Learners’ rights vs. alleged ‘responsibilities’

Daniel Greenberg

From the archives: Posted on 9th July, 1995

To: Wondertree Foundation for Learning Re: Declaration of Learner’s Rights/Learner’s Rights and Responsibilities

I read with fascination your two declarations, and found them both edifying and frustrating. Most was edifying; but what jarred me was the intrusion, in the midst of repeated declarations of the right of learners to direct their own education, of the mentor, who appears unbidden whether requested by the learner or not.

The mentor appears out of the blue in #8 of the “Declaration of Rights”: “As a learner, I have the right to evaluate my learning according to my own sensibilities”. Amen. “I have the right” – again, amen – “and the responsibility to include the evaluations of my mentors” (my emphasis). Where on earth did this come from? Who invented this “responsibility” for “learners” to include the evaluations of their mentors (if they have any)? Who invented the absolute need for mentors in the first place?

In the second document, “Learner’s Rights and Responsibilities”, which also stresses at great length the self-initiation of all learning, and of all actions to promote learning, the mentor suddenly appears in section 3(a), once again out of the blue. Why is it “the responsibility of a mentor to share strategies and insights with the learner”? What if the learner doesn’t want those “strategies and insights”? What if the learner doesn’t want a mentor? Who asked the mentor to “share”, anyway?

One other point: under section 4, The Learning Community, the assumption is made almost in passing that the community undergoes “a process of consensus evaluation” – as if consensus is something self-evidently superior to all other forms of self-government. Why does this have to be included? In your insistence on “openness and change”, can’t you include openness to other possible forms that have been used by self-governing communities?

I think the two documents as a whole are extremely moving, and display a great deal of thought and sensitivity to the rights of learners (and hence of children). My comments are designed only to urge you to re-examine the few jarring notes in an otherwise melodious human harmony.

See also:

Daniel Greenberg, 1995, ‘Learners’ rights vs. alleged “responsibilities”’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/learners-rights-vs-alleged-responsibilities/