Embracing The Complex

The Best Model is No Model

The Intuitive Teacher series is based on the work of Dr. Caleb Gattegno, a world-renowned educator, who transformed our ideas about how we learn or truly get to know something about ourselves and the world. 

In order to reach these ideas, he himself had to throw out what he thought he already knew about education and challenge its beliefs and practices in classrooms throughout the world.

In fact, for all the volumes written about the outcomes of these experiments, Dr. Gattegno’s greatest finding was about the process of discovery itself, a finding that  runs quite contrary to the way we approach and conduct ourselves as teachers and educators in general today.

He challenged one of the greatest of all practical notions of civilization thus far; that the search for human advancement is best found in reducing complexity down to its simplest form for all to understand and follow. He showed that  much of our intellectual energies are spent trying to build models or schemas of natural and human pheno  Once, these schemas or systems are achieved they are adhered to by succeeding generations, as long as they produce what appear to be results.  This could be anything from political movements to  how to dispose of your garbage, two ideas that are constantly evolving over time. 

How education itself is administered is a case in point.  Few would argue that in the post modern world the education as set up in the 19th century to deal with the industrial revolution or the model of “social”education as set out by as brilliant a thinker as John Dewey is going to best serve today’s world.

So, where is the next model of education going to come from?

Dr. Gattegno might argue paradoxically here for a model which emphasis no model. His approach  of  acquiring  knowledge is based on intuition, which entails embracing complexity as opposed to “intellectually” meddling with a problem in an attempt to reduce it to something simple.

Initiative learning is more than just a mental process. It is equally getting to know something using all human attributes, including perception of the senses and  at some level having an emotional response, including feeling inspired.

However, initiative learning and knowing cannot occur with the stimulus of complex reality.  Attempts to simplify reality through schemization limits learning to a mental process only and not a truly human experience that can truly mastering knowledge.  

Think of a courier company who must train its drivers to transverse difficult and complex routes in a large city in a limited amount of time. One new group of drivers is kept in a classroom for six months studying a map of the city and being told of all the situations they might encounter in day by an instructor,  while another group is put on the street immediately with no map but simple instructions of where to delivery a parcel. At first they are given simple delivers and basic verbal instructions of how to get to their destination and allowed to ask for directions along the way.  As the weeks past they are given more complex and increased deliveries at all times during the day, so they experience the city at different times of the day and in all driving conditions. They make a lot of mistakes at first but learn to trust their instincts on a highly visceral level.

Now, imagine after six months there is an earthquake damaging and disrupting the usual complex patterns of movement in the city.  Which group of drivers would you depend on to deliver crucial medical equipment and supplies to deal with the crisis? Who would have the ability to creativity think their way through the danger and perils created by a natural disaster, which for most humans is when complex reality is completely felt for the first time.


Clearly, people and organizations need constructs or schemas to function within. For example, construction constructors need blueprints, politicians need ideologies, as often expressed in “party platforms” and even liberal thinkers need  to follow a plan or agenda to be effective. Educators of course need a curriculum.

However, as educators we must also take responsibility for creating people who have a love of learning first and foremost.  In all that he talked about and designed to aid in learning, Dr. Gattegno  created the type of challenges needed for students to embrace reality and learn initiatively.  For example, the Words in Color program uses the sensory stimulations of color and  sound to allow young students to experience literacy by building their own words and language from scratch. 

Educators from around the world who have employed Dr. Gattegno’s  initiative approaches in their classrooms have reported producing people who love to learn and can produce  inordinate yields of  knowledge as by product of these this love for learning.

Sima Gandhi