuances of the concepts they teach and the interrelationships between them, which enables them to foster genuine understanding in their students. It is this which enables students to be mentored and educated and not merely marched routinely through a syllabus.

Our Learning Unlimited website www.learningunlimited.co.za is replete with testimonials from our learners who experience learning in the context of meaningful interactions with the tutors.

“Sharon is not just a maths teacher. Sessions with her, though around mathematics, are in fact opportunities for a child to experience his/her natural ability…the child discovers the extent and depth of his questioning mind (the basis for his knowledge and further learning.. If he followed his own thought processes he would, eventually, strike gold.. the teacher-student relationship is one of equals. The child experiences a sense of adventure in the lessons, like he or she is mapping unchartered waters… priceless” Cathy Bor, Psychotherapist (UKCP registered), LU Parent

Key to this process is accessing the inner drives within each student, their own motivation and will to succeed in mastering the subjects they have chosen and the degree of autonomy they wish to exercise.

The right kind of education consists in understanding the child as he is without imposing upon him an ideal of what we think he should be.

And where this clarity is lacking or missing altogether, as evidenced in the student’s confusion regarding subject choice or preferred career paths, I have highly recommended the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) career assessment tests which identify the student’s innate abilities and potentials. The testimonials on our website repeatedly show the success of this tool in raising students’ awareness of their inner drives and passions and the field and environment they are most likely to thrive in. I would encourage parents and students who are seeking insight and clarity to look at what other students have said about HAB.

Now, to the limits of knowledge.

Facts, although they are purported to be objective and free of bias and subjectivity are shaped by preconceived ideas and assumptions. This is true of all knowledge, whether it is Euclidean geometry or Newtonian physics, so that in many ways what is taught in schools is now obsolete. The fragmentation of the curriculum even in internationally recognised qualifications leaves one speechless.

Knowledge is always limited by one’s beliefs and prejudices. For example beliefs that deny the existence of emotions in animals: any instance of love among them are assigned “blind instinct”

In addition, language itself programs one’s perceptions and limits communication as well as facilitates it! The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “The limits of my language means the limits of my world”.

The study of the natural world devoid of context and inter-relationships is to deprive the child of the rich humus in which meaningful learning can take place.

Those that develop curriculae, whether CAIE or NSC, would be well advised to acknowledge and make explicit these assumptions as it is only in the awareness of these assumptions that true intelligence can be awakened.

In conversation with a former Russian student, the topic of Russian involvement with Germany in the 2nd World War came up. When Ivan learnt that Stalin and Hitler were allies in the first part of the war, he turned pale with shock and vehemently denied this assertion as this had never been disclosed in his Russian history lessons. When Ivan’s lessons came to an end, Ivan’s father wrote to me about how Ivan had learnt so much more than mathematics… he had learnt to be more open minded, ready to listen to different points of view and less rigid in his thinking generally. That one discussion had awakened intelligence in Ivan.

So much is lost in our education of our children when we focus exclusively on the gate keeper subjects, on the hard sciences, and overlook the exploration of the life-world (the subjective and inner experiences of each human being.

Social pressure and conditioning has so underplayed the inherent value of the humanities and liberal arts as to provide an impoverished education. So much so, that A level subjects such as Psychology and Sociology are not even recognised in South Africa as credit bearing for the purpose of a matriculation exemption!

Our Humanities and Social science tutors are individuals who deeply appreciate the wealth of insight and self-knowledge that the exploration of these subjects offers in the personal development of the student.

There is a case to be made for the importance of a Liberal Arts Education which has been sacrificed in our technocratic modern society and the inner humanity of children has been eclipsed by an overemphasis on the materialistic values that underpin modern schooling.

It is in the exploration of this interface between the learner and the world that intelligence is awakened; in the ability to become aware of one’s own beliefs and prejudices and how they colour or limit the psyche and exclude alternative modes of perception.

The Learning Unlimited tutors who teach Literature, History, Psychology and Sociology provide such a space for the exploration of one’s views and beliefs and an opportunity for self awareness and self reflection. Through this enquiry, intelligence is awakened, and with it love and compassion and right action.

I have included an article written by our Psychology and Sociology tutor, Zulfiqar Awan, explaining “What are the liberal arts?” in which he outlines the scope and relevance of a liberal arts education in making sense of ourselves in relation to our modern world.

Warm Regards,

The End of an Age and the Importance of a Liberal Arts Education by Zulfiqar Awan

What are the liberal arts?

The liberal arts (first described in our primal Republic, Rome) have been a component of higher education since the advent of the medieval university in the twelfth century. Despite such historical lineage, the value of a liberal arts education is continuously and publicly called into question today.

The phrase “liberal arts” is derived from the Latin “artes liberales” and originally referred to the skills needed to be an effective, informed, and voting citizen in ancient Rome, literally training in citizenship. Philosophers espouse this view, maintaining that the cultivation of citizenship through a liberal arts education is vital to the health of the city because it promotes critical thinking, an empathetic understanding of others, and proficiency at problem solving. A liberal arts education also enriches the soul, “the faculties of thought and imagination that make us human”.

The great ancient Roman writer, philosopher and lawyer Cicero, who wrote extensively about education, discussed the worth of specific technical training (our modern day market driven education system) versus a general liberal arts education in his enormously influential dialogue ‘de Oratore’. For Cicero, there was no contest; a general education provided not only training for citizenship but also life-long learning and enhancement of the human spirit. The driving force of education for Cicero was pursuit of human excellence: “To be a man in all that is most human, and to be human in one’s relations with all other men”; that is Cicero’s ethical and social ideal, and his educational theory is based on the same principle.

