Myles Horton was one of the most effective and influential community educators the world has seen. Horton had studied theology but discovered that oppressed peoples needs went beyond those of religion. People wanted to make sense of their lives, understand their environment and learn how to make changes for the good.
Horton became an educator – but not a traditional one. He decided, much like Paulo Freire (with whom he had a friendship), to begin with peoples’ own stories. He went on to establish the Highlander Research and Education Centre in his native Tennessee. One of his pupils, Rosa Parks, went on to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott and thus play an important role in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Back to the story of attending a talk by this remarkable man. In a room of about 60 people Myles spoke engagingly. Halfway through his talk he stunned me with these words:
“You know, people say that we learn from our experiences. I say that we don’t. We only learn from the experiences we learn from.”What on earth was he saying? Was it just hyperbole? As he spoke further I began to understand his meaning.
Of course – we don’t learn just because we’ve had an experience. Otherwise why would we often repeat bad or misguided experiences? Horton was saying that in order to learn from our experiences we had to do so in a conscious manner. In other words, we must ask ourselves: what did I learn from this experience? Then we have to be open to what that critical enquiry is really telling us.
The skill, or art, of critical thinking must be in the toolbox of any Community Development Worker or Educator. If community development has a goal of a more just, more equitable, more sustainable world then we must learn to reflect critically upon our experiences.
Three questions allow us to consciously reflect upon our experience:
- What happened? (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)
- How did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
“… people say that we learn from our experiences. I say that we don’t. We only learn from the experiences we learn from.”Thank you Myles Horton.
Myles Horton died in 1990 at the age of 84.