You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink…

So they say. But what has been tried to make it drink?

  • Throw carrots into the water
  • Beat it when it retreats from the water
  • Convince it that the water is not really water, but something else it wants
  • Convince it that it is not a horse, but a fish
  • Leave it to become thirsty
  • Force feed it water
  • Teach it to how to make water
  • Stop the discussion and just be

Throw carrots in the water

Perhaps if we throw what the horse wants into the water, the horse will have to taste the water in order to get the carrot. There need to be enough carrots (incentives) in order for the horse to taste the carrot in the water. A few just won’t do, because it will soon figure out that this is only water that looks like the carrot, but really isn’t. The water (education) becomes a false illusion of what the horse (student) really wants. And at this point, the horse should really move on to other ways to pursue the carrot.

With enough carrots, the horse will enjoy the water as another form of the carrot. It may even struggle to distinguish carrots from water at some point. Water becomes carrot: education becomes sweet.

Beat it when it retreats from the water

Perhaps if we beat the horse when it retreats from the water, it will keep going for the water. Or at least stay close to the water. But for how long will this last? There could be a time when it decides to run away , or to stay only to learn to endure the pain of the beating, than to act consistently with what the beating naively tries to achieve. We have a history of using violence to force the actions we want to see. However, it remains to be proven whether such methods are sustainable.

Forcing the action in this way comes with a few other consequences: it teaches students to use violence to get a result, when this has been embedded in their own success. And we have seen how some of the most influential oppressors, in politics, sciences, economics, military warfare etc., have been ‘great’ academics. But this is only if the student doesn’t eventually rebel against the violence in higher grades (11-12) when they feel strong enough to protest. These are the older students we teachers would call “rebellious”.

However, we could find a not so violent way to guide behaviour. We could affirm (incentivise) the desirable actions with positive feedback, and starve negative actions with none. The disadvantage of negative feedback exists in its negative effect on the user (teacher) and the recipient (student).

Convince it that the water is not really water

Perhaps if we convince the horse that water is not really water, then it would find new reasons for drinking the water. But without actually changing the water, one would need to continually prime (program) the horse’s interpretation of water. What substitute for water would be desirable to the horse? If we could lead the horse to believe that water is in fact hay, then it might be happier to indulge in it. We would need to change the definition of what water is and what hay used to be in order to accommodate this new state. This would need to be a program run on all horses so that traces of the old definitions do not interrupt the new psyche. A revolution on the new desirable way in which everyone thinks of education would need to come from all directions (institutions, TV programs, music and so on). Only then, perhaps, would students naturally and happily partake in (what was once called) education.

Convince it that it is not a horse, but a fish

Perhaps we should convince the horse that is it not a horse, but a fish. Then it would see water as something it needs to survive. This is similar to convincing the horse that the water is not really water, but provides an effective way to reframe how to see something more (or other) in education. And this is through a very personal process. Horses would need to see the fish in them before they could behave like fish (and revel in the water). Students need to be shown something godly in themselves, before they can enact a renaissance in personal power. Only then will they value being refined in mathematics, science, languages, history, geography, life orientation, physical education, robotics, drama, etc. For a belief that one is godly will fulfil itself, just as the belief that a horse is a fish will lead it to taking to water. Again, the possibility of interrupting this process through counter examples warrants a whole societal movement in personal change rather than an individual personal change. Or perhaps not.

Leave it to become thirsty

Perhaps we can leave the horse to become thirsty. It will eventually drink. That is true. Just as it is true that a student left to set out his/her academic life will eventually want to check the change at the shop, understand some weather patterns, understand a financial statement to improve their decisions, improve their life’s orientation etc. But why spend a whole lifetime finding out which tools help your life, when you could learn the tools for the first 23 years of your life and then be better prepared to push your (and the world’s) limits further? Yes, institutions do compress an eventual process for a good head-start, and there is value in it. The problem is that the horse may find other convenient locations of sources of water (education). Ones that are not centralised and regulated, such as video games, music videos and the like. This is especially true in a society where these other forms of education are as dynamic as they are, compared to a traditional blackboard lecture on algebra. We need to make the water we led the horse to, as desirable (if not more) than the alternative springs it may find. Education needs to be revised (if not recreated) to give the same experience as the video games, music videos, and the like.

Force feed it water

Perhaps we need to force feed it water? Hold it down by hands (or threats of calling a parent) or Ritalin, in order to force the water inside it. Water is good for it right? But again, the violence means it will associate water with force-feeding, and it will apply this violence o other areas of its life. The question is whether we care if the horse exhibits violent (unhappy) behaviour in its future after the short term mission to make it drink has been accomplished. How do we measure the creation of great future citizens against the need to leave Matric with a great set of results? Should we take the chance? Should we not take the other chance?

Teach it how to make water

Perhaps we should teach it how to make water? This will allow the horse the benefit of creating water whenever it needs to. And then we won’t need to lead it to water in order to drink. However, we will still need to teach the horse how to create something it does not value at certain times. This sounds like a fail from the beginning. You can’t recreate what you cannot even see.

Unless the horse is taught how to create water at the precise moment it feels thirsty. If we can elicit a thirst for a particular skill through some restructuring of the (class/school) environment, we can then have a project based education for the student. Or else the student will be learning to create what is does not value, which is a different experience to when it does value.

Stop the discussion and just be

Or we could just stop the discussion. If we do not talk about a horse being led to water, no problem exists. No problem but the status quo.

So let’s talk about the problem. How do we create and optimise education for every child? My answer is in a combination of the above that I am yet to discover. When all factors have been accounted for and implemented, I believe the student will naturally and happily drink from the (inner and outer) fountains of knowledge.