Because he had an extensive liberal arts education, Cicero had the ability to create a rich interior life and could draw on this source in times of tribulations, anxiety, angst, sorrow and joy. A liberal arts education enable students to grow beyond childhood into a full sense of their worth as individuals and as citizens.

A liberal arts education (in its widest definition it includes the humanities) consists of the following subjects:

  • Grammar (logic and rhetoric)
  • Mathematics (astronomy, arithmetic, music and geometry)
  • Natural science
  • Philosophy – (ethics, psychology, sociology, metaphysics, politics)
  • Literature (poetry, Greek tragedy, novels, history)

It was Cicero who advocated the urgent teaching of such an education as the Roman Republic of his time was swiftly decaying and on the brink of collapse. He sought to revitalise the ‘sick city’ using the liberal arts as its cure.

An applica1on of liberal arts thinking in understanding and ‘diagnosing’ our current situa1on

Two of the greatest thinkers of the modern world, Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli, both identically said ‘you must know the moment you are living in’. And, I would extend that to also mean also ‘the time in which we find ourselves in’. The question is how do we do it? The answer lies in a model created by the ancient Greek historian and philosopher, Polybius (200BC – 118BC). Polybius believed in a natural cyclical view of history and sought to educate the Greek and Roman elite through philosophical discussions of the different political forms which cities experience over time. Polybius believed that three-forms of government or constitutions existed: monarchy (rule by one), aristocracy (rule by a few), and democracy (rule by many).He added that, over time, each constitution degenerated into its illegitimate form: monarchy to tyranny, aristocracy to oligarchy, and democracy to ochlocracy (civil chaos/mob rule). Thus, the cycle came to its completion, gradually moved through an interim phase, and began anew with monarchy.

Our age began in the 16th century and it is commonly referred to as modernity. Over the last 250 years of our age, man has gradually been destroying the natural world, driven by an obsessional mindset which makes him feel he has to dominate it for the purpose of profit and progress. This has resulted in the poisoning of the seas, the soil, the air and the animal kingdom. Modern man has not only destroyed our natural world, he has also destroyed the socio- political world within which we, as human beings, function. As a consequence the modern sovereign state, once driven by politics in consultation with the citizen body for the protection of our civil liberties, has been replaced by the driving force of the capitalist imperative – the acquisition of wealth at the cost of others. It has not only curtailed our civil liberties but has also reduced the human being to a ‘thing’ to be administered in the new modern state for the purpose of maximising profit for the supra-national corporations wedded to the financial institutions that have hijacked them. It was the great British thinkers such as Hilaire Belloc and Harold Laski who first recognised the gradual hijacking of the state by finance at the beginning of the 20th century.

The banking-capitalist technocratic state has not only led to some having more and others less, but also explains why so few people now have stable lives and a sense of well-being; why so many have to scramble for precarious work, juggling multiple jobs with fewer rights, protections, and benefits, while going heavily into debt. But that is not all. Equally fundamental questions surround the deepening stresses on family life: why and how the pressures of paid work and debt are altering the conditions of childrearing, eldercare, household relations, and community bonds – the entire organisation of social reproduction.

Banking-capitalism and the nihilistic spirit that imbues our age has, in short, become an entire system that has shaped our culture, nuclear family dynamics, right through to the individual unconscious. Therefore, it is a major contributing factor to the increase in anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, addictions and an array of associated mental disorders, a matter largely ignored by the specialists in this field.

The family is a witness to society. Therefore, what we are witnessing today is the destructive effects it has had on childrearing and the transition of the child to adolescence. We know from ancient and modern research that the child inherits not only the physical attributes and characteristics of the parents but also memories and feelings the child’s parents or grandparents had experienced in their own lives. These memories and feelings could determine the child’s future without the child being aware of it. If those memories and feelings were traumatic, they could torment the child’s present, leading to a doomed existence. This type of imposition from our past has to be made conscious in the child’s lifetime in order for the child to live an overall balanced and fulfilled life.

The imposition of the past on the present, coupled with the impositions made by the modern capitalist state on how we should live our lives have been immensely destructive. Its culture, education and work place has forged the modern human being into T.S. Eliot’s ’Broken image’ or in the words of the brilliant psychiatrist Dr Ronald Laing, ‘the divided self’.

It has become clear that as mankind has advanced scientifically and technologically it has not progressed ethically or ‘humanly’. The rise of newly discovered mental illnesses is a powerful symptom or manifestation of our time.

It has become incumbent on us to look back into history and use it as a mirror to repair the present. History does not repeat itself, it rhymes. The driving force of the unfolding of historical events is the human psyche.

Taking Cicero as one of our many guides in education, we can begin to repair and revitalise our broken societies and shattered psyches using education. This is where Learning Unlimited plays a crucial role. The team represents a powerful body of well seasoned and compassionate teachers who are truly concerned about society and the condition of young people. Excellent teachers such as: Sharon Levy, Dr Paul Murray and Norman Bernard are all in some way inheritors of the liberal arts tradition and as a result disseminate its thinking to the students. Learning Unlimited ,with its liberal arts student-centred teaching, cultivates the natural gifts found in its students and facilitates their flourishing. Again, this is a key principle found in the liberal arts.

I wholeheartedly recommend the revival of the liberal arts and encourage young people to choose one or all of its subjects to study.

The ones who do will be the beginning of a new force for societal and human change.