Zhu Ziqiang

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-22 16:00-18:00 Room I

Speaker: Zhu Ziqiang (China)

Freedom and Formation of Children’s Self-Awareness

Zhu Ziqiang


Proactive self-image is the basic guarantee for a happy life. A happy life may be related to the condition of material life. However, affluent material life is definitely not the basic guarantee for a happy life. Happiness of life is decided by sound life attitude, healthy psychology, and especially proactive self-image. If a person possesses such traits, eve if he is riding a shabby bicycle, he is happier than the one who drives a Jatta, but sighs every day as he wants to drive a BMW.

US psychologist James Hillman said: “It seems that sooner or later, we’ll be called by something to a special road. You might deem this “something” as a symbolic moment in your childhood. At that moment, a subtle impulse, a kind of fascination, or special change in development of state of affairs is like a call to your ears: This is something I must do and I must possess. This is “me”. There’re active self and passive self. Here, “me” what James Hillman referred to is of course “active self”. However, active self is not formed naturally, but should be built up. In one’s childhood, the process of looking for and building up active self needs the help from adults as educators, besides efforts by oneself. Cheng Wei, a Chinese writer of children’s literature is a master in creating growth novels. Her novels such as Light Green Grass, Stamp Accident, and Soccer and Me clearly depict the psychological hindrance in the growth of teenagers as well as how they get over the hindrance. In this getting over process, the intrapsychic powerful life power of the adolescents themselves plays a crucial role. However, Teacher Luo and aunts Yao Ming, etc. who have found out, guided, and released such power are equally important. Cheng Wei’s novels have revealed that children’s growth cannot be separated with the specific environment in reality. The creation of children’s active self is very difficult if without a good adult environment.

In the process of educating children and helping them grow, the adult society must spare no efforts and apply all wisdom to solve the relation between adults, the inventors and contributors of education as culture and children, the recipients of such culture. To judge a type of children’s educational culture, one important criterion is to see if this internal relation is contradictory or harmonious.

Rousseau said that human are born to be free, but always in fetters. According to Freud, human create culture and system to oppress themselves. The Norwegian musician and educator Bjork Wald directly pointed that that children and schools are two cultures in conflict. He said: “I think that the focus of the problem is that serious conflict exists between children’s culture full of Muse nature and schools culture without any Muse sentiment. A school is an institute engaging in oppressing children’s nature systematically.” The educator A·S·Nil who created the Summerhill School and advocated free education said: “People will contribute the root of all their sufferings, animosity, and illness to culture that have violated their lives”.

Only freedom complies with life rules. Therefore, education should not be compulsory, but be free. But in fact, the education being implemented now is always compulsory.

The adults’ society must keep this in mind: Free education, instead of compulsory education, can help children build up active self. In the relation between adult educators and children receiving education, children are definitely in an inferior position and purely rely on adults in terms of material subsistence. When children are facing compulsory education, they would comply with adults against their own will, and build up false and passive self according to the will of adults. The false and passive self would bring such lives in spiritual morbidity. Maybe a child will become successful and glorious (for instance, pass the entrance examination of a renowned university, start a profession with high salary, become an important figure in political circle, etc.), but he’ll never experience the happiness from the deep of his soul. Quite on the contrary, education should be tolerant and compliant as Fredrich Froebel said, but not be indicative, absolute, and intervened. As Montessori said, an adult should be in a subordinate position. He should try his best to understand children, support children, and help children develop their lives; he must contain himself, and take the pride in understanding and following children. If a child grows up in a free environment, he can hear the voice from the deep of his heart, find out his real needs, and then set up a true and active self.

We should be aware that it’s very difficult to offer free education to children.

First, free education calls for “great” love for children. “Great” love means true and selfless love. Why “great love”, “true love”, and “selfless love” are stressed? It is because the love from many adults to their children is “small love”, which is “false love” and “selfish love”. These adults love themselves by “loving” children. For instance, they love children by “setting a high demand”, this is not necessarily out of “love”; they advocate “sparing the rod and spoiling the child”, this is not out of “love”; they expect their children to be talent, so they love vanity; they cherish the dream that “parents will become noble by their children”, so they love themselves.

To cherish great love for children is not easy to adult educators. Especially for adolescents, parental love always becomes very hard. Because in such period, a child is becoming mentally independent; he is forming strong “self” and gradually separating from his parents to become an independent person. When a child advocates his own opinions, his parents should have sacrifice spirit. Especially when the child’s opinions are in conflict with the parents’ opinions, the parental love is then tested. If the parental love cannot pass the test, the child’s self-formation will be adversely affected, and the child will rebel. The problem is that in the arduous process of looking for and building up “self”, it’s hard to accomplish the process by the efforts of the child alone, and help from other people is needed. Here, parents play the most crucial roles. Great and true parental love is the most powerful help for the child to build up his active self.

Second, free education calls for life wisdom of adults. As the sense of happiness is purely subjective, a happy life doesn’t have a fixed and unified mode in its form, but presents diversified possibilities. If there’s a basic goal for happy life or life, this goal is that to “work happily and find happiness”, as Fromm said. Whether one’s own child is allowed to become an ordinary person defined by the society is the most effective testing criterion to measure if the adult possesses life wisdom. According to cases in reality, most of the adults are not wise, and it’s really hard for them to give the selection right of life path to their children.

Third, free education should be guaranteed by correct educational methods. The easiest education is compulsory education, which only needs a punishment ruler. The most difficult education is free education, which must be accompanied by correct methods. Compulsory educators are dictators, and free educators are real educators. This truth is well represented by A·S·Nil from the Summerhill School.

In a word, we should respect children’s freedom and give them freedom. Only freedom complies with life rule. Only freedom can help a child define and develop his “true self” accompanied by benevolence in his nature. Only free education can help create a new era for human being.