You don’t need to know the answer …

Getting caught up with Bryan Alexander’s brilliant invitation to read and reflect on We Make The Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change over the next few weeks.  Really enjoying the reflections of a great group of folks.

I discovered the 1981 Bill Moyers interview with Myles Horton when Bryan suggested the Horton/Freire dialogue a couple weeks ago.  I decided to use the video as a jumping off point to familiarize myself with Horton as I was already familiar with the work and influence of Freire.

Listening to Horton recalled the stories and songs of Utah Phillips for me:

the essence of contract is agreement
not coercion or obedience
and agreement is sacred
what can one say? i will not obey

I read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 today and found myself highlighting many passages from Myles:

I got to the place where I was terribly concerned about how I could relate my values to society. At that time I said it’s not important to be good, it’s important to be good for something. But, what was that something I could be good for, and how could I figure out how to be useful in society and make a contribution?

I think the problem is that most people don’t allow themselves to experiment with ideas, because they assume that they have to fit into the system. They say how can I live out these things I believe in within the capitalist system, within the subsystem of capitalism, the microcosm of capitalism, the school system and within the confines of respectability, acceptance. Consequently, they don’t allow themselves to think of any other way of doing things. I don’t think there’s anything unique in having the kind of ideas that we have. That’s kind of nickel-a- bushel stuff, I think. I just think most people can’t think outside the socially approved way of doing things and consequently don’t open up their minds to making any kind of discoveries. I think you have to think outside the conventional frameworks.

… the way you really learn is to start something and learn as you go along. You don’t have to know it in advance because if you know it in advance you kill it by clamping this down on the people you’re dealing with.

They’ve got other problems and we don’t have any answers. We didn’t have any trouble dealing with that because we were intellectually prepared and emotionally prepared. We had to do some fast shifting around though, because we still hadn’t learned how to respond to people, but we were committed to doing it. Once that commitment is made, then you do it. You do whatever it takes. We had to laugh at ourselves for thinking that we could figure out in advance what to do.

So to embolden people to act, the challenge has got to be a radical challenge. It can’t be a little simplistic reform that reformers think will help them. It’s got to be something that they know out of experience could possibly bring about a change. And we sell people like that short by assuming that they can take a little baby step and isn’t this wonderful. If they can see something that’s challenging, something that they believe would change things for them, and if they can see a path that they could move on towards that goal, then I think something can be done.

You don’t need to know the answer. You can help people get the answers. You have to know something; they know something. You have to respect their knowledge, which they don’t respect, and help them to respect their knowledge. These seeds were planted there.


“You don’t need to know the answer” is how I am approaching Bryan’s great questions for Chapters 1 and 2, but I know something for sure – Horton’s voice is resonating deeply with me.  Looking forward to reading more of the book with everyone